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Most readers are familiar with the Sierra Club’s opposition to transit-oriented development. But now the Club has sunk to a new low:

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One of the Club’s arguments is that the law would generate opposition to new transit lines. Why would NIMBY groups support transit investment if it all but requires upzoning?

But as Ethan Elkind points out, this is a feature not a bug. Far too much money has been wasted on new rail lines to low-density communities. When these communities refuse to approve the necessary development to generate ridership, it wastes the taxpayer investment. At the very least, the bill would ensure future transportation investments are spent on communities that actually want public transit.

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An Independent Forensic Team has published a 584-page report on the catastrophic destruction of the Oroville dam spillway last winter. The report summary states the catastrophe was the result of long-running systemic failures at both the State and Federal levels.

The entire report makes for fascinating (and scary) reading, but there is one part that really stands out:

A contributing factor to DWR’s overconfidence and complacency was a somewhat widespread belief within DWR that the SWP was designed by the “best of the best” – a belief passed on through two generations to the current generation, and possibly increasingly mythologized by each generation. While it is true that DWR recruited nationally to hire qualified engineers and geologists from other organizations, it is unlikely that DWR was able to fill all of its key engineering and geology positions with the “best” people, given the rapidity with which DWR needed to scale up its organization during the 1960s.

The most relevant possible illustration of this aspect is that, as reported to the IFT in an interview, the principal designer for the Oroville spillways 1) was hired directly from a university post-graduate program, with prior engineering employment experience limited to one or two summers for a consulting firm, 2) had no prior professional experience designing spillways, but had received instruction on spillway design in university coursework on hydraulic structures, and 3) likely did not consult technical references regarding spillway chute design, and instead relied on notes from his university coursework in hydraulic structures. If this information is accurate, the IFT finds it striking that such an inexperienced engineer was given the responsibility of designing the spillways of what is still the tallest dam in the US.

Damaged Dam

According to Australian mainstream media, Bicycle Network is that country’s one and only group for representing the interests of cyclists. This is the organization which, for the past 30 years, promoted mandatory helmet laws. With friends like that who needs enemies?

But now, I guess in an attempt to stay relevant, Bicycle Network has been conducting a highly publicized survey on the issue of mandatory helmet laws. The good news is that the survey result showed agreement on repealing Australia’s mandatory helmet laws. However, a substantial number of respondents (40%) want to retain the law for children.

This survey result is typical, especially when the bicycle gearheads discuss helmet laws on the internets. Children, it is argued, need to be protected because they are more vulnerable to traumatic head injury. Like everything else involving helmets, that argument is based on superstition instead of hard data.

Children are actually not all that vulnerable to head injury. In fact, if there is one age group extremely vulnerable to traumatic head injury it isn’t children but the elderly. Rates of head-injury deaths in the US were highest for those aged 75 and older. Similar results are seen in Europe. From a safety standpoint, it is ludicrous to single out the age group least at risk:

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TBI-associated death (Eurostat)

Now to be clear, this data is for all TBI-related fatalities, not just ones involving a bicycle. The point here is to show that children do not have some biological issue that requires special head protection.

And of course, we already know that mandatory youth helmet laws is ineffective by looking at places that implemented such laws, including California and parts of Canada. Oh, and Australia.

 

The technology is vapourware. And even if it could be made to work, it would inevitably lead to intrusive police behavior, and traffic jams for riders as they pass through the security theater:

Less than a week after a man detonated a pipe bomb strapped to his chest in a crowded subway corridor in Manhattan, Senator Chuck Schumer urged the federal government on Sunday to speed up the rollout of a technology that can detect concealed explosives in crowded areas.

Since 2004, the Transportation Security Administration has been testing machines that can detect whether a person is concealing an improvised explosive device in crowded mass transit environments. Mr. Schumer called on the agency to speed up the tests and deploy the machines in New York City subways, bus stations and airports.

It is worth pointing out that New York has actually had two recent terrorist attacks on transportation facilities. The other attack, which Schumer failed to mention, involved a homicidal truck driver who killed 8 cyclists on a bike path. Fixing the dangers on bike paths is easy and uses proven technology; i.e. bollards, curbs, k-rail, etc. But whereas Schumer is promising “unlimited” funding for vaporware bomb detectors, he seems to have little interest in protecting users of sidewalks and pathways.

Within the past 5 weeks, there have been 4 pedestrian deaths along a single stretch of Route 9 in Monmouth County, NJ. So authorities are stepping up their safety efforts. Are they shutting down a dangerous road or implementing speed reductions? No, of course not. They are putting out an important announcement on social media:

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Their facebook posting includes a GIF animation of Gizmo from the film Gremlins. Engineers work very hard to eliminate gremlins (glitches) from a system, which I guess is how Monmouth county views pedestrians. This kind of blame-the-victim is all too common among law enforcement, and will be completely ineffective.

Meanwhile, the car-nage countinues:

The Monmouth County prosecutor’s office posted that message on Facebook Friday afternoon, meant as a reminder to residents to be careful as they come and go. Six days earlier, authorities had responded to yet another fatal pedestrian accident where a man was struck and killed while crossing Route 9 after dark.

Two days later, they were dealing with yet another fatality.

When Isidro Martinez-Mendez, 51, of Lakewood, died Sunday evening, he was crossing Route 9. In the dark. In an area with no crosswalk, authorities have said. His death was the second fatal accident involving a pedestrian on Route 9 in just over a week and fourth on Route 9 in just over a month.

And the problem isn’t just Monmouth county but also nearby Ocean county:

It’s not only a problem along Route 9 in Monmouth County. In Ocean County, there have been 8 pedestrian deaths this year, including Irene D. Perosi, 53, of Lakewood, who was struck and killed Dec. 5 while crossing Shorrock Street, which runs along the Brick Township border near the senior communities of Leisure Village East and Four Seasons in Lakewood. She was not in a crosswalk, said Al Della Fave, spokesman for the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office. There were 8 pedestrian deaths in Ocean County in 2016 as well, State Police statistics show.

Ironically, Perosi died the day after Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato announced the county’s traffic safety crackdown in Lakewood, which was prompted by a spike in traffic fatalities in the township this year; 13 people have died, including Perosi, according to New Jersey State Police.

In any other profession, this kind of death toll would necessitate shutting down a facility. But for sociopathic traffic engineers, this is business as usual.

 

Following up on yesterday’s posting on the VTA single-bore proposal, I thought it is useful to share BART’s opinions on the idea. Several of their staff testified at a VTA Board meeting in September (the relevant video section is embedded below).

Needless to say, the BART senior staff were not amused with the proposal. They have decades of experience with underground heavy metro, whereas VTA has no never done such a project. You can sense their exasperation as they go over the blunders in the VTA design. It is not encouraging that VTA Board members asked so many dumb questions.

Their entire testimony is worth watching, but the flaws that really stand out were the following:

  1. The single-bore design carries $440 million to $1.8 billion of additional risk.  There several reasons for this, but the main culprit is market risk. Very few firms are qualified to do such a design, whereas there are many local firms qualified to bid on a conventional twin-bore project. Another risk is that the VTA single-bore design has not progressed beyond the “cocktail-napkin” engineering stage.
  2. The deep bore stations as spec’ed out by VTA do not conform with California fire code. It is unclear how to work around that constraint. VTA tried to hand-wave around the issue by claiming the standard twin-core stations are also non-compliant (BART staff vehemently disagreed).
  3. The stacked platforms are too narrow to handle large “event” crowds that are to be expected, such as a concert or Sharks game.

It is clear that if the VTA were to go ahead with their design, it will take longer to complete, have higher cost, and result in a tunnel with serious safety, access, and operational problems. And for what — to shave some months off a road closure!? Geez, what a train-wreck this is turning into.

One bore or two?

Answer: two bores

For the past year, the VTA has been selling the idea of doing its BART tunnel in a single bore instead of twin bores. BART staff has been very opposed. If you don’t know what this all means, here is a diagram to show the difference:

bores

The twin bore on the right is the usual BART configuration. The single bore on the left is what VTA is proposing to build.

The VTA describes the single-bore concept as a new and revolutionary approach to reduce costs and construction impacts. In fact, the idea has been around forever, and is really only useful in situations of limited ROW or for other technical issues. The single-bore design has a number of downsides, which are obvious just by studying the above diagram.

The first problem is that platforms are deeper underground. Passengers would have to descend several additional levels to reach the trains. The station would also have fewer entry points on the surface. This layout would be especially bad if it were used at Diridon station and the CHSRA persists in building its HSR tracks on an aerial. Transferring from BART to HSR would entail a trip from 85′ underground to some 60-80′ up in the air. If you enjoyed playing Chutes-and-Ladders as a kid that might be fun, but not so enjoyable for people with luggage or wheelchairs.

quote2The second problem with the single-bore is that the stacked design does not allow for track crossovers. Crossovers give BART the operational flexibility to move around a disabled train. The stacked design eliminates a planned crossover near the downtown station.

The single bore station also brings higher operational costs. Running all those additional elevators and escalators to the lower depths adds $1.5 million in annual costs. The VTA staff report concedes that the construction costs are comparable for single vs. twin bore. Thus taking into account the higher operational expenses, the single bore has higher life-cycle cost.

So why even consider the single bore design? It has higher cost, worse passenger access, and operational problems. Well, there is the reduced construction impact, right? The VTA says the single-bore requires less cut-cover construction. But the VTA has been greatly exaggerating that benefit. The single-bore design would ideally reduce street closure time by all of 10 months. And those closures would occur in 2-block chunks. Inconvenient for drivers perhaps, but hardly a good reason for screwing up a major rail infrastructure project.

Further reading: http://vtaorgcontent.s3-us-west-1.amazonaws.com/Site_Content/bod_092217_wrksp_packet.pdf.

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