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Orange Line BRT Speed Improvements Caught In Inter-Agency Delays

Metro Orange Line Stop in North Hollywood.  Photo:##http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisyarzab/##Chris Yarzab##

Metro Orange Line passengers are waiting for improvements on the way. Photo:Chris Yarzab

I was hoping to write a couple of happy stories this week about the Metro Orange Line. The San Fernando Valley’s highly-regarded workhorse Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) opened in 2005. Lately, a new pedestrian tunnel and faster bus speeds seemed imminent. These facilities would save time for the Orange Line’s 30,000 daily riders.

Earlier this week, I reported that the tunnel, which I like, but L.A. Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne does not, is under construction. The construction site is not so friendly for pedestrians. Also, per Metro’s clarification, the heavily-used surface crosswalk across Lankershim Boulevard is being moved to a less convenient location. The crosswalk was at the south side of Chandler Boulevard North; in the future (and during construction, now) it will be on the north side of Chandler North. This means pedestrians will need to cross Lankershim and Chandler North, instead of just Lankershim. Perhaps, in front of the Metro station, pedestrian prioritization is called for. Perhaps include crosswalks at all the legs of the intersection? Maybe a pedestrian scramble? But that’s another story.

Today, I am disappointed to report that the bus speed improvements that appeared to be imminent seem instead to have fallen into a limbo of inter-agency delay between Metro and the Los Angeles City Transportation Department (LADOT).

The Orange Line BRT runs on its own busway: basically a bus-only street built on former railroad right-of-way. The busway runs generally east-west and, at signalized intersections, crosses numerous north-south streets. In its first few months of operation, the Orange Line ran faster than it does today. There were a handful of car-bus collisions on the route, reportedly due to drivers failing to obey traffic signals. The excuse that has been repeated is that the drivers were not used to seeing any traffic on that long-abandoned right-of-way.

After these collisions, Orange Line bus speeds were reduced. Today Orange Line buses slow to 10 mph when crossing intersections.

Now that, at least, local drivers are more aware of the presence of Orange Line buses, there is movement afoot to improve the Orange Line by bringing its buses back up to speed. 

As both the Los Angeles City Councilmember representing neighborhoods along the Orange Line and a Metro Boardmember, Paul Krekorian is uniquely situated to champion Metro Orange Line improvements. With Council colleague Bob Blumenfeld, Krekorian authored council motion 14-1352 [PDF], which instructs LADOT to work with Metro to figure out how to improve Orange Line service, including increasing speeds.

The Krekorian motion was heard at the October 22 meeting of the Los Angeles City Council Transportation Committee. During the Orange Line motion discussion (audio - at 0:40.), the following exchange took place:

Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Krekorian: Well, maybe we can make this very easy then. Is it the city’s position that Metro can unilaterally change the speeds at intersection crossing points on the Orange Line without approval of the city?

Bill Shao, Senior Transportation Engineer, LADOT: Yes, it is.

Krekorian: Great. Less need to collaborate then, I guess. [laughter]

Shao: We – the city – we have to understand what the new speeds at crossings are so that we can align our signals to their needs.

Krekorian: Which actually becomes a bigger issue but that’s an issue that can happen after these changes take place.

Shao: That’s correct.

Krekorian: Great.

For many years, LADOT resisted increasing speeds on the Metro Orange Line BRT, as it would mean that some people in cars will sometimes experience minor delays in crossing the Orange Line. Shao’s October testimony was the first clear message that LADOT is fully on board, and now the ball is in Metro’s court to improve Orange Line speeds. My hunch is that this change can be attributed to Seleta Reynolds’ leadership.

At the October committee meeting, Metro Interim Executive Officer Jon Hillmer said that Metro was planning to increase Orange Line bus intersection speeds from 10 mph to 25 mph, which Metro expects will save cross-Valley commuters 4-8 minutes per trip. The next day, I reported that Metro Orange Line speed improvements appeared to be coming soon.

Last week, I inquired of LADOT and Metro regarding the timeline for these Orange Line speed improvements. Metro spokesperson Dave Sotero responded that he would check but that they “may be the bailiwick of LADOT.”

Read more…

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L.A. Council Approves Call for Projects List with Cedillo Snub Intact

Rendering of the proposed buffered bike lane on North Figueroa Street. Image: Flying Pigeon L.A.

Rendering of the planned buffered bike lane on North Figueroa Street. Yesterdays’ Council vote signals a further step away from a North Figueroa that would be safer for all. Image: Flying Pigeon L.A.

Yesterday, the Los Angeles City Council approved the list of projects [PDF] that the city plans to submit for Metro Call for Projects funding. Overall, the Call list includes a lot of great projects that reflect that many L.A. City elected officials and the city’s Transportation Department (LADOT) are truly pursuing greater livability and safety.

Unfortunately, the list also includes the ”North Figueroa Great Streets Corridor,” City Councilmember Gil Cedillo’s proposal to add diagonal parking to North Figueroa Street instead of bike lanes.

At yesterday’s meeting, more than half a dozen speakers urged the Council not to pursue Cedillo’s North Figueroa proposal. Speakers included a North Figueroa business owner, local residents, and livability advocates. The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition’s Alek Bartrosouf testified that, “It is important to ensure that as we build Great Streets across the City of Los Angeles that these streets are designed for the safety of all who travel them, and that the planning process is open and inclusive of all voices.”

The LACBC further clarified concerns in their comment letter [PDF] which urged Council President Herb Wesson to re-scope the North Figueroa project to align with the inclusive vision in the city’s bike and mobility plans.

Cedillo’s response to the public was telling. He characterized speakers as having “one percent dictate for 99 percent.” He portrayed complete streets supporters as bullies, proclaiming, “We will not be bullied.” Ultimately, Cedillo defended his North Figueroa project in Orwellian livability rhetoric, stating it includes a “multi-modal approach” and puts “safety first and foremost.”

The City Council, which generally defers to the councilmember who represents the district where a project is located, approved the Call for Projects list unanimously.

Yesterday’s vote gives LADOT staff the go-ahead to seek funding for Cedillo’s project. The project will compete with other applications for Metro funding. If project funding is approved by Metro in mid-2015, funding would be programmed beginning in FY 2019-2020. The project scope could be modified during design and environmental review processes.

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NoHo Ped Tunnel Construction Underway, To Connect Orange and Red Lines

Diagram of North Hollywood Station Underpass project. The new tunnel connect the NoHo Red Line subway station with the Orange Line BRT station across the street. Image via Metro

Diagram of North Hollywood Station Underpass project. The new tunnel will connect the NoHo Red Line subway station with the Orange Line BRT station across the street. Image via Metro Fact Sheet [PDF]

Construction is underway for a new tunnel that will make it easier for riders to transfer between Metro’s Orange and Red Lines. Per Metro’s fact sheet [PDF], the new tunnel, officially the North Hollywood Station Underpass project, is expected to be completed in Spring 2016. Riders are already detouring around the pedestrian-unfriendly construction site barriers.

The North Hollywood Station Underpass is a $22 million capital project, funded in part by a $10 million U.S. Department of Transportation Bus Facility Fund grant. According to a Board report [PDF], Metro estimates that the project will save riders approximately 44 seconds as they transfer between the Red Line subway and the Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

According to the Metro project page, once the tunnel opens, “pedestrian traffic will be deterred from crossing Lankershim.” I hope this doesn’t mean that the surface crosswalk at Chandler Boulevard North will be removed. If this is the case, so much for the 44-second savings, as bus-to-bus connecting passengers will have to walk further to get to another surface crosswalk, or go down into the station and then come back up to the surface to catch the Orange Line.

Eliminating the existing crosswalk would also be inconvenient and possibly dangerous for cyclists heading west from the Burbank-Chandler bikeway onto the Orange Line bikeway. Like too many Southern California livability projects, instead of creating the kind of redundancy that is found in local car transportation systems, it sounds like one walkway will open and another will be closed. 

(Updated 4:45pm – Metro spokesperson Dave Sotero requested that SBLA note that the crosswalk across Lankershim at Chandler North will “remain permanently to facilitate pedestrian/bicyclist crossings.”)

Diagram of the xxxxxxx

Diagram of the North Hollywood Station Underpass. In the foreground are the existing escalators, stairs, and tri-color arched shade structures at the NoHo Red Line Station. Diagonally through the middle are the Red Line tracks running below Lankershim Boulevard. In the upper right are the existing Orange Line station (not pictured) and new tunnel, escalators, stairs, and elevator. Image from Metro

The tunnel will connect to the mezzanine level of the North Hollywood Red Line Station, next to the existing elevator that connects the mezzanine with the train platform.  Read more…

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Krekorian and Garcetti Tout Metro’s New 405 Freeway Express Bus Service

Cutting the ribbon on new Valley-Westside bus service. Left to right: Metro CEO Art Leahy, Mayor Eric Garcetti, Councilmember Paul Krekorian, and SFV Metro Service Council Chair Michael Cano. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Cutting the ribbon on new Valley-Westside bus service. Left to right: Metro CEO Art Leahy, Mayor Eric Garcetti, Councilmember Paul Krekorian, and SFV Metro Service Council Chair Michael Cano. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Starting this Sunday, Metro is introducing its new Valley-Westside Express bus line that takes advantage of the recently-widened 405 Freeway’s new high-occupancy vehicle lanes. The new line runs from Pacoima to Westwood, with stops at the Van Nuys Metrolink Station and the Metro Orange Line’s Van Nuys and Sepulveda stations. The full map of the new service is after the jump below.

Metro Board members celebrated the new service at a press event this morning at the Metro Orange Line Sepulveda station.

Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Krekorian proclaimed that the new service will make it “easier, faster, and more convenient” to travel between Los Angeles communities. Krekorian also pledged that this is “just one step of many for the Valley” and that he is committed to making the Metro Orange Line run faster and adding to its capacity, and “increas[ing] rail in the San Fernando Valley.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti recalled riding the RTD bus to West L.A. when he was growing up in the Valley. Garcetti touted the time savings on the new line, which is anticipated to save 20 minutes compared to current Metro bus service.  Read more…

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Cedillo Insults Bikes as L.A. Gears Up for Metro 2015 Call for Projects

Via the Metro Call for Projects process, yesterday Los Angeles City Councilmember Gil Cedillo revealed his plans for diagonal parking on North Figueroa Street. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Via the Metro Call for Projects process, yesterday Los Angeles City Councilmember Gil Cedillo revealed his plans for diagonal parking on North Figueroa Street. Cedillo is pictured above at an October 2014 press event.  Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

The Metro Call for Projects (the Call) competitively grants transportation funding to L.A. County cities to build various transportation projects. Metro’s next Call for Projects will take place in 2015, with cities applying in late January, and awardees announced by mid-2015. The Call takes place every other year.

In the recent past, Metro’s Call was the biggest source of funding for L.A. County bicycle and pedestrian projects, though the Call categories go far beyond just active transportation. Due to changes in federal transportation funding, a lot of the walk and bike monies have been shifted into the statewide Active Transportation Program. Nonetheless, the Call continues to shape the way local transportation capital is spent, and still includes some bike and pedestrian funding. This will be the first Call since the Metro Board of Directors adopted the agency’s Complete Streets Policy, which asserts that the agency will prioritize projects that support a breadth of modes.

Metro’s 2015 Call will include the following funding categories:

  • Regional Surface Transportation Improvements (RSTI; mostly road-widening)
  • Goods Movement Improvements
  • Signal Synchronization and Bus Speed Improvements
  • Transportation Demand Management
  • Transit Capital
  • Bicycle Improvements
  • Pedestrian Improvements

When the Call approaches, the city of L.A. embarks on an internal ranking process. Various city departments– primarily Transportation (LADOT), but also Public Works bureaus, and sometimes the port, airports, and others–submit projects internally. The Mayor and City Council have a hand in making sure departments include projects that they support and prioritize. The city then scores and ranks the projects internally, selecting a final list of recommended projects.

That entire selection process remains behind closed doors until the final city project list is brought to the City Council for approval. The first step in this approval took place yesterday, when LADOT presented its recommendations to the City Council Transportation Committee. LADOT recommendations include an explanatory cover letter [PDF] and a project list spreadsheet [PDF].

There are millions of stories in these LADOT documents, not all of which will fit in today’s article. For now, SBLA will just highlight some of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Read more…

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Breaking: Southwest Cities Vote to Replace Pam O’Connor with Inglewood’s James Butts on Metro Board

Earlier this morning, the “Southwest Corridor” cities voted for a new official to represent them on the Metro Board of Directors, replacing Santa Monica Councilwoman Pam O’Connor with Inglewood Mayor James Butts. The vote needs to be ratified by the City Selection Committee when it meets in January.

Mayor Butts at the groundbreaking for the Crenshaw Line. Image: Metro

Mayor Butts at the groundbreaking for the Crenshaw Line. Image: Metro

Assuming he is approved by the full City Selection Committee in January, Butts will serve a four-year term that ends in January 2019. There is no term limit to serving on the Metro Board nor as Mayor of Inglewood, so Butts could be a major player for a long-time on transportation issues.

Anyone interested in reading more about the process of selecting Metro Board Members that are neither County Supervisors nor appointed by the Mayor of Los Angeles should read this 2012 article during the attempt to remove Glendale Councilmember Ara Najarian.

Butts doesn’t have quite the record that O’Connor does as a leader on transportation, but Inglewood has become a larger player in recent years. The future Crenshaw Line has two stops in Inglewood and the city earned a grant from Metro to host a CicLAvia-style open street event in the next couple of years.

O’Connor, who served as Metro Board Chair in 2007 and founded the agency’s sustainability committee, survived a close municipal election in Santa Monica last month. She will continue to serve as Chair of the Expo Construction Authority as the representative from the City of Santa Monica. Butts’ tenure as Chief of Police in Santa Monica (1991-2006) overlaps with O’Connor’s tenure on the City Council.

Before the meeting, rumors circulated at potential challengers to O’Connor which included former Beverly Hills City Councilman John Mirisch and Torrance Mayor Pat Furey. Mirisch, an opponent of the Westside Subway Extension, seconded Butts’ nomination.

The Los Angeles County City Selection Committee Southwest Corridor Sector consists of nineteen cities. Each city has a weighted vote depending on population. A list of the member cities and their total votes is below. A vote count from today’s meeting will be uploaded once it is available.

  • Torrance, 15 votes
  • Inglewood, 12 votes
  • Carson, 10 votes
  • Santa Monica, 9
  • Hawthorne, 9 votes
  • Redondo Beach, 7 votes
  • Gardena, 6 votes
  • Beverly Hills, 4 votes
  • Rancho Palos Verdes, 4 votes
  • Culver City, 4 votes
  • West Hollywood, 4 votes,
  • Manhattan Beach, 4 votes
  • Lawndale, 3 votes
  • Lomita, 2 votes
  • El Segundo, 2 votes
  • Rolling Hills Estates, 1 vote
  • Palos Verdes Estates, 1 vote
  • Rolling Hills, 1 vote
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Editorial: Four Ways To Encourage Transit-Friendly Affordable Housing

Metro should pursue joint development beyond the five rail lines under construction, including sites like this bus parking on Wilshire Boulvard just east of the Vermont/Wilshire station. Image via Google maps

Metro should pursue joint development beyond the five rail lines under construction, including sites like this bus parking on Wilshire Boulvard just east of the Vermont/Wilshire station. Image via Google maps

I’ve been thinking about Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s recent motion to help Metro partner on joint development of affordable housing near stations. Also, Garcetti-ally L.A. City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell expressed support for reducing parking requirements in new affordable housing developments along transit corridors, to “help lower construction costs and therefore rents.”

A new report this week, joins previous reports with similar findings: Los Angeles is one of least affordable places to live in the U.S., second only to Honolulu.

So, I figure it is time to offer some of my sage advice.

I don’t know that Garcetti, O’Farrell, Metro, or city departments need my advice, but I’ll go ahead and offer four suggestions on how Southern California can foster transit-oriented affordable housing. None of these are easy. They would involve different governmental agencies operating on different timelines. But perhaps a number of these measures could combine over time to overcome some of our systemic biases for sprawl and against infill transit-oriented development (TOD) and make a dent in L.A.’s affordable housing shortage.

1. Additional Metro Joint Development Sites

Garcetti’s motion [PDF] to the Metro Board of Directors encourages housing at Metro owned-sites on the five new rail lines under construction. These are good places for affordable housing, but there are a lot more joint development sites among Metro’s holdings. It is possible that some projects that I am not aware of could already be underway at some of these sites. Here are three categories of additional Metro site that come to my mind:

  • Existing stations: Just in my Koreatown neighborhood, I’d like to see joint development of affordable housing on top of the Vermont/Beverly and Vermont/Santa Monica Blvd/LACC Red Line stations. These aren’t big vacant lots (like some of Metro’s Boyle Heights vacant lots, currently in early development stages) so housing would likely be directly over the station portal, similar to Hollywood/Western Red Line Station.
  • Existing transit parking lots: I think that there are fairly low-hanging fruit opportunities for development at the stations that are at the end-of-line until further extensions open: Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line station and Culver City Expo Line Station. I know Metro tried and failed to jointly develop the San Fernando Valley Red Line parking lots, in part due to excessive replacement parking requirements. It’s going to take some creative architect/developer to balance some needs for parking at these sites (in the short run.) They’re not going to go from 100 percent parking to 100 percent housing overnight, but they should remain under consideration for future joint development, ideally, mixed-use affordable housing with retail.
  • Existing Metro bus parking areas: It bugs me that, on prime mid-city real estate on Wilshire Boulevard at Shatto Place, immediately east of the busy Vermont/Wilshire Red Line station TOD, Metro has a large bus layover surface parking lot that appears 95 percent empty 95 percent of the time. It looks as though Metro employees park cars there, too. Yes, Metro needs bus parking in this area and I expect that bus parking inside a building isn’t easy; it’s going to need high ceilings, large turning radii, etc., but it is not rocket science. The Wilshire surface lot could be jointly developed as affordable housing on top of Metro bus parking, hopefully with walkable, maybe retail, frontage on Wilshire. There’s another similar bus parking site at 6th Street and Oxford, just around the corner from the Wilshire/Western Purple Line station.

2. Separate “Un-Bundle” Parking from Housing

Right now, when someone rents or buys housing in Southern California, the price automatically includes a couple of parking spaces. Whether you use them or not. For homebuyers, this can mean $20,000-$30,000+ per parking space. This parking is “bundled” with the cost of the housing. Cities can un-bundle the parking, with individuals and families renting/purchasing only as many parking spaces as they actually use. Un-bundling is L.A. City policy in some areas, mainly the recently-approved Cornfield-Arroyo Seco “CASP” plan area north of downtown L.A. Un-bundled parking is a staple in adaptive re-use projects downtown, too. If you live in a building that doesn’t have parking, and you need parking, then you rent parking space nearby.

Read more…

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With 2024 Transit Connection, LAX Hedges Bets, Expects Travelers Will Park

LAWA

LAX’s planned people-mover (dark blue line) will connect with Metro’s under-construction Crenshaw light rail line (vertical red line, on right). The project includes two “intermodal transportation centers” (blue polygons, in middle and right) which means car parking. Image from LAWA Handout [PDF]

“We have to deal with reality,” L.A. World Airports (LAWA) Chief of Planning Christopher Koontz stated at last week’s Metro Board of Directors meeting: even after the LAX rail connection opens in 2024, LAWA expects air travelers will keep drivingLAWA is the city of L.A. department in charge of LAX and a couple smaller airports. Responding to Metro Boardmember Jackie Dupont-Walker’s questioning, Koontz confirmed that connecting LAX to the under-construction Metro Crenshaw Line will mean “an expansion of parking.” 

In his presentation to Metro, Koontz clarified that the airport is looking to get its own employees to ride transit, but citing airport-transit examples in Washington D.C. and Atlanta, more than 90 percent of airline passengers are expected to continue to drive. Koontz’ presentation included a handout [PDF]; LAWA later provided SBLA this longer slideshow [PDF].

LAX people mover concept map showing immediately east of the Crenshaw Line's 96th Street Station: four stories of parking (in purple.) Image via LAWA.

LAX people-mover concept map showing immediately east of the Crenshaw Line’s 96th Street Station: four stories of parking (in purple). Image from LAWA handout [PDF]

Though a source (who declined to be identified) put the number at approximately 8,000 new public parking spaces, LAWA would not confirm this, nor would they provide a number. SBLA asked LAWA to provide an estimate of new parking spaces, or confirm or deny the 8,000 space figure. LAWA spokesperson Marshall Lowe responded:

We do not have an exact parking count but structured above-ground parking will be added in the Central Terminal Area, at the Intermodal Transportation Facility and the Consolidated Rent-A-Car facility.

LAWA’s diagram shows four new large parking lots at automated people-mover (APM) Intermodal Transportation Facility stations, plus two taller replacement parking lots in the middle Central Terminal Area loop. According to one concept [PDF p. 10], these large new Intermodal lots would be 4-level parking structures, so, roughly 8,000 new spaces seems about right. These 8,000 new spaces would add just over 50% to existing LAX owned/operated parking: 8,000 Central Terminal Area spaces and 7,300 economy Lot C spaces. At roughly $25,000+ per space for above-ground parking structures, the 8,000 spaces will likely cost over $200 million to build. Read more…

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CA Seeks Input on 2015 Active Transportation Program Guidelines

A rendering of a proposals for Oakland’s Lake Merritt/Bay Trail connector, the design of which was funded by the Active Transportation Program. Image: Oakland Public Works

The California Transportation Commission (CTC) is seeking input on revised guidelines for the Active Transportation Program (ATP). The ATP is the main source of state funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects, mostly through federal transportation grants to local cities. The proposed changes to the ATP guidelines are mostly minor, but include eliminating the requirement for matching funds and de-emphasizing bike plans.

ATP is a very new program. Its first funding round was just completed in November, so it’s too early to judge the on-the-ground success of any of the projects it’s funded. Nevertheless, the second funding cycle will commence in the spring. CTC staff has proposed changes to program guidelines [PDF] and invited potential applicants and interested parties to weigh in. Although the changes are not extensive, they were the subject of three hours of detailed discussion at CTC’s workshop last Monday in Sacramento.

The CTC plans to revise the guidelines based on comments from this workshop and a second one, which will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. on January 8 at the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) offices, on the 12th floor of 818 West 7th Street, in downtown Los Angeles.

The guidelines are scheduled for adoption by the CTC in March, and the Round Two call for projects would then go out immediately, with applications expected to be due in June.

Caltrans plans to offer workshops in March to go over program requirements, answer questions, and train applicants on the new benefit/cost model it has developed for the application process. Check the Caltrans website for updates.

After the jump are a few highlights from last week’s discussion.

Read more…

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Caltrans Grants $550 Million to Transit Projects Statewide

Caltrans announced over the holiday weekend that it has allocated one of the remaining chunks of money from Prop 1B, the massive transportation bond act approved by California voters in 2006.

Over $550 million was awarded to transit capital projects throughout the state. The projects include building transit centers and bus stop facilities, replacing buses and rail cars, and building repair facilities. Large and small agencies received the funds; a complete list is available here [PDF].

Among the largest receipients is Los Angeles' Metro Expo Rail Phase 2. Photo via Metro's The Source.

Among the largest Prop 1B transit capital funding recipients is $106 million for Los Angeles’ Metro Expo light rail. Photo of Expo Phase 2 construction via Metro’s The Source.

The largest allocations include:

  • $106 million to L.A. Metro for Exposition light rail, phase 2
  • $81 million to San Francisco Muni to complete the Central Subway project
  • $58 million to L.A. Metro for the Regional Connector light rail subway
  • $43 million to Orange County for the Raymond Avenue grade separation
  • $41 million to L.A. Metro for bus procurement
  • $36 million to San Diego for light rail vehicles
  • $30 million to Santa Clara for the Alum Rock Bus Rapid Transit
  • $20 million to AC Transit to complete the Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco

Many smaller projects were also awarded funds, a total of $559,368,166 for 77 projects. Kern and Fresno counties received money to buy natural gas buses and a new fleetwide computer system, Santa Monica got money to replace buses, and the city of Chowchilla got enough to purchase one new transit bus. The smallest award went to California City, in the Mojave desert: $11,715 for a park-and-ride lot.

Read more…