Gone Fishing

I’ll be on vacation until July 21st or so.  Regular blogging will resume after that.  Enjoy your summer!

Jim Fallows on California’s High Speed Rail

A rare pro-high speed rail piece by the Atlantic reporter. He gives a nice shout-out to our UC Berkeley / UCLA Law 2013 report on managing the project’s impacts on the San Joaquin Valley. As Fallows notes:

Judging the dynamic effect of big projects — downtown restoration efforts, canals or highways or airports — is essential because they all involve “compared with what?” questions. Building a railroad is expensive. But what is its cost, compared with that of building roads, airports, and so on? Building a railroad requires extra land. But how much land will it use, compared with instead building more highways, airports, etc? Trains use fuel and send out emissions. But compared with …

Of course, Fallows doesn’t compare the current route to perhaps more optimal routes away from the Antelope Valley and pristine areas of San Benito County, but his larger point is well-taken.

Hawaii’s Big Island Goes “Big” On Electric Vehicle Charging

Hawaii is the perfect place for electric vehicles. High gas prices and lots of renewable energy potential (sun and wind) mean residents have an incentive to switch from gas to renewable electricity for driving. And then when you factor the relatively small island geography, range anxiety goes away. Even a small electric vehicle battery should get you to most places on the island on a single charge.

But on the Big Island, range is an issue. They don’t call it “big” for nothing. However, as the joint Berkeley Law / University of Hawaii, Maui College report “Electric Vehicle Paradise” notes, a few key fast charger stations around the island would completely solve the range issue there.

Ideal locations for fast-chargers on the Big Island

Ideal locations for fast-chargers on the Big Island


This map on the right shows some of those locations, as envisioned by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

So I’m pleased to see that over the holiday weekend, Big Island EV drivers, the local solar company, and a charging company unveiled a brand-new fast charger at the key location of Mauna Lani, roughly midway between Kona on the west side and Hilo on the east side. The station provides a crucial link between the two, at least for all-battery EVs like the Nissan LEAF. (It’s about 70 miles, including an uphill and then a long downhill to Hilo from there, and about 30 miles over flat ground to Kona — with elevation affecting battery range.)

Congrats to Big Island residents for finally making this happen. Now they just need a few more fast chargers to make the island a true EV paradise.

Happy July 4th

To celebrate July 4th, check out the song that should have been our National Anthem, sung by the man who performed the definitive version:

Meanwhile, a few other songs on my July 4th playlist:

America, Simon & Garfunkel
Power to the People, John Lennon
American Woman, The Guess Who
Majority Rules, Jimmy Cliff

I’m open to other suggestions, if anyone has any.

High Speed Rail May Start in Northern Los Angeles County

The LA Times reports that the High Speed Rail Authority is considering beginning the Palmdale to Burbank section of the train along with a Central Valley portion. The Central Valley portion is a political loser, foisted on the state by Valley congressmen who required it as a condition of federal funding. It means high speed rail begins in a low population center filled with ideological and agricultural opponents who are suing like crazy. This segment would counter that problem to some extent by providing benefits to residents of LA County.

Much like LA began its subway as a tiny 4-mile section downtown, high speed rail should start in a visible population center with an initial segment that has its own ridership logic, rather than as a piece that only makes sense decades from now when the system can be built around it. While Burbank to Palmdale isn’t the LA-Anaheim or LA-San Diego winner that one would hope for, it would allow commuters from Antelope Valley to get to Metrolink and then to Union Station and beyond via Metro Rail and bus.

But a word of caution: this segment could put sprawl in the Antelope Valley on steroids, as people there could now live within a 14 minute train ride of Burbank. In addition, it doesn’t solve the need for a new rail line through the Tehachapis. Currently, Amtrak riders need to transfer to a bus at Bakersfield to get over the hill. A high speed rail construction project there would provide an immediate and significant boost for the statewide Amtrak system, while we wait for the rest of the high speed network to get built.

Overall, I’d like High Speed Rail to skip the Antelope Valley, which was added for purely political reasons to the route. This segment may bring about the worst of all worlds: more sprawl in Antelope Valley, while locking in a route gerrymander that slows the train for everyone. At this stage, I would pull for a Tehachapi start over the Palmdale-Burbank segment.

Bob Hope Airport Could Be LA’s Air Hub Of The Future
Seamless pedestrian connection to the Metrolink station

Seamless pedestrian connection to the Metrolink station

Bob Hope Airport in Burbank unveiled a new transit center this week. The “Regional Intermodal Transportation Center” includes 11 rental car companies and a moving walkway to get passengers to the terminals.

But more importantly, it will feature an easy pedestrian connection to the Amtrak/Metrolink station right across the street from the terminals (see rendering on the right).

Current not-great Metrolink station by the airport

Current not-great Metrolink station by the airport

This easy rail connection is why I think Bob Hope Airport could be the high-demand air travel center for the region in the coming years. I’ve flown into Bob Hope and taken Metrolink to Union Station for an event before. It’s a pretty easy trip, but the walk along the airport accessway and across the street wasn’t great (see station photo on the left). Now a smooth pedestrian experience will make that experience much more seamless and efficient.

And more importantly, as Union Station becomes the center of the Metro Rail universe in Los Angeles, coupled with the resurgence of downtown LA, Bob Hope Airport will soon be your gateway for car-free access to much of the region. Even if LAX can get its act together with a people-mover automated train to the Crenshaw Line, passengers will still need to ride the slow Crenshaw line to the slow Expo Line to the Red Line or future Regional Connector to get to Union Station.

By contrast, Bob Hope will offer a faster, direct rail connection, without the hassle of the LAX craziness. So in the coming decades, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bob Hope may be your airport of choice for LA.

San Francisco Subway Tunnel Complete — But Five Years To Opening?

new map large v4_webThe San Francisco Chronicle reports that two tunnel boring machines have completed their work on a light rail subway extension to Chinatown from South of Market. That was quick: the two machines made it 1.7 miles in less than a year. They now stand to be dismantled and resold, possibly to Los Angeles for its subway.

But the line won’t open until 2019!  With the tunneling done, does it really take five years to finish a 1.7-mile tunnel and lay the tracks? That is shamefully slow progress. It’s a badly needed line to relieve the most incredibly congested bus route I’ve ever seen, and a future extension through North Beach and to Fisherman’s Wharf would be well worth the cost, if we could speed up this phase. The northern part of San Francisco is difficult to reach on surface streets, so this connections is critical.

Let’s hope policy makers and the public can pressure a faster completion for this project.

The Greatest Rock Band Of All Time?

My vote would be Led Zeppelin. In some ways, they killed rock. Nobody could really do it bigger than they did, so the genre got weak and finally made way for — and got absorbed in — other more creative forms. Jack Hamilton in Slate has a fun retrospective on the band, on the release of new versions of their first three albums. He has some misses (how do you not count “Your Time Is Gonna Come” as a great song on their first album?) but offers an admiring take:

These are, and always have been, three of the most perfect sounding rock albums ever made. The rough mixes of II and III, though, are a revelation, casting light on Jimmy Page’s immense talents as a producer and giving us the opportunity to rediscover this band as they were, four absurdly gifted young people making music together, as opposed to the rock deities they’d forever after be imagined as. You can hear Page’s pick scraping string on a demo-ish “Whole Lotta Love,” Robert Plant feeling his way through an early pass at “Ramble On,” Bonzo counting the band back in on a skeletal version of “Moby Dick,” the careful interplay of Page’s acoustic and John Paul Jones’ mandolin on a rough cut of “Gallows Pole.” Listening to the ragged life behind these recordings reminds us, on the one hand, that four guys made these records. It also reminds us, on the other, that four guys made these records. Sometimes being made human only heightens your immortality.

Makes me want to go out and destroy a hotel room.

Cat vs. Mailman

Time to modify the postal service motto:

How To Connect Rail To LAX — A Staff Proposal

Los Angeles Metro released their staff recommendation for how to connect the future Crenshaw light rail line to LAX (Los Angeles International Airport). Metro’s “The Source” has a good summary with links to the relevant documents. Bottom line: Metro staff recommends an extra light rail station along the existing Crenshaw route to connect to a future automated “people-mover” train that would carry rail passengers to the airport. Here’s the map:

newa2map

I generally like this option the best. As I discussed in a previous blog post, rail connections to airports are generally not huge rider magnets. The staff report, for example, projects that only 1-2% of all travelers will arrive at LAX by rail or bus. Sure, the airport expects over 60 million passengers a year, but relative to the thousands taking the Crenshaw line each day, not to mention the cost of bringing rail to the airport, it’s pretty puny. This option addresses that reality by not inconveniencing non-airport bound Crenshaw line riders with an unnecessary detour closer to the airport. Better to have the People Mover come to the Crenshaw line, rather than the other way around.

I also like the people mover stop at the future “Intermodal Transfer Facility” near Lot C. That will allow a host of off-site activities to take place, including possibly luggage check-in, car rental pickup/dropoff, and transit transfers.

But some big question marks: will LAX actually build the People Mover? I wouldn’t trust the airport to follow through, given its prior intransigence on allowing rail to the airport at all (as I discuss in Railtown). And will the People Mover just have a few central stops in the giant LAX horseshoe, or will it circulate around the terminals for maximum convenience (and ridership)? Finally, is it worthwhile to have an extra Crenshaw line stop for the people-mover just .4 miles north of the planned Century/Aviation stop? Seems like those stations are too close and would slow overall travel. But maybe there’s no better solution.

We’ll have to stay tuned to see how Metro directors — and the airport — respond to this sensible proposal.

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