Weekly Transit eNewsletter
Monday, January 22, 2007
Volume 3, Issue 4

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.

Last Chance: This Tuesday is our monthly Transit Coalition Dinner Meeting. Also, The Transit Coalition and Metro will participate in the annual RailPAC meeting on Saturday, March 17, at Metro Gateway Headquarters. See Upcoming Events below for details.

Plans from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to slash and burn transit funding in the state continue to receive ire from local officials. Metro hoped that the estimated $100 million they would receive could be used to wipe out a looming structural deficit. One place that stands to lose greatly from the plan is Ventura County. For example, of the six counties that Metrolink serves, Ventura County stands alone in not having a local transportation sales tax to fund service. Fortunately, officials see hope in Assemblymember Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara), who chairs the Assembly Transportation Committee and has expressed opposition to the proposal.

The first and second Steve Lopez columns regarding Westside traffic has garnered quite an interest from the reading public. The Los Angeles Times published a mere morsel of suggestions and horror stories that legions of readers fed up with traffic sent in. Some respondents took a swipe at recent plans to build two 47-story condos in Century City. (Two readers opted to write letters to the Times instead.) Residents are already dreading the greater gridlock that would result from a proposed luxury hotel at the corner of Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevards. As part of his crusade, Lopez took a shot against the LA Mayor's transit advisor who drives a Hummer. Lopez also took the time to connect some dots and see how campaign donations from developers have directly contributed to the traffic crisis. One Santa Monica resident countered several of Lopez's claims while also offering solutions of his own.

Realizing the missed potential of the Green Line, a group of South Bay and Westside leaders sent a letter to Metro urging them to build a Green Line extension to LAX, a development praised by Transit Coalition President Ken Alpern, who was one of the signatories. The Burbank City Council approved applying for a grant to study an Orange Line-style bus link between North Hollywood and Pasadena. Down south, the San Diego Metropolitan Transportation System is moving to replace part of its aging bus fleet with new buses totaling $25 million.

Bus Riders Union redux? Local activists in the San Francisco Bay Area have accused the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which oversees regional transportation projects and BART, of shortchanging poor and minority bus passengers while funding suburban rail lines that attract more affluent commuters. MTC officials retort that much of the subsidies to services such as Caltrain are for capital projects that were ignored in the past and have only now been addressed. Officials also noted that, like Los Angeles, a certain amount of revenues from voter-approved taxes must be spent on commuter rail.

Nationwide, "smart cards" are growing more popular for both transit passengers and the agencies that employ them. Atlanta will expand its smart cards for use on another bus system, while a select group of Seattle and Los Angeles transit users are experimenting with versions of their own. (They are known as TAP cards in Los Angeles.) However, the trial smart card program in San Francisco has hit a snag as a result of problems with the cards when used on AC Transit.

Across the Colorado River, a columnist takes a look at how the California government intends to reduce harmful emissions by building more mass transit and what the State of Arizona can gain by steering away from car-centered planning.

Regarding road matters, the San Diego Association of Governments will soon charge a fee to drivers who own FasTrak transponders but don't use them. Caltrans nominated a carpool lane project for northbound I-405 between the Westside and Valley for bond funds, but not a similar project for the I-5 between Routes 134 and 170. Also, a recent study concluded that telecommuters were less likely to advance their careers than their office-commuting counterparts. Next, soil testing has begun for a study of a proposed highway tunnel between Irvine and Corona.

City planners and Westside restaurateurs squabble over the causes and problems of " phantom parking." In order to get approval for major expansions, merchants often submit a false number of parking spaces they claim to provide. With these expansions come customers who drive to the restaurants only to see that parking is nonexistent. Meanwhile, columnist Steve Hymon continues his crusade with what he dubbed " Metergate", while also bringing updates on the Wilshire subway and a boutique hotel near MacArthur Park.

Representatives from the Reason Foundation wrote how tolls, innovative construction methods and private financing could magically alleviate road congestion by building more roads in urban areas. The Wall Street Journal published a discussion between USC professor Peter Gordon and UCLA professor Matthew Kahn regarding the role of economics in transportation and land use. The former contended that drivers in this country experience "comparatively little congestion () in spite of both policy failures and growth in population, income and travel."

State lawmakers are warming up to hybrid vehicles. 39 of the 80 Assembly members and 13 of the 40 Senators have opted to drive hybrids. Legislators are also seeing hybrids as an image statement: Conservatives use the vehicles to demonstrate how they save taxpayer money with the gas savings they incur, while liberals value them for their environment-friendly properties. Lawmakers aren't the only ones going green: Union Pacific rolled out its fleet of clean-burning hybrid locomotives it intends to use at ports and yards across the Los Angeles Basin and elsewhere.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe is eyeing more yard space down at the ports, and residents are not happy about it. BNSF claims that their Hobart Yard in the City of Commerce will reach capacity, leading them to pursue the Southern California International Gateway project. Community activists and environmentalists showed concern that the new yard would add to current traffic and pollution woes at the ports. Port officials will unveil at least 10 projects to address capacity at the ports for public review this year and noted that a single project will not be enough to address future trade.

Onto land use matters, the area west of the I-5 in the Santa Clarita Valley, often known as Stevenson Ranch, will become the subject of a study to explore cityhood, though some would rather have the area annexed to the City of Santa Clarita. To the west, Ventura County is hailed as a model of "smart growth", a point county Supervisor Kathy Long took pride in when interviewed by The Planning Report.

Bicyclists will be happy to know that a study for a bike path in a flood control channel in Costa Mesa is underway. The "community trail" leading into Upper Newton Bay would feature granite that would top channel levees and unlocked channel gates, giving bicyclists a trail without obstructions. Similar bike paths have been built across Orange County in the past.

United, American and Continental Airlines filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles City Airport Commission, the latter having raised terminal rents recently. Airlines charge that the hikes are a direct violation of their leases and would force them to pass the rise in fees onto passengers. Meanwhile, Bob Hope Airport officials discussed finding $750,000 to design a taxiway extension and study rental-car lot consolidation. In San Diego, one Encinitas resident envisions a floating airport on the Pacific Ocean as an apt replacement for the growth-limited Lindbergh Field.

What can a six-cent-per-gallon increase in gas taxes get you? Apparently too much for the Ohio Department of Transportation. With the agency now awash with cash, ODOT is embarking on major highway projects, including a controversial plan to replace all highway signage with more reflective materials despite no federal mandates to do so. Some, however, charge that the agency fosters a "pay-to-play" system where contractors with the best connections get the meatiest contracts. Critics also note that the new tax came at the expense of funding for the State Highway Patrol, since legislators opted to take away some $190 million a year in gas tax money from the patrol's budget as an exchange for a new gas tax. Meanwhile, Cincinnati leaders are pondering a streetcar system as a means to bring any sort of rail transit in a town with strong anti-rail factions.

Regarding Amtrak, President Alex Kummant stated that long-distance trains will continue to play an important part of rail transportation, though he also claimed that state participation will be even more important for the future of intercity rail.

What do legislators, planners and officials think about the state infrastructure bonds that voters approved in November? Metro Investment Report printed a sample of opinions on how these bonds could prove beneficial for the state. Oh, and if you are still in the dark about the bonds, read this Q&A to catch up!

Oddly enough: A third study regarding future traffic in San Pedro concluded that traffic from a 2,300-home development in San Pedro could be mitigated with signal synchronization and other improvements to Western Avenue (State Highway Route 213). Leaders of three Los Angeles neighborhood councils in San Pedro blasted the study, one which the three neighborhood councils themselves commissioned and paid for and was independently studied. The City of Los Angeles and the developer each provided one previous study on the same subject and arrived at the same conclusion.

Congratulations! Metrolink welcomes two new Board members: City of Glendale Councilmember Ara Najarian, who replaces former Lancaster Mayor Frank Roberts; and City of Baldwin Park Councilmember, Anthony J. Bejarano, who replaces retired Los Angeles City Councilmember Hal Bernson.

Here is a list of other recent developments:

January 17: LA City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl was named chair of the recently revived Southern California Regional Airport Authority. Rosendahl pledged that he would bring more organizations together to find regional solutions to air traffic.

Rancho Mission Viejo, a major developer in southern Orange County, filed a lawsuit against the Transportation Corridor Agencies, which oversee the toll roads. The suit contends that the TCA violated an agreement where the developer provided undeveloped property for the proposed San Onofre Toll Road in exchange for adopting a more eastern route. Instead, TCA opted for another route, which would run through a conservancy and endanger oak woodlands, which would in turn jeopardize the environmental obligations of Rancho Mission Viejo to the area.

January 18: Westside civic leaders celebrated the completion of the Santa Monica Transit Parkway Project at a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Century City. Officials hope that traffic delay times would be reduced by as much as 40%. The City of Los Angeles, which took over the former state highway from Caltrans, started work in 2003. Erroneous construction materials, the discovery of unmapped utilities and heavy rains pushed the opening date from late 2005.

The San Bernardino Associated Governments Commuter Rail Subcommittee voted to discuss a possible Metrolink station in Highgrove during their March meeting, after local activists asked for a chance to produce more information about the station. The Riverside County Transportation Commission recently voted to stop further consideration for the station.

January 21: City officials unveiled a memorial plaque at the site of the 2005 Glendale Metrolink crash, which killed 11 persons. About 100 residents and city officials from Los Angeles and Glendale took part in the dedication.

Upcoming Events: Consider attending our monthly Transit Coalition Dinner Meeting on Tuesday, January 23 - 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!

South Orange County Major Investment Study Stakeholder Working Group Meeting: Wednesday, January 24, 10 a.m., Mission Viejo City Hall, Saddleback Room, 200 Civic Center, Mission Viejo.

Metro Board Meeting: Thursday, January 25, 9:30 a.m., Board Room, Metro Headquarters, One Gateway Plaza (adjacent to Union Station), Los Angeles.

SCRRA (Metrolink) Board Meeting: Friday, January 26, 10 a.m., San Bernardino Conference Room, SCAG Building, 12th Floor, 818 W. Seventh St., Los Angeles.

California High Speed Rail Authority Meeting: Monday, January 29, 10:30 a.m., State Capitol, Room 112, Sacramento.

Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority: Thursday, February 1, 2:30 p.m., Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration, Board of Supervisors Hearing Room 381B, 500 W. Temple St., Los Angeles.

Angeles Chapter Sierra Club Transportation Committee: Thursday, February 1, 7:30 p.m. Angeles Chapter office, 3435 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 320, Los Angeles.

Orange County Transportation Authority Board Meeting: Monday, February 12 and 26, 9 a.m., Board Hearing Room, 600 Main St., Orange.

RailPAC Annual Meeting: Saturday, March 17, Metro Gateway Headquarters, One Gateway Plaza (adjacent to Union Station), Los Angeles. Featured speakers: Gerald Francis, Metro Rail Operations; Alex Kummant, Amtrak President.

Missed last week's newsletter? Read it here!

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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.

As a grass roots group, we depend upon your contributions to allow us to pursue our important work. Add yourself to our mailing list and please donate to help us grow.

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bart.reed@thetransitcoalition.us  The Transit Coalition