Wednesday, October 29, 2014

How Fact-Based Smart Growth can counter Traffic Congestion


Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Inland Empire residents and workers are well aware that traffic congestion here at home is one of the worst. To name a few examples, try a commute between Lake Elsinore and Irvine, El Monte to Victorville, or West LA to Corona.

The Los Angeles Times published an article citing the fact that as the local economy is slowly improving, so is the rise of traffic congestion. Generally speaking, a healthier economy means more people and commerce moving around. Thus, more folks are using the infrastructure which leads to more cars on the road. Interesting enough, we still have a long way to go before the Inland economy becomes robust with abundant job opportunities and higher salaries. That means we need to find efficient and fair solutions to get people to work without the long distance commuting.

But what I found interesting in the piece was a statement by Alan E. Pisarski, a transportation policy consultant and author of several analysis reports on transportation. Pisarski told the newspaper that the "best solution to congestion is, unfortunately, unemployment."

While it may look foolish on the surface, I'm not going to pass judgement on this statement simply because Mr. Pisarski has a long record of distinguished writings and has raised some very valid points on transportation issues. I believe those points were simply omitted in the reportage.

The truth is there are several workable solutions to counter traffic congestion as the economy recovers. Those include improving transit, carpool and high occupancy vehicle lanes and infrastructure; incentivizing telecommuting jobs and meetings; better controlling traffic flow with ramp meters and synchronized signals, and general capacity improvement projects. 

One other solution that will generally work across the board which I want to focus on is fact-based smart growth. And such smart growth plans need to be fair and determined at the local level based on facts and demographics, not ideology.

Fact-Based Smart Growth Straight Talk

Coalition Concept: A conceptual local engineering firm and upgraded street infrastructure on Perris Blvd in Moreno Valley. Why commute out of town when high paying jobs can be smartly integrated into our own Inland cities? Besides logistics job growth, how can Moreno Valley entice more business growth along its commercial corridors?
Note: Concept only. Not an official proposal.
Critics have long criticized some of the more ideological positions of smart growth and their valid points of higher per-capita government expenditures in higher density areas, housing values, and the freedom for the marketplace to grow the economy cannot be ignored. On the other front, we all know that there must be efficient oversight to prevent developer pandering, pollution, sprawl, and traffic congestion.

One point I need to make very clear is that I am not promoting any policies that would obstruct our freedom of choosing where to live and how big the living space should be. Nor are we desiring to obstruct the development of housing supplies to meet market demands. Also, we're not calling for greater population density. This is not about pandering to any ideological agenda. This is fact-based smart economic growth aimed at combating traffic congestion by having better growth plans in place that would incentivize a more balanced job to housing ratio for the area. 

How Smart Growth done right can address Traffic Trouble

Specifically, the smart growth solution based on facts can be integrated three ways:
  1. Incentivizing the market to bring jobs closer to home
  2. Growing housing supply in existing job-rich regions where demands are higher
  3. Revitalizing existing blighted or troubled neighborhoods at the county seat cities to further expand good housing options and good schools to incentivize employees to live where they work.
I'll be covering the three solutions more in detail in the following weeks.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Transportation Tips: Check out the Proposed RTA Bus Changes for the New Year

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

The Riverside Transit Agency has opened a second public comment period for planned bus route changes. This hearing focuses specifically on specific bus service changes set to take place on Sunday January 11, 2015.

RTA has reported that the proposed changes are modifications that are complementary to the agency's COA study which is almost fully complete. For these specific proposed changes, there are no major route realignments or stop relocations proposed except for Route 74 where it will be routed from the I-215 Freeway to local surface streets between Perris and north Sun City.

The proposed changes will expand span of service and improve frequencies for several lines except for Route 3 where Saturday frequency will be reduced to hourly from current 45 minutes. This will better match with the weekend demand and new 60 minute Sunday service which was already proposed during the RTA 10 Year Transit Network Plan comment period.

Speaking of the 10 Year Transit Network Plan, that public comment period has been extended through the New Year until January 22. So, if you missed the October deadline, you've got some more time to get involved with this master plan.

Transportation Tip: Get active in both of these public hearings if you haven't done so already. 

Public Hearings:

January 11, 2015 Proposed Bus Service Changes
The public is invited to comment on the proposed changes at the RTA Board of Directors' November 13 meeting, which begins at 2 p.m. in the Board of Supervisors Chambers at the County Administrative Center, 4080 Lemon Street, First Floor in Riverside, CA.

Proposed 10 Year Transit Network Plan
RTA will be taking comments on the proposed plan now through the hearing on January 22, 2015. The official hearing will be held on January 22 at 2 p.m. at the County of Riverside Administrative Center.

Comments also can be submitted by calling (951) 565-5002, e-mailing or via standard mail at RTA, 1825 Third Street, Riverside, CA 92507, attention Director of Planning. November 12 is the deadline for comments on the January proposed changes while public remarks for the 10 Year Transit Plan need to be into RTA before the January 22 hearing.

The Transit Coalition has already submitted its comments to the 10 Year Transit Network Plan. Don't forget that "public hearings" never close here on this blog nor at RTA's Transportation Now meetings. Both of these public forums always welcome constructive comments and involvement in improving RTA's bus transit system. I'll talk to you again next week.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Better LA/Ontario International Airport

ONT services must be improved and if it's going to take local control in order to make that happen, that's what needs to happen.

Ontario Airport

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Most of us are well aware that there is an intense debate over the control of the Ontaio Airport which is currently owned by Los Angeles World Airports. The center of discussion is the fact that services to/from ONT have been in a steep decline ever since the recession. Other airports have seen a turnaround, but ONT continues to dwindle. The current operator, LAWA, is a department under the City of Los Angeles which also owns and operates LAX and the Van Nuys Airport. Inland Empire officials have been demanding that LA turn over operations so that the airport has local control and thus better services.

Comparing ONT and LAX passenger boarding stats

The service decline can be directly attributed to a rapid decline in airline ridership at the airport. ONT passenger departure counts have taken a major hit since the height of the recession and have failed to recover. According to LAWA's passenger count stats, ONT departed 3,067,671 passengers in 1992. By 2000, the airport was departing just over 3.2 million passengers. In 2007, ONT grew to 3.6 million annual departing passengers.

Then came the recession and by 2011, passenger boarding dropped to just under 2.3 million passengers. As the economy began to turn around, ONT's numbers should have reflected that with improving ridership. But the stats continue to show a decline. In 2013, the LA/Ontario Airport clocked in at only 1,985,594 passenger departures, down over 1 million from 1992 despite the fact that the Inland Empire went through a rapid growth spurt between the 90's and early 2000's.

To compare, LAX departed 25.8 million passengers in 1994, 33.8 million in 2000, 31.2 million in 2007, 28.3 million in 2008 which was LAX's low point during the recession, and 33.3 million in 2013 which by the way nearly matches the year 2000 count. That adds up to a daily average of about 90,410 passengers coming into LAX every single day. Can you imagine if some of those passengers had the option to catch their flights from an airport closer to home? West LA's awful traffic congestion would be significantly reduced instantly.

Getting ONT's ridership numbers up to par should be the goal

You would think that LA officials would do whatever it can to get ONT's numbers up so that fewer cars would clog the I-10 and I-405 in the West LA area, but LAWA's efforts have yielded very little results. In fact, fixing this problem has become a problem in of itself with the continued property negotiations between the local Southland government bodies and the expensive legal proceedings taking place in court. Now, the federal government is beginning to put some pressure on the local entities. Michael Huerta, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration told the Daily Bulletin last week that the FAA cannot intervene directly but would like both sides to come to a quick resolution.

The quick resolution should boil down to this: The Ontario Airport needs better travel options and better incentives so that airlines will stop their planes there. Inland passengers who live far from LAX needing to take a flight to any major destination in the USA or the world should not have to travel all the way to LAX given the presence of ONT, an international airline facility here at home. And if the City of Los Angeles needs to sell and transfer the airport to a local entity in order to make that happen, that's what should happen.

Again, Inland Empire citizens should not be required to travel west to LAX or John Wayne Airport, or south to San Diego to catch flights to major destinations simply because bad Los Angeles city policies are de-incentivizing airlines from servicing ONT.

A regional manager living in Fontana needing to attend an important corporate meeting in Chicago should have the option of using ONT and not have to travel all the way to West LA to catch a flight. Likewise, a family from Corona headed to Miami for Thanksgiving should only have to travel to Ontario to catch the holiday non-stop flight to Florida. Airlines need to be incentivized to land at ONT simply with fair, cost-efficient, and business-friendly usage policies. Add to that the fact that highway transportation corridors in and out of West Los Angeles is extremely congested. Offering additional flights from the other airports including ONT would offset a significant amount of traffic demand through West LA in an eyeblink. Same for the 91 freeway corridor to Irvine and John Wayne Airport. Again, the citizens of the Inland Empire who rely on air travel should not have to travel all the way to LAX, San Diego, Orange County, or Palm Springs to catch such flights.

LAWA's track record of bad ridership at ONT clearly shows that policy changes need to take place to improve airline services at ONT which would tremendously shorten airport trip times, stimulate the Inland economy, and provide some relief to our clogged Southland's freeway system. If changing operators from LA to a more local unit is necessary for that to happen, that's what should happen.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Transportation Tip: Keeping your food clean with the Plastic Bag Ban

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director


As you may already know, single-use plastic bags that most people use to haul groceries from the supermarket or convenience store is now outlawed statewide here in the Golden State starting next summer. Governor Jerry Brown signed SB-270 on September 30, 2014. The "Solid waste: Single-use Carryout Bags" bill was authored by Senator Alex Padilla who represents the San Fernando Valley area.

The debate over SB-270 has been intense and none of us should dismiss or ignore any valid and straight argument or fact-based point presented from either side. I do agree that there are both benefits and problems in this new law and additional policy changes need to take place at the state level to offset any negative consequences to the state's economy caused by SB-270. Plus, the awful 10 cent minimum fee rule for paper bags is a disgrace to the market economy.

Based on what I read about the law and hearing the arguments from both sides, I will argue that not having light-weight littered plastic grocery bags flying into the Santa Ana River would be a good thing. Plus, places like Costco have clearly shown that there are very efficient ways to move groceries and large volumes of products all without the plastic. Trust me. We will still be able to get our groceries back home and pick up after the dog. Humans have long survived without plastic bags.

On the other front, there are other practical means to control the litter and waste in lieu of a ban which includes expanding bag recycling programs. Plus, there's a lot of debate of how the law will impact the manufacturing sector with the possible removal of thousands of blue-collar jobs during this fragile economic recovery period. The state must ensure that any job losses resulting from this ban be replaced in the marketplace through business-friendly policies.

Add to that the questionable 10 cent minimum fee charged for paper bags. Under the law, stores cannot sell recycled paper bags for less than 10 cents, "in order to ensure that the cost of providing a recycled paper bag is not subsidized by a consumer who does not require that bag." Nanny state politics anyone? Worse yet, this bag "tax" collected by the grocery stores does not go toward resources that benefit the environment. There's no question this part of the law is flawed. Under a market economy, individual grocery businesses should be free to determine how to handle the costs and selling rates of such packing materials. The marketplace should be allowed to determine whether or not it should nickle-and-dime its customers to hand out paper bags and how so, not the state government. Why on Earth is this fee even in the law?

So far, those two flaws have yet to be addressed and the American Progressive Bag Alliance is leading an effort to have the law repealed at the ballot. Meanwhile, parts of the ban are set to begin next summer with the full law in play by 2016.

Enter in the foodborne illness concern raised by opponents. A 2013 report by the University of Pennsylvania links San Francisco's ban on plastic bags toward an increase in foodborne illnesses. I have not been able to confirm a direct connection between the ban and the illness, but the report was correct that the failure to regularly clean and sanitize reusable grocery bags could very well allow potentially harmful bacteria to grow inside and potentially contaminate unsealed food.

So here's the tip. If you use or plan to use reusable grocery bags, wash and sanitize them regularly, especially if you're in a position where you're transporting fresh unsealed food. But wait. SB-270 opponents claim that more energy and water consumption would be required if you do that plus the tote bag would degrade over time. That is ideological spin. Just throw the bag in with an existing cold water laundry load on the gentle cycle. Just get the interior sanitized and let it air dry. Of course, follow any directions on the care tag if there is one. I currently own, use and maintain a few sturdy totes from Trader Joe's for the past three years, and they're still all in fine shape.

Anyway, I'll keep on watch on this ban and how it unfolds. In time, we'll see how the ban affects both the statewide environment, our health and the economy.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Let's Debate: How can we make CA High Speed Rail work without the government waste?

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

I came across a well-written opinion piece on high speed rail which was published in the Sacamento Bee at the end of September. Writer Michael Setty who is the Administrative Director of the Train Riders Association of California pieced together an executable solution that could bring true high speed rail to our state with none of the high speed madness, special interest pandering or government waste associated with the California High Speed Rail Authority.

Whether you support HSR or not, any concerned citizen interested in this topic should read this.

After pointing out the negative consequences of routing HSR infrastructure through the small Central Valley and Antelope Valley cities, Setty suggests the current plan should be discarded and brings up this workable solution:

The state needs a much less costly plan, built around private investment, which benefits passengers now – not 20 years in the future. Here’s what (TRAC) proposes:
• Spend federal stimulus money to upgrade the existing Amtrak corridor between Sacramento and Bakersfield to 110 mph. That would provide fast service up and down the San Joaquin Valley, without noise to cities and disruption to agriculture that the current project would bring. The mission to connect these population centers to the rest of the state could be accomplished by spending a tiny fraction of the planned $6 billion.
• Use cap-and-trade funds to upgrade the San Diego-Los Angeles Amtrak corridor to 110 mph. These investments in the state-subsidized Amtrak system will provide significant improvements in mobility at an affordable cost. San Joaquin Valley residents would be able to board in Fresno, for example, and disembark in Los Angeles or San Francisco less than three hours later, without changing trains. Existing stations would continue to be served by Amtrak, with tickets that cost much less than high-speed rail.
• Create an open bidding process for private investment in high-speed rail. We believe that experienced operators should direct the development of new routes. Past interest by operators suggests that access from Bakersfield to Los Angeles via the Grapevine is far superior to the authority-proposed detour through the Mojave Desert via Palmdale. Similarly, operators are likely to prefer access to the Bay Area via Altamont Pass, rather than Pacheco, as that route would add significant revenue from Sacramento.

Coalition Concept: A high speed rail station in Murrieta.
Note: Concept only. Not endorsed by any public entity.
Back at home, The Transit Coalition continues to call for the advancement and improvement of high speed passenger rail service for the I-15 corridor between Los Angeles and San Diego via the Inland Empire in a cost-efficient manner. Top speeds should match the higher speed Amtrak services at 110 mph. Like HSR up north, this segment would also need to be funded by the private sector. Previous local feasibility studies document this.

Likewise the I-215 corridor that branches to Riverside and San Bernardino would be part of the plan as well which would funded by a combination of public and private sources.

High speed rail supporters, especially politicians at the state level must knock off the special interest lunacy and wasteful spending associated with this project. Otherwise mustering public support to construct a proven and cost-efficent method to move people quickly will be more difficult to sell. On the other side, CA HSR opponents should offer workable solutions to moving high volumes of people between city centers quickly.

With that, do you think TRAC's solution will work? If it can, why hasn't the state government adopted it? We need some straight answers.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Transit Coalition releases its view of RTA's 10 Year Proposed Transit Plan

The transit agency also takes the time to listen to the public, the right thing to do.

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

The Transit Coalition has released its positions for the proposed Riverside Transit Agency 10 Year Transit Plan.

Follow this link to view it:
The Transit Coalition Recommendations to Riverside Transit Agency 10 Year Transit Plan

I want to thank the followers of this blog and our social networking pages for providing constructive comments to us. Your remarks have assisted the Coalition in forming fair and just positions.

RTA is to be praised for how it handled this public hearing. According to the October 1st RTA Board Administration and Operations Committee Meeting Agenda, the outreach program has been successful. At the time of the publishing of the agenda packet, RTA received 375 comments from 600 individuals.

The comments received by RTA show strong endorsement of plans to improve service frequencies and expand evening service hours on key lines, strong support on standardizing frequencies to improve connections and additional strong backing of improving passenger amenities. The Coalition is on board with these as well.

In addition, RTA noted a broad acceptance of the downtown Riverside transit modernization plan which calls for upgraded bus stops in Downtown Riverside and redesigning the bus network where only selected bus routes stop at the proposed Vine Street Transit Center. We supported the modernization plan of the downtown area bus stops, but urged RTA to maintain the hub-and-spoke routing design so that timed transfers can be better engineered with the less frequent routes. That can be engineered more efficiently if all routes ran through the transit hub, not just a few.

In addition RTA reported public concerns over the loss of direct transit service through central Wildomar, the proposed route restructuring in Hemet which included the proposed cancellation of Route 212, loss of Metrolink station connectivity with Route 1, loss of direct connections to the logistics employment hubs currently served by Route 19 and the proposals to combine Routes 12 and 14 which respectively serve Olivewood Avenue and Indiana Street through South Riverside.

One other point of praise for RTA: A government agency that listens to its people during a public hearing period. I thank PE reader commentator George Hamilton for the tip.

According to reports by the Press Enterprise, two proposals have been amended based on feedback which are the proposed Route 10/14 consolidation and the proposal to cancel service south of central Wildomar which would have cut off connections to a senior community and assisted living facility. RTA has listened to the public's concerns even though contracted professional transportation planners and engineers studied the area beforehand and formed different conclusions. The point is whenever a local resident has a valid fact-based point that questions any government proposal, the agency needs to listen and take that under consideration even if the professionals conclude otherwise. RTA has done exactly that with these two amendments.

RTA is also one of a few agencies that provides ongoing public forums for riders through Transportation Now. "Public hearings" never close there. We are thankful that Riverside County's bus transit agency does this for its people. Local elected officials should know that this is the right thing to do.

With that, let's bring up the Corona Transit Center and 91 Express Lane Extension project now under construction in Corona.

Need to address: Excessive Route 216 backtracking required for 91 Express Lanes access between transit centers.
Note: Extended routing to Anaheim is concept only.
Not endorsed by RTA or OCTA.
Back in 2009, the City of Corona requested the Riverside County Transportation Commission to study a 91 Express Lanes intermediate access point at spots just west of the transit center--specifically, a mid-city intermediate access point at Lincoln Avenue or a direct access ramp at Smith Avenue to/from the west. Such an access would have allowed transit buses to seamlessly access the HOT lanes from the Corona Transit Center.

When RCTC conducted its engineering study, it concluded that placing a mid-city intermediate access point or a direct access ramp in Corona was not feasible. Thus it was not selected as a feature for the RCTC project.

Excessive weaving and Express Lane performance issues were cited as reasons to not include the intermediate access point while high costs, property acquisition and possible deterioration in HOT lane operations shelved the direct access ramp proposal despite the fact that the I-15 Express Lanes in San Diego County has both of these features with the freeway corridor carrying more cars per day than the 91 with similar long distance commuting patterns. The unintended consequence is that Route 216 and 3-person carpools originating from the Corona station will have to backtrack excessively to a junction beyond the 91 and I-15 interchange in order to use the new HOT lane infrastructure, resulting in lost productivity.

Restricting intermediate access to 3+ HOV's during peak travel times can offset 91 HOT lane performance issues raised by RCTC. This could allow for a mid-city access point in Corona to be more feasible and allow express buses seamless access between the Express Lanes and Corona Transit Center.
Note: Coalition Concept Only. Not endorsed by OCTA or RCTC.
We brought this to RTA's attention and we hope that officials from both RTA and RCTC listen to this valid reality and draw a workable solution to this issue so that both express transit buses and other high occupancy vehicles can seamlessly connect between the North Main Corona Station and the 91 Express Lane infrastructure. A possible work-around now in place by other HOT lane operators is to restrict intermediate access to 3+ HOV's at times when the Express Lanes are approaching capacity.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Alpern at Large: How Political Correctness obstructs Robust Debates

By: Ken Alpern, Chair

ALPERN AT LARGE-Ours is a society that is so obsessed with being politically correct that it has forgotten how to be factually correct.  The Peter Pans of our society that just hate growing up have done an excellent job of shutting down the grownups, and the "open-minded" and "free speech" crowd has done an equally-great job of shutting down those who dare to disagree with them...leaving us to wonder when being "open minded" is actually just plain "idiotic".

Read more and comment at CityWatch.

Ken Alpern chairs The Transit Coalition and is a LA Westside Village Zone Director and Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.