Thursday, February 28, 2013

More unbelievable spending proposals from the state government

State transportation spending declines over 30% while government employee retirement benefits increase 25%. It's time to reverse this pattern.

A load of cash. A new report released by nonprofit California Common Sense shows that larger portions of the California state budget have increasingly been going toward state employee salaries, retirement benefits, and healthcare while state transportation spending has decreased a whopping 31% since FY 2007-2008. Ever wonder why those potholes take so long to get fixed? Other state services had similar cuts. Looks like services at the DMV won't improve anytime soon nor will recently cut school bus service be making a comeback through the near future. When Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled his proposed FY 2013-2014 budget, he indicated that more money would be directed toward education, but the report shows the opposite.

The state is projected to take in over $10 billion more in additional revenue than from the 2007-08 fiscal year mainly due to the increased taxes, but state funding for many government programs will actually be lower due to increasing costs of health care and employee benefits. To be fair, the governor is credited for submitting a balanced budget and a special Legislative session will take place to debate the rising health care costs.

Robust debate is welcome, but the state must address this serious problematic spending trend head-on. According to the report, state spending on health care is up 62%. Employee compensation, up 16%. Employee retirement, up 25%. Debt obligations, up 24%. The most shocking increase is unfunded employee retirement benefits, up over 90% from $111.5 billion in FY 2007-08 to $211.4 billion in FY 2013-14. Even more alarming, to fund these employee accommodations, transportation spending is cut and taxes have risen. We are seeing a discouraging trend where the state government is spending less to serve the people of California and more on state employees, paid for by increased taxes. It's yet another reason why The Transit Coalition continues to question budget-related fare increases and object to transit cuts and tolls for carpools to use a high occupancy lane.

Speaking of HOT lanes, LA Metro is now permitting motorcycles to use the Metro ExpressLanes for free and without mandatory transponders. Metro's move is smart since motorcycles have long been considered an HOV for a variety of safety reasons. With non-registered motorcycles out of the congested general purpose lanes and into the HOT lanes, the freeways will have fewer instances of motorcycle lane splitting and will thus be safer to travel. Now, would OCTA and RCTC consider the same idea for the 91 Express Lanes? What about the other HOV's?

In related news, Metro opened the new I-10 HOT lanes last Saturday. The facility forms the culmination of a $210 million project funded by the federal government that also included the I-110 HOT lanes, which opened in November. Tolls for using the entire length of the lanes range from $4 to $7 depending on the time of day. Metro expects to spend $7 to $10 million to operate the lanes while gaining $18 to $20 million in revenue during the year-long demonstration. LA Streetsblog dissected one particular article that discusses the new lanes in a less-than-favorable light.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Ontario International Airport and the federal budget

(2/27/13) – IE Transit Talking Points Short

Automatic federal spending cuts may occur within a few days, an event known as the sequester. According to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, the cuts would cost Ontario International Airport and 60 other smaller airports its overnight Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers. That would mean no overnight flights despite the fact that the FAA allows airlines to land at airports that don’t have active control towers. Even though few passenger flights use ONT overnight, cargo carrier UPS relies on overnight flights for its Next Day Air service. The Ontario Airport and several logistic employers would be severely affected if UPS diverted its cargo planes to LAX; therefore, the situation is serious.

The Obama administration has no plans to cut federal spending without increasing taxes, a notion objected by several members of Congress. This has led to the impasse which may cause the automatic cuts to take place March 1st. Despite what many federal officials claim, Washington spending needs to be controlled better. The federal debt is nearing $17 trillion and spending increased 75% over the last decade, yet the economy remains lackluster.

The FAA is the backbone of regulating the aviation market and maintaining safety standards in the air. Its cornerstone is the Air Commerce Act of 1926, passed through the urging of the aviation industry. Certainly, any public entity like the FAA can streamline operations to eliminate waste, but maintaining staffed control towers 24-7 at ONT is productive for the logistics and airline sectors and should be maintained, even if the controllers are contracted. At the same time, government agencies need to police their budgets better so that taxpayers are not funding wasteful spending. Remember when former Metrolink CEO John Fenton was able to slash $3-4 million off the railroad’s budget simply by forbidding trains to sit idle between routes? The feds too need to get serious about government spending.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

New HOV Lanes and Omnitrans Route 215

(2/26/13) – IE Transit Talking Points Short

Transportation officials have begun the construction of an HOV lane on a 7 ½ mile stretch of the I-215 Freeway between San Bernardino and Riverside. The new lane is expected to be completed later in the summer. Omnitrans should expect improved productivity for the existing express bus Route 215 which runs through the corridor linking the two downtown areas. Private sector buses headed through the corridor can expect better efficiency with the presence of the HOV lane. Let’s get those bus routes into the HOV lane and get them moving.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Improving Inland Empire Bus Service

(2/25/13) – IE Transit Talking Points Short

The Riverside Transit Agency, Omnitrans, and city-operated municipal systems cover the sprawling Inland Empire region of Southern California with local and commuter express service. The Transit Coalition regularly participates to preserve existing service, provide ideas that would make service more attractive and efficient, and help expand service.

As a grass roots group, we strive to improve overall bus transit productivity from early morning to late night, eliminate wasteful government spending, streamline agency operating costs while maintaining fast transit mobility for both high and low density transportation corridors. With the amount of taxes Californians pay to the state, we should have a first-rate multi-modal transportation system at hand combined with some of the smoothest roads. Let’s get Southern California moving.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Friday Transportation Tips: Help RTA build its 10 Year Transit Plan

The Riverside Transit Agency wants your feedback. Beginning February 23, RTA surveyors will issue surveys onboard buses as part of its Comprehensive Operational Analysis study. RTA plans to examine how to improve transit center connections, establish direct connections to employment centers and schools, increasing service frequency and span, expanding bus service to underserved areas and improving existing commuter routes. The Transit Coalition utilizes information from the COA to develop concepts, build up transportation campaigns, and take positions on issues. So the next time you're on the bus, be sure to fill out one of these surveys. If you desire to get Riverside County moving with a productive multi-modal transportation system, your voice will be counted.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Why High Occupancy Vehicles are losing freedom with Toll Lanes

Transportation agencies need to put aside the "Nanny Lane" politics for high occupancy toll lanes.

Concept: What an entry point for the 91 Express Lanes would look like if the corridor permitted free non-transponder 3+ HOV's -or- FasTrak.

High occupancy vehicle travel remains a highly popular travel option for many, but incentives to freely rideshare on southland freeways are weakening. Legit HOV's consist of not only commuter carpools which make up approximately 10% of all commuter trips, but also private charter buses, airport shuttles, casino coaches, the Greyhound bus, taxis, caravans, motorcycles, and yes, family trips. Private HOV's contribute toward a robust multi-modal transportation system, but presently, incentives to travel in an HOV are in decline.

Los Angeles Metro's high occupancy toll lanes along the I-110 freeway corridor through South LA accomplished two things: It allowed solo-occupancy vehicles to pay a toll with a FasTrak transponder to access the underutilized $1 billion I-110 Harbor Transitway corridor. New rapid express buses were also brought in to serve the corridor. However, there is little else that shows that the toll lanes have contributed toward getting Southern California moving, and the majority of I-110 commuters know it.

Metro ExpressLanes entry sign As The Transit Coalition predicted, traffic in the I-110 general purpose lanes has worsened since the November, 2012 carpool-to-ExpressLane lane conversion three months ago, thus repeating the same disaster that occurred in 2011 in Atlanta. Video rants posted to YouTube and toll lane opposition Facebook pages have surfaced on the Internet.

That's because all of the non FasTrak-registered HOV's were displaced from the former 2+ carpool lanes; all vehicles including HOV's are now mandated to have a FasTrak transponder to use the facility. To make matters worse, HOV's with a non-switchable standard FasTrak, which is issued by other public entities all over the state, can only use the LA Metro ExpressLanes as a toll patron.

Let's restate that: There's no way to optimize HOV usage in the ExpressLanes to its fullest potential with the current usage policy, no way. To be fair, Metro predicts that the increased congestion will phase out as more people preregister and ridership on the Metro Silver Line builds up, but The Transit Coalition has objected to such preregistration mandates for HOV's which clearly result in a reduction of HOV traffic instead of single occupancy vehicles. It is a confirmed fact that when HOT lane usage policies mandate transponder registration for HOV's, ridesharing and carpooling is discouraged; solo commuting encouraged.

Concept of I-15 HOT lanes facing north near Lake Elsinore The very popular 3+ carpool lane along Interstate 10 between LA and El Monte will undergo the same conversion on February 23, and Metro is now proposing additional ExpressLanes through the Newhall Pass on Interstate 5. The Riverside County Transportation Commission also continues on its plans to extend the 91 Express Lanes east into Corona which will include a carpool lane conversion and potential HOT lanes for I-15. Speaking of the I-15 HOT lanes, the Riverside County Transportation Commission scaled back the southernmost segment of the corridor to cut its cost in half, but the shortened project will most likely exacerbate a major southbound bottleneck south of Corona if nothing else is done further south. To be fair, RCTC's proposals include constructing additional lanes to address any worsened congestion impacts, but how do our public agencies think HOV usage is going to flourish if they continue to put pre-registration barriers on such traffic?

The riding public knows that governments cannot expand HOV usage in a corridor by strangling it with regulations that drives non-registered carpools back into traffic-choked general purpose lanes. High occupancy toll lanes can be truly "high occupancy" with free non-transponder carpooling or not, and it seems both Metro and RCTC are saying not. Public agencies need to get back to helping HOV's expand and set aside the "Nanny Lane" politics because serious worsened congestion has already occurred along the I-110 and LA's commuters know it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Streamlining Circuitous Bus Routes

(2/20/13) – IE Transit Talking Points Short

The Transit Coalition has noted that several local bus routes in Riverside County are very circuitous. All one has to do is board such a route and ride it from one end to the other to witness a slow public bus “tour” of the region. Local bus riders can attest that circuitous bus routes are difficult to understand and use excessive resources since they have many loops and extensions. 

Streamlining the bus routes and making them more direct would avail much capital and financial resources while considerably shortening bus trip times. Bus routes which run through Eastvale, Murrieta, and Temecula together with the Corona Cruiser and Pass Transit systems are clear candidates for direct routing under a hub-and-spoke model. This would preserve the mobility, efficiency, and usefulness of the region's bus transit system by running direct service through high density commercial corridors between major transit hubs while continuing to provide circulator service through residential areas. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Taking “smart” out of smart growth with Travertine Point

(2/18/13) – IE Transit Talking Points Short

Promises of new urbanism label Travertine Point, a massive master planned community which would house a population of 40,000. The sprawling development is proposed to be adjacent to the western edge of the Salton Sea, basically out in the middle of nowhere. Many red flags are evident. The existing agricultural towns of Coachella, Mecca, Oasis, and the Duroville trailer park don't need it. Neither does Interstate 10 to LA.

The region however can certainly use some agricultural-sector job growth. Estimated median household income in Mecca is under $25,000. Unemployment in this desert town is at least 15%. Factor in those who do not have unemployment benfits and nearly one quarter of the region’s population is jobless. A better growth idea would be “Las fábricas de Mecca” within Mecca’s existing street grid. Establishing factories and plants to process some of the harvested produce into premium drinks or packaged food would benefit the local economy, employ thousands of local workers which would help improve wages, and generate additional tax revenue to pay for improved transit, complete streets, and highway maintenance. That would be smart growth for the region.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Addressing the I-15 Southbound Bottleneck in Corona with Private Jobs

(2/18/13) – IE Transit Talking Points Short

Commuters and travelers who frequently use the southbound I-15 through Corona are well aware of a major bottleneck near El Cerrito Road which can cause congestion to spill over onto the eastbound 91 Freeway, thus creating miserable traffic conditions in the area during the PM rush hour and weekends.

A proposal by the Riverside County Transportation Commission would have addressed this; the proposal was to add two High Occupancy Toll Lanes and a single general purpose lane from the 60 Freeway, through the Corona bottleneck, to Lake Elsinore where southbound traffic demands normally decline. Now, RCTC has proposed a scaled-back version, where the added lanes would terminate at Cajalco Road.

Should that be the case, the infamous bottleneck will merely shift 2 miles south from El Cerrito Road to Cajalco. RCTC cites the lack of tax revenue as the reason behind the project reduction. Lackluster private sector Inland Empire job growth is certainly a problem, no question. 

However, Riverside County Supervisor Kevin Jeffries, an RCTC member whose district includes Lake Elsinore, has it right when he wrote in an e-mail, “Our focus really needs to be on private sector job creation here in Riverside County so that our residents don't have to spend hours commuting to and from work everyday.” That’s right. Let’s get some manufacturing, logistics, and other service-sector jobs into this region by designating areas as specific plans. Portions of the additional tax revenue can be used to fund transportation projects. RCTC can then start planning again for multi-modal transportation options for the I-15 Freeway and finally clear the infamous Corona bottleneck.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Friday Transportation Tips: Parking lot donation bins and charity

Scores of donation bins for clothing, books, shoes, and other small items have been showing up in Southern California parking lots over the last few years. Such bins are placed conveniently in commercial parking lots so that people can drive up and donate items while running errands.

Before you drop your items into any bin, be sure to read the fine print and see where your charity is headed. For-profit recyclers are preying on charitable patriots, collecting their donations and then selling them or their parts into the marketplace or even overseas. A small percentage actually goes to charity and virtually nothing is given back locally. Donated books never end up at the local library. The community sees no economic benefit.

If you’re planning on cleaning the house and donating items, be sure you are contributing toward a known non-profit charity which supports the needy locally. Legit groups such as Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and the St. Vincent de Paul Society also have collection points or bins in a parking lot near you. Even if your donation is sold, all net revenue after expenses are turned over to local charities. If you've got books to donate, most libraries will accept your donations during regular hours. While you’re on the road, give back. Be a patriot. Watch for those who may use your charity for their own profit.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Safe and Reliable Marketplace Bus Lines

Law-abiding bus companies should not be paying the price for the foolish actions of Scapadas Magicas LLC.

A bus.
A runaway bus overturned on Sunday, February 3, while descending Highway 38 near Redlands, claiming the lives of eight and injuring several others. Because of this collision, preventative measures will likely be discussed by public officials at the state and federal level. Regulating private sector bus operators has long been a challenge. How does one ensure that privately operated buses on the highways are safe and reliable while maintaining a robust economic transportation alternative offered by the marketplace? With a fatal bus accident at hand, the situation is serious.

The long term solution of balancing bus safety regulations and sustaining a profitable bus market economy is subject to debate. Both the state and the federal government must ensure that law-abiding bus companies with safe and well-maintained fleets don't end up paying the price for those who foolishly fail to maintain their buses or fail to properly screen their drivers for necessary qualifications. Those that violate safety regulations and create hazards which cause traffic collisions are the ones that should be footing the bill. The feds have started to take action.

The federal government on Friday, February 8, shut down Scapadas Magicas LLC, the operator of the bus involved in the fatal collision after federal inspectors found serious mechanical safety violations aboard two other buses. Without exception, any passenger bus that does not pass critical safety inspections should be pulled from operations immediately. However, simply shutting down illicit bus businesses is insufficient. Both Scapada Magicas' owner and the designated manager responsible for maintaining its bus fleet must be held accountable. The feds and states should punish bus companies who ignore safety protocol while refraining from placing unnecessary regulatory burdens on law-abiding bus operators. Ill-advised proposals such as outlawing all buses on mountain highways won't prevent the unsafe ones from entering the roads. Robust debate for a long term solution to get all of our buses on the road up to code while keeping marketplace transit service competitive needs to continue.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Highway Shutdowns: It’s Life over Convenience

(2/13/13) – IE Transit Talking Points Short

When major highways get shut down by the police, there will be inconveniences for motorists. Yesterday afternoon (2/12/2013), armed police forces screened every motorist leaving the San Bernardino Mountains along each of the mountain highways which led to massive traffic delays. This was clearly to keep fugitive Christopher Dorner from escaping the area. People headed up the mountain were turned away. The afternoon manhunt, which was broadcasted live all over the nation, all afternoon, led to an evening fiery cabin inferno near Barton Flats.

The Transit Coalition wants to get Southern California moving, and police-related road closures often appear to do the exact opposite. However, with getting Southern California moving comes another fundamental American principle that must be respected: Life, liberty and the pursuit for happiness. If the police need to shut down roads to protect lives, that’s something all motorists need to accept. Sitting idle in traffic is an inconvenience, but when lives are at hand, such delays become meaningless.

Will you be willing to sacrifice some convenience so that life can be protected? Let’s continue to support law enforcement in their heroic efforts to save Southern California officers and the public from the cowardly acts of Dorner.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Ready-Made Time Lapse Videos for Transportation Planners

(2/12/13) – IE Transit Talking Points Short

Government transit agencies spend countless amounts of their resources toward studies. What the agencies may or may not know is that highly useful transportation data is already available on the Internet. For example, search for “los angeles las vegas time lapse” on Google’s Video search and see what comes up.

At the surface, the returning results may look like nothing more than freeway fans filming long stretches of the I-15 between LA and Vegas, speeding the footage up in their video editors, and posting them to YouTube. However, if one is to take a video and slow it back down to actual speed, some useful planning information would be available on the spot. Therefore, individuals who film entire freeway and rail corridors and posting them online are patriots.

For instance, simply by viewing footage of the I-15 freeway, toll lane planners would be able to instantly see San Diego County’s I-15 Express Lane facility end-to-end and note its peculiarities. Likewise, slowing the video down to emulate traffic congestion can help planners calculate the cost and misery of gridlocked freeways.

Public entities may want to review the data that is available out in cyberspace, certify any relevant findings without infringing copyrights, and keep a library of this data available to the public and contractors assigned to conduct studies. Even a few hours worth of research at hand can save big bucks in taxpayer money on studies.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Comment on the Mid County Parkway EIR/EIS

(2/11/13) – IE Transit Talking Points Short

The Riverside County Transportation Commission will host a public hearing on a Recirculated Draft EIR/Supplemental Draft EIS for the Mid County Parkway project on February 20, 2013.

Mid County Parkway EIR/EIS Public Hearing
February 20, 2013, 5:00 - 8:00 p.m.
Lakeside Middle School
27720 Walnut Street, Perris, CA 92571

The Mid County Parkway project will basically convert the existing Ramona Expressway corridor between north Perris and San Jacinto into a freeway with three lanes in each direction which would attract economic growth and development to the area.

There are two ways this growth can go: The growth could go unchecked with single family housing, shopping centers and sprawl dominating the development, or a desired growth in robust marketplace employment hubs in Perris, northern Hemet, and San Jacinto together with a small downtown district and mixed use center to support the existing rural housing in Lakeview.

Expressway-to-freeway conversions tend to encourage suburban sprawl beyond urban centers and put more demand on roads and greater dependence on the automobile. RCTC reports that the Mid County Parkway would support future builds of carpool lanes and park-and-ride lots, but such facilities would not be part of the original project.

Both the incorporated cities and the County of Riverside need to revisit their land-use plans to prevent the new freeway from opening the door to exacerbated suburban sprawl and possible gridlock at the I-215 Interchange. Here are some land-use designation ideas which would encourage better growth and address the region's high unemployment rate:

Growth/Land-use designation ideas:
North Perris: Manufacturing and logistics jobs
North of Lakeview: Agricultural/farming
Lakeview: Rural ranch housing supported by
 a small mixed-use downtown district (condos/lofts over retail).
North Hemet/San Jacinto: Manufacturing jobs
All Undeveloped Hillsides: Open Space/Parkland

Friday, February 8, 2013

Friday Transportation Tips: Planning Ahead and Right Turn Etiquette

Transit: Plan Ahead before heading to the bus stop for better productivity

Before you head to the transit station or bus stop, take 5-10 minutes, plan your trip, get to know which transit routes you need to take, and note the departure and arrival times. Watch your productivity increase as you spend less time in uncertainty. There’s plenty of resources and ways to efficiently plan your trip: Go to your transit agency’s website and from there, check out the schedules and maps, use online trip planners, or if you need assistance, give the transit agency a phone call. You’ll be on your way with a prepared itinerary for your trip which will improve your productivity.

RTA Route 1 to Downtown 7:22-7:36am - $1.50
Metrolink Riverside Line to LA Union Station 8:15-9:38am - $25.00 Round Trip
[Work on term paper on train]
LA DASH to LA Fashion District (departs every 6 minutes) – xfer
Appointment 10:30am-12pm
Lunch 12pm
Metrolink Riverside Line to Riverside 1:15-2:43pm – Return
[catch up on sleep on train]
RTA Route 1 to Home 3:00-3:24pm - xfer

Driving: Right turns done right

It’s almost always frustrating when you’re proceeding along a surface street and a vehicle in front of you slows in your lane to make a right turn without moving toward the right edge of the road. This weekend, remember the wise words from the DMV California Driver Handbook on right turns. At about 100 feet before you make your turn, signal and drive close to the right side of the road; if there’s a bike lane, remember that you’re permitted to drive up to 200 feet in it before making the turn, no more. That means don’t use the bike lane as a quarter-mile passing lane to bypass traffic prior to turning. As always, watch for cyclists.

Also, unless signs or pavement markings instruct otherwise, remember to begin and complete a right turn in the far right lane. Don't swing wide into another traffic lane. Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Will the Perris Valley Line lawsuit ruling embarrass the state government?

The decision to build an environmentally friendly rail transit line appears to be coming from the bench due to loopholes in state environmental law. A 'no' ruling would encroach the Separation of Powers in the name of puritanism.

Two Metrolink locomotives. The primary function of the judicial branch of government is to interpret both the state and U.S. Constitution and apply law to the facts of cases at hand. Courts have no right to veto or overturn the laws or policies which do not violate constitutional law, even if a judge is against the law. Whenever courts unilaterally impose their own opinions and beliefs onto the law, many Americans dislike that; such activity is legislating from the bench and overreaches their authority of the Separation of Powers written in the U.S. Constitution. This Press Enterprise blog post suggests that the Metrolink Perris Valley Line's fate is in the hands of the courts; a project that should clearly be decided on by a local elected body, that is, the Riverside County Transportation Commission. RCTC has long supported and planned the project.

The Commission rightly followed the rules and prepared the project's mandated environmental impact report, but loopholes in the California Environmental Quality Act have allowed an opposing NIMBY party to exploit "missing" information in the EIR in a lawsuit to stop the entire project. The case was merited to go to trial and is now in the hands of a Superior Court judge. From an impartial judicial standpoint, there's nothing wrong, and to be fair, the EIR for any major project must accurately address potential traffic congestion and pollution impacts. However it is a common fact that a rail transit alternative for the I-215 corridor would reduce congestion and pollution by providing a multi-modal transportation option to single-occupancy automobile travel, thus fulfilling the goals and intents of CEQA which is to protect the environment.

The claims presented by Friends of Riverside's Hills are very puritanical and point primarily to the project's construction, not the finished product. The opposing group claims the EIR underestimates the number of truck trips needed to haul away dirt during construction and the time required to excavate the dirt. RCTC's proposal to remove an illegal trail crossing over the right-of-way is said to be bad for the environment according to the opposing party. Other frivolous claims such as the squealing noise train wheels make when taking sharp turns, engine noises, and construction-related matter were also brought up in court.

It is discouraging that this case was allowed to go to trial. This is an embarrassment to the state government. The legislative branch does have power to avert any negative court judgments against RCTC and the Perris Valley Line. The state should amend CEQA so that bidding construction firms are held accountable for all construction-related environmental and traffic impacts. We the people should not be held responsible if a construction contractor decides to generate too much dust pollution, noise or excessive truck traffic. The law should penalize contractors and their employees if they excessively pollute. The legislature should also close up CEQA loopholes so courts cannot veto or overturn large projects which actually benefit the environment and reduce traffic congestion. The reformed law should also be made retroactive to any transportation project stalled in court over such frivolous EIR claims. Let's get the Perris Valley Line moving.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

$8 million paid to rail contractors...for nothing!

(2/6/13) – IE Transit Talking Points Short

A Better Inland Empire was shocked to hear that four construction firms who submitted losing bids to the California High Speed Rail Authority received a total of $8 million in taxpayer high speed rail transit money...for nothing! HSR officials argued that this “stipend” of $2 million each was necessary to attract bidders, but such a wasteful payout is virtually unheard of according to those who work in the construction marketplace. This example of government waste shows why support for high speed rail continues to fall.

The Transit Coalition supports high speed rail, but it must be done right. The Coalition’s vision is a cost-efficient statewide intercity high speed rail system that would allow the first of high-speed trains to use existing upgraded commuter and intercity rail corridors--using a combination of electrification, separated grade crossings, positive train control, and/or upgraded rail cars--while improving speeds and travel time for existing train routes. The approved $9.95 billion in public seed money combined with awarded federal funds is more than enough to design and build these upgrades throughout the state which would have allowed private capital to invest in the remainder of the project. However, CHSRA has proposed what is essentially a second rail system for the Central Valley, duplicating existing usable infrastructure and potentially disrupting the agricultural sector. To make matters worse, the agency isn’t prepared to break ground later in July.

According to various sources, CHSRA has yet to acquire ownership of any of the land it needs to build the starting segment in the Central Valley which is very discouraging. Why would any private contractor want to bid on this project when the public agency has yet to purchase the land? Without the $2 million in government "runner-up" giveaways, the risk would be too great in the marketplace.

Moving forward, the state must accept the fact that high speed rail transportation projects need to be both cost-effective and non-disruptive to the communities they serve. There are plenty of opportunities to solicit market bids without handing out stipends: Upgrade the existing San Joaquin Rail Corridor. Connect Los Angeles and Bakersfield with a direct rail line. Separate the grade crossings for the LOSSAN Rail Corridor between LA and Anaheim. Amend the law so high speed rail can be done right. Stop handing out $8 million worth of stipends for nothing.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Late Night Bus Service through Old Town Temecula

(2/5/13) – IE Transit Talking Points Short

The Transit Coalition has conducted field studies in Old Town Temecula during the evening and late night hours. The area is very quiet on weeknights, but on most Friday and Saturday nights, this very walkable, transit-ready historic district is robustly active and alive, comparable to the Gas Lamp Quarter, Downtown Disney, and Hollywood Boulevard. Crowds of people fill the sidewalks and patronize numerous restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and hotels from sundown through midnight on weekend nights. Scores of taxi cabs and pedicabs can be seen roaming through the streets and parking lots. The same level of activity can be said for the Pechanga Resort five miles south of Old Town and a bowling alley a few miles to the north.

The last set of Riverside Transit Agency buses depart Old Town just before 7:00 pm on Friday and before 6:30 pm on Saturday. It is crystal clear that public bus transit service through this district and the Pechanga Resort continue through midnight on Friday and Saturday evenings given the amount of economic activity during the late night hours. Local officials should consider using some of the tax revenue generated to operate late night RTA bus departures. Such service will help combat dangerous drunk driving. Officials should tour Old Town on a Friday or Saturday night and find out for themselves.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Judges must not be allowed to veto the Perris Valley Line from the bench

(2/4/13) – IE Transit Talking Points Short

The Metrolink Perris Valley Line extension, now mired in an environmental lawsuit, is about to have its fate decided by Superior Court Judge Sharon Waters according to the Press Enterprise which is very embarrassing for the state government.

It is a scientific fact that mass transit options for the I-215 corridor will benefit the environment and highways, not negate them. The opposing party has a number of arguments against the Metrolink extension which appear frivolous and very puritanical on the surface, but has enough merit to warrant a trial due to loopholes in the California Environmental Quality Act.

Among the claims, the group Friends of Riverside’s Hills said the environmental impact report inadequately explains the number of truck trips needed to remove soil. Other issues brought up were the schedule for excavating the dirt, the removal of an illegal trail crossing over the right-of-way, the squealing noise train wheels make when taking sharp turns, engine noises, and other construction-related noise. Because of those claims, Judge Waters can unilaterally decide that the Perris Valley Line failed to follow the California Environmental Quality Act, even though the I-215 rail transit alternative will actually benefit the environment.

Truth be told: Mass transit is good for the environment and the Perris Valley Line’s fate must not be vetoed by a judge; that’s legislating from the bench. The state legislature needs to amend the California Environmental Quality Act, close up its loopholes, and make it retroactive to any environmentally- friendly transportation project stalled in court. Riverside County taxpayers should not be on the hook if a construction contractor carelessly generates too much dust pollution, noise or truck traffic. Penalize the contractor with a heavy fine if its employees break CEQA laws, but don’t hold overdue transportation projects hostage. Doing nothing is a recipe for increased traffic congestion and worsened smog pollution.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Enjoy the big game, drive sober, and report drunk driving.

(2/1/13) – IE Transit Talking Points Short

Super Bowl Sunday is this weekend. That means plenty of good times, football excitement, and of course, cocktails and drinks. Just a friendly reminder: If you are planning on breaking open a few beers, wine, or any other alcoholic beverage this Sunday, do not, under any circumstances, drive. DUI laws will be strictly enforced over the weekend. Sobriety checkpoints will be set up all throughout Southern California.

During the 2012 Christmas season from December 14th – January 1st, three people were reportedly killed in Riverside County alone due to DUI’s. That is down from five deaths from the 2011 season, but that is still three deaths too many. Freely choosing to consume alcohol and later drive under the influence is pure foolishness and hazardous to everybody else driving the roads. Such actions directly obstruct the mission of The Transit Coalition of moving Southern California. Anybody guilty of making our highways dangerous by driving under the influence of alcohol must be held accountable.

California has some of the heaviest penalties for drunk driving, and since approximately 200,000 suspected drunk drivers in the state are busted per year, all of us should consider stepping up and fighting back this weekend. Save a life, take advantage of the state’s Designated Driver Program, and if you should see a drunk driver, call 911. 

Remember the wise words from our National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: Drive sober or get pulled over