Saturday, February 27, 2016

Coronageddon, California Gas Prices, etc.

Gridlock was absent in Circle City last week but what the heck happened in Diamond Bar?

Traffic conditions at 2PM Friday before the 91 Closure

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director
riversidetransit@gmail.com


The Carmageddon closure in Corona turned out to be a huge success, at least in the local area. After the Riverside County Transportation Commission announced the weekend shutdown, word went viral: Front page headlines, radio ads, billboard campaigns, freeway alerts...the marketing teams did whatever it took to warn motorists to "steer clear" of the 91. It worked. Just like the previous Carmageddon shutdowns in West LA, the widespread coverage combined with cooperation from the public allowed Circle City to not experience traffic gridlock.

Don't get me wrong. Corona's surface streets were very busy during the weekend. There were many motorists still cutting though. But the streets were not at a standstill as many feared. When I monitored the traffic patterns over the weekend, the furthest I saw the 91 east back up was in between Coal Canyon Road and the 241 Toll Road. Overall, it was a good drive in the region.

What was not a good drive that weekend? It was the primary suggested detour route through Diamond Bar.

The RCTC-recommended detour between Orange County and the Inland Empire experienced all kinds of traffic trouble. Forget "Coronageddon." The weekend should have been called "Diamond Barmageddon." However, RCTC absolutely cannot be faulted for routing motorists through Brea Canyon. I think impatience is the blame.

Unfortunately, I cannot think of a means to accurately measure the increased traffic counts simply because traffic collision after traffic collision after traffic collision at the SR-57 and 60 merge had polluted the counts. Through nearly the entire Friday rush hour and all day Saturday, there was some kind of problem in that area which obstructed the traffic flow with outbound delays from Orange County spanning beyond Brea and eastbound traffic from Los Angeles backing all the way into Downtown LA during some periods. I have a feeling that improved safety and enforcement in this area has got to be explored in this area to cut down on the number of wrecks should there be a another 91 closure later down road.

Other than that, the Coronageddon campaign did its job. Future weekend closures should follow this and West LA's lead as examples for future Carmageddon weekend closures. The primary alternative routes certainly need to be staffed with stepped-up law enforcement and additional freeway services for breakdowns and traffic collisions. I also believe the expanded Metrolink services helped too.

CA's Summer Special Blend & Gas Prices 

As I previously mentioned, I'm going to keep a close watch on the rise of gas prices as the state transitions into the summer special blend fuels. I don't mind a minor uptick this time of the year and paying about 50-70 cents more than the national average is about the norm during this period. But if Californians end up paying upwards toward $1.25-1.75 more than our neighbors across the state border, count on the public to react. That's because the news media has been covering this story closely. Oil prices are at their low points. We're flush with an oversupply of oil stock. Meanwhile, pump prices here at home are going up. The Golden State experienced isolated spikes like this three times last year. Californians want to know what the heck is going on. Demands for straight media coverage are on the rise.

If this pattern follows previous spikes and if we end up paying $3.50-$4 per gallon while the good people in Phoenix are paying less than $1.50, there's going to be quite a bit of anger and calls for fuel regulatory reform at the state level.

Add to that calls to reform CEQA and other red-tape trivial regulations that obstruct infill development which sends housing prices and rents much higher than our neighbors next door. I think the people are more aware of what is happening and if the state government fails to act this time around, more people and businesses will simply pack up and leave California because they have the freedom to do so. As I mentioned before, if that happens, the whole economic and transit system will take a grave hit, and this will impact everybody whether one drives a car or not.

The Press Enterprise has already begun to make this story front and center with front page headlines. According to Gas Buddy, the average for a gallon of gas is about $1.50 in the Phoenix metro area with prices stable. The national average is at $1.75, prices stable. California prices meanwhile are going up again. With the lack of outside competition, how can the existing providers be held to account to produce what is demanded? Currently, if the oil industry within the state fails to produce, the job goes undone and we end up in an artificial shortage that hurts the people financially.

To be clear, I do support the innovation of more fuel efficient cars that burns less gasoline per-mile and the expansion of infrastructure that allows for better high occupancy vehicle travel through dense corridors. But I don't support fuel policies that damages the market economy or a system where lack of competition drives up prices. If Inland Empire fuel prices creep into the $3 mark and beyond, I think the people will finally wake up and realize what a bad deal we're getting and will finally hold the state government to account in finding efficient regulatory solutions to solve this social economical and environmental injustice.

Our entire statewide economic and transit systems should not be held hostage to an incompetent industry nor trivial red-tape rules that prevent outside competition and innovation, period.

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