More Interstate 710 Extension Discussions

Zócalo Public Square will be hosting what promises to be an interesting forum this week –

The 710 is one of the most important freeways in Southern California. It’s also shorter than originally planned: For nearly 50 years, legal and environmental challenges have stalled the freeway in Alhambra, 4.5 miles short of its intended destination, Pasadena. Over the decades, discussions about extending the freeway have cast its future as a local issue. But the 710 causes traffic, produces pollution, and affects commerce across Los Angeles and even beyond. How broad are these impacts, and what role might the stalled extension play in them? What would the five options now being debated for dealing with the Alhambra-to-Pasadena gap–implementing new surface traffic technology and strategies, new rapid bus transit, light rail transit, a freeway tunnel, or building nothing at all–mean for our region?

The $780 million set aside for the project in Measure R would go a long way towards transit, but most of the alternatives being considered, especially a highway tunnel, would require major additional funding. With Caltrans so heavily involved, and with the clout of port traffic, it’s hard to imagine the advocates of expanding the “concrete commons” won’t win out. Though maybe continued strong community opposition and a winning Braess’s paradox argument could be successful in finally killing the project.

On a related note, the release of draft environmental documents for the project has been pushed back to February 2015.

Obama Letdown

Santa Ana Freeway

The Santa Ana Freeway - Will LaHood work for mass transit alternatives or expansion and induced demand?

I was well aware that President-elect Obama wouldn’t be able to live up to the high expectations that many people, including myself, had of him.  This week, however, has been a particularly rough one.  Monday’s announcement of his “Green Team” was lacking a Transportation Secretary.  As Streetsblog reports,

“Obama still hasn’t made the transportation – land use – climate connection,” Petra Todorovich, director of Regional Plan Association’s America 2050 program said. “It’s clear he’s thinking about these things in separate categories.”

When he did fill the spot, public transportation and livable streets advocates were not particularly pleased.  Most sources report LaHood to be pretty cozy with the highway lobby.  It’s disappointing to have such a valuable spot in the cabinet go to a politician who is not very progressive.  Again, from the Streetsblog report:

“This sends the message that the transportation secretary is a throw-away political appointment who doesn’t matter,’ said a city transportation official who, like others, asked to remain anonymous to preserve their relationship with the U.S. DOT. “This is the slot for the token Republican. It’s the bottom of the barrel. A bone you can throw.”

And to top it all off, it comes out that Rick Warren will be given the honor of giving the inauguration’s invocation.  I apologize on behalf of Orange County, but at least the conversations behind the decision have been made public.

Palin Fights Against Environmental Justice in California

The LA Times reported last week that Governor Palin has been working against California SB 974, which would implement per-container charges to fund air quality and goods movement measures in the Los Angeles and Bay areas.  I think it’s a pretty base move (though not that surprising) for the Governor of Alaska to seek to dissuade Californian officials from addressing some of Southern California’s most crippling problems.  The pollution, health, and safety problems caused by the ports is a case of environmental injustice.

The LA Times notes that:

Fully 15% of the nation’s international container trade travels along the 710 en route to rail yards east of Los Angeles, warehouses in the Inland Empire and importers nationwide.

Environmental justice communities near the ports and along freeway corridors should not have to bear the unmitigated harms of the nation’s cargo needs.

Today’s strategies of goods movement in Southern California, especially through the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, are dangerous and inefficient.  Traffic congestion on local freeways, particularly the 5, 10, 15, 60, and 710 is significantly worsened by truck traffic from the ports.  Truck traffic from the ports creates safety hazards for drivers; an example is a seven vehicle fatal crash on the 710 last year.  As shown by last week’s train crash, Southern California railroads may also need to consider better and safer ways to move rail cargo on tracks that are increasingly being used for heavy commuter rail traffic.  Additionally, the pollution emanating from the ports leads to disproportionate health problems in lower income communities of color; the Times article above explains that literally thousands of Californians die each year as a result of pollutant emissions from the ports.

The bill (full text available here) recognizes that:

(b) The operation of the ports and trains, ships, and trucks that move cargo containers to and from the ports cause air pollution that requires mitigation.
(c) The improvement of goods movement infrastructure would benefit the owners of container cargo moving through the ports by allowing the owners of the cargo to move container cargo more efficiently and reliably, and to move more cargo through those ports.
(d) It is vital to the movement of goods in California, especially
in southern California, to resolve the road and rail conflicts of locomotives carrying container cargo and automobile traffic by
building grade separations. This infrastructure will reduce air
pollution and provide benefits to the owners of container cargo by
mitigating rail expansion. Without these grade separations, the rail
expansion may not happen, and California could lose valuable goods movement jobs.
(e) The reduction of goods movement air pollution would benefit
the owners of container cargo moving through the ports by contributing to the achievement or maintenance of federal air quality standards, which will allow for continued federal funding of goods movement infrastructure projects.
(f) The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and the Port of Oakland operate in unique communities, environments, and markets that require infrastructure improvements and air pollution reduction measures tailored to the nature and degree of need in each port of each community.

Governor Palin’s argument against the bill completely disregards the public health, environmental justice, traffic congestion, safety, and environmental concerns of California.

Congestion Pricing and Anti-Sprawl Legislation

The California Legislature recently passed two awesome bills.  I’m especially excited about them in light of the Urban Economics course I took last year at Swarthmore.

SB 1422: High Occupancy-Toll Lanes

This bill authorizes LA Metro to proceed with its congestion pricing plan.  Metro plans to charge a toll for single occupancy vehicles to drive in the HOV lanes on the 10 and 110 freeways, and, as the Botttleneck Blog reports, potentially the 210 (which my Urban Economics final paper covered).  The funding for this project comes from the Federal grant that was going to fund congestion pricing in Manhattan before Albany killed it.

SB 375: Transportation Planning

According to Streetsblog, this bill is the first of its kind that

ties land use patterns to emissions and penalizes cities and municipalities that encourage development that leads to sprawl.

Now if they could just pass a budget, maybe some of this would actually become law…

Clarence Wayne Dean Interchange Carpool Flyovers

Caltrans had its groundbreaking ceremony for the carpool flyover ramps being constructed at the interchange of the 5 and 14 freeways.  I just wonder how the project can take more than four years to construct?

Critical Mass Toronto Takes Expressway

Cyclists in Toronto took over an entire expressway.  A nice extension of the takeover of the Santa Monica Freeway last month, but it lacked the 15 foot tall bike.

Biking on the Santa Monica Freeway – Awesome

This is so cool. Make sure to keep an eye out for the ≈ 15 ft. high bike.