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Wow:

The Drug Enforcement Administration paid an Amtrak secretary $854,460 over nearly 20 years to obtain confidential information about train passengers, which the DEA could have lawfully obtained for free through a law enforcement network, The Associated Press has learned.

The employee was not publicly identified except as a “secretary to a train and engine crew” in a report on the incident by Amtrak’s inspector general. The secretary was allowed to retire, rather than face administrative discipline, after the discovery that the employee had effectively been acting as an informant who “regularly” sold private passenger information since 1995 without Amtrak’s approval, according to a one-paragraph summary of the matter.

On Monday, the office of Amtrak Inspector General Tom Howard declined to identify the secretary or say why it took so long to uncover the payments. Howard’s report on the incident concluded, “We suggested policy changes and other measures to address control weaknesses that Amtrak management is considering.” DEA spokeswoman Dawn Dearden declined to comment.

Passenger name reservation information is collected by airlines, rail carriers and others and generally includes a passenger’s name, the names of other passengers traveling with them, the dates of the ticket and travel, frequent flier or rider information, credit card numbers, emergency contact information, travel itinerary, baggage information, passport number, date of birth, gender and seat number.

If the DEA had gone through Amtrak police, then Amtrak would have received a share of any money seized. Paying the confidential informant allowed the DEA to keep all the money.

That legally blind driver who killed a pedestrian will now be facing felony charges. Previously, the DA was only going to charge him with a misdemeanor (which would result in little or no jail time). Concerns by the public for the DA to enforce the law seems to have worked:

[District Attorney] O’Malley says there are just too many aggravating factors for the charge to remain a misdemeanor. First and foremost, she says, he is legally blind. “There was also some half eaten food in the car.”

She added that our inquiry prompted her office to take a second look at the case. “When the press comes and speaks back to us, about what they’re seeing, that we listen very closely, because your eyes and ears are very keen, as I hope law enforcement and my office are.”

Things didn’t exactly go as planned for Opening Day at the new Levi Stadium in Santa Clara. VTA light rail and Caltrain can not accommodate the crowds (even though a measly 9000 people rode transit to the stadium). The roads, of course, were total gridlock.

But at least you could bike there, right? One of the selling points of the location was the nearby San Tomas Aquino bike path. Stadium planners had boasted that cyclists could ride straight to the front door of the stadium. So I was stunned to read Richard Masoner’s blog posting that the trail actually gets closed for stadium events. How fucked up is that?

The reason is the TSA-style security perimeter. Here is how it was explained to the Santa Clara Bicycle Advisory Committee:

There apparently was some early thought given to making stadium access via raised and covered bridges to separate trail traffic from stadium traffic, but no need to worry about that, the trail will be fine. Besides, that would cost the stadium project a bunch of money and since it wasn’t going to be a problem, why spend the money?

Fast forward to today, and with the post Boston bombing, there will be row after row of metal detectors along the main Great America parking lot (like the whole length of that huge parking lot according to the photo they showed) to screen all the game attendees prior to entering the “sterile (i.e. secure) zone” of the stadium.

Oops, the bike trail passes right through the middle of the sterile zone. So it looks like either the trail will be closed basically all day long on big event days; 4-8 hours before the game until 4-8 hours after the game. Or trail users may be allowed to pass (on foot only), but only after going through security screening. Sounds fine in theory, but realize you’ll be trying to cross a stream of 70,000 tail gating fans pushing and shoving to get into the stadium while pushing your bike along in clip-less shoes for about a mile!

Apparently there is a grant application in the process for the city to get funding to modify the creek trail along the stadium area to run it under the existing and new foot bridges. Now the question remains as to why do we, the tax payers, have to foot the bill to fix the trail that we, the tax payers, paid to build because the stadium folks did not want to pay to put their foot bridges over the trail, that was already there, in the first place. Suffice it to say, the two guys from the stadium project got an earful and high tailed it out of the meeting once their presentation was over. And the high muckety-muck from the stadium project that was supposed to be there as well was suddenly called out of town the day of the BAC meeting that is scheduled 2 months ahead of time?

Still makes you think how cyclists rank in the grand scheme of things. If the stadium guys came along and said OK, we are going to need to close down a mile of Hwy. 101 for a year while we build the stadium, oh and we’ll be closing it down about 15 days a year during events; heads would be rolling. But, it is just a bike path, nobody will care.

And if you want to ride there on Tasman, good luck with that. The VTA removed the Tasman bike lanes to make room for the light rail.

 

 

A driver with an expired license, who is legally blind, hits and kills a pedestrian in a crosswalk. And prosecutors only charged him with a misdemeanor:

An Oakland man who said he is legally blind has been arrested and charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter in connection with a crash in Berkeley that killed a 98-year-old man, authorities said Thursday. Robert Jack Gilchrist, 56, was also charged by Alameda County prosecutors with driving without a valid license at the time of the April crash that killed Joseph Luft.

About 12:20 p.m. on April 4, Luft was on his daily walk and heading east in a crosswalk on Bancroft Way when he was hit by Gilchrist’s car as it traveled north on Sacramento Street, authorities said. The impact knocked Luft 40 feet, police said. Luft was conscious and able to speak with responding officers, but died at a hospital that evening.

If  the DMV already determined he can’t safely drive, then the penalty needs to be a felony. This was no accident.

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.

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