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There is widespread agreement that automobile LOS is a bad metric for determining the environmental impact of projects. But what should replace it?

The California Office of Planning and Research (OPR) proposes to replace LOS with VMT for the EIR process. That is a step in the right direction, but I am not optimistic it will make transit projects “much much easier” to implement — as some seem to think.

One problem is that LOS is firmly established in transportation agencies. They will continue to use the metric, regardless of what is required in an EIR. It is unlikely that a transit agency, or bike planner, will get to build a project if it were to significantly degrade LOS at an intersection. A City Council is even less likely to approve of such a project. LOS will continue to be a flaming-hoop-of-fire that projects will have to jump through.

Yes, but what about all those frivolous EIR lawsuits? Actually, that problem is greatly exaggerated. Only a tiny number of EIR’s are successfully challenged. The most famous example, the injunction against the San Francisco Bike Plan, will probably never happen again now that California has exempted bike projects from EIR’s.

So using VMT is fixing something that isn’t horribly broken — though it might make it worse. Why might VMT make EIR’s worse? Because sweeping changes in the regulations could provide fertile ground for creative lawsuits. LOS has decades of case precedent, whereas the courts may have to re-define terms like mitigations and significant impacts in a new VMT regime.

 

Here is another bicycle scare article, this time in the Daily Mail. These bicycle health studies are so ridiculous:

Middle aged men who spend nine hours a week on their bike are more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer, new research suggests. A British study of 5,200 cyclists is the biggest research project ever conducted on the health impact of cycling.

It suggests that cyclists in in their 50s who bicycle for more than nine hours a week may be up to five times as likely to receive a diagnosis of prostate cancer.

The team of scientists at University College London, found there was no link between cycling and infertility or erectile problems – an age-old health myth.

There were numerous problems with the study. Here is what the NHS website reports:

Despite these seemingly alarming results, regular cyclists do not need to panic – this type of study cannot prove increased cycling time leads to prostate cancer; it can only prove an association.

Also, the prostate cancer analyses were only carried out on fewer than 42 men, which is only a relatively small sample of men. With such a small sample, it increases the possibility that any association is the result of chance. Most experts would agree that the health benefits of frequent cycling outweigh the risks.

Even worse, the study “participants” self-reported through an online survey.

The Beer Bike

Oh my gosh! Drinking while biking…and not even wearing a helmet.

There is probably no safer place than public transit stations and vehicles. Despite what you see in the movies and on TV, the incidence of crime is rare. But since the 9/11 attacks, the Dept. of Homeland Security has provided over $1 billion in grants to public transit agencies through the Transit Security Grant Program. A large chunk of that money has gone to visual surveillance systems.

For the 2015 budget, the DHS wants to eliminate dedicated public transit grants — though transit agencies could still apply for funding under a different National Preparedness Grant Program.

The American Public Transit Assoc (APTA) has come out against this idea. In fact, APTA wants another $6 billion:

We are well aware of the many pressures on our nation’s budget and the importance of addressing other national funding priorities; however, the current level of transit security funding is woefully inadequate as the Transit Security Grant Program is the primary source of funding for security needs of public transportation agencies. To put the current level of investment in transit security into greater perspective, we note that a 2010 APTA survey of its members found security investment needs in excess of $6.4 billion nationwide. APTA urges Congress to acknowledge the risk that our citizens and transit systems continue to face, and restore appropriations for the Transit Security Grant Program in this and subsequent appropriation bills to levels closer to those authorized under the 9/11 Commission Act.

When transit agencies receive the DHS funding, they don’t pretend it has anything to do with terrorism. Trimet (to use one example) spent $5 million for 4,400 cameras, with an additional $7.5 million in the pipeline. The cameras were useful for catching vandals and gropers. That kind of criminal certainly deserves to be punished, but they are hardly Al Qaeda.

The sad thing is that there is one very significant part of the transportation system that could benefit from surveillance cameras: our roads and highways. Speed cameras are proven effective in reducing crashes and injuries. Just imagine if $1+ billion had been spent on that.

It would be an understatement to say that Dr. John Yoo’s tenure at the UC Berkeley School of Law is controversial. After writing the infamous “torture” memos for the Bush Administration, he returned to teaching at the nation’s best public university. His classes had to be conducted at a secret undisclosed location, because of all the protests.

Due to strong tenure protections, it is perhaps understandable that the Dean did not fire Dr. Yoo. But I wonder how many will still sympathize with the University now that it has honored Dr. Yoo as the new Emanuel S. Heller Professor of Law:

The intellectual aspirations of law faculty emerged in full display last month, as Berkeley Law honored five of its own. The distinguished scholars are the new recipients of endowed faculty chairs, chosen for their contributions to legal education and scholarship. The celebratory event was held at the Memorial Stadium’s University Club, where faculty and family members mingled together and admired the Bay Area view.

After an opening welcome by Interim Dean Gillian Lester, the honorees strolled to the podium to share bits of the research that had captured their imaginations. Each expressed gratitude to the donors whose gifts enabled them to delve into a specific course of study. During the presentations, a passion for analytical pursuits emerged, as did an interest in a broader social context: no armchair scholars in this crowd.

John Yoo, is the Emanuel S. Heller Professor of Law and co- founder of the law school’s Korea Law Center. He paid tribute to a previous holder of the chair, Paul Mishkin, a long-time Berkeley Law professor and expert on the role of federal courts. Yoo praised Mishkin for “recognizing that courts had to respond to society’s broader political demands.”

The Heller professorship was the first chair ever endowed at the law school, established by Clara Hellman Heller in the early 1900s in honor of her late husband.

 

Last year, the NTSB studied several safety issues with tractor trailer trucks. The NTSB proposed measures to reduce blind spots, and a requirements for side guards on new vehicles. The good news is that the NTSB has now officially adopted those safety measures.

The need for these safety measures is clear.  Bicyclists and pedestrians are particularly vulnerable to truck accidents. They are not visible to the driver up in the cab, and they have no external protection:

The NTSB analyzed data from vie states (Delaware, Mayland, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Utah) that linked hospital records with police reports under the auspices of NHTSA’s Crash Outcome Data Evaluation System (CODES). Data from these states showed that death rates of vulnerable road users involved in collisions with tractor-trailers were high: 152.8 per 1,000 involved pedestrians/cyclists and 119.5 per 1,000 motorcyclists. In comparison, death rates were 2.0 per 1,000 involved tractor-trailer occupants and 10.9 per 1,000 involved passenger vehicle occupants.

The NHTSA has 90 days to respond to the NTSB safety recommendation.

sideguard1

The NEC is a legacy 100 year-old infrastructure, whereas the Calfornia high-speed rail project is clean-sheet design. There was never a rational explanation as to why California should use NEC-compatible equipment when the corridors are so completely different. And now, thankfully, sanity has prevailed:

It became clear in meetings with manufacturers during the last few weeks that the requirements were too different to incorporate into one set of trains, said Lisa-Marie Alley, a spokeswoman for high-speed rail.

“The feedback that we got from the industry was that Amtrak and high-speed rail need such different things, it was almost impossible for them to build a train that meets both our needs,” she said. “We’d hoped that the industry had evolved to where they can accommodate both.”

The agencies concluded that too many compromises would need to be made to meet both their needs, which would “move us away from a service-proven design and create significant risks as to schedule and costs,” Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz said in an email.

One of the puzzling things about the CHSRA has been its inability to work with its California partners (Caltrain, Metrolink) on really basic things, like compatible platform heights and signal systems — while at the same time design its high-speed trains to be compatible with a rail line 3000 miles away. The NEC requires high-platform trains, which precludes Caltrain and CHSRA from sharing platforms. Hopefully, with this decision, Caltrain and CHSRA can at least use trains with the same platform height.

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