Saturday, September 26, 2015

Your Views on Transit Related Matters - September 2015

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

I appreciate the reader-input on all of The Transit Coalition's discussion forums. Here's a run-down:

Re: CEQA Reform and Greenhouse Gases
As far as CEQA goes, SB32 would've forced planners and engineers to finally think for a change. Instead of mitigation measures that just consist of wider roads and more street lights, they would've been forced to finally recommend alternative transportation measures including stuff like pitching in for funding infrastructure like the Redlands Rail that can really move quite a lot of people and relieve congestion on the freeways and arterial network.

-Marven/Transit Talking Points

As I mentioned, SB-32 is well-intended and the good people living in Los Angeles and several areas of the Inland Empire need cleaner air to breathe. Plus, better mass transit infrastructure needs to be funded for both local and especially regional trips. But CEQA abuse in the courtroom has been a statewide epidemic for far too long and should have been part of the debate and final bill.

Reform language should have either been included in SB-32 or introduced separately according to the business community because NIMBY opponents and some in lawyer lobby can exploit the law's loopholes to obstruct in-fill urban housing, job development projects and alternative transportation infrastructure in court and attempt to cash in on a settlement. That included Friends of Riverside Hills blocking the Metrolink Perris Valley Line and banking on a settlement and Neighbors for Smart Rail trying to stop LA Metro's Expo Line. Thankfully, both projects are proceeding.

Re: Redlands Passenger Rail, DMU's and Metrolink

There's nothing wrong with DMU service, especially if it's just going to be on the Redlands subdivision. As already noted, a lot of Redlands residents are rather cool toward the whole idea in general and running it as full Metrolink trains is a great way to kill it. Besides, most of the stations will not be big enough for longer Metrolink consists anyway.

Ideally, the DMU service could be extended out to the Ontario Airport (or even beyond), which SANBAG already looked at a year ago. Unfortunately at that time, the conclusion was that it's "not feasible" because the report assumed that that project would require double tracking the entirety of the San Bernardino Line, which it would, but is a project that needs to be done regardless of what happens to Redlands Rail. Doing this would also allow more express Metrolink trains on the San Bernardino Line. It could also be extended down to the Perris Valley Line and fill a very critical void in regional transit connectivity.

Also, the area isn't exactly suburban, especially in the downtowns. Redlands is redoing their general plan and really wants to capitalize on the station areas to focus TOD and when San Bernardino finally gets itself some clear leadership, they will likely do the same. The Waterman station is ripe for it since it's surrounded by fields anyway, though some of them are unfortunately becoming warehouses as we speak. Additionally, Omnitrans is seeking out developers to build on the empty part of the Transit Center and San Bernardino is mulling over project offers for the Carousel Mall site.

-Marven/Transit Talking Points

The Transit Coalition is wrong to advocate, in any way, against the use of D.M.U. trainsets as part of the San Bernardino-Redlands railway. The corridor will be adding stations located approximately a mile apart from each other in the future, and the land-use and economic-development potential of this line will only be realized by utilizing the smaller trainsets for the more frequent service.

By the way, the principal objections to the line have come from individuals concerned about: the long Metrolink trainsets that would require greater time to cross at grade; the air and noise pollution from Metrolink's Diesel locomotives and other equipment; etc. D.M.U.'s are far more efficient than running nearly-empty full-scale trains back and forth between San Bernardino and Redlands. The San Bernardino Common Council has also expressed significant opposition to running many Metrolink trains past E Street.

Reducing the costs associated with the new line is a matter of removing the stipulation in Measure I that forces so much of the revenue raised to be used for automobile-dependent infrastructure. $70 million of the cost is debt service to finance part of SanBAG's required $50-million contribution. Measure I could provide the funds, though, to completely avoid assuming any debt.

-Matt Korner/Facebook

The Transit Coalition's assessment of the Redlands Rail corridor is fair and accurate.

Plus, we do not oppose DMU technology in general since it has proven to be an efficient mode of rail travel in Europe and north San Diego County. However, frequent, corridor-based regional rail service as advocated through Metrolink Max is also a proven concept and we find that it will maximize productivity for the proposed Redlands Rail headways (30 mins peak, hourly off-peak) as passengers won't have to transfer in San Bernardino. The SB Line segment between Upland and North Pomona already has stations that are spaced only a few miles apart. That means two stations in Redlands, two in San Bernardino and one intermediate hub with full-size platforms could work for Metrolink equipment.

In addition, each Metrolink train set would operate as several different train trips throughout the day which maximizes the fleet and helps keep costs down. Although a train set may have vacant seats on one leg of a trip or near the suburban bookends, that does not mean the set has too many cars for the other trips or the Redlands branch. The trip with the highest ridership number each day dictates the number of cars on the train set. Smaller DMU's in lieu of full-size Metrolink train sets during the off-peak hours is a well-thought concept, but operating a segmented or feeder system won't generate as much ridership as a corridor-based regional rail system would by running the trains through San Bernardino instead of terminating there. That's based on the current demographics.

DMU locomotive with full-size regional/commuter rail passenger cars.
Photo: US Railcar, LLC
Regarding the opposition party's views, quiet zones combined with improved sound walls at the stations can and should address the noise pollution concern and we're talking a difference of mere seconds for the grade crossing time between DMU's and full-size Metrolink trains.

A few footnotes: I have been exploring the possibility of extending both the Riverside Line and every other trip of the San Bernardino Line to continue down the Perris Valley Line right-of-way. The latter would require an agreement with the BNSF.

Plus, if the DMU option with smaller cars does move forward and becomes a reality with the smaller station platforms and more station stops, The Transit Coalition will work with the technology and will advocate that the local zoning rules and state environmental laws do allow for business-friendly in-fill growth in the area which will be needed for productive DMU rail transit service.

Plus, US Railcar Company released some interesting reading material on how improving DMU technology could be incorporated with full-size train sets which could very well reduce locomotive pollution. I'll keep a watch on this one.

This was the first time I heard of Metrolink MAX, and I think it is a fantastic idea, to develop fewer corridors with more frequent service throughout the day. Having frequent service like this would likely help alleviate the stress of many commuters when congestion occurs as the result of freight trains also needing to use the tracks. Right now with departures every hour or two apart, any disruption can significantly impact trip plans.

-Marcus R Garcia/Facebook

Be sure to check out the approved frequency upgrades for the San Bernardino Line. Many departures during the week will be on a clock-face schedule (ie. 30 minutes peak to LA in the morning, 30 minutes peak to San Bernardino in the afternoon, and hourly off-peak). The 5:30am train from San Bernardino and the 5:30pm departure from LA will be express. Cal State LA and Montclair, two major destinations and hub points are now express stops. To be clear, there's still some doughnut holes throughout the day from last year's funding dispute with SANBAG with some periods in between departures spanning up to an hour and 45 minutes, but the frequency improvements will a great asset for the line and the Redlands Extension. New schedule becomes effective October 5.

Other Stories:

(Carmageddon in Corona) is an excellent reason why people should take Metrolink!

Cecil Karstensen/Facebook

Keep in mind Mother Nature has and can strike at transit routes too prompting for emergency inspections, closures, and/or repairs. Metrolink is not exempt from natural law.

I just tried to comment on one of (Citizens Against 2nd Railroad Track) posts asking how they could block such a worthwhile project. They responded quickly and childishly and then blocked me from commenting further. Talk about an open-minded group.

Philip D. Obaza/Facebook

It looks like the Puppet Masters are controlling this group's page to restrict dissent and protect the twists in truth and maintain their altered states of reality. With the exception of blocking baseless smear attacks, stonewalling legitimate statements that have supporting facts is not a good practice in public debate.

@TTCInlandEmpire wow ("Transforming Dangerous Neighborhoods into Livable Communities") is so spot on. It coincides with so much of my senior project

Jesus Navidad/Twitter

We appreciate you selecting this topic for your school work. We invite you to send us your final paper and we may feature it on this blog. Violent gang and drug crimes have been plaguing society for far too long and we need proven answers. I'd like to see your solution.

It's long past time that we protect the streets and help the kids who grow up in these chaotic environments.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Funding CA High Speed Rail through the Private Sector

Getting bullet train infrastructure paid for quickly through the market economy.

Graphic: DesertXpress Enterprises

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

The Transit Coalition generally supports public-private partnerships as a funding source for transportation infrastructure. It is a method of financing capital where a private entity provides funds up front to build a project. In return, the investing firm could use the finished product to conduct its business in the marketplace and provide jobs.

PPP's are done so that public agencies do not have to wait for funds from public sources to trickle in over the course of many years; sometimes that wait can span decades. In addition to capitalizing on the infrastucture, incoming public funds can be used to reimburse the private entity that provided the amount to start work on a project. That entity, in turn, receives a concession to build the project.

Public agencies, here at home and across the globe, are increasingly using this method to fund projects without having to wait for government appropriations.

Former 91 Express Lanes toll rate sign used prior to the OCTA purchase and re-branding.
I do acknowledge that not every PPP is a good deal.

For example, the original contract between Caltrans and a private firm to develop the 91 Express Lanes through Orange County had a non-compete clause in the rule book which forbade any form of infrastructure upgrades in the corridor for 30 years. We the people of Southern California got a bad bargain from that PPP even though the HOT lane infrastructure proved to be a success..

It wasn't until 2003 when the Orange County Transportation Authority came along and bought us out of that mess. Because the 91 Express Lanes opened in 1995, we would still be locked into this situation to this very day for another decade had OCTA not purchased the toll lanes. The Transit Coalition continues to call for the remaining toll bond debt to be paid off as soon as possible.

Enter in high speed rail.

Last Thursday, DesertXpress Enterprises which is proposing the XpressWest line between Victorville and Las Vegas announced that it had formed a partnership with China Railway International USA. Very little details were disclosed but the Chinese firm did state that it would provide initial capital of $100 million.

What does this mean for the California High Speed Rail Authority? What does it mean for the widespread HSR opposition and taxpayer watchdog groups that correctly argue that the start-up voter-approved bond money must not be wasted?

Lisa Marie Alley, Deputy Director of Public Affairs for the California High Speed Rail Authority, told the Los Angeles Times that CHSRA has had ongoing discussions with XpressWest to explore combining both systems and to ensure that XpressWest trains are designed to operate on the authority's track. Alley added that the High Speed Rail Authority has not yet issued the green light to allowed XpressWest to use its right-of-way.

But if this partnership between CHSRA is established, and officials continue robust discussions for the Palmdale to Burbank tunnel, it could be possible that additional private funds from various sources will pay for the infrastructure. That could mean that XpressWest could very well operate straight from LA Union Station, through Palmdale and Victorville and into Las Vegas.

Yes, I know there's plenty of opposition to drill a tunnel under the national forest. Valid issues must not be stonewalled or ignored. That means the geo-technical and environmental studies of the area need to be transparent and urban residential displacements in Burbank kept at a minimum. But if the rail tunnel can be safely engineered and if it turns out not to be a pollutant--which I predict it will be clean--it will allow for a straight and more direct transit route which would allow the bullet trains to travel at their top speeds between the LA Basin and High Desert.

Plus, utility firms including the growing solar panel industry in the deserts may desire to use the tunnel to channel additional power or other lines into the LA Basin. Thus, they may be willing to invest into the project too.

And once that starting segment is launched and funded, it would be just a matter of time before even more private money is invested to extend HSR north from Palmdale, through the Central Valley to Sacramento and San Francisco. Add to that a HSR branch for the remainder of the I-15 and I-10 corridors, and potentially the I-215, Irvine-to-Corona Expressway rail tunnel, and the I-5 Tejon Pass HSR tunnel as well.

Many HSR opponents cite the issue of spending massive sums of public funds as their chief argument against building the statewide bullet train. But if the private sector continues to invest with state policies allowing for transparent and business-friendly transactions, we might be able to find some common ground by simultaneously getting the state high speed rail infrastructure without the government waste. Plus, we would still have plenty of public money to spend on the rest of the state's surface transportation needs.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Carmageddon in Corona

Westbound lane closures on the 91 create gridlock in the Circle City but safety must come first.

Ditching the Corona Crawl: Many people were waiting for the 7:18am westbound arrival of IEOC Line Train 809 from the North Main Corona Metrolink station on Wednesday morning of the 91 Sig-Alert. 

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

It looked like traffic hell in Corona during Tuesday's and Wednesday's morning commute. According to news reports, Mother Nature sent Caltrans and Riverside County transportation officials a scary note very early Tuesday when heavy rains struck the 91 freeway through the Santa Ana Canyon.

Experts in the field found that after a storm cell swept through very early in the morning, a hillside that supports the right side of the westbound lanes just west of Green River Road may have eroded. As a result, an emergency inspection and repair project had to be executed which shut down the right two lanes of the freeway through the Canyon for two days.

Community Relations Manager Eliza Echevarria of the Riverside County Transportation Commission told the Press Enterprise this:

They never know until they get down in there. (Inspectors) saw this pooling water and ... saw that some of the roadway was compromised underneath. That was enough concern that they needed to pull up the roadway to see what damage may or may not have been there. It was most definitely a safety measure.

Because the 91 is the one and only vehicle road that directly connects Corona to Orange County through the Canyon, the two-day Sig-Alert brought a whole new definition to traffic delays through Corona during the Tuesday and Wednesday morning rush hours. With no direct alternative routes other than peak-hour Metrolink train service, it's no question that Corona had its turn of Carmageddon. Both mornings, the westbound 91 had a solid bumper-to-bumper backup from the county line area all the way into Riverside with the queue of stopped cars stretching almost to La Sierra Road at its peak.

Adding to the dilemma were numerous traffic collisions.

On Tuesday morning, the I-15 north that connects into the 91 was also reportedly delayed all the way out of north Lake Elsinore no thanks to reported problems there. Some motorists from Southwest Riverside County and Riverside Transit Agency Route 206 bus riders who usually connect to Metrolink at Corona missed their scheduled morning train departures. Commuters who drove all the way into Orange County from the 15 spent a whopping 3-4 hours behind the wheel.

On Wednesday, a reported motorcycle collision on the westbound 91 during the rush hour near the emergency construction  site blocked a part of the the egress/ingress segment that links the end of the westbound carpool lane with the entrance to the 91 Express Lanes. Another Sig-Alert in the Canyon as westbound traffic on surface streets was at a standstill all over Circle City. Worse yet, several additional local traffic accidents were reported throughout Corona's gridlocked roadways.

People were stuck for literately hours.

In fact, I was at the Corona Transit Center Wednesday morning and experienced some of the trouble firsthand. There was some chaos on the transit front. I saw people running from the busy parking structure to the train platform, possibly because regular train riders were delayed heading to the giant park & ride garage. The lines at the ticket vending machines were also long. I predicted that some 91 commuters gave up on the freeway, drove to the station as a last resort to give the train a try. There were so many people wanting to board the 7:18am departure of IEOC Train 809 to south Orange County that some had to wait about 25 minutes for the 7:43am departure of Train 811 due to parking and the TVM lines.

At the RTA transit hub, I saw numerous motorists illegally driving into the bus boarding area of the station, possibly because they were thinking in error that the transitway was a through street. That's understandable because the line of cars in the Grand Avenue Circle was moving slower than a pedestrian taking a leisurely walk. I am not kidding. Local RTA and Corona Cruiser buses were also late.

The madness was so bad in Corona, that its mayor issued an open letter to RCTC.

I'm not going to analyze the content of the city's memo, but the truth is there will be new hard lessons learned from this story. I predict that there will be some new protocols developed to reduce the number of collisions in times of traffic gridlock. I believe we'll have better preparedness at the ready for emergencies at highways lacking alternative routes. The fact is meteorologists predict heavy rains for our drought-stricken state during the remainder of this summer's hot and humid monsoon and upcoming winter storm season.

Regardless of what corrective action is taken, all of us must follow this: Natural law. And if heavy rains or acts of nature impact our infrastructure, there's going to be difficult on-the-fly decisions and emergency declarations to be made no matter what the level of preparedness or awareness may be. Unfortunately, this last rain storm incident occurred at an existing freeway bottleneck and the priority was to inspect and repair the 91 as quickly and efficiently as possible. One consequence of the job was widespread traffic delays but safety is no accident.

RCTC and Caltrans are to be commended for how their teams handled this situation and for getting the entire demolition/inspection/repair/rebuild operation completed within a mere 2 days.

While congestion at this level is something we wish would never repeat for our primary gateway into Orange County, natural law and safe infrastructure takes precedence. When nature moves in and challenges our transportation agencies with emergency work, it is always better to err in the side of safety.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Transit News all over the Inland Empire

San Bernardino Transit Center opens, the efficiency of Redlands Passenger Rail and Riverside Reconnects projects, and reforming CEQA law:

Upgraded downtown bus transfer hub: Family waits for their bus at the new San Bernardino Transit Center.
Photo: Omnitrans

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

I predicted September was going to be a very busy month for transit advocacy. Our Inland Empire system continues to grow. The Transit Coalition wants to ensure we do it right and that precious transportation funding that we pay into is spent wisely. So here's a look at the major stories:

First buses of the morning arrive at the San Bernardino Transit Center 
Photo: Omnitrans
Opening of the San Bernardino Transit Center

The city's downtown inter-modal transit center has arrived. It links 12 local Omnitrans bus routes, the sbX Green Line BRT, MARTA bus connections to Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead, and VVTA buses to the high desert. Pass Transit should reroute Line 120 to this station once Metrolink rolls in. More on that in a moment.

The hub-point infrastructure upgrade that replaced an existing transfer hub a few blocks north features an indoor waiting area, a customer service counter, pass sales office, restrooms, a private bus driver break area, ticket vending machines, next-bus arrival signs, and a strong security presence. Bus riders who regularly used the previous transfer hub as a layover point were in for a spectacular upgrade.

This is the first of two transit upgrades that will infuse more riders aboard the sbX Green Line and local routes. The second will be the Metrolink First Mile extension planned for 2016-17. With these public transit gaps closed thanks to a centralized hub point, people from Los Angeles or other areas of the Inland Empire can travel in by train into the new station and transfer to the feeding local buses to their final destination and back. In addition, a reinstated peak hour express bus route from Montclair and the proposed Redlands Passenger Rail Project will connect here too.

Speaking of which...

Making the best of Redlands Passenger Rail

The San Bernardino Associated Governments is spearheading the Redlands Passenger Rail Project. The proposed rail corridor between the San Bernardino Transit Center and Redlands runs along an existing 9 mile railroad right-of-way from E Street in San Bernardino east to the City of Redlands.

San Bernardino County Supervisor James Ramos who also chairs the Rail to Redlands Working Group published this video on September 10th:

The Transit Coalition supports using Metrolink train equipment for this extension combined with corridor-based routes operating every 30 minutes plus the commuter express runs simply because the increased station pairs will generate better ridership. Ramos' video implies that Metrolink trains will be the chosen technology. According to a May article in the Redlands Daily Facts, SanBAG officials environmentally cleared the use of two Metrolink express trains for the rail project during the environmental review process for possible future use.

However, the agency intends to run Diesel Multiple Units with 25 average daily trips. Sprinter-type DMU's have proven to be an efficient form of rail transit. But there's several legitimate questions to be asked: This phase of the Redlands extension covers only 5 stations with San Bernardino and Redlands as the main hubs whereas the Sprinter system in San Diego County serves 15 stops including 4 major transit hubs. The limited service coverage with a mandatory transfer at San Bernardnio could very well negate ridership and harm the cost-to-benefit ratio. Also, is the population density even sufficient enough to support DMU urban rail between the two hub end-points or is combining Metrolink with expanded sbX BRT services more feasible? You make the call.

The total cost of the rail line is $242 million or $26.8 million per mile along an existing rail right-of-way which is actually a pretty good per-mile stat for a passenger rail line. However, that has still rallied the opposition, namely the Inland Empire Transit Alliance and the Redlands Tea Party Patriots. To be fair, the limited station stops through a suburban corridor with high infrastructure and labor costs in California are a legitimate concern.

However, the baby should not be thrown out with the bathwater. An efficient transit extension into Redlands needs to proceed and these groups should find ways to get the public costs down, suggest ways to improve ridership productivity and not resort to NIMBY opposition spin tactics like increased crime, short-range traffic congestion, and noise. The legit issues have to be dealt with. By the way, quiet zones through the residential areas can offset the noise pollution issue associated with the train horns.

Using Metrolink equipment with trains departing every 30 minutes that continue beyond San Bernardino would maximize ridership for the line's 5 stations. Cost reforms have to be dealt with at the state level. Rancho Cucamonga Mayor L. Dennis Michael did mention in the video public private partnerships as a possible funding tool which the Coalition generally supports.

We'll keep a close watch on this project and we'll show you how Metrolink MAX can be integrated into this branch.

For the record, the Sprinter price tag was $477 million or $21.7 million per mile.

Photo: © Riding in Riverside CC-BY-SA
Riverside Streetcar

As you may know, the City of Riverside is looking to bring its version of urban rail transit along its major local corridors in the form of a streetcar. The transit route is currently served by Riverside Transit Agency Route 1 and the soon-to-be limited stop RapidLink runs during rush hour. The Press Enterprise recently reported potential issues regarding ridership projections versus costs and published yet another editorial questioning the project.

Now, if I was an ideological transit advocate, I would cheer for this rail line. But The Transit Coalition is a fact-based group. The truth is that under the current demographics, economic climate and the general lack of a robust business marketplace in the area, it may be premature to spend precious public transportation funds on this infrastructure right now. Don't get me wrong, the current study hopefully will bring about some up-to-date facts for the area, but RTA has previously studied the Route 1 corridor and found that limited stop RapidLink service to be the feasible option. But as the region grows, rail can be integrated into the route and this study can be used to determine feasibility.

I would suggest this for the Riverside Reconnects transit plan: RTA Route 1 boardings have grown to the point where limited stop rapid service is feasible. Good. RTA should launch RapidLink, ensure the buses connect and feed seamlessly with Metrolink trains and other express services, and phase in increased span and frequency as ridership demands grow. The city could designate the Downtown and University Avenue corridor as a specific plan for urban in-fill and private sector job growth where developers would fund or develop a dedicated bus lane for RapidLink which could later be transformed into a streetcar route should ridership growth demands it.

Once projected RapidLink demands begin to show that bus infrastructure along the Route 1 and RapidLink corridor needs to be upgraded to rail, the city could recommence planning for the streetcar line and get the private sector and developers on board too for additional local funding. That would address the major funding concern raised by the Press Enterprise editorial board.

RTA Bus Record-Breaking Ridership is not "ridiculously pathetic"

A footnote off all this comes from Riverside Neighborhood Partnership member Richard Olquin. In the PE report, he called use of Riverside Transit Agency buses today “ridiculously pathetic” and said that the streetcar projections hardly improve on that.

Tell that to RTA Marketing Manager Bradley Weaver who reported that ridership aboard Riverside County buses have hit record levels and have outpaced national trends. The ridership growth was too reported in the newspaper.

In-fill Urban Growth: Downtown LA housing is slowly but surely growing. Are loopholes in CEQA law obstructing development?
CEQA Reform and Greenhouse Gases

At the state level, I was hoping that this year, the legislature would finally fix the loopholes in the California Environmental Quality Act. An industry bent on taking money from developers and government agencies are exploiting CEQA and filing frivolous or trivial environmental lawsuits in court even though such projects pose no threat to the environment. You may remember that the Metrolink Perris Valley Line fell prey to such exploitation which sent millions of dollars to Friends of Riverside Hills and their lawyer to the tune of $15,000 per household.

During the legislative session, a new statewide environmental bill would have made the CEQA situation worse according to the press. Thankfully, it was pulled. SB-32 would have expanded AB-32, the 2006 law that requires a cutback in greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020. The new bill would have required levels 40% percent below 1990 by 2030, 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. According a column in the San Diego Union Tribune by Steven Greenhut, the business community campaigned against the legislation because it would have invited even more lawsuits under the banner of CEQA.

To be clear, Los Angeles and several areas of the Inland Empire need cleaner air and LA was very dirty through the 90's as cleaner and fuel efficient cars were yet to be invented, but CEQA abuse in the courtroom has been a statewide epidemic for far too long.

Pretty much all of the major newspapers in Southern California either through their editorial boards or staff columnists have called for some form CEQA reform this year:

  • LA Times George Skelton called on labor groups to stop abusing CEQA law to advance their agendas.
  • San Francisco Chronicle Open Forum writer Jim Wunderman opined that CEQA reform was necessary for in order for SB-32 to work. His points are valid.
  • The Press Enterprise editorial board also pitched that bad loopholes in CEQA law have contributed to high housing costs throughout the state. The PE has a point simply because the cost of building such infrastructure in California is high already and environmental lawsuit abuse exacerbates expenses.
  • A separate column in the LA Daily News echoes a similar point citing that the state Legislative Analyst's Office warned that California's low supply and high cost of housing are increasing poverty and commute times while lowering homeownership rates. That drives developers to into undeveloped, more affordable land.

Amazing how environmental law loopholes can worsen urban sprawl.

To be fair, California's broken policy of the landmark ADA law which has too been the subject of lawsuit abuse against small businesses underwent some long-overdue reform this year, passed and sent for Gov. Jerry Brown's signature. If signed into law, small businesses will have additional protections and a 15 day grace period to fix non-ADA compliant areas according to the OC Register and Press Enterprise.

Also, I believe that the vast majority of the good people who practice law and represent us in the court of law as attorneys rightly do not exploit broken laws for their own personal gain. But those who do must be held to account with reformed state law.

The effort to hold the state government accountable of stopping trivial and frivolous CEQA suits which obstructs environmentally friendly transit and in-fill development projects has to continue. Every environmental organization should be knocking on the Capitol's door to hold the legislature to account of closing this loophole and stop pandering to the law-exploitation industry, broken policies which have already harmed the environment.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Citizens For Chatsworth to Van Nuys LOSSAN Double Track

The Raymer to Bernson Double Track is in critical trouble.

Getting LA Moving: The Rancho Cucamonga Metrolink station catches a break in the crowd in between morning departures. How can we get the Northridge Station in LA to look like this with two tracks, two platforms, and a pedestrian underpass?

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

I'm very thankful transit improvements are happening in the Inland Empire. I'll keep all of you posted of any major developments taking place here at home. But in Los Angeles, things are not so bright. So I'll be doing a number of behind-the-scenes work such as graphics and banners for LA's arm of The Transit Coalition. That's where the help is needed. The loud voices of transit opponents have been dominating the court of public opinion in this area for far too long.

One recent example is a local rail transit safety and train mobility enhancement project in the Northridge area that will have a positive impact on regional transportation. According to LA Metro, this busy LOSSAN Rail Corridor segment between Chatsworth and Van Nuys is currently single track. That of course causes a bottleneck of train traffic through this area. The Metrolink Ventura Line, selected trips of the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner, the Coast Starlight, and freight trains all utilize the corridor. Adding a second mainline through this area to offset the congestion should be a given. Plus, a number of rail crossings through this part of the San Fernarndo Valley are long overdue for safety upgrades. That's because of the increasing population density in this region.

Metro proposes to double the rail capacity through this area by adding just under 6 1/2 miles of second mainline tracks between DeSoto and Woodley Aveues and improve the grade crossing gates and other safety features. The Coalition's support for this will fall under the Rail Safety Coalition banner. Plus, Metro plans to add a second boarding platform and pedestrian underpass to the Northridge train station so that passenger trains using the second track would be able to use new train station infrastructure.

Now, you would think that all of these transportation improvements would bring value and safety to the San Fernando Valley. Right? Not so according to the group Citizens Against 2nd Railroad Track.

I have nothing personal against the people representing this group and if there's any legitimate concerns raised, we need to hear them so that such problems are addressed throughout the project. They have the Constitutional right to voice opinion. However, this project needs to move forward as the baby cannot be thrown out with the bathwater. The group has been highly divisive and several of the statements that are being put out there are misleading to say the least. Cutting through the chase, I believe fear has been driving this group's efforts. Loopholes in CEQA law to cash in on some settlement money through the court system could also be a contributor but that has not yet been proven. More on that at a later time.

Over the Labor Day weekend, the opposing party published this video:

In the speech, two of the group's representatives gave an extensive monologue against the project claiming the double tracking would exacerbate hazards along the LOSSAN Rail Corridor citing the Chatsworth, Glendale, and Oxnard Metrolink train crashes as examples. The worry is derailing train cars landing into their properties.

To be fair, the fear is somewhat understandable. When I was a teenager, my home was adjacent to a busy suburban street in south Orange County at the base of a hill and there was an epidemic of traffic collisions there caused by motorists ignoring the 45 MPH posted speed limit. My folks were worried that a car would one day crash through the brick wall separating the backyard from the road. That never happened but it turned out that stepped up law enforcement where motorcycle officers busted the speeders one after another was key to getting the speeding problem and collisions under control, not obstructing road improvement projects. A legitimate issue solved without the NIMBY obstruction.

The same can be said for the past Metrolink wrecks.

The 2008 Chatsworth crash comparison to this project is clearly out of the debate. That horrible collision took place on single track after the Metrolink locomotive engineer ran a red light just north of the station. Two tracks would not have worsened this situation. In fact, had that section been double tracked, the two trains would have passed through north Chatsworth safely.

The 2015 Oxnard crash argument is easily refuttable as well. Like the Chatsworth incident, that wreck also occurred on single track involving a stopped truck in the way. Cause is still being investigated and there may need to be a physical barrier like a chain link fence or guard rail placed between the tracks and the paralleling highway to prevent motorists from turning too early at crossings.

The 2005 Glendale train crash which is infamous of its chain reaction was directly caused by a criminal murderous and arson act. That was proven beyond a reasonable doubt in the court of law and judged by a jury in 2008. Jurors did not find the track infrastructure at fault.

Juan Manuel Álvarez, who left his Jeep Cherokee Sport in the right-of-way after a failed suicide attempt is currently serving 11 consecutive life sentences in prison with no possibility of parole for the murders and arson charges. Awareness campaigns and helplines at the ready can offset and deter people from taking their own lives, but obstructing LA Metro from building a second mainline is not going to reduce the suicide rate, arsonists or the massacring of innocents, period.

By the way, the White Oak Avenue cul-de-sac argument cited in the video presentation already has a fence and a few steel delineators to prevent vehicles from entering the rail right-of-way. A criminal would have to break through the fence in order to carry out an act of destruction. Leaving the right-of-way single tracked is not going to stop people like Álvarez from forcing his way in and parking a car on the tracks, but further improving positive train control by tracking such vehicle break-in's real time possibly can deter a train wreck. Has the opposing party advocated that?

Please help us fight against the loud NIMBY voice:

Your help and financial support is greatly appreciated. We need to let LA Metro and the public know that the double tracking project needs to move forward.

Please join the "Citizens for 2nd Railroad Track". A.k.a. The Transit Coalition.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Los Angeles Transit in Trouble

Written by: Bart Reed, Executive Director

To all our transit supporters and friends: We need your help financially. Transit in LA is in trouble. And rallying to fight the problems needs full-time attention. Look at the Orphan Transit Projects and the Part-Time Bus Service where workers can't get to a majority of job shifts.

Every day and night we go out to meetings, give presentations, train students, research and develop written documentation and do all the work you'd like to do, but don't have time. We are your voice. We are the community activists. But to do our work, we need your contributions.

Every week, there are a variety of meetings where the community shows up to oppose Orphan Projects such as High-Speed Rail and Metro Double-Track Safety Projects. Other Orphan transit projects and systems are ignored and in trouble such as the Downtown LA Streetcar, Angels Flight and the San Pedro Streetcar. Metro relentlessly trims bus service, making it largely unusable. We document and expose these shortcomings and educate the elected officials. And we need your help.

Some Community Opponents strongly believe they can stop a Metro Double Track Safety project on the LOSSAN rail corridor, which is the second busiest in the United States. We counter by showing up to provide officials with the transit perspective, rather than the Opponents hidden agenda We need some donations to help fund the battle. You can contribute here.

The Transit Coalition is a non-profit public charity exempt from federal income tax under Section 501[c](3) of the Internal Revenue Service. Tax-deductible donations to maintain the website, print materials, organize campaigns, and pay office rent are welcomed. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Riverside County Transit Briefing: UCR Metrolink, Perris Valley Line, etc.

by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

It's been a busy month for me personally on the work front. I know it's been a while since I've posted commentary on transportation related matters as I've been on the run, but I'm not complaining. With the market economy the way it is right now, I'm thankful for the jobs I'm taking.

Anyway, I predict there's going to be some major stories unfolding during the fall as the governing boards return from their August recess.  Here's a run down:

Riverside County Regional Transportation Summit

Concept: I-15 Express Lanes through Wildomar with transit infrastructure and free non-transponder carpooling for RTA Route 206, charters, casino buses, future public express lines, and 2+ HOV's.
Note: Concept only. Not endorsed by RCTC or any public entity.
The Riverside County Transportation Commission has been holding county-wide public comment forums on regional mobility. The input would be used to guide and improve transportation planning. The last forum scheduled is September 23 in Hemet. The Transit Coalition will submit a report to RCTC and I'll have it available for viewing through this blog. Many of you have posted some valid points on issues and I'll be sure such concerns are included.

UC Riverside Metrolink Station
Another big happening occurring now is the recent campaign to bring a Metrolink Perris Valley Line station stop to U.C. Riverside. The Transit Coalition does support it and it will be a part of our submitted comments, but it's going to take much more than simply knocking on RCTC's door and petitioning them to build a station.

Keep in mind there's a legal settlement stemming from an environmental lawsuit that obstructs any form of UCR station proposals by RCTC. But that's no excuse to do nothing as the blockage is over trivial matters. There probably needs to be some overdue reform of CEQA and other laws at the state level that would give RCTC better negotiating room to overturn this part of the settlement without us having to fork more tax money over to the opposing party and their lawyers. Can anybody answer this question straightly and back it up with facts: How on Earth would a Metrolink train station stop at UC Riverside be an environmental pollutant?

Metrolink Perris Valley Line

Speaking of the Perris Valley Line, construction continues to move forward. Weekday 91 Line trips extended from Riverside are proposed to serve the new rail infrastructure. There is a push to get a segment in between its southern terminal into San Bernardino given trip demands between San Bernardino and Moreno Valley are high. That could be possible under a corridor-based system where selected trips (ie. every other departure) from Los Angeles Union Station would turn around at the San Bernardino downtown transit center and continue south to Perris and eventually into Temecula once the latter extension is funded and built. Plus, if the Riverside Line also used the PVL branch, that would greatly speed up the end-to-end trip times between Perris and Los Angeles since this route is more direct than via the 91 Line. The Transit Coalition is also exploring the possibility of Riverside Line and/or 91 Line trips continuing southwest from LAUS toward LAX via LA Metro Harbor Subdivision corridor.

Social and Family Rebuilding in Troubled Neighborhoods

Violent gang crime and drug abuse continues to be an epidemic all over Southern California. Just turn on the local news on television or read the newspaper and let it speak for itself. Toward the end of July, I posted an executable solution to this madness. I did have an idea of transforming dead or slow shopping malls into robust youth districts where troubled youth can turn to for social acceptance and job networking in lieu the criminal street culture. Strong law enforcement would directly deter violence and illegal drug sales in these areas. I'll have some more ideas posted soon on this very troubling topic.

Most of the other transit happenings are more local but certainly not trivial. I'm keeping an eye on the progress of getting peak-hour, limited stop RapidLink bus service for Riverside, what needs to happen to improve connectivity between Corona and hubs in Orange County, Chino, Ontario, and Lake Elsinore, and the progress of the World Logistics Center in Moreno Valley.

I'll be sure to cover them in a future post and I do appreciate you following us.