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Posts from the "Fix-It-First" Category

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The Los Angeles Times Wonders What Can Be Done About Freeway Pollution

This Freeway in San Diego is part of the problem. Is part of the solution building more freeways in San Diego? Image: San Diego Personal Injury Lawyers

The Los Angeles Times published a remarkable editorial today questioning why so little is done about the public health crisis caused by Southern California’s reliance on freeway travel. However, either because of confusion or lack of will, the editorial stops short of proposing any real solutions to the crisis. It merely note it exists.

The first step, is admitting you have a problem.

The Times reports:

University research over the years has found substantially worse air pollution adjacent to freeways, and worse health among nearby residents as well. A 2005 USC study concluded that children who lived within a quarter of a mile of a freeway were 89% more likely to have asthma than those living a mile away. The closer they lived to freeways, the higher the asthma rates. But these university studies, though they added to our collective knowledge, did not affect government regulations.

While the Times earns kudos for talking about the danger posed to those living near freeways, there are two points left out of the editorial that are crucial to understanding why freeway pollution is ignored in policy settings and informs just how difficult a battle to reign in said pollution will be.

The first is that there are powerful interests that want to see the current transportation system, a system that literally cripples and enfeebles the people that live near it, continued. Oil companies, car manufacturers, construction unions, are just some of the giants that will fight meaningful change in transportation policy unless the new policy involves clean car programs.

For examples, Xcel Energy is looking to pervert the democratic process in Boulder, Colorado because the city wants to convert to clean power. Locally, AAA and car dealerships have eschewed the public process to pull the levers of power behind the scene to attempt to block a road diet and protected bike lanes plan on South Figueroa Street.

The second problem missed by the Times is that the people whose lives are devastated by the pollution creating freeways are not the people creating the pollution. Traditionally, the communities dissected by asphalt scalpels are the poorest and least likely to wield power behind-the-scenes. Not coincidentally, they are also least likely to own cars and travel on a freeway for work/recreation/whatever. Read more…

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Takin’ It to the Streets: Protestors Gather Over Road Conditions on Venice Blvd.

Linda Jones speaks to the press during the rally for a repaired Venice on Sunday. Photo: James Jones. For more of Jones' pics from Saturday, visit Streetsblog LITE

I was just 100 yards into CicLAvia to the Sea, when I heard the loud “pop.” It wasn’t just a broken tube, but my entire rear tire looked as though it were chewed up by some sort of monster hiding in the asphalt.

Venice Boulevard struck again.

Thanks to Dan Rodman and the wizards at Bikerowave, I was back on the saddle in a half hour. Rodman commented that I was riding on a new wheel, and a good $50 one at that. “You’re the victim of bad luck,” he lamented.

I knew better.

I was the victim of one of the worst maintained roads in the city. Venice Boulevard.

And I’m not the only one who feels this way. One week later, dozens of Mar Vista residents and Venice Blvd. commuters took to the streets at Venice and Grand Ave. waving signs from the street corner reading “We Pay Taxes for Usable Streets” and “Honk to Repair Venice.”

While it wasn’t the largest rally ever seen, it might be one of the first times that we’ve seen sign an actual protest over road conditions. And the response from passer-byers was pretty overwhelming.

“Many people approached me during the protest and stated how disgusted they were with the condition of Venice Blvd. Several told me stories of those they know who have been hurt trying to navigate all the potholes and cracks,” writes Linda Jones, the protest organizer.  Read more…

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“Operation Pothole” Is Back, Make Sure Our Bike/Bus Streets Get Fixed

Yup, that's a pothole. Photo: SEIU LA/Flickr

Remember back in January when the City of Los Angeles launched “Operation Pothole” to repair 10,000 potholes over one weekend?  Apparently the City had so much fun, they decided to do it all over again, this time with twice as many crews filling twice as many holes on June 4th and 5th.

Without going in to a debate on whether special events to fill potholes in a city with 4,000 square miles of land full full of damaged streets is an effective plan, let’s focus on getting many of those 20,000 potholes filled on bike routes, bike lanes, and bus routes.  Over the next week, take note of where the worst asphalt craters are in your commute and make sure to let the city know where these commuter traps are.  The cynic in me wanted to suggest we only report potholes on Wilshire west of Beverly Hills, but I’m pretty sure the staffers fielding the Operation Pothole calls wouldn’t get the joke.

The LADOT Bike Blog has the details on how to call in a pothole to the city to get it filled. Read more…

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L.A. Conservancy: New Spring Street Bridge Plans Are Better, But…

(The above video was prepared by the L.A. City Bureau of Engineering to explain the project. There will be a public meeting on the North Spring Street Bridge Improvement project on Tuesday, May 10, at 6:00 P.M. at the Lincoln Heights Senior Citizen Center at 2323 Workman Avenue.  For more information, click on the advertisement on the right.  Many of the details that have led to this compromise can be found in our first article on this project.)

The L.A. Conservancy, one of the leading voices opposing the North Spring Street Bridge Improvement Project, has broken its silence on its view of the new designs for the project proposed by the City’s Bureau of Engineering (BoE.)  Despite its long-standing opposition to changing the design of the historic structure, it seems the Conservancy is pleased with the efforts the BoE has made to maintain the original design and make needed repairs and upgrades to the bridge.

“We’re encouraged by the direction the Bureau of Engineering is headed,” notes Adrian Scott Fine, the director of advocacy for the L.A. Conservancy.

As we noted last week, the bridge has been a fixture in Downtown Los Angeles since 1927, but in recent years the City has been trying to change the structure by widening it, adding new sidewalks, bike lanes, and extending the mixed-use travel lanes from 9.5 to eleven feet.  The Conservancy has opposed the widening because earlier designs of the bridge would have greatly altered the character of the structure.

After losing a political battle last year, the BoE went back to the drawing board to create two new designs for expanding the bridge.  The first design proposed design widens the south side of the bridge, restripe the lanes to include a bike lane in each direction, widen the sidewalk on the north side of the bridge and add a sidewalk to the south side.  The second design spreads the widening out but has the same basic impact.  The bridge will still have four mixed travel lanes, two new bike lanes, and sidewalks on both sides of the bridge. Read more…

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City, Caltrans, Seek Feedback on North Spring Street Bridge Widening

Nobody's debating that conditions on the bridge are good for cyclists/pedestrians. The issue is how to improve them. Photo: NSSB/Flickr

(Yesterday, a new advertisement appeared in our sidebar advertising a public meeting on the North Spring Street Bridge Improvement project on Tuesday, May 10, at 6:00 P.M. at the Lincoln Heights Senior Citizen Center at 2323 Workman Avenue.  Below is a summary of the project, most of which was written before the advertisement was placed. – DN)

The North Spring Street Bridge Replacement/Improvement project has been a controversial one for the four years its been under debate.  The City and Caltrans claim the bridge is in poor structural health and has car travel lanes that are too narrow.  Historic preservationists claim that the bridge has local historical significance transportation reformers claim that plans to replace or improve the bridge will increase the amount of cars flowing in to the area.

Last year, the city attempted a rushed process to push through a plan to expand the traversable width of the bridge from 50 feet to 90 feet.   Only a surprise vote by the City Council Transportation Committee prevented the bridge from being widened to nearly double its current size “to make room for cyclists and pedestrians.”  This week, the city and Caltrans announced a new public hearing to vet two possible designs to expand the bridge.

The first design proposed design widens the south side of the bridge, restripe the lanes to include a bike lane in each direction, widen the sidewalk on the north side of the bridge and add a sidewalk to the south side.  The second design spreads the widening out but has the same basic impact.  The bridge will still have four mixed travel lanes, two new bike lanes, and sidewalks on both sides of the bridge.

Even though neither plan would add a mixed-use travel lane, the bridge will be able to accommodate more automobile traffic after the widening.  Currently travel lanes on the bridge are 9.5 feet wide.  After the widening, the lanes will swell to eleven feet, wide enough to accommodate much faster, and higher volumes of traffic. Read more…

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Obama Brings Focus Back to Minneapolis Bridge Collapse, Media Blunders the Story

For a brief moment in August of 2007, the country was serious about maintaining its bridge infrastructure. Photo:Construction Law Today

(Marybeth Miceli is the President of Miceli Infrastructure Consulting, LLC.  She is a bridge testing and assessment specialist and materials scientist with a background in Nondestructive Testing/Evaluation.   She has just completed a 3-year term on the Board of Directors for the American Society for Nondestructive Testing (ASNT), who named her “Young NDT Professional of the Year” in 2004.  Miceli is married to L.A. Streetsblog Editor Damien Newton.)

We can thank President Obama for calling attention once again to the tragic bridge collapse of the I-35 W Bridge outside Minneapolis in 2007.  In a recent speech , regarding the republican spending bill, he criticizes the GOP’s infrastructure spending cuts, tying together the collapse with aging infrastructure and our lack of spending in the transportation arena.  The critics in the media have decided to jump on this, waving the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report saying the 2007 collapse of the I-35 highway bridge just outside of Minneapolis was caused by a design flaw.

Unsurprisingly, the media continues to not do their homework, particularly when it comes to transportation infrastructure.  How many of them reporting on this story (or even those who reported on the original collapse) actually read the report?

The President is 100% correct to draw this association between lack of funding and the collapse.  Though the “root cause” of the collapse was the gusset plate design flaw, there were many contributing factors to the collapse such as the construction equipment and materials being placed on the exact weak joint.  But there is so much more to the “perfect storm” that caused the collapse.  If any one of the factors had been avoided, the tragic collapse that took the lives of 13 would likely have been averted.

Cutting funding for transportation infrastructure, inspection, and repair only make it more likely that the conditions that caused this “storm” could happen again.

Two of the main contributing factors were: Read more…

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Behind the Numbers: California’s Bridges Might Be Worse Off Than We Think

Earlier this week, Transportation for America released a report on the state of America’s bridges.  Capitol Hill Streetsblog broke down those numbers yesterday, but the numbers for California were even worse.  According to “The Fix We’re In For: The State of California’s Bridges,” 11.8% of California bridges are “structurally deficient” and this figure will continue to rise as an entire generation of bridges approaches their 50-year life expectancy. Additionally the top ten most heavily traveled structurally deficient bridges in the nation are in the greater Los Angeles region.

All images via Transportation for America

Transportation for America is using the buzz created by their reports to pressure government leaders to prioritize a “fix-it-first” ethic in to the next federal transportation bill.  Local organizer Ryan Wiggins writes, “In the next federal transportation bill we must make caring for our existing infrastructure a core principle. It is key to our public safety and economic security.”

But just using federal funds won’t be enough for California to address it’s growing bridge crisis on its own.  To its credit, California already uses all of the federal dollars available for bridge repair for bridge repair.  To keep our bridges in a “state of good repair,” the highest mark a structure can receive, California officials will need to spend more local and state dollars on bridge repair, maintenance and evaluation.  In the 1970′s, Governor Brown basically halted highway expansion to support transit.  To make sure funding is secured for a “Fix-It-First” campaign of the needed magnitude, highway expansion might need to go back to the back burner.

In addition to the coming crisis as more and more California bridges hit the end of their original life-expectancy, some engineers question whether we even know how bad our crumbling bridge crisis is today. Read more…

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State Transpo Officials Push to Toll for Maintenance, Not Just Capacity

Last week, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told state DOT officials gathered at an AASHTO conference in Washington that he was all in favor of tolling – but only to add new capacity.

Iowa DOT Director Nancy Richardson says her state should be putting all of its funds toward stewardship. Photo: Iowa DOT

“We believe in tolling,” LaHood said. “You can raise a lot of money with tolls. If a state comes to us with good plans for tolling, yes, we’ll be responsive to that… as long as you’re building more capacity. That’s really what we’re going to look at.”

As state transportation officials struggle with state of good repair, they are beginning to chafe at the federal restriction that allows tolling only for new capacity – not maintenance or other needs.

“The argument always is, we shouldn’t toll for reconstruction because we’ve already paid for them once,” said Iowa DOT Director Nancy Richardson in an interview with Streetsblog. “But we’ve paid for them and we’ve used that value. Now it’s time to reinvest.”

She says maintenance, or “stewardship”, is a much higher priority for her state than capacity — to the point where she considers spending all of her funds on stewardship.

We probably have about 75 percent of our money going to that now. But our system has taken such a beating in the last five years because the weather has been so dramatic – both winters and flooding – so we’ve seen accelerated deterioration and costs over the past five or six years, without revenues going up significantly. Our bang for the buck is less. So we have to look, like all states, to see if we have to almost completely shift our funds to maintenance, or stewardship, as we call it, rather than capacity.

Secretary LaHood admitted, when asked, that the Federal Highway Administration had rejected tolls for Pennsylvania’s I-80 because the tolls were going to be used for “other things” besides new capacity.

Read more…

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EPA Adopting ‘Fix-it-First’ Infrastructure Policy — For Water

Environmental groups have long called for a national "fix-it-first" standard to apply to new transportation projects, requiring states to focus on repair of existing infrastructure before constructing new lane miles. The approach has caught on in several state capitals, but not in Washington -- except when it comes to water infrastructure.

539w.jpgA sign advertising "spring water" coffee in Boston, where a state of emergency was declared last weekend following a water main burst. (Photo: AP/Globe)
As the Washington Post reports today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) quietly released a new policy last month that tells state officials to use their $3 billion-plus in annual federal water grants to shore up creaky pipes before serving new housing developments on the outer edges of urban areas.

From the Post's piece:

The new guidance arguably arrives five years too late -- after a home building boom that swallowed up vast swaths of land. But building will eventually resume, and EPA officials say the leverage of the federal funding ... could coax states toward a more sustainable form of development. With so many cities contending with aging water pipes and sewer lines, officials say, it makes most sense to address those needs first.

The EPA's announcement was met with criticism from the home building industry and state water supervisors who do not believe their mandate should include preventing unsustainable growth.

But amid multiple ominous signs about the health of the nation's water systems -- a burst pipe that left millions of Bostonians without usable faucet water, and a long-term deficit of about $500 billion in state water funds -- a show of effectiveness for "fix-it-first" rules could strengthen the case for applying them to transportation projects in the future.
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New Analysis: 59% of Road Stimulus Went to Repair, 33% to New Capacity

Shovel_ready.jpg(Photo: DMI Blog)
In the first year of the Obama administration's economic stimulus law, 59 percent of its $27 billion in transportation formula funds went to projects that preserve existing roads, while 33 percent was used to build new pavement, according to an analysis by the advocacy group Smart Growth America (SGA).

The new data, unveiled today by SGA state policy director Will Schroeer at a green jobs conference in Washington, brings a measure of good news to clean transport advocates who had viewed the stimulus as somewhat of a disappointment for its failure to fund roads and transit on a more equal footing.

The SGA analysis does not include the law's $8.4 billion in transit aid, looking solely at the formula funding that is often depicted as dedicated to highways and bridges.

In fact, states were allowed to redirect some of that larger pot to transit, though not all took advantage of that flexibility. "Some states were really, I have to say, dishonest with the public about what the money could be spent on," Schroeer said today.

Here's how SGA's one-year analysis of the $27 billion in stimulus money shook out:

59% spent on road system repair/preservation
33% spent on new road capacity
3.9% spent on non-motorized transport (e.g. bike-ped)
1.7% spent on transit and related projects
2% spent on other uses

Read more...