Transportation Perspectives

Continuing the task of clearing out some news chum that has accumulated, here are some articles related to transportation, in honor of Curbed LA’s Transportation Week (as good an excuse as any):

  • The Evolution of Transportation in Los Angeles. This is an interesting photoessay that looks how transportation evolved in LA, from early horses, wagons, and stagecoaches to the Pacific Electric to the private automobile.  It also explores how highways have reshaped the city.
  • The Streetcar Conspiracy. The next article looks at the truth of a subject touched upon in the previous link: the canard that car and tire manufacturers conspired to destroy the Red Cars.  Their conclusion is right: there was no conspiracy. I’ll add some more reasons why the conspiracy theory was bunk: people moved to private cars because they gave more flexible routing, and the cars themselves were newer and better maintained. Even into the 1960s, PE was running cars built in the 1920s. The crime was not the death of PE and LARy, but the loss of the right of way.
  • The Rebirth of the Historic Trolley. The third link look at the rise of the Historic Trolley Car Tours. These tours, of course aren’t on really trolley cars (which have tracks and trollers), but on buses made to look like streetcars. Why the nostalgia for a form of transportation most people didn’t ride.
  • Self Driving Cars. Moving away from Los Angeles, here’s an interesting article on how former military bases are being used to test self-driving cars. Military bases, in many ways, are perfect for the tasks: they have mini-communities with streets, houses, and schools, but not people that can be hurt.
  • Provision Driving Changes. Lastly, an article about a proposed change in California that would change the age under which provisional driving licenses are issued to 21 from 18. Assembly Bill 63, authored by Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Discovery Bay, will extend the age range of the provisional licensing program from 16 to 21. New drivers will first need to complete drivers ed to then get their provisional license, which will prevent them from driving between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. and transporting anyone under 20 years of age, unless accompanied by a driving instructor. The license restrictions remain in effect for the driver’s first year. Active-duty members of the California National Guard, the State Military Reserve or the U.S. Armed Forces will be exempt from the program. Also, individuals age 18 and older who have an ambulance driver certificate, school bus driver certificate or a commercial driver’s license from the program are also exempt.

 

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Travel and Transit Chum

Continuing to clear out some articles, here’s some travel and transit related articles:

 

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Interesting Histories

Continuing the clearing of some themed groups, here are some interesting histories that I’ve seen come across my feeds of late:

  • LA Theatre. Here’s a complete history of LA Theatre while standing on one foot.  OK, well, it’s not complete (there’s no mention of the LA Civic Light Opera, for example, or the other major large theatres that are no more, like the Huntington Hartford or the Shubert in Century City), but it is a great summary of the current situation with 99 seat theatres and how we got there.
  • Jewish Culinary Tradition. Here’s an article (and a discussion of a cookbook) related to a classic Jewish food tradition: pickling and preservation. A number of the recipes described sound really interesting .
  • Left Turns. If you’re like me, you get … annoyed … at the current crop of drivers that wait behind the limit line to make a left turn, and then do a sweeping arc that almost cuts off the car waiting on the cross street to turn (plus, it means one car per light). If you’re like me, you were taught to pull into the middle of the intersection, and then to do an almost 90 degree turn to go from left lane into left lane. Turns out, left turns have changed over time, and I’m old-school.
  • Old Subway Cars. When your light rail cars die, where do they go? Often, they are dumped in the ocean. Los Angeles did that with some of the Red and Yellow Cars. New York does it with its subway cars. But this isn’t pollution, and here are the pictures to prove it. Rather, it is creating reefs for oceanlife.
  • Tunnels Back In Service. An LADWP tunnel that dates back to 1915 is going back in service.The Los Angeles Daily News reports the tunnel is being refurbished to capture water runoff from the Sierras, which was inundated with snow this winter.The tunnel is part of a larger system, called the Maclay Highline, that runs from “the L.A. Aqueduct Cascades in Sylmar to a group of meadows in Pacoima.” Once restored, the tunnel will carry a significant amount of water—130 acre-feet a day—to the Pacoima Spreading Grounds, where it will filter down into the city aquifer and become drinking water. (One acre-foot can supply two households with water for a year.)

As we’re talking history, here’s another interesting themed historical group, this time focused on air travel:

  • Lockheed L-1011. I remember back in the 1990s flying between LAX and IAD, when I could still occasionally get an L-1011. This was a tri-jet from Lockheed, and was nice and spacious with great overhead space. They have long since disappeared, but one recently took to the skies as part of a ferry to a museum. The refurbished plane will be used as part of a STEM teaching experience.
  • Boeing 747. The Queen of the Skies has been dethroned by someone skinnier and cheaper. The last few 747s for passenger service are coming off the line; airlines are phasing them out of the fleets. There will be a few more for freight service, but like the DC-10, they will be disappearing. The market can not really support such large loads — and the multiple engines and fuel it takes to ferry them. The Airbus A380 is facing similar problems. Airlines want at most two engines, with the planes packed to the gills.
  • Old Airports. Here’s an article on an interesting dilemma: What to do with old municipal airports, such as the one in downtown Detroit? (NYTimes article) Should they be restored for general aviation purposes, and perhaps the occasional commercial craft? Should their land be repurposed for more housing and manufacturing, as was done quite successfully with the old DEN (Denver Stapleton). Repurposing can be temping. Cities such as Detroit will soon run out of wide-open, city-owned spaces that can be offered to companies looking to build manufacturing or other commercial facilities here. A decomissioned airport can provide just the opportunity needed. But others say cities should reinvest in the airports, saying it could be an economic engine as well. (I’ll note similar questions exists for former Air Force bases as well — how is former George AFB working out, San Bernardino?) The article  notes that cities across the nation are reconsidering the value of municipal airports in the era of superjumbo jets and budget cuts. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association estimated the nation loses 50 public-use airports a year. Almost all are general-aviation airports, ones that cater primarily to owners of private planes, and most have operating deficits that the cities must make up for in their budgets. Detroit, for instance, faces a $1.3 million operating loss in the 2017 fiscal year for Coleman Young, which averages just 30 landings a day. The main airport for the region is Detroit Metropolitan, a Delta Air Lines hub about 20 miles west of the city limits.
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Transformational Transportation

Today’s news chum collection is united by the common theme of transportation: either the article deals with modes of transportation, or places impacted by transportation:

  • The Bus. Think about transportation museums that you know. There are loads of airplane museums. Train museums are quite common. Automobile museums you also see. But bus collections? Rare. About as rare as boardgames about Interstates. Here’s an article about a vintage bus graveyard in Fontana, CA, that may be in trouble. The owner has long wished to found a nonprofit museum dedicated to the history of the American motor coach, and his 122 buses represent a dream long deferred — a dream that could abruptly end, due to the fact that the city of Fontana has annexed the property that he rents to store the buses. he has been given two weeks to move (and the article was published in mid-May, so time may be up already). If he doesn’t get a stay of execution or a new, multi-acre lot (and significant funds to move the buses), many of these historic treasures will be destined for the scrapyard. [Note: I did some searching, but I could not find out what happened on this.]
  • The Elevator. Sometimes the most commonplace objects are the most transformational. Consider the elevator, or as the Brit’s call it, the lift. This humble movable box that goes up and down changed the shape of our cities. It changed the nature of the value of the uppermost rooms of a building, it made increased density possible in our cities, and it transformed how we use space in our cities.
  • The Motel. The impact of the automobile is significant. It transformed the humble inn or downtown hotel into the motel — a building expressly designed for the motoring public where the driver could park next to their room. The world’s first motel was in San Luis Obispo on US 101. Left to decay, the first motel is now going to be rebuilt. All that remains of the Motel Inn is a crumbling façade and an office building. The property on the north end of Monterey Street in San Luis Obispo has sat shuttered and dilapidated since the 1990s. In 1925, the Milestone Mo-Tel, as it was originally called, became the first motel in the world.Now, a team of local developers is working to restore the motel to it’s former glory.
  • The Vanpool. Solo driving can be tiring. Consider the transformational value of the vanpool and ride-sharing on how one gets to work. I know this personally: I vanpool every day. I put less miles on my car, have lower insurance, use less gas, and get reimbursed for my vanpooling costs (so I commute for free). A sweet deal. But I’m not the only one. Here’s a piece from a lawyer who commuted to Century City who decided that ride-sharing was much better. PS: If you live in the north valley, and commute to El Segundo, drop me a note if you might be interested in joining our vanpool.
  • The Mall. One of the greatest impacts of the automobile was in how we shop. No more wandering that quaint collection of stores downtown. We could go to the mall. That indoor collection of store after store surrounded by free parking, anchored by multiple department stores. Well, the department stores are going bankrupt, the small stores in the mall are dying, and everything is being killed off by Amazon. People still go shopping, but for the experience in outdoor shopping villages. As for the mall? Perhaps we can transform it into something better. But perhaps not. We shall see.
  • Signage. Transportation has also transformed how we sign things. We have to design signage to be universally understandable, at a high speed, by many cultures. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t (I have yet to see a well designed “no right turn on red” sign). 99% Invisible presents one such quandry: how would you redesign the “lane ends, merge left” sign? The old version of the sign features two lines running parallel at the bottom with one angling in toward the top. This design can be mirrored to indicate a merge from either the left or the right. It is hard to tell, though, whether the lines represent lanes or their borders — if lanes, then it looks like two routes coming closer together (not merging). The existence of text-only supplements (“LANE ENDS MERGE LEFT”) also suggests a graphic-only approach can be baffling. How would you improve it?

 

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What’s The Incentive?

As you may know, I vanpool to work. I’ve been doing so since the early 1990s; I’m currently the operator of the van. This means that I lease the van from the vanpool company, collect the fares monthly from my passengers, and pay the lease. We get a nice incentive from LA Metro for keeping our van at least 70% full, and my employer takes care of fueling the van for us (although we pay for the fuel and the fuel attendant). Riders who work at my employer get a tax-free credit of what they pay for the vanpool to a maximum $255 a month as an IRS credit. Combine this with lower insurance costs for driving less, and I actually save money by living further away from work and not driving my personal vehicle.

One of the downsides, however, is I periodically have to find new riders (PS: If you commute from the northern San Fernando Valley to El Segundo, (Vride Finder; on the Metro Finder, enter start 91324, end 90245 and we’re van “Tribure/Chimineas Northridge  91325” Van 1645) working 7am to 330pm M-F, 📲 call me or 📧 email me or PM me if you are on FB). So my virtual ears picked up when I read an article today about how to encourage employees to not use their personal vehicles.

The answer: eliminate the subsidy that employers get for providing parking, and make employees pay to park. Keep the subsidies for transit and car/vanpools. Quoting from the article:

Among the more galling subsidies, writes Susan Balding at Greater Greater Washington, are commuter parking benefits. Many employers provide free parking as a perk, and the federal tax code allows car commuters to write off up to $255 a month in parking expenses.

Thanks to a change in the law in 2015, transit riders can write off the same amount, but the impact is overwhelmed by the traffic-inducing effect of the parking benefit. Baldwin says if we’re going to make a dent in congestion in major cities, parking subsidies have got to go:

And this:

Parking benefits, you likely won’t be surprised to hear, also drive up congestion. And beyond that, they leave governments with even less money to repair roads and keep up public transit systems: As of 2014, the parking benefit translated into about $7 billion a year in lost tax revenue (because the money used toward the benefit is not taxed). To put that in perspective, the Federal Transit Administration’s total appropriations in 2016 came to just over $11 billion.

Now taking transit can be time consuming. One article shows that transit, unless you have a convenient route, can take twice as long as driving. But carpooling and vanpooling doesn’t have that problem (well, unless you’re like our van, and we run a surface street route to make it easier for our riders — this adds about 1/2 hr on the valley end). Quoting from that article:

For New York metro residents who take public transportation, a door-to-door commute averages about 51 minutes. That’s much longer than the 29 minutes typically spent by those who drive alone. Similar discrepancies exist around Los Angeles, where despite the region’s traffic woes, drivers arrive at work an average of 22 minutes faster than public transportation riders. In nearly every metro area, driving to work remains far quicker than using a bus or train, taking less than half as long in some places.

So, here’s my question to you: If you had to pay to park at work, with no subsidies, would that encourage you to take transit, carpool, or vanpool?

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News Chum for a Busy Weekend

userpic=lougrantThis is another busy weekend, so I should probably put this pot of news chum on the stove to simmer. What’s in it? A collection of articles and other items I’ve seen on the web this week that have stuck in my head. Let’s lift the lid and find out what is in this pot:

  • The Ever-Tightening Job Market for Ph.D.s. It is graduation season. This means that metric tonnes of newly minted graduates with Bachelors, Masters, and PhDs are going to be flooding the job market, and in many professions, it will be bad for the PhDs. The linked article talks about a recent report finds that many newly minted Ph.D.s complete school after nearly 10 years of studies with significant debt and without the promise of a job. Yet few people seem to be paying attention to these findings; graduate programs are producing more Ph.D.s than ever before.
  • How Unions and Regulators Made Clothing Tags an Annoying Fact of Life. Clothing tags. Those things at the back of your shirt that annoy you. Did you ever wonder where they came from? Wonder no more.
  • Bookstore down: Mystery and Imagination & Bookfellows in Glendale. Another independent bookstore bites the dust: Mystery and Imagination, which was across the street from another recent closure, Brand Books. Although some independent bookstores are thriving, others are closing… and it is a sad thing. Amazon may be great for music, but it is a pain for discovering new books. It is not just bookstores that are closing: Orphaned CDs, which was around the corner in Northridge, has been put on the market, sold, and moved to Sunland.
  • Offbeat L.A.: A Cherry on Top- Fosters Freeze, the History of California’s Original Soft Serve. I had never realized that Fosters Freeze had originated in Los Angeles, the product of an attempt to bring Dairy Queen to LA. I’ve enjoyed them over the years (particularly, the fudge dip that crunches afterwards). Interesting read.
  • Want to Make America More Inclusive? Start With Stamps. I used to be a stamp collector. I guess I still am, although I haven’t updated the collection in years. Stamp collecting has gone out of favor as a hobby, with the advent of self-adhesive stamps (that don’t soak off), pre-printed postage, and the decline in physical mail. Stamps are interesting, and have always been a reflection of a country in its values. The linked article looks as how America and other countries demonstrate their inclusivity through the images they put on their stamps (and the people that end up collecting them).
  • Pacific Bus Museum in Fremont: showcasing a piece of Bay Area history. I’m into transit history: be it trains, planes, automobiles or buses. I’m a member of a train museum, but I haven’t seen a similar attempt to save buses. Well, until I read this article.
  • Going to Universal Studios Hollywood with food allergies. As a reference for those attending this year’s ACSAC — an article on dining at Universal with allergies. Alas, the picture isn’t the greatest at the present time. Disney still wins hands down in this competition.

 

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Rails to West Hollywood – A Lunchtime Musing

userpic=metrolinkWhile eating lunch, I’ve been staring at an article from Curbed LA titled “West Hollywood Refusing to Let Metro Rail Pass It By”. The gist of the article is that West Hollywood is trying to convince Metro to extend the a-buildin’ Crenshaw line northward to West Hollywood, connecting the neighborhood not only to Metro’s system, but also directly to LAX. A feasibility study is needed to determine the exact route a train line would take to WeHo, but the advocates for this proposal are hoping for a route that spans from San Vincente to Santa Monica Boulevard. The train would run completely underground, making it’s way through West Hollywood before connecting with the Red Line at Hollywood and Highland.

Here’s the map from their website:

First and foremost, haven’t they seen Volcano? You don’t build a rail line near Cedars-Sinai; it only will create a canal for the magma.

Seriously, it appears that whomever is proposing doesn’t understand the problems with the rail network in LA. The Expo, Green, and a-buildin’ Crenshaw line are all above ground light rail. Overhead caternary. The Red and Purple lines are underground, third rail. Yet this proposal shows the above ground line connecting with the underground line. At the present time, there’s only one place where that happens: The blue/red line connection downtown, and there the blue line is on the upper platform and doesn’t travel more than a few blocks underground. This proposal would have the Crenshaw extension traveling multiple miles underground with overhead caternary, and connecting to *existing* Purple and Red stations (or heaven forfend — new stations). Connecting to an existing station with a different power system means you need to be on a different level, making tunneling and construction even more difficult.  Of course, there’s also the fact that this is geologically unstable land through oil and gas fields.

There’s also the issue of how this would cross the Santa Monica Freeway, and where it would safely go underground.

This won’t happen.

If West Hollywood wants a rail line, their better bet would be to jump on the eventual line that will run from Westwood to the San Fernando Valley under the Santa Monica Mountains. They could come off the Westwood spur, and possibly coordinate for an underground connection at Hollywood and Highland. Of course, that does mean tunneling under Beverly Hills.

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Weekend Chum Stew: Food, Fiddler, Fonts, &c

Observation StewYesterday was a crazy day, and I didn’t get the news chum stew on the stove. Today is chilly and rainy, so I’ve made an extra big pot:

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