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The 6th St. Viaduct Replacement Project Officially Breaks Ground; Actual Breaking of Ground Is Yet to Come

Cyclists spiral their way down to the riverbed from the model deck of the 6th Street Viaduct. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Cyclists spiral their way down what appears to be a skateboarder’s dream-ramp to the riverbed and park area from the model deck of the 6th Street Viaduct. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“It’s not every day that you get to be present at the birth of a landmark,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti to the hundred-plus members of the press, city notables, transportation advocates, elected officials, and residents gathered under the slowly crumbling columns of the 6th St. Viaduct.

Mayor Eric Garcetti (center, facing camera) addresses a crowd of city notables under the 6th St. Viaduct. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Mayor Eric Garcetti (center, facing camera) addresses a crowd of city notables under the 6th St. Viaduct. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Although today was celebrated as the groundbreaking for the massive, $420 million 6th Street Viaduct Replacement effort, “groundbreaking” is a bit of a misnomer.

Earth was definitely thrown, via these handy ceremonial shovels (below), but we’re still a little ways off from seeing actual bridge-specific ground being broken. And the viaduct itself will not be completed until 2019, at the earliest.

The ceremonial shovels post-earth-throwing under the 6th St. Viaduct. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The ceremonial shovels post-earth-throwing under the 6th St. Viaduct. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A number of intersections in both the arts district (west of river) and Boyle Heights (east of river) must first be reconfigured to accommodate re-routed traffic before the existing bridge can be closed and demolition can begin.

According to representatives of the Bureau of Contract Administration (BCA), Central Ave. and Whittier Blvd. will be the first streets targeted for reconfigurations in the next few weeks. The remaining intersections will be upgraded shortly thereafter.

The intersections slated for improvements to help accommodate the increase in traffic they will see during the period the viaduct is closed. They now number 12 instead of 20. Source: Sixth Street Viaduct Replacement Project (Click to enlarge)

The intersections slated for improvements to help accommodate the increase in traffic they will see during the period the viaduct is closed. They now number 12 instead of 20. Source: Sixth Street Viaduct Replacement Project (Click to enlarge)

Once that process is completed, the bridge will be closed to traffic and they will be able to begin demolition. Although currently looking at July for the tentative closure, the BCA representatives felt that might be an “aggressive” estimate.

The reason? Read more…

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Atlanta Streetcar’s Early Ridership Numbers Disappoint

The first batch of numbers are in for ridership on Atlanta’s brand new $98 million, 2.7-mile downtown streetcar — and the project is off to a rocky start.

The Atlanta Streetcar is underperforming projections. Photo: City of Atlanta

So far, the Atlanta Streetcar is not meeting projections. Photo: City of Atlanta

The streetcar, which opened December 30, is carrying 18 percent fewer riders than anticipated, according to data released by the city this week. That’s actually worse than it sounds because the streetcar is still offering free fares. Passengers will start having to pay $1 per trip in the coming months.

In its first six weeks of operation, the streetcar carried 102,000 people. Project sponsors had predicted 124,000, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

The city, which is running the streetcar, also says operating costs are 50 percent higher than anticipated. Service was expected to cost about $3.2 million annually. Instead, it will cost $4.8 million.

The cost overruns aren’t as alarming upon closer examination. A big chunk of the additional expense comes from introductory fees the city is required to pay MARTA for its cooperation on the project. Those will wind down next year. The city also decided to spend $1 million to seek federal funding for additional transit projects, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports, and that expense has been budgeted to streetcar operations.

Critics of the project, including many national transit advocates, have pointed out that the route, which mainly connects the city’s tourist destinations, is of limited use. It also runs in mixed traffic, which makes it painfully slow at times.

Read more…


News Bits From Metro Board February Committee Meetings

Metro's FY2015-16 budget is expected to exceed $2 billion for the first time. Graph from Metro [PDF]

Metro’s FY2015-16 budget is expected to exceed $2 billion in capital expenditures for the first time ever. Graph from Metro [PDF]

The Metro board of directors will meet next week, Thursday February 26. This week, the agency hosted its regular series of board committee meetings, where most of the negotiations occur. Here are eight things gleaned from this week’s meetings:

1. Utility Relocation Threatens Rail Tunnel Construction Delays

For downtown L.A.’s upcoming 2-mile long Regional Connector light rail subway, the ground was broken, and demolition is underway. But, wait! Metro is still working on the “pre-construction” relocation of utilities. Shocker: it turns out that there are lots of unknown things, mostly abandoned utility infrastructure, buried beneath downtown’s hundred-plus-year-old streets. Metro reports that they are still expecting 2020 completion, but are 3 to 5 months behind on utility relocation. And that is just the prep work that needs to completed before real tunnel construction can get underway.

Metro staff alluded to further details coming to the Metro board in April. It is not clear, but it could mean approving more money for Regional Connector pre-construction. 

And speaking of more money for the pre-construction phase (which is not always a bad thing – especially if it means paying now to avoid paying more later), next week the board is considering [PDF] adding $20.8 million to the $115 million pre-construction contract that is getting things ready for the second phase of the Purple Line Subway extension. Maybe newer Century City streets hide fewer buried infrastructure hazards than downtown does.

2. Metro Looks to Joint Development, Focused on Affordable Housing

SBLA expects to publish more on this soon, but the staff report [PDF] is out on Mayor Garcetti’s motion pushing for Metro to step up its role in joint development of transit-oriented affordable housing. Some of the news is good: Metro lawyers are okay with encouraging affordable housing by discounting property the agency owns. Some of the resistance is predictable: Metro staff opened with a comment about the difficulty of providing enough transit-user (free) parking at these sites.  Read more…


For Our 7th Birthday: 7 Stupid Things That Might Have Happened If Streetsblog L.A. Hadn’t Been Here

If you want stupid things to keep NOT happening on Southern California Streets, please celebrate with us at Streetsblog's Birthday Fundraiser tomorrow. Photo: CicLAvia

If you want stupid things to keep NOT happening, please celebrate with us at Streetsblog’s Birthday Fundraiser tomorrow. Photo: CicLAvia

When Streetsblog Los Angeles first published in 2008, L.A.’s mood was a lot different than it is today. Now, Joe, Sahra, and the rest of the team are mostly focusing on moving the ball forward instead of “playing defense.” So, I write this to hopefully make you laugh a little and reflect and, of course, to plug our fundraiser tomorrow. Hopefully, next year at this time, we’ll have added to the list “stopped stupid helmet/reflective clothing law.” So without further adieu, here is our list of seven ways transportation planning in L.A. would be stupider if Streetsblog weren’t around.

1) The Pittance of Measure R Funds that Go to Bicycle and Pedestrian Projects Wouldn’t Have - Sitting in the back of a Metro Board meeting, LACBC’s Dorothy Le and I lamented that there was no discussion of improving bicycle or pedestrian conditions in the $30 billion sales tax proposal being pitched to the Board. We hastily pulled together the “1% for bikes, 1% for peds” campaign that garnered hundreds of signatures, support from a broad cross-section of environmental and planning organizations. At the request of Metro Director Richard Katz, we even got Joe Linton to draft up a dream list of bike projects. In the end, we didn’t win — Measure R has no firm set-aside for bicycle and pedestrian projects.

However, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa promised that L.A. would set aside 10% of its Measure R local return funds for bike/ped projects. That money funded a lot of the implementation of the bike plan and the hiring of the two pedestrian coordinators who happen to be responsible for People St and the city’s Safe Routes to Schools Program.

2) Eli Broad’s Half-Baked Plans for the Regional Connector – Remember that time Eli Broad drew a bunch of lines on a Google Map to re-route the Regional Connector? Unfortunately, when you’re a billionaire people take your ideas seriously no matter how strange they are. By shining the light on his plans that were meant be kept in the back room, we helped keep the timeline for the Regional Connector on track.

3) It Would Be Harder to Get Bikes on Trains – With all of the talk about solving the first mile/last mile problem facing transit agencies, and the need to improve bicycle safety and connectivity, it is hard to believe that as recently as five years ago we were still debating whether or not it was a good idea to ban bikes on trains during rush hour. The existing ban had been sparingly enforced, but it was still a hot-button issue until May 2010, when Metro announced the ban would be lifted during a “Bike Week” press event in May. Bonus points if you noticed the person who broke that story now works in the Mayor’s Office. Read more…

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Americans Are Driving Less, But Road Expansion Is Accelerating

Notice how the new lane miles and miles driven depart in the upper right hand corner of this chart, via FHWA.

Starting around 2005, driving leveled off, but transportation agencies continued to expand roads. Click to enlarge. Chart: FHWA

Americans drive fewer miles today than in 2005, but since that time the nation has built 317,000 lane-miles of new roads — or about 40,000 miles per year. Maybe that helps explain why America’s infrastructure is falling apart.

The new data on road construction comes from the Federal Highway Administration and reached our attention via Tony Dutzik at the Frontier Group, which studies trends in driving. In 2005, Americans drove just above a combined 3 trillion miles. Almost a decade later, in 2013, the last year for which data was available, they were driving about 45 billion less annually — so total driving behavior had declined slightly. Meanwhile, road construction continued as if demand was never higher.

Between 2005 and 2013, states and the federal government poured about $27 billion a year into road expansion. According to FHWA data, road expansion was spread across highways and surface streets fairly uniformly.

That’s actually a faster pace than in previous decades, Dutzik points out. For the whole of the 1990s — when gas was cheap and sprawl development was booming — the country added, on average, about 17,000 lane-miles a year, less than half the current rate.

This is further evidence that America’s “infrastructure crisis” is due in large part to spending choices that favor new construction over maintenance. No Comments

50 Years After a Highway Revolt, a Quiet Surrender

Can cities that won highway fights two generations ago still defeat destructive road projects today?

Interstate 90 through near east Cleveland. Image: Green City Blue Lake

Interstate 90 through near east Cleveland. Photo: Green City Blue Lake

Marc Lefkowitz at Green City Blue Lake is looking back at Cleveland’s history of highway revolts. In the late 1960s, the city successfully beat back a proposal — the “East Side Highway” – that would have obliterated neighborhoods. Now, all these decades later, Cleveland is actually moving ahead with a watered-down version of that same road, repackaged as the $331 million “Opportunity Corridor.”

Lefkowitz says at another time in the city’s history there was a whole resistance effort to preserve urban communities and green spaces:

There was, perhaps, more general acceptance in Cleveland that serving the least able might mean taking on the most powerful.

Then Cleveland Planning Director, Norm Krumholtz, helped in the fight to turn back powerful interests that wanted to build a network of highways slicing through the east side of the city and the suburbs of Shaker and Cleveland Heights. In his book, “Making Equity Planning Work” Krumholtz tells of how, in 1969, NOACA voted for an east side highway that would start at E. 55th and cut east through densely populated, lower income black neighborhoods. He was asked by Mayor Carl B. Stokes to come up with a strategy to rescind that vote.

“I could find nothing to suggest that the Cleveland City Planning Commission had been anything but supportive of all NOACA’s highway plans,” Krumholtz writes. “We had made no effort to define the proposed freeway as a problem—a project that would destroy neighborhoods, reduce the supply of affordable housing available to Cleveland’s low-income populations, and deepen racial isolation and the city’s fiscal problems. (City staff) looked at it in terms of highway engineering criteria—as an ‘improvement’ to the regional traffic flow.”

Under Krumholtz, city planning developed an estimate of the costs to the city of the highways, including the local share of the building costs, loss of jobs, loss of housing, loss of income tax. And they used the numbers in their presentations that opposed the highways.

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines

  • Metro To Begin Wi-Fi Testing On A Few Buses (Curbed)
  • Survey: 1 in 5 Metro Riders Report Unwelcome Sexual Advances (LAT)
  • Survey: 88% of Voters Favor Government Investing In Sidewalk Repair (Investing in Place)
  • Metro Trains Mostly On-Time, Many Bus Lines Run A Bit Late (KPCC)
  • The 710 Freeway Corridor Is Detrimental To Your Health (KCET)
  • Five Truths About the Economic Benefits of Walking (L.A. Walks)
  • 20 Questions Bike Commuters Get and Answer “No” (KCRW)
  • Mariachi Plaza Retail Property For Sale (Eastsider)
  • A Few Locals Express Hostility To Upcoming Valley CicLAvia (CiclaValley)
  • L.A. City Planning Dept Recirculating Mobility Plan EIR (LA2B)
  • Recent CA Gas Price Dip Is Over (CAHSR Blog)
    CA Planning To Reduce Gas Tax, Per Complicated Swap Law (Planetizen)
  • CAHSR Sets Off Global Competition to Supply Rail Cars (Bloomberg)
  • L.A.’s Intricate Highway System Surely A Draw To NFL Teams (Onion)
  • Mainstream TV Pundit Gets Lots Of Bike Helmet Law Issues Wrong (SBSF)
    Which Way L.A.? Hosts More Folks Who Get Helmet Law Issues Wrong

Get National Headlines at Streetsblog USA


New Report Tells CA How to Get More Bang for its Transportation Bucks

Screen shot 2015-02-19 at 4.01.00 PM

This report from the University of California’s Climate Change and Business Research Initiative tells California how to put its money where its mouth is.

A new report [PDF] offers suggestions for ways that California could better spend the roughly $28 billion it invests in transportation every year, both to be more cost-effective and to better align with the state’s environmental goals.

Authored by researchers at the Climate Change and Business Research Initiative, a partnership between the law schools at UCLA and UC Berkeley, the report stemmed from a day-long workshop last fall with a group of California policy makers, transportation experts, and advocates that included some of the top minds in the industry.

“We could put money towards making roads safe for people who ride bikes, people who want to walk, and people who take transit,” said Ethan Elkind, lead author of the report. “At the same time, that would help manage traffic congestion.”

Other ideas include:

  • Develop state project performance standards to make sure that new transportation projects align with state environmental and energy goals. There are some good models already in existence, including the project performance analysis for Plan Bay Area, which scores projects on things like integrating land use and transportation as well as cost-benefit ratios.
  • Lower the current 2/3 voter threshold for local transportation funding measures, and tying the measures to metrics related to environmental goals.
  • Fix existing infrastructure before building new roads–and make sure that repairs and maintenance include safety for all road users, not just people driving cars.
  • Require local governments to reduce parking requirements in transit-intensive areas to give developers room to meet actual parking demand more cost-effectively while reducing the cost of transit-oriented projects.
  • Develop mileage-based user fees for transportation funding in place of the shrinking gas tax, which decreasingly reflects actual road usage as vehicles become more fuel efficient.
  • Amend Article XIX of the California Constitution, which restricts the use of state gas tax funds for transit operations.

Read more…

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Live.Ride.Share, L.A.’s First “Shared Mobility Conference” Comes on Monday

After you have spent the weekend celebrating Streetsblog Los Angeles’ 7th birthday party, you’ll probably be too exhausted to go to work. If that is the case, consider attending Live.Ride.Share, a conference on the future of mobility in the “share economy.” The all-day conference is currently at maximum registration, but you can find the RSVP information at the end of the story.

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 3.00.44 PMThe Live.Ride.Share conference will bring together local and national transportation leaders to discuss both a quickly growing economic sector and the role the sharing economy can play in the changes taking place in Los Angeles-area transportation.

The conference will feature presentations, panel discussions and workshops that include locals leaders such as Mike Bonin, Michael Woo and Seleta Reynolds and state, national and international figures such as Stuart Cohen, Ben Plowden, and David Bragdon.

For me, Plowden is a particularly exciting speaker. As Director of Surface Strategy and Planning at Transport for London, he is known as the brains behind the city’s groundbreaking “cycle superhighway” plan. He will be discuss London’s strategies for enhancing cycling infrastructure and what L.A. can learn from London’s innovative approach.

To get on the waiting list for the conference, click here.

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4 Things to Know as Transportation Bill Negotiations Heat Up

Lawmakers in Washington are just beginning their latest attempt to craft the first long-term transportation bill in roughly a decade. The current bill expires in just a few months, on May 31, but in Congress that’s an eternity. While it’s a long way from go time, the contours of the debate are starting to become apparent.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Bill Shuster (center, in white) and U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx (right, in the red tie) held a Twitter town hall to promote a long-term transportation funding plan. Photo: Bill Shuster via Twitter

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Bill Shuster (center, in white) and U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx (right, in the red tie) held a Twitter town hall last week to promote a long-term transportation funding plan. Photo: Bill Shuster via Twitter

Here’s how things are shaping up.

The White House Transportation Proposal and Anthony Foxx’s “Grow America Tour”

The Obama Administration has unveiled the broad strokes of a six-year transportation proposal, the “Grow America” plan, that would dramatically increase federal funding for transit and include key incentives to reform how state DOTs spend their billions.

Transportation Secretary Anthony set out on a four-day tour of some Southern states yesterday to promote the Grow America plan. Foxx has been enlisting local leaders to help build a push for reauthorization.

The Fight Over Transit Funding

Pushing in the opposite direction, bolstered by Koch brothers money, is the Tea Party wing of the GOP, which wants to end federal funding for anything that’s not highways.

Last week, a group of rural Republicans raised the prospect of eliminating the portion of the Highway Trust Fund that supports transit. Since Ronald Reagan signed the policy into the law in 1983, 20 percent of federal gas tax revenue has gone toward the nation’s rail and bus systems.

Read more…