Weekly Transit eNewsletter
Wednesday, November 8, 2006
Volume 2, Issue 45

Welcome to a special election issue of 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.

The Results Are In: Voters in California and across the nation let their opinions be known on various transportation initiatives. The biggest success by far is the approval of all five bond measures, including Proposition 1B, which passed with 61% of the vote. Proposition 1A, which would limit borrowing from revenues aimed for transportation, passed with a whopping 76% of the vote.

Undoubtedly, good promotion had plenty to do with the success of the measures. Business and government leaders at the recent Mobility21 summit urged voters to pass Prop 1B, especially in light of anticipated growth at the ports. At the same meeting, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer urged Californians to " step up to the plate" and vote for the bonds. Their efforts proved promising. On entering Election Day, a new Field Poll found steady support for all five bond measures, with Prop 1B leading the pack at 56% support. Still, many voters expressed concern that the bonds would drown the state with debt, while others believed the risk would be worth the perceived improvements they would bring.

Los Angeles City Measure H, a $1 billion bond relating to affordable housing, failed to pass. Some particularly believed that voter decision of the measure would serve as a litmus test of public desire for higher-density growth. Meanwhile, voters across the state rejected Proposition 90, which aimed to restrict government eminent domain powers.

Local transportation measures across the state experienced mixed results. Fiscally conservative Orange County residents voted to renew Measure M, a transportation sales tax that in its new form includes many road projects but has been chastised for its strong mass transit elements. Nevertheless, it very much boiled down to this: Tax or traffic? To the north, San Joaquin County residents voted to increase their sales tax to fund transportation improvements and services, including the Altamont Commuter Express. Another sales tax measure for transportation is barely leading in Tulare County, while a similar tax in Fresno is cruising to victory.

Transportation measures in nearby counties, however, fared worse, with many including Measure K in Stanislaus County achieving majority support but not the 2/3 "super-majority" needed for passage. Merced County residents could not muster enough votes to pass Measure G, a shortcoming also felt in Kern County for Measure I, a sales tax that, aside from funding road projects, would have also collected matching funds for federal grants secured by Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Bakersfield). Most of these measures had strong road elements. Nevertheless, Measure D in Santa Barbara County also failed to reach super-majority passage, as did Measure R in Sonoma and Marin Counties, both of which offered funds for new commuter rail service in their communities.

Transportation measures across the nation are also getting mixed results. Kansas City, Missouri, residents voted to extend their sales tax to build a light rail system in their city, much to the shock of transit officials who were largely indifferent on the idea. Residents in Salt Lake City, Utah, voted to increase their sales tax to expedite TRAX light rail projects. Residents in Grapevine, Texas, voted for commuter rail service to Fort Worth. Near Miami, Florida, Broward County residents rejected an increase in sales taxes to improve mass transit by means of new express bus services. Two propositions in Spokane, Washington, that would have allowed its transit agency to design and search for funds to build a light rail system failed.

On To Other Topics: What went wrong with the Las Vegas Monorail? With Fitch downgrading its bond rating to CCC, Joe Mysak of Bloomberg News explored the history of the project and the failures that ensued, concluding that the system was a victim of " high hopes". The Monorail consisted of purchasing 0.8 miles long of existing track and building another three miles of it. According to Mysak, financiers were initially convinced that anticipated high ridership would yield profits and easily pay off the bonds. However, a delayed grand opening, accidents, and a lengthy closure dampened ridership growth.

San Francisco will soon become the next city to experiment with Bus Rapid Transit. MUNI is studying the service for a section of Geary Avenue, whose bus lines log 55,000 boardings a day. Buses would operate much in the same vein as Metro Rapid in Los Angeles, with signal priority and limited bus stops, except that the service would also include bus-only lanes and ticket machines at each stop. Meanwhile, a study for a BART extension to Warm Springs was approved by the Federal Transit Administration, which will make the extension eligible for federal funds.

In road developments, Burbank residents are asking officials to undo hastily installed traffic-calming devices on an otherwise notoriously steep and winding road. Some in Hollywood are pondering covering up a trenched portion of the Hollywood Freeway and install a park on the top. The South Coast Expressway (State Highway Route 125) in San Diego is on schedule for a June 2007 opening. The toll road would provide an alternate route from the San Diego area to the international border through rapidly expanding Chula Vista. With state legislation expanding toll facilities now signed into law, we could be seeing a lot more toll roads in the future.

Meanwhile, Orange County treasurer-collector-elect Chriss Street continues to accuse Caltrans of failing to pay back taxes on properties it had acquired. Caltrans maintains that it is a responsible taxpayer and that it pays Orange County the legally mandated 24% of rent collected on its properties. The development comes as the state agency accuses the City of Claremont of discouraging developers to purchase its surplus property by rezoning it.

In Whittier, a quarrel has erupted over who is responsible for maintaining and securing a railroad overpass on the 605 Freeway. Union Pacific Railroad once owned the bridge, which was the scene of a recent shooting, but the owner that since bought it has been reclusive on the issue. Ownership issues are also brewing on a pedestrian bridge connecting Long Beach with Hawaiian Gardens. Speaking of bridges, Montebello will have to aim for lower goals now that the Alameda Corridor East Construction Authority won't fund grade separations at its four railroad crossings.

Regarding seaports, federal officials announced that the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles will receive 18 new mobile radiation detectors. The devices will inspect cargo ships, trucks and trains for radioactive materials that could be part of a terrorist attack. These and six additional scanners will be delivered by January. Meanwhile, the Air Quality Management District approved spending $36 million to replace diesel trucks at the ports with cleaner burning varieties. The program aims to reduce pollution from port vehicles by as much as 45%. Officials are also looking forward to next year, when an environmental study to expand the 710 Freeway between the ports and East Los Angeles will launch.

On the "smart growth" front, the City of Pasadena received recognition from the USC School of Architecture for making "smart growth" a meaningful part of its General Plan and bringing high-density development to the city.

So what's stopping expansion of high-speed rail in the United States? The inaction is due to various reasons, according to an article in USA Today. Even as planning for distinct HSR systems in different areas of the country move forward, most if not all will stay in the planning stages. Officials that plan these systems generally concur that the lack of federal involvement and funds is the main culprit. Some, however, also challenge the notion that travelers would actually use the service.

Here is a list of other recent developments:

October 31: The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors voted to enter in a joint powers agreement with Los Angeles County that would expedite plans for a freeway between the Antelope Valley and Victorville. This would bypass involvement with the San Bernardino Associated Governments, shedding off as much as a decade in planning and construction time.

November 1: The Los Angeles City Council approved installing red-light cameras at 22 intersections in the San Fernando Valley. The choice of locations will be based on the number of red light violations and collisions. The cameras will be installed by July 1.

November 2: The Los Angeles City Department of Transportation unveiled signal synchronization on portions of Van Nuys and Laurel Canyon Blvds. in the San Fernando Valley. Improvements include sensors that track traffic speeds and road troubles. The sensors send information to transportation officials, who can then adjust the signals to keep vehicles moving. The upgrade is part of a $250 million effort by the City of Los Angeles to bring automated traffic control to the rest of the city.

Los Angeles City officials dedicated a new bike path along San Fernando Road, paralleling the Metrolink right-of-way, in Sylmar. The new path runs from Hubbard St. in the City of San Fernando north to Roxford St., which would augment an existing bike path in San Fernando. The path is part of a long-term project to install a bike path along San Fernando Road, with the next phase in Pacoima breaking ground in 2007.

The Palm Springs SunLine Transit Agency dedicated an expansion of hydrogen fuel services for vehicles. The SunLine already uses a fueling facility for its two hydrogen-fueled buses. The expansion will allow other hydrogen-fueled vehicles owned by SunLine to use the fueling facility, with businesses and residents allowed to fuel similar vehicles in the near future.

Upcoming Events: Metro Westside/Central Governance Council: Wednesday, November 8, 5 p.m., La Cienega Tennis Center, Sunset Room, 325 S. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills.

SCAG MagLev Task Force: Thursday, November 9, 10:00 a.m. SCAG Offices, 818 W. Seventh St., 12th floor, Los Angeles.

Metro Gateway Cities Governance Council: Thursday, November 9, 2 p.m., Gas Company ERC, 9240 Firestone Bl., Downey.

Metro South Bay Governance Council: Friday, November 10, 9.30 a.m., Carson Community Center, 801 E. Carson St., Carson.

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

Orange County Transportation Authority Board Meeting: Monday, November 13 and 27, 9 a.m., Board Hearing Room, 600 Main St., Orange.

An Evening With Enrique Peñalosa: Monday, November 13, 5:00 p.m., Board Room, Metro Headquarters, One Gateway Plaza (adjacent to Union Station), Los Angeles. As Mayor of Bogotá, Peñalosa built the world's premiere Bus Rapid Transit system and hundreds of kilometers of sidewalks, bicycle paths, pedestrian streets, greenways, and parks. Neighborhood residents, business owners, policy-makers, students, advocates fighting childhood obesity, and anyone else who wants a more livable Los Angeles is welcomed to attend. Tickets: $15 - 50 suggested donation per person; $10 per student.

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

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

·  Planning and Programming Committee, Wednesday, November 15, 1 p.m.

·  Finance and Budget Committee, Wednesday, November 15, 2:30 p.m.

·  Executive Management and Audit Committee, Thursday, November 16, 9 a.m.

·  Construction Committee, Thursday, November 16, 10:30 a.m. CANCELLED.

·  Operations Committee, Thursday, November 16, 12 noon.

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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