As if out of nowhere, a brouhaha over the location of a fault through Hollywood has engulfed discussion on the Hollywood Millennium project, which received the blessing of the LA City Council this month. The revelation exposed a major gap in the city’s development review process in that seismic studies, especially for projects near or over known faults, were neither required nor considered. The stakes are high on both sides of the issue, since the possible presence of the fault could block construction of any building that straddles over it. It is possible that the city can still force the developer to perform geologic studies determining the fault’s location and significantly alter the project as needed.
The new Oakland Bay Bridge may very well open next month after all. The discovery of failed bolts intended to secure a seismic safety device for the bridge has thrown into question whether the bridge would instead open in December. However, the panel in charge of overseeing construction voted to open the bridge as scheduled, on Tuesday, September 3, after engineers proposed a temporary fix that would allow motorists to use the bridge safely while a permanent solution is installed. Said panel reasoned that the new bridge, despite the seismic problem, would be significantly safer than the existing truss bridge that is being replaced.
With all the frustration stemming from HSR, some such as the Los Angeles Daily News editorial board are looking towards entrepreneur Elon Musk’s Hyperloop as a worthwhile alternative. Musk believes that the concept could whisk passengers from LA to San Francisco in 30 minutes and can be done at a cost between $6 billion and $10 billion. Musk must still build a prototype before the Hyperloop can ever happen.
Celebrated physics professor Michio Kaku believes that the Hyperloop would make for an exciting concept to realize, but expressed reservations about its economic viability. Indeed, one pundit opines that the $6 billion price tag is too low because the Hyperloop proposal ignores the obstacles that have led to the price increase on the HSR project and would surely affect the Hyperloop should it come to fruition. Los Angeles Times readers also had their say on the subject. In all likeliness, however, Musk’s idea will wind up in the Pantheon of Gadgetbahn Proposals, where many other fantasized transportation solutions are left to oblivion, like this one curious proposal that promised to do the same thing… in 1909. Los Angeles itself has grown weary of such proposals, since the transportation-minded populace has seen similar ideas in the past.
Newly installed LA Mayor Eric Garcetti is swiftly making appointments at various positions across the city bureaucracy, and the LA Airport Commission is no exception. Garcetti replaced all but one of the seven members of the Commission. Garcetti hopes that the selections reflect a future where LAX can be modernized and act as a good neighbor to the surrounding communities. Garcetti also set a goal of eventually transferring control of Ontario Airport to Inland Empire communities, provided that Los Angeles retains a cut of revenue. Meanwhile, Councilmember Mike Bonin grilled Los Angeles World Airports officials on the perks consultants received while performing work for the city.
Transit advocates often consider air-to-rail connections as an essential piece of a functioning public transportation system. What happens when this view is applied to Amtrak? Most airports have next to no interaction with the national intercity passenger railroad. Just two (Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey and our very own Bob Hope Airport) have direct access to an Amtrak station, with a third in Miami (pictured at left) on the way. 39 other large and mid-sized airports have Amtrak service within 10 miles. Even though air-to-rail connections provide substantial travel and environmental benefits, no dedicated funding source for the development of such connections exist at the federal level. Locally, Los Angeles Times readers express mixed opinions on a planned rail connection to LAX.
While everyone acknowledges that the Amtrak-owned Northeast Corridor is in dire need of upgrades, the federal government remains hesitant to find the money that can make such upgrades happen. While fiscal conservatism is partly responsible for the current state of affairs, the staggering price tag just for mild capacity increases, at $52 billion, would give anyone pause. A full-fledged upgrade to true HSR-level service would cost $117 billion, according to Amtrak. Federal lawmakers and pundits believe that contributions from all levels of government as well as an infusion of private capital will be the only reasonable way to make the NEC a state-of-the-art facility.
The State of California has granted the City of Riverside $237,500 to fund a study of returning streetcars to the city. Riverside Mayor William Rusty Bailey has been responsible for advocating such an idea. The proposal has brought on some robust debate in the public arena and the community has been making many valid points. The Press Enterprise Columnist Dan Bernstein questions the project. The Transit Coalition’s A Better Inland Empire Transit Blog has links to additional examples and provides an analysis.
With the state now getting involved, Bailey’s streetcar idea has now become a real proposal. The Magnolia and University Avenue corridors in Riverside could very well benefit with a mass transit rail system operating in a dedicated set of lanes or right-of-way combined with area revitalization. However the truth is that under the current economic climate in conjunction with insufficient transit infrastructure and RTA bus operations, we simply cannot afford it just yet.
As the community expressed, Riverside has other infrastructure projects that deserve priority before getting into the streetcar business: Grade separations along the existing BNSF rail line, improving existing RTA and Metrolink services, expanding late night RTA bus service with BRT alternatives along major corridors, and getting a robust bus transit center to the Riverside Downtown train station with a pedestrian bridge to the downtown core.
Soon, Inland Empire residents will not have to look far to see one of the above solutions in action, as progress continues on the sbX BRT project in San Bernardino. Bus stop canopies, new pavement and lush landscaping are sprouting along the length of the future route. sbX is being built parallel to a major widening project for Interstate 215, so it is understandable for residents to ask when the projects and their associated frustrations will come to an end. Omnitrans, the agency that will operate sbX, anticipates opening the line in 2014, while Caltrans anticipates completing the I-215 project later this year.
The newest traffic calming battleground has unfolded on the streets of Cheviot Hills and Palms, where a particular left-turn restriction at Motor Avenue and National Boulevard has ignited the ire of residents and business owners. Cheviot Hills residents have long complained about the volume of traffic running through the narrow and winding Motor Avenue. The city eventually installed a peak-hour left-turn restriction at the above intersection, at the cost of Century City developers, in an attempt to dissuade drivers from using Motor to reach their workplace.
However, an increase in traffic tickets have left merchants fuming over the lost business this has caused. Others groan about how the traffic calming measures merely moved the traffic to less affluent neighborhoods. Many opinions abound on the changes.
The dot-com renaissance of Silicon Valley has exposed a growing rift between the haves and have-nots in the Bay Area. Those working in technology outfits that take residence in San Francisco are increasingly pricing out long-time residents who are forced to either pay higher rents or move away. Notably, while the Bay Area is rich in public transportation offerings, most of these employees instead use shuttle buses provided by their employers to reach their workplace and also use novel concepts such as Uber.
This brooding economic landscape has played a factor in the ongoing negotiations between BART employees and the district that operates the service, the former which recently rejected another proposal. The two sides remain far apart largely because the union representing employees perceives that they should gain from the recent uptick in the economy. Both sides could benefit from using a “final offer” arbitration process that proved successful for Major League Baseball, which invoked the concept during salary negotiations between MLB and players in 1973.
Despite this, some newfangled transit services here and there are making their debut. West Hollywood launched its PickUp shuttle intended as “ a flirtatious take on public transit“. The evening service acts as a circulator that stops at local bars and intends on providing drivers an alternative to barhopping via private automobile. Also, Megabus announced that its buses will now stop at the Downtown Burbank Metrolink Station, offering its well-known $1 bus rides to the Bay Area. Additionally, transit consultant Jarrett Walker comes to the defense of low-ridership buses and states that these services add coverage and the perception of reliability to a bus system.
Uber, the rideshare app concern, recently expanded into the San Fernando Valley, despite ongoing legal hurdles with the City of Los Angeles. One cab company finally took a hint and decided to embrace technology instead of outright opposing it. Bell Cab Company, Inc., recently partnered with technology startup Flywheel to create an app that allows users to “e-hail” taxi cabs, which will also have the program installed on driver’s smartphones.
Moody’s Investor Service is in the process of reviewing the credit rating of 15 California transit agencies, including Metro, an action that precedes a downgrade, following the as-yet-unresolved pension reform dispute between the state and federal governments. The US Labor Department, acting on behalf of disgruntled public transit unions, stated that it will continue to hold funds until the state passes a more favorable reform proposal. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez is no stranger to controversy when it comes to protecting union rights. The news is the last thing the state needs to hear, since budget battles in Washington, DC, that are unrelated to the pension reform war are already threatening various transportation projects and initiatives, including the Wilshire Subway.