Saturday, November 14, 2009

In the News

Your periodic update on local transportation news is here! I went trawling through the local paper for transportation news, and this is what I bring you.

Like the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times, and unsurprisingly, the Press-Enterprise seems to think that the construction of a new eastbound lane on SR-91 between SR-241 and SR-71 is going to magically make all that traffic go away. First off, SR-241-SR-71 is not a very long stretch. Second, induced traffic will quickly destroy any capacity gains on that freeway, ESPECIALLY on the 91. But lastly, and this is something to note- the lane will take TWO YEARS to complete, with a planned opening in 2011. Even the most car-happy can't look upon this project with approval- this means two years of construction (starting last Tuesday) on one of the most congested freeways in the country... for one measly lane, in one direction. Have fun with that, guys. I will be looking out the train windows and laughing, as I always do.

Oh, and did I mention? The project is going to cost $60m. I'd like to take this opportunity to remind you that RTA's annual budget is in the $40m region, including fare revenue. Orange and Riverside Counties just blew half again more than what it costs to provide bus service for 2500 square miles... on building a little under 5 miles of one lane, in one direction, on one freeway. That's $12m a mile. Let me just say that I would LOVE if our transit system got anywhere near the kind of money our road system does.

An inter-agency task force is working on transportation alternatives for the Big Bear area. Of course, I applaud this sort of work, but look at the alternatives being considered- "Metrolink rail, commuter rail, or aerial tramway"... First off, "Metrolink rail" is commuter rail, as I'm sure my readership knows, and aerial trams? What?

There are only two aerial tramways on this continent that operate in regular transit service- the Roosevelt Island Tramway in New York City, and the Portland Aerial Tramway in Oregon. Neither of these spans more than a mile. Even the longest tramway in the world, the tourist-driven Sandia Peak Tramway in New Mexico, is only 2.7 miles. Conservative estimates of the distance between Big Bear Lake and the valley floor range from 15 to 20 miles.

Incidentally, railway service to Big Bear is probably technically challenging at best. There is not, nor has there ever been, a rail line to Big Bear. (Wrightwood, on the other side of the Cajon Pass, did feature a line up Swarthout Canyon for hauling cattle and supplies in the early 20th century, but the tracks are long gone.) In fact, Big Bear's history as a resort turns upon the introduction of the second bus line in the world, the Mountain Auto Line- a fact I turned up in research which makes me want to go ride MARTA.

I applaud SANBAG's desire to find alternate transportation options for Big Bear tourists, but perhaps they should look at strengthening the transit service that's already in place rather than spending so much time on wild flights of fantasy.

Riverside County officials are "grappling" with the mandate of SB 375, a recently-passed law that requires cities to develop smart-growth policies to help the state meet its carbon emission commitments under AB 32, the landmark global warming legislation passed several years ago. Local officials are apparently concerned that the law removes local control over zoning and land-use decisions. While this law is a rather weak one, which leaves the actual development of smart-growth plans up to local government, it does, in fact, remove some local control over land use decisions. This is a good thing. Local governments will find it harder to justify sprawling tract housing developments and tarmac-covered strip malls, or at the very least, they will find it harder to give away our local tax dollars to developers in the form of fee waivers and variances, for vague promises of economic growth. Local governments, especially here in the IE, have made spectacularly bad decisions, and I trust Sacramento's vision for the future much more than i trust Hemet's.

Finally, the City of San Bernardino and SANBAG are going to destroy 15 homes for the benefit of automobiles. They're constructing new off-ramps at Tippecanoe off of I-10 that will essentially wipe an entire street off of the map. These aren't new off-ramps intended to serve a developing part of town- they're simply upgrades to existing off-ramps at the same spot. For that, 15 families will lose their homes. It's the same story that's been going since World War II- freeway construction is carried on for the benefit of middle- and upper-class commuters, while the homes of poor families (and especially those of people of colour) are demolished to make way. Our urban centres, such as they are, are destroyed for the benefit of traffic flowing from far-flung gated exurbs.

There's unfortunately little for the people of Rosewood Dr. to do. Laws ranging from municipal ordinances to the Constitution of the United States are on the side of city government. In Kelo v. City of New London, the Supreme Court cast a very broad interpretation of "public benefit", essentially asserting that anything that might conceivably be argued to have some broader public purpose is fair game for eminent domain. Under Kelo, a freeway off-ramp is remarkably beneficial- the City could (hypothetically, and IANAL) have demolished those 15 homes and erected a Councilman-only golf course on the site, under the argument that it would benefit the public by inspiring the ambitious to run for office. I hope that our government helps these people with their mortgages, but I don't hold out much hope.

Of course, the ultimate irony of the story? In this clear case of cars-vs.-people, one of the displaced local residents is photographed beside, not her home, but her SUV.

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