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Archive for August, 2013

Syracuse Studies I-81 Removal

Here is some really exciting news. Syracuse is going ahead with a study on removing the elevated portion of interstate 81 through its downtown. A notice has been filed in the Federal Register to study three replacement options: a new elevated structure, a tunnel, and an at-grade boulevard.

Hopefully the study will find the at-grade boulevard as the preferred option. Eliminating the blight of the elevated arterial would help revitalize nearby neighborhoods. No doubt there will be some who complain about traffic impacts. But as we saw in San Francisco, those complaints are overblown.

Interstate-81 is #9 on CNU’s list of Freeways Without Futures:

The construction of Interstate 81 (I-81) in Syracuse in 1957 destroyed a historic black community, ruined the economic activity within the area, and caused major barriers to development since its construction. Average annual daily traffic on I-81 ranges from about 43,000 to 99,000 vehicle per day as it runs just east of downtown and connects with I-690. As with many structures from this era, this six-lane structure is near the end of its design life and more attention is being paid to the negative effects that I-81 brings to downtown Syracuse.

In 2001, Syracuse Common Councilor Van Robinson called for the removal of elevated portions of the interstate. Leading figures from Syracuse University and Upstate Medical University, who see I-81 as an eyesore and impediment to the growth of their respective institutions, have also joined the discussion with support for removal.

i81

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James Sinclair has the depressing news of the latest eastward expansion of the SR 180 expressway:

This latest round of expansion isn’t the last. The poor town of Centerville seems to have gotten itself in the way. The next round – scheduled for 2016 – will probably involve demolishing this entire village.

That would be too bad. Centerville has an awesome fruit stand. But it’s just the beginning — segments 4c and 4d would extend the expressway way up to Cove Rd. It is interesting how the CHSRA Fresno-Madera starter line gets all the criticism for being a train-to-nowhere, but nobody really talks about the highways-to-nowhere.

And it isn’t just Fresno. Merced County is currently constructing it’s own highway-to-nowhere, the Atwater-Merced expressway:

Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, commended the partnership between local government and the state in moving the project forward. “We are making an investment in Merced County’s future,” Costa said on Friday. “We are living off the investments our parents made years ago. If California is going to remain the Golden State, we need to be willing to make the same investments.”

The Atwater-Merced Expressway Project could open the door for Ferrari Ranch, a proposed 202-acre multiuse project planned for the southeast corner of Atwater just outside the city limit. The development, planned since 2006, calls for a hotel, restaurants, a hospital, offices, big-box retailers, smaller shops and other business spaces.

“It all sounds like jobs to me, and we can use it in our area,” said Merced Mayor Stan Thurston.

It sounds like sprawl to me. Here is a map of the new expressway (note the city of Merced in the lower right corner).

059-atwater-expy

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Caltrans wants to chop down 100-year-old trees to make way for…a left-turn pocket:

Some Burlingame and Hillsborough residents are concerned with the prospect of tree removal along El Camino Real and Floribunda Avenue to rebuild an intersection that is said to be unsafe.

The California Department of Transportation is currently in the environmental documentation phase of a project it hopes would improve traffic safety at the intersection, according to Caltrans spokeswoman Gidget Navarro. Caltrans is gathering information to assess potential environmental impacts of options that include installation of a left turn lane, which would require the widening of the road and potentially removing various types of trees.

Caltrans’ standard approach to any “safety” issue is to widen intersections. This often makes the road more dangerous — especially for pedestrians. Of course, it really isn’t about safety. This is all about speeding up car traffic.

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Siemens-gate

Siemens, the engineering multi-national, is caught up in another bribery scandal in Brazil:

German engineering giant Siemens self-reported to avoid criminal proceedings for its alleged involvement in a railway price-fixing cartel in Sao Paulo and Brasilia.

The Brazilian daily “Folha de Sao Paulo” reported in its Sunday edition (14.07.2013) on allegations that Munich-based Siemens illegally rigged prices and was possibly involved in a cartel in bids for the construction, fitting and maintenance of metro trains in Sao Paulo and the capital city of Brasilia. Siemens voluntarily self-reported to Brazilian authorities.

Bombardier of Canada (a French Alstom conglomerate), Spain’s CAF and Japan’s Mitsui corporate group are also reported to have been involved in the cartel. Illegal price-rigging among the global engineering firms is said to have raised bids to 10 to 20 percent higher than quotes typically found on the market.

The scandal could not come at a worse time. Brazil has been rocked by protests over rising transit fares. And Siemens was hoping to bid on subway and high-speed rail projects. Those projects are now in hiatus.

It is also not the first time this has happened. Just a few years ago, the corporation was involved in similar bribery scandals:

Siemens AG, the European engineering company rocked by a bribery scandal in 2006 and 2007, said it replaced the head of its Brazilian subsidiary with immediate effect because of compliance violations.

The German company, based in Munich, named Paulo Ricardo Stark to succeed Adilson Antonio Primo, according to a statement today. An internal investigation had uncovered “a serious violation of Siemens guidelines occurred within Siemens Brazil prior to 2007,” the company said.

Chief Executive Officer Peter Loescher stepped up internal compliance at Siemens after a bribery scandal that haunted the company for years, cost about $3.2 billion and felled two of his predecessors. Siemens was investigated in at least a dozen countries, in the biggest bribery case in post-war Germany.

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In theory, California’s experiment with redevelopment agencies had good intentions. In practice, it was just a corrupt way for subsidizing auto-centric development.

During the latest budget crisis, Governor Brown killed off all the redevelopment agencies. They were sucking too much money out of the General Fund.

A bill under consideration in the State Senate would revive the concept in a more limited form. SB-1, authored by Darrell Steinberg would authorize tax increment financing for building “sustainable” communities around transit stations.

So would this bill avoid the mistakes of the past? Would the new development be walkable, bikable, and transit-oriented as proponents are claiming? Here is the actual text from the bill, defining parking requirements for commercial developments:

“Infill project” means a project that meets the following conditions:

30(ii) Retail or commercial, where no more than one-half of the project area is used for parking.

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MacArthur Transit Village

Here is a photo of the lovely new Transit Village under construction at the MacArthur BART station:

macarthur

(Yes that is a giant parking garage, behind a giant freeway interchange.)

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Can’t believe anyone is surprised by this result:

As Mayor Rahm Emanuel rolls out his long-delayed speed camera plan, new numbers his office released suggest that drivers who speed in Chicago could rack up way more in fines than a cash-starved City Hall initially projected.

The mayor had hoped to bring in $30 million this year. But results from a monthlong test of the automated camera system indicate the city could reap well into the hundreds of millions of dollars in the program’s first year.

The number of potential citations came as a surprise to even the city’s speed camera operator.

“I think everyone was shocked at the numbers,” said Charles Territo, a spokesman for American Traffic Solutions. “It became very obvious there is a speeding problem in school and park zones in the city of Chicago.”

Had tickets been issued for all of those test-period violations, the city could have collected about $4.7 million in ticket revenue in a single month.

Even accounting for the road lobby, it is still hard to understand why governments aren’t doing more with speed enforcement. It is a win-win situation — more revenue and safer streets.

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