Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

Transformational Transportation

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Jun 14, 2017 @ 7:35 pm PDT

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?

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Mar 02, 2017 @ 7:30 am PDT

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

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jun 11, 2016 @ 8:04 am PDT

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

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Feb 25, 2016 @ 12:05 pm PDT

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

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jan 31, 2016 @ 2:39 pm PDT

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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Looking everywhere, going nowhere

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Nov 18, 2015 @ 11:56 am PDT

userpic=travelToday’s news chum post continues the trend of using a song lyric in the title. Does anyone recognize the song? If you figure it out (or cheat), I’ll note that even thought the line fits the post, the overall song doesn’t really. In any case, today’s post — focused on going nowhere — is about transportation in the news. Transportation, in fact, that may get us nowhere fast. Here are a few transportation articles I’ve corrected, while I eat my lunch…

 

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I Don’t Have a Good Feeling About This

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Sep 01, 2015 @ 10:46 am PDT

userpic=theatre2Continuing the process of cleaning out the accumulated links, as themed link three-sets form like hurricanes in the Central Pacific…. This collection all relates to upcoming theatre productions that don’t leave me with a good anticipatory feeling:

  • Jordanian Adaptation of Oliver!. Lionel Bart’s musical, Oliver!, is a well known adaptation of Charles Dicken’s “Oliver Twist“. One of the more problematic features of Oliver Twist (a story I happen to like) is the potentially antisemitic portray of Fagin, the old man who runs the gang of thieves. The musical version made a distinct attempt to tone down the antisemitism (especially when it came to Broadway — if you contrast the original version from the West End). So naturally, hearing that this show will be done in an Arab country — an area where antisemitism isn’t only common but encouraged — doesn’t bode well.  Adding to the fear is the following note from the article: “Working with a local community center in the Jordanian capital, the story has been updated to a modern Arab city.” Let’s see: Lovable Jewish merchants running a gang of thieves in a modern Arab city. What could possibly go wrong?
  • K-Pop Adaption of In The Heights. Lin Manual Miranda’s musical In The Heights, was a hit when it reached Broadway in 2008. It brought a hispanic flavor to inner-city hip-hop with a language that theatre hasn’t seen before. Theatremania is reporting that the show is soon to open in Seoul Korea, with some footage already available. The musical will play the Blue Square Samsung Card Hall in Hannam-dong beginning September 4, with a cast led by several K-pop stars including Key of SHINee and Jang Dong-woo of INFINITE sharing the role of Usnavi. Mixing K-Pop stars and hip-hop. What could possibly go wrong?
  • I Can’t Hear You. There are loads and loads of shows planning to open on Broadway., from Andrew Lloyd Weber’s School of Rock to a musical version of American Psycho. But the mind boggles when it hears about another production planning for the Great White Way: The SpongeBox SquarePants Musical. Yup, and no, this isn’t a kids theatre show.  Nickelodeon will make its Broadway debut as a producer on the musical, with a score provided by a mixture of classic and contemporary rockers. The full list of composers was announced Aug. 31:  Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of the band Aerosmith, Tony winner Cyndi Lauper, They Might Be Giants, Jonathan Coulton, Dirty Projectors, The Flaming Lips, John Legend, Lady Antebellum, Panic! At the Disco, Plain White T’s, and T.I., with an additional song by David Bowie and additional lyrics by Jonathan Coulton. The plot is as follows: “The end is near. Only one sponge can save the day. But he’s going to need help from some of the greatest songwriters in rock and pop music history.” Again, what could possibly go wrong?

P.S.: I can’t resist adding a non-theatre item that also strikes fear in my heart. In Los Angeles, Metrolink has indicated they are purchasing some state-of-the-art locomotives to replace their well worn engines. These Tier 4 locomotives are powerful, fuel-efficient vehicles designed to slash potentially harmful releases of nitrogen oxide and fine particles of diesel exhaust. They also have never been used in passenger service — and heavy service — before.  Metrolink officials say the Tier 4 engines have up to 1,700 more horsepower, use less fuel, have longer service lives and are more reliable than rebuilt engines.  However, Paul Dyson, president of the Rail Passenger Assn. of California, was concerned the new engines could have “plenty of teething problems” as they go into service, as they are so new they don’t have any service history for passenger use. Some Tier 4 engines are being tested for freight service at Union Pacific Corp. and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co., two of the nation’s largest carriers. Lena Kent, a spokesperson for BNSF, said the railroad’s prototypes have “experienced operating issues,” but she declined to elaborate.

Here’s where I get worried. McCarthy, Metrolink’s deputy chief, disagreed with Dyson, saying all Tier 4 components have been tested successfully. “We are not concerned,” he added. “It’s a tried-and-true locomotive.” This reminds me of the High Assurance Brake Job; in particular, the process people. They may never have done a brake job before, but: “Well, no, but we’ve done other mechanic-type work before, and our processes are designed to be adaptable to all situations. We’ve got processes for making sure bolts and stuff are loosened and then tightened later. We’ve got processes to check that we don’t have left over parts when we’re done with the job. We got processes for…”

They’ve never run the locomotive in passenger service before, but all the components have been tested successfully. What could possibly go wrong?

P.P.S.: If you haven’t read the High Assurance Brake Job, you really must. It’s a classic (PDF).

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On The Move: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Aug 31, 2015 @ 9:46 am PDT

userpic=travelContinuing to clear out the links… here’s a collection of news chum all being related by the theme of travel or travelling:

 

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