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Julie Caine

Julie Caine appears in the following:

SFO Airport Now Has City's Most Valuable Art Collection Outside Museums

Monday, January 28, 2013

Under CC license from Flickr user Thom Watson

Terminal 2 at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) has been praised for its modern architectural design, which takes into account the needs of post 9/11 travelers. For instance, T2 has comfortable Recompose Area where passengers can put back their shoes and belts after passing through security check.

Most of the shops and restaurants are also located within the reach from the gates, so that passengers can easily see their flight status. But there is something else that makes Terminal 2 special: its art collection. KALW's Artjoms Konojovs went to the airport, but not to catch a flight. Give a listen:

[mp3]http://cpa.ds.npr.org/kalw/audio/2013/01/WEB.SFOArt.mp3[mp3/]

You may not think of an airport as a place to see art or take an audio tour to learn more about its paintings and sculptures. People mostly come here for one reason: to travel.  But the City of San Francisco spent nearly two-and-a-half million dollars on artwork in Terminal 2. It's part of a city ordinance passed in 1969, which mandated that 2 percent of any construction costs be allocated to art enrichment or public art. As a result, SFO now has the most valuable public artwork collection in the city outside its fine art museums.

Above either side entrance to SFO’s Terminal 2 stretch huge artworks of hand-painted glass: bird wings to the left and airplane wings on the right. They are large, impressive, and, if you call a number posted next to the front door, they are explained.

“This artwork ‘Air Over Under’ plays with our experience of flight," says a recorded voice on the phone. "Seattle-based artist Nori Sato said that once we leave our standard point of reference – the ground, it can be hard to figure out where we are.”

Then, the artist picks up where that narrator left off. “Depending on where we are in the air,” says Sato on the recording, “we can be above the clouds, below the clouds, in no clouds, in the middle of clouds, and the image was constructed with that in mind.” It's like a museum audio tour, but in an airport and on your cell phone.

Susan Pontious, director of the Civic Art Collection and Public Art Program for the city Arts Commission, runs the art program at the SFO in terms of the permanent acquisitions.

Inside the terminal, two objects hang from the ceiling on either side of the terminal entrance, right in the middle of the check-in area. Both look like they are made from different sized pieces of plastic.

“These two pieces are called “Topograph” and are inspired by topography of the Bay Area – and they also kind of remind me of clouds,” says Pontious.

The artist very carefully considered suspension mechanism as part of her aesthetic.

“They always remind me of these upside down rain clouds which is very appropriate on a day like today,” says Pontious.

Before the security gates is a small lounge where people can wait for arriving passengers. Most of the walls are covered by artwork from Marc Adams: big red tapestries with bright flowers that were inspired by the Bay Area gardens. It creates a cozy living room-like atmosphere.

“It is a technique and craft that you don't see that much anymore. I think this is one of the reasons they are valuable to us. And they are just flat out beautiful,” adds Pontious.

Near the lounge are a series of doors used by airport personnel to access the gates. We pass through into the Recompose Area, where people put their shoes and belts back on after the security check. The area is bright and airy, and home to an installation called “Every Beating Second”.

“The inspiration for the artist was that this is a place where you maybe took a little bit of a time to look around you and maybe notice some things.”

“Every Beating Second” consists of three nets hanging down from the ceiling. Each is a mixture of pink, purple and blue. Looking closer, travelers who pause to look up can see the nets moving a little bit, as if hovering in a breeze.

If you find yourself waiting for a flight at SFO, take a moment and look around. You can enjoy one of San Francisco's newest, most sophisticated, and expensive art galleries. It's arrived at Terminal 2.

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99% Invisible Explores Design for Airports

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Courtesy of 99percentinvible.com and http://www.gensler.com/#viewpoint/features/49

When Roman Mars spoke with Allison Arieff about the design of airports she said, if all airports simply played Brian Eno’s album Music for Airports over the speakers, every airport would be better.

In this episode of 99% Invisible, using the new T2 terminal at SFO as an example, Allison Arieff of the New York Times talks us through some of the considerations that go into designing an airport terminal, how the priorities have changed since 9/11, and how architects struggle to keep pace with ever-changing technology.

Give it a listen:

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Why One San Francisco Bike Lane Design Is Upsetting Drivers and Cyclists (AUDIO)

Friday, January 25, 2013

JFK Boulevard, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. (Photo Courtesy of SFMTA Livable Streets)

A prominent bike lane in San Francisco may be suffering because of its unique design. The ambitious, and expensive, bike lane striping of Golden Gate Park stands out from the other projects of San Francisco's bike plan for the criticism it draws from cyclists and drivers alike, in part for a disorienting placement of line of parked cars.

“I think it’s one of the dumbest things I ever saw that they put these stripes down here,” says driver Jimmy Harris of the lanes, pictured above.

Average speeds of drivers and bike riders have both fallen, a success at what's known as traffic calming. But also a stark test case of transportation psychology as users cite narrow lanes and an unusual arrangement of parked cars as confusing.

Ben Trefny and Rai Sue Sussman took a ride along JFK Blvd, with a measuring tape, to see why these particular stripes are raising hackles of bike riders and drivers. Give the audio version a listen.

Here's more: 

For a bit of background, the streets of San Francisco are changing. There are separated bike lanes on Market Street. There’s green paint all over the much-used bike path called the Wiggle. The city is definitely becoming more bicycle-friendly.

After many delays, the city’s bike plan is taking effect, with streets long-designed for car traffic being reconfigured for other modes of transportation. Four years ago San Francisco had 45 miles of bike lanes. Today there are 65 and with more on the way. Plus, 75 more miles of streets will be stenciled with symbols designating them as bike-friendly routes. It’s all having a big impact.

According to the San Francisco Bike Coalition, bike trips have increased more than 70 percent since 2006. But the planners’ choices for JFK Blvd. havn't been implemented so smoothly – and it’s flat-out rankled many of the bicyclists it’s supposed to serve.

The wide JFK Blvd. used to have almost no stripes whatsoever. Now, it’s full of them, creating several chutes designated for different purposes:  there’s a bike lane at either the edge; then buffer zone; a lane for parking; and then in the center a car lane in each direction.

Last spring, we talked with Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bike Coalition, about that project: the striping of Golden Gate Park

“Imagine the parking lanes that are kind of being moved out more into the center of the street, and the bikeway – the dedicated bikeway – will be against the curb, or against the green space, or the sidewalk area,” she said. “So that people biking actually have that physical separation from the moving traffic. JFK we think is a good street to try this because it is a very wide street it's way wider than most streets in San Francisco, so there was room there to try something different.”

It cost at least $425,000 to lay the stripes down – and the MTA estimates more than that to plan it all out.

So, what do the people who travel along JFK think about the new configuration?

“From a drivers’ standpoint, it’s pretty bad,” adds Daly City’s Nick Shurmeyetiv. “Honestly, the first few times I came in – like the first few times it really threw me off. I wasn't sure what was going on. I thought it was a traffic jam, or I don't know what,” he said of the parked cars that appeared to be a lane of traffic.

Frank Jones, from Concord says, “Well, we did pull up and stop behind somebody. And we thought, ‘They're not moving.’ Then we realized – there was nobody in the car! So we went around them.”

A count of cars lined up in the designated parking lane across from the De Young Museum one Friday afternoon showed 11 of 46 vehicles at least partially in the buffer zone. They followed a pattern: typically, each vehicle was aligned with the one in front of it. So if one missed the mark, many more would do the same. And they never missed on the side with car traffic. Only on the side toward the bikes.

“Yeah, you know the roadway, the width is a little narrower, but for the most part, this isn't a place to be going really fast from A to B,” says Peter Brown, who works as an SFMTA project manager.

If it’s the SFMTA’s goal to slow traffic on JFK, it’s been successful.

For cars, average speed has dropped about two or three miles per hour since the road was striped, according to a preliminary report. It makes sense, as the thoroughfare is much more narrow, now, and cars have to fully stop if anyone in front of them is trying to park.

Average bike speeds have also dropped, from an average of 14-and-a-half miles per hour to less than 13 during the week and a little slower on weekends. The report suggests that’s because bicyclists who used to cruise really fast up or down Golden Gate Park now have to slow down for other cyclists and the people who are trying to get across the bike lanes to their cars. Calming traffic, on paper anyway, arguably makes the route more accessible and safer.

The SFMTA surveyed people who use JFK both before and shortly after the new stripes went in. Almost 90 percent of responders felt like they understood the striping, but only about 60 percent liked it. Some people, like Lita Ward, don’t.

“I've had several incidents where I've nearly collided with people getting out of their cars, that are crossing the bike lane into the sidewalk area,” says Ward. “Obviously, we can't stop quickly enough... I think it's a great concept, but drivers need to be aware of what that change means for bicyclists."

It didn’t take long, wandering around JFK to see that scenario unfold. Just west of the De Young, two teenagers on mountain bikes blew through a stop sign on the downhill slope. A pedestrian crossing the bike lane to get to his car had to jump out of the way as they rapidly approached. The kids obviously hadn’t anticipated his presence, and the pedestrian didn’t notice until it was nearly too late.

Some people think better signage and public awareness campaigning would solve some of the ongoing issues with the newly striped lanes of Golden Gate Park, including longtime bike activist Chris Carlsson, who runs Shaping San Francisco, which looks into ways to improve the city.

“A proper educational campaign, in conjunction with an infrastructural transformation, I think could be really successful,” says Carlsson, who is one of the founders of Critical Mass.

[Related: Listen to an oral history of how Critical Mass was founded]

The people who most advocated for – and implemented – the striping of Golden Gate Park are examining the effects. The SF Bike Coalition has a webpage devoted to the “JFK Separated Bikeway Project.”

The page addresses some of the problems: cars that aren’t parked where they’re supposed to be; people crossing the bikeway without looking. SFMTA has a page called the JFK Cycletrack. It includes a survey in which people can share their thoughts about what they like and don’t like.

Even with the imposed structure, people are making the new configuration work for them. Sporty bicyclists take the car lane (which is allowed) to avoid slower-biking tourists and families; pedestrians walk in the bike path to avoid sprinklers; and cars drive through like they did before – only slightly slower.

But more than six months in, because of ongoing parking issues and -- for San Francisco -- the unusual off-curb parking situation, it appears that the striping of Golden Gate Park is not working quite as it was originally imagined. The removal of more than 80 parking spaces alone will be enough to change usage of the road. And unless a large-scale redesign is implemented, an experiment in shared road design may simply require users to get used to a number of imperfections.

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An Oral History of San Francisco's Bay Bridge

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Rendition of the new span of the Bay Bridge

After eleven years of construction, the Bay Bridge’s new eastern span is set to open to traffic this fall.

Meanwhile, the Regional Oral History Office (ROHO), part of University of California-Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, is soliciting stories from people who were there when the original Bay Bridge opened in 1936.

Sam Redman, a ROHO historian, recorded a number of interviews with folks who remember that time. He shared excerpts with KALW’s Steven Short.

"The clips that I’m sharing today are from people who happened to be in the Bay Area at the time," said Redman, "people who were working on the bridge—Rosie the Riveters or tow truck drivers and engineers and other people that worked on the Bay Bridge."

Redman played a few soundbites from the World War II generation who actually watched the bridge as it was actually constructed.

Like Ralph Anderson.

“It was going to be wonderful. I didn’t realize that the ferries wouldn’t be there anymore. But to go across the bridge on the Key System trains, the whole lower deck was trucks and trains. And that worked out great, I thought that was a good system. And to go across the bridge for a quarter, I was impressed and pretty soon the bridge was going to be paid for and you wouldn’t have to pay anything.”

(Currently tolls on the Bay Bridge are between $4 and $6 dollars, depending on the time of day).

Yes, you read that right: the lower deck of the Bay Bridge, as it was initially constructed, carried rail. The Key System operated from 1938 to 1958.

(Image from keyrailpix.org)

"One of the interesting thing about this series," said Redman, "is learning about some of the failed proposals that we’ve had for bridges, including a span that would have run similar to the Bay Bridge from Alameda, south of the current Bay Bridge into San Francisco to alleviate some of that traffic congestion that was building up early on on the Bay Bridge.  It exceeded all traffic projections almost right away."

Redman said one of the things that amazed him while conducting the Bay Bridge's oral history project is "the way people have worked have changed on the bridge since time it actually started. Like Bay Bridge painters, for example. New rules and regulations mean that for their actual work it takes longer to paint the Bay Bridge, but that’s to actually keep the Bay that’s beneath them healthy. Before, the paint would just go directly into the Bay."

Here's a remembrance from Berkeley resident Norma Grey:

“In 1936, they just summarily announced that we were going to California. And it was precisely because my dad could not find a job. And so he borrowed $100 from his brother, put his three little girls and what possessions he could put in a Model T Ford and drove across the country. He stopped in Berkeley. Their plan was San Francisco, but it cost 25 cents to go across the new Bay Bridge.”

"Twenty-five cents would have been enough to buy a meal for the evening for the family," said Redman. "I think that puts in context how hard times really were. And it gives us a little insight into the folks who worked on the Bay Bridge. Job openings at the Bay Bridge or the Golden Gate Bridge would have looked pretty appealing at that time, even though they were pretty dangerous jobs."

Redman added that the working conditions at the time helped keep construction costs down -- compared to today.

You can see differences in terms of safety, in terms of pay, in terms of all sorts of workplace conditions changes. In the course of building new bridges, people will look at the old Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge and say, gee, these were completed on budget and on time. But it’s because of a remarkable range of changes in labor that are actually good changes in many respects.

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Clarifying Prices When You Hail a Cab with Uber, other Apps

Thursday, January 10, 2013

(San Francisco Bay Area) Back in December, KALW ran a story about Uber, the app that matches users to the closest town car or taxicab. Uber gets its money by charging its own rates for livery cabs, which can cost much more than a typical meter.

Listener Mark Gruberg called in to let the station know that they missed something: that regular cabs are using apps, without the extra cost.

MARK GRUBERG: "One significant thing that was left out is that the cab industry is using the same kind of app as Uber – services like Cabulous and Taxi Magic put you directly in touch with a driver from your cell phone, the driver picks you up and charges you a taxi rate, not an Uber rate, which is approximately 70 percent higher than taxis at best. Then because they use surge pricing, it could be astronomically higher at busy times."

KALW asked Isabel Angell, who reported the original story on Uber, if she had anything to share.

ISABEL ANGELL: "So here’s the deal with Cabulous. It’s now called Flywheel, and it works a lot like Uber. It’s the same idea of using an app to match the passenger to the closest cab. But here’s where it’s different: unlike Uber, Flywheel doesn’t mess with the meter. They just take 60 cents from the driver off each Flywheel-generated cab ride. You can pay the driver in the car or use the app, like Uber. A third of SF cabs use the app – that’s about 580 taxis. So right now, I have the app pulled up on my phone, and I can see all the cabs using Flywheel around San Francisco. Currently, they’re mostly centered around Downtown, the Mission, and the Marina, with one lonely cab in the Inner Sunset. So maybe I would have to trek back to the Outer Richmond to see if it really stands up to the test!"

Uber's "surge pricing" system means that when livery cabs are in high demand, the price of a livery cab spikes. This is designed to encourage more drivers to stay on shift when cabs are needed most, like in the rain or on holidays, according to Uber. In New York City for instance Uber issued a warning to the press and users  before New Years Eve that prices could be five times the rate of a normal Uber ride, which is already more expensive than a yellow cab ride. They even added a "surge sobriety test" that required users to confirm that they understood how much they were paying.

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Year in Review Bay Area: High Speed Rail Narrowly Passes, Apps Push Into Bay Area

Monday, December 24, 2012

(Photo CC by Flickr user worndark)

2012 was a year that had transportation on the minds of voters and elected officials throughout California. It was also a year of technological innovation, lawsuits, and personal loss.

We monitored the halls of power, and we got out and about—on bikes, buses, trains, cars, and cabs—to find out just what getting around in the Bay Area is all about. Here are some of our favorite feature stories of the year from KALW.

 

In Politics: A Year of Close Calls:

The California State Legislature finally gave the green light to state’s controversial high-speed rail plan, but only by the narrowest of margins. With strong support from Governor Jerry Brown, the legislature voted to release initial funding needed to start construction in time to meet federal deadlines.  So far, only about $8 billion of the projected $98 billion needed to complete the project have been secured. Ray LaHood voiced his support for the bullet train in the face of renewed opposition to any further federal funding at a Transportation Committee hearing on the project earlier this month.

Elections in the state ushered in Prop 39, which will earmark billions of dollars for clean energy programs.

At the county level, a sales tax increase meant to fund transportation infrastructure projects in the Bay Area failed to receive the 2/3 majority vote it needed to pass. After an aborted recount, Measure B1 fell short by around 700 votes of the approximately 350,000 cast.

And after a two-year campaign, young people in San Francisco finally won the right to ride MUNI for free.

 

Bike 101:

I overcame (mostly) my fear of riding my bike on city streets by getting behind the handlebars and taking a class in urban bike riding.

 

Riding the 1 Bus:

More than 22,000 people ride the 1 and 1R buses every single day. Most of them don’t own cars — this is the only way they get around. The buses travel right through the heart of the Fruitvale and San Antonio neighborhoods along International Boulevard, also known as East 14th.

Whatever you call it, it’s a road, and a part of Oakland, with an identity all its own. As part of our reporting project about the Fruitvale and San Antonio neighborhoods in Oakland, I got on the 1 to find out what riding the bus says about a community.

 

Train Engineers and Track Suicides:

I met a Caltrain engineer about track suicides. They are, of course a tragic occurrence, but they also take a toll on the people whose job it is to get you to and from work every day.

“The way I kind of look at it, the farther I am from my last one, the closer I am to my next one,” he says. “It’s almost like rolling the dice. It’s an awful tragedy.”

 

Meet the Super Commuter:

I visited the NASA-style control room that keeps Bay Area traffic moving (sort-of), and navigated the intricacies of getting around (or not) on our freeways and bridges with the Super Commuter.

 

Taking Uber for a Test Drive:

Uber had a busy year, brashly pushing it's way into new markets like Washington, D.C. and New York with mixed success. In San Francisco, the company drew lawsuits even as business continued expanding.

And reporter Isabel Angell tried out a new app that’s supposed to make it easier (though not necessarily cheaper) to get a cab in San Francisco.

 

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How Prop 39 Works: Closing a Tax Loophole To Bring Clean Energy Funds to California

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Proposition 39, which passed in California on Election Day, will tax out-of-state businesses and earmark those new billions of dollars for clean energy programs in the state. To learn more about how it will work, KALW's Ben Trefny spoke with Paul Rogers, environmental writer for the San Jose Mercury News and managing editor for KQED’s science programs. Rogers explained how Prop 39 came about, how it will change the state, and how the money will be applied.

PAUL ROGERS: This was a measure by San Francisco financier Tom Steyer which closed a loophole in the way that corporations pay taxes in California. It will now generate a billion dollars per year in new revenue –and for the first five years going forward, half of that money, actually a little more than half, $550 million a year, has to go to fund renewable energy projects. So we're looking at a tidal wave of money, $2.74 billion over the next five years, in new funds that's going to come in to do projects in California on renewable energy. Most of that is going to be things like retrofitting schools, community colleges, universities, putting better insulation in, solar panels on the roof, new windows. And that kind of thing is going to generate jobs. That's why a lot of unions supported this measure, but it's also going to lower the electricity bills at a lot of schools and universities, probably by up to a third when this stuff is put in. And that money, in turn they're going to be able to spend back on education.

 

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World Series Win Sparks Vandalism in San Francisco

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A man vandalizes a SF city bus after the Giants won the World Series. Photo credit Susana Bates, special to the San Francisco Chronicle

Although it pales in comparison to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Sunday night’s sweep of the World Series by the San Francisco Giants left a human-powered path of flipped cars, trash fires, and vandalized and burned city buses in Bay Area streets.

Fans celebrating the Giants’ win set a MUNI bus on fire in San Francisco early Monday morning. The driver and eight passengers escaped unharmed from the bus, which had just undergone $300,000 worth of repairs.

Sunday night marked the second time in three years that the Giants have won the World Series.

San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr told the San Francisco Chronicle that the victory is not a license for destruction. “Two world championships in three years is worthy of celebration,” Suhr said. “But then at some point in time, after the original understandable celebration comes the almost mystifying belief that some people can just come and trash San Francisco.”

A photograph of a Giants’ fan smashing the front window of a bus began circulating on Facebook yesterday with this caption: “SHARE THIS PHOTO: Please help the SFPD locate this jerk that used the Giants celebration as a reason to destroy things and endanger people. This isn't what San Francisco is about. Be smart and safe and kind when you celebrate.”

In all, 36 people were arrested in connection with widespread vandalism and fires. No word on whether the man in the photograph was among those arrested.

A victory parade for the Giants is planned for 11am tomorrow in San Francisco.

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California Greenhouse Gas Law Faces Challenge

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

(photo by Kevin Dooley via flickr)

(KALW - San Francisco) The future of California’s landmark greenhouse gas emissions law is being called into question.

Implementation of the law was delayed earlier this year by a U.S. District Court judge in Fresno, who ruled that the regulations violate the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. A three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments from both sides of the debate last week.

At issue is the “Low Carbon Standard”—regulations that require fuel producers to meet California’s emissions standards, or pay a penalty in the state’s cap and trade system. Fuel, farm and trucking industry lawyers argue that the law violates the federal commerce clause because the law reaches across state borders, effectively favoring California-based producers over out-of-state competitors, whose fuel may not meet the state’s strict emission requirements.

The California Air Resources Board, the agency responsible for implementing the regulations, says the law is intended to reduce California’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990s levels by the year 2020. Lawyers representing the state and environmental groups argue that the California law is the only way to reach these goals.

Sean Donahue, an Environmental Defense Fund attorney who presented oral arguments to the appeals court, said that at its core, the law is about regulating greenhouse gas emissions by focusing on the entire life cycle of the fuel. “It’s not based on where the fuel is from, but is based on the effect on the climate,” Donahue said.

Peter Keisler, a fuel industry attorney, told the court, “Even if there is no discrimination, you still have a regulatory scheme whose purpose is to penalize imports, to penalize out-of-state conduct in an effort to control in-state emissions.”

The three-judge panel asked tough questions during the appeal, including a focus on language in the law that seemed to point to favoring California employment and tax revenues.

"Isn’t this unambiguous evidence that the board was motivated by protectionism?” asked 9th Circuit Court Judge Mary Murguia.

The panel now moves on to consider the oral and written arguments in the case before issuing a written opinion, a process that could take many months.

 

 

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Transpo Travelog: Trains, Planes, Taxis, Buses, Subways, and a Little Light Rail

Friday, October 19, 2012

Last week, my time was bookended by two weekend conferences. The first was in the Chicago suburbs, the second in Baltimore.

I live in Oakland, California, and the prospect of flying back and forth to California in between conferences seemed both ridiculous and exhausting. So instead, I decided to stay east, visiting friends in New York City and Poughkeepsie for a few days before heading on to Baltimore.

This made for a logistically complex week of getting around. All in all, door-to-door, I used 15 discrete transportation systems to shuttle between five different cities. It sounds like a giant hassle -- but as a transportation reporter, it was great. I loved every minute of it.

I started my journey on a 4:30am BART train ($2.25) to the Oakland Coliseum. It was one of the first trains of the day—BART doesn’t run overnight, much to the chagrin of many Bay Area residents. It also doesn’t yet run all the way to the Oakland Airport (that’s coming soon). So from the Coliseum station, I transferred to a BART airport shuttle bus ($3 in exact change). The process is a little murky unless you’re a local, and I ended up explaining how it worked to several bleary eyed travelers. I even gave one guy a dollar bill just so he could board the bus before it left.

Even at the crack of dawn, the security line at the airport snaked through all the pylons and into baggage claim. I made it through with just enough time to make my flight to Chicago. Got a window seat (my favorite), and watched the sun rise over the beautiful bridges of the Bay before we burst above the cloud layer.

Once in Chicago, I met up with some fellow conference attendees and we split a cab to the distant suburb where the conference was being held ($22 each + tip). On the fare sign in the back of the cab we noticed a special charge—a $50 “vomit clean-up fee.” Must be rough driving a cab in Chicago.

In Chicago, taxicab puking has a price. (Photo by Julie Caine)

Several days later, it was time to head on to NYC. This time, I caught a ride to the airport in a Town Car driven by a guy with a long ponytail named Kenny ($50 cash + tip). He called me a couple hours before he picked me up just to say hi. We had a little time before my flight, and I hadn’t really seen anything at all in Chicago, so he drove me through some of the neighborhoods where he grew up, past his high school and family church, and then cruised along Lakeshore Drive, while he told me about the water pumping stations out in the lake and gave change to every single stoplight panhandler we encountered. “There but for the grace of God,” said he.

The flight from Chicago to LaGuardia was uneventful (dimmed lights and a hushed cabin) -- as was my late-night cab ride to Brooklyn ($35 + tip).

The next day I took the F train into Manhattan ($2.25) and strolled the beautiful High Line for the first time. In the afternoon, I went to Grand Central Terminal, where I took the audio tour of the station ($7— and by the way, radio producers, we could make that tour so much better!) and got a great shoeshine ($7+tip) before boarding the 4:45 Metro-North train to Poughkeepsie ($36 RT).  Traveling alongside the Hudson, looking at fiery red maples and crumbling architecture, I noticed that many of the conductors and passengers were on a first name basis.

Listen: Metro-North conductor

After a night and day in Poughkeepsie, I headed back to the city -- this time to Penn Station, where I was due to catch an Amtrak train to Baltimore ($70). I loved Penn Station. I arrived in the morning to a cacophony of newspaper vendors calling and singing to us as we streamed into the station. “Good morning, everybody! Get your AM New York right here. Read all about it. Buenos días, mami. AM New York!” (Editor's note: Penn Station doesn't usually inspire such affection -- but some people can find the hidden pockets of grace there.)

Penn Station (photo by Julie Caine)

Listen: audio from Penn Station

Grabbed my one and only cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee (one cream, two sugars), and hopped on board the train to Charm City. Out the windows, I watched the compressed East Coast fly by—Manhattan, Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore. Next stop Washington DC.

Took a cab from Baltimore’s Penn Station to my hotel ($14 + tip), and was immediately swept off my feet by the nicest cab driver ever, who told me about growing up in a freezing cold basement and never wanting to get out from under the covers in the morning to go to school.  Note: no vomit fees in Baltimore.

(photo by Julie Caine)

A couple days later, and it was time for more travel. Took the Baltimore Light Rail ($1.60) to the airport for my flight home to Oakland, where my kind next-door neighbor picked me up in his car and drove me home (free). As cliché as it sounds, my week really was all about the journey.

 

 

 

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As Critical Mass Turns 20, Founders Reflect on Sprawling Bike Protests (AUDIO)

Friday, September 28, 2012

(San Francisco, Calif. --Ben Trefny, KALW) Political movements don't have to be shaped by politicians. In fact, one of the most dynamic movements to shape the way we see our streets started with a group of bicycle riders in San Francisco who simply wanted to be seen.

It's a gathering that's come to be known as "Critical Mass." Tonight, hundreds, if not thousands, of cyclists from around the world will come together to take over their city's streets and celebrate the event's 20th anniversary.

The Mass has taken place on the last Friday of every month since September of 1992. It's a leaderless bike ride, without a preplanned route, lasting several hours. The concept is to have enough people riding on bikes -- a critical mass -- to force cars to stop and wait for them. The message: The road belongs to bikes too, not just cars.

Critical Mass rides are controversial, somewhat chaotic, and sometimes confrontational. But it's also effective. And it's grown. Today, Critical Mass rides take place in more than 300 countries around the world. Urban bike riding has changed significantly in that time -- some would say Critical Mass helped the world spin a little differently.

Chris Carlsson is the co-founder of Critical Mass. He and Lisa-Ruth Elliot co-edited the new book, Shift Happens: Critical Mass at 20. KALW's Ben Trefny spoke with the two editors to reflect on how the Mass got its start.

CARLSSON: We felt really mistreated, as second-class citizens on the roads... people would treat you derisively, they'd yell at you, they'd think you were, like, immature, you're a kid.  "Grow up and get a car!"  As though that were somehow an act of maturity.  So we thought, let's just meet at the foot of Market Street and ride home together.  Simple act.  Get everybody together we can, fill the streets with bikes, and by doing so, displace the cars.

Listen to the complete interview:

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Rethinking San Francisco's Main Drag

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Market Street (photo by Benjamin Dumas via flickr)

This is part 1 of a 3 part series on re-thinking Market Street. Check out part 2 and part 3.

Around 250,000 people use Market Street every day— and in every way. They take the bus, ride BART, walk to work, shop... even live.

In 2016, the entire road, between Octavia and the Embarcadero, will be torn up and repaved. So city planners figure it’s the perfect time to reshape and re-imagine San Francisco’s main drag.

San Francisco’s transportation director Ed Reiskin says it’s a good opportunity for the city to do more than pour concrete.

“If we're going to go through the expense and disruption to repair the surface and infrastructure of Market Street, let's not just put it back the way it was, let's really fix it,” Reiskin says.

The Department of Public Works is in charge of the project. They’re working with a variety of city and county agencies to draw up a set of plans that balance the practical needs of the street with the vision of a wide variety of stakeholders.

The public is a part of the process, too -- the most recent public meeting was standing room only.

On the table is everything from a total ban on private cars to dedicated bike lanes; from fewer MUNI stops to more sidewalk cafes and parklets. The city anticipates the redesign to cost around $250 million. Funding for repaving is already in place.

I went out to Market to ask some of the people behind these ideas about their vision for the street.

At the corner of 3rd and Market, map-wielding tourists shiver in shorts and tank tops. A man sits on the sidewalk with his dog. The sign in his lap says ‘Anything helps.’ Throngs of office workers walk right by him, eyes fixed intently on the screens of their smartphones. Bikes squeeze in between buses and the curb, dodging taxis and delivery trucks.

Up ahead I see Mohammed Nuru. He’s the director of Public Works in San Francisco. He’s agreed to meet me here to talk about the street. “It's a pretty busy intersection, as you can see,” says Nuru. “It's busy all the time from about 7 o'clock in the morning until almost 10 o'clock at night.”

Standing next to him is Kris Opbroek. She manages the Better Market Street project.

“I think Market Street is the city's Main Street in a sense. I think it always has been, actually,” she says. “I think its identity is our parade ground, and our real civic space is still here. I think where it falls short a bit is in the day to day use.”

Nuru and Opbroek spend their days watching this street. They’re overseeing Market’s redevelopment. And they’re trying to pin down what is, and isn’t, working here.

Traffic is a big issue. Right now private cars, taxis, delivery trucks, paratransit, and bikes all share the road with streetcars and buses.

Leah Shahum is the executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Her office is at 5th and Market. She says another thing on people’s minds is how to make Market safer and more inviting for bicyclists. Bike riding is on the rise, and Market is most used bike corridor in the city.

“I talk to a lot of people who are confident riders. They're people who bike elsewhere in the city,” Shahum says. “They’re adults who really are comfortable bicycling, but they say, ‘Wow, I don't want to bike on Market Street because I'm really scared about it.’”

Right now, most of the bike lanes on Market are painted lines on narrow pieces of pavement shared with buses and trucks and cars. Only about six blocks of the street have a physically separated bike lane.

“What we hear from people is: ‘Wow, for those six blocks, I feel calm, I feel safe, I feel comfortable. This works,’” Shahum says.

She wants that kind of comfort to extend the along the entire length of Market Street.

But the road isn’t just for wheels.

Elizabeth Stampe is the executive director for Walk San Francisco. She says that, ultimately, everyone is a pedestrian. Her office is a block from Shahum’s, at 6th and Market.

“This is the place where the most pedestrians have been hit by cars in the whole city,” she says, as we stand at the busy intersection. “And you can see it's a long crossing for folks with wheelchairs and canes, of whom there are many right here. You don't really get enough time.”

Stampe says that expanding the sidewalks at corners like this would help shorten the time it takes for pedestrians to get across the street and slow down the cars fighting to get through the intersections.

Making it safer to cross the street or ride a bike might seem obvious. But there’s always a trade-off. Solving one problem creates another problem somewhere else, or else pushes it a block farther down the road.

“Market Street is a special street,” says Stampe. “It's the spine of the city. And it's a gathering spot. It’s also a little bit magnetic. Both in the sense that it attracts people, but some parts of it still repel people.”

She says the corner where she works is a good example of Market’s confused identity. “It’s about a block from the mall, but it could be a world away.”

She compares the blocks along Market to islands in a stream. In this case, one island is the upscale shopping and tourist district around Powell Street. The next is lined with abandoned storefronts. Many people are either homeless and living on the street, or live in tiny rooms in nearby SRO hotels.

San Francisco’s transportation director, Ed Reiskin, works a few blocks away at Market and Van Ness. We walked through the Civic Center and talked about the street.

“For a lot of people, this is their living room and it should continue to serve that function,” he says. “If you or I had that space, we would also want to spend more time outside than inside.”

The city estimates that about 6,000 people are without shelter on any given night in San Francisco––many on Market Street.

“There may be some undesirable activity, some criminal activity, or unsafe situations that the city wants to address regardless of what happens design-wise on Market Street,” says Reiskin. “But I don't think we want to lose the character of Market Street or push anyone off of it. We want to make it a nice place for more people to be in.”

During the day the street has different feelings. Some new businesses have moved in, joining art spaces like the Luggage Store. But compared to the bustle just a few blocks away, the street here feels empty.

At Market and Van Ness, traffic hits the city from both major bridges. It’s a gateway to San Francisco – but instead of a grand monument marking the spot, there’s a car wash and a donut shop.

“It's not just infrastructure,” says Reiskin. “It's not just design. It's economic development. It's economic vitality. So I think there's more to it than just how we lay out the streets and how we paint the lines.”

That economic vitality is an important ingredient in a complex process. Money for repaving the street is in place. But coming up with the $250 million this project is expected to cost still has to be worked out. Back at 3rd and Market, Mohammed Nuru says some of that money could come from businesses that stand to benefit from the street’s upgrade.

The intersection of 3rd and Market (image via Google Street View)

“We’re bringing the right partners onto Market Street, bringing the Twitters in, bringing the new businesses in, bringing the restaurants in, all that adds to the vitality of a street,” Nuru says. “And they contribute and they partner with us, so together we’ll try to figure out what the bill will look like.”

Ultimately, though, the project isn’t just about the street’s physical condition––it’s about its character. And that’s a big part of what city officials are considering as they re-imagine Market. What does the street mean, and what should it be?

Nuru says it’s a great opportunity to think big. “I think what this process has done is woken everybody up and made them say, ‘Wow if I had an idea, this is the time to get it in because it could happen.’”

Another public meeting is planned for the fall. Get there early—it’s likely to be standing room only.

For more information on the Better Market Street project, click here.

This is part 1 of a 3 part series on re-thinking Market Street. Check out part 2 and part 3.

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Dynamic Pricing Parking Meters Climb Above $5/Hour in SF

Thursday, August 30, 2012

SF Park parking meter. (Photo CC by Flickr user Walter Parenteau)

There's a wonky academic theory that if you raise parking meter prices enough, eventually, there will always be one parking spot free on every block. It's like park-topia, a place that glistens in the near future of urban planers' imaginations. Well, San Francisco is trying it, and the prices are getting higher and higher without a "sweet spot" for some hot blocks.

You can now expect to pay as much as $5.25 and hour at some metered spots in SF. The strategy called “dynamic pricing” is something we've been keeping our eye on at TN because, if it works, it could mean less traffic, more faster (and maybe fewer) car rides into downtowns, and overall smarter transportation systems. The crux of the experiment relies on real-time data about who is parking where and variable rates for different streets to ease congestion and help drivers find elusive public parking spots faster.

The SFMTA launched the pilot project in 2011, using data from parking meters to create an app that lets drivers see where the available spots are in some of the city’s densest neighborhoods. The argument is that if drivers know exactly where to find a place to park, they won’t have to circle in search of a spot, which will make drivers less frustrated, make the streets safer, reduce pollution, and give public transit more room to maneuver. Theoretically, even if it costs more it will still be worth it in time savings. But ... how much more?

Pricing for parking varies according to demand: right now you can pay anywhere from $.25 to over that shocking peak price of $5.25 an hour, depending on where and when you park. That difference in price is meant to spread the parking around; the ultimate goal is making sure that there’s always at least one available spot on the streets involved in the pilot.

The latest rate increase is the seventh since the project launched. Prices can’t go above $6 an hour under the pilot, still far less than a parking lot price. So, what happens if peak streets hit the price ceiling? It's unclear how the city would adapt the SF Park plan.

But it seems to be working. The SF Gate reports that fewer than 2 percent of meters are pushing the price limit now at the temporary maximum price of $5.25. The most common prices are below $2 an hour.

Plus, there are special exceptions to the $6 cap, like big events or ball games. For those, meters can hit $18 an hour. The program is adaptable after all.

 

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Investigators Call Chevron Fire a "Near Disaster"

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Chevron’s refinery in Richmond, California burst into flames earlier this month.  Reportedly, workers discovered that an old pipe, potentially in operation since the 1970s, was leaking. After about two hours, they removed the insulation unit while the pipe was still processing crude, causing the explosion. Five workers were treated for minor injuries, but the Chemical Safety Board has called the accident a “near disaster” for refinery personnel. A "shelter in place" warning was issued for the community because of potential toxins in the air. And more than 11,000 residents went to the emergency room complaining of health problems.

Investigations into the cause of the fire are ongoing. But, inspectors need access to the site of the explosion, which is still considered too dangerous.  Robert Rogers, the Richmond reporter for the Bay Area News Group, has been following the story. He spoke with KALW’s Holly Kernan about the fallout of the fire.

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Calif. Residents File Health Claims Against Chevron (AUDIO)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Richmond, CA residents wait to file claims at an accident and injury attorney's office the night after a fire at a Chevron refinery. The line stretched out the door and down the sidewalk. Photo by Julie Caine

The night after an explosion and fire at a Chevron refinery sent plumes of thick black smoke out across one of the Bay Area's poorest communities, local residents were already scrambling to ensure they will get compensated for potential impacts to their health.

Chevron has an official claims process, but many local Richmond residents filed into the office of a local attorney instead. KALW's Julie Caine stopped by to talk to the people in line.

Listen to them here:

A sample:

NICHOLAS HANEY: We are having a lot of people come in, we haven't sorted it all out yet. I'm having people fill out forms... We need to figure out where people were, where they live, where they were at the time of the fire, and, so we don't have all the answers yet. Chevron, I hope they step up to the plate and do the right thing. They have a lot of people in this town that got sick due to their negligence.

NOTE: Chevron Corporation issued the following information for people seeking to file medical claims:

"Chevron will open a help center in Richmond on Friday, August 10, to assist residents who want to file claims related to the incident that occurred at the refinery this week."

Help Center:
Nevin Community Center
598 Nevin Ave.
Richmond, CA

Hours of operation:
9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday - Friday
8 a.m. to 12 p.m., Saturday

Those wishing to file a claim by phone should call 866-260-7881. Live operators are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Residents who have already filed a claim by phone do not need to visit the help center.

We have reports that individuals may be calling members of the community about making claims. These are not Chevron representatives. There are only two ways a claim can be filed: by calling 866-260-7881 or or by visiting the help center at 598 Nevin Ave.

The claims process has been set up through Crawford and Company. We intend to compensate our neighbors for medical and property expenses incurred as a result of the incident.

Those who call the claim line will be asked a series of questions about their claim, which will then be routed to adjusters. Adjusters are attempting to respond to all claims within three days. Chevron will strive to pay appropriate and reasonable claims, including out-of-pocket medical and property-damage expenses.

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Anger Over Chevron Refinery Fire in Bay Area

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Chevron refinery fire, 8/6/12 (photo by TheRealMichaelMoore via flickr)

The smoke from the Chevron refinery fire that started late Monday in Richmond, California has cleared -- but the controversy was still hot at a community meeting Tuesday night. Around 700 people attended the meeting in Richmond, where local government and health officials, as well as the refinery's general manager, faced frustration and anger.

Joan Davis from the Richmond Community Foundation began the meeting with a request: “Those of you who are feeling afraid, very quietly, stand. Those of you who are feeling angry, please stand, quietly.”

Almost everyone in the hall got to their feet.

They sat down again to hear from Nigel Hearne, the Chevron refinery's general manager. “I take personal and full responsibility for the incident that occurred last night. I'm really here to respect you, and to hear, listen about your concerns this evening," said Hearne.

Applause and boos were shouted, and a long line of people waiting to speak on a microphone formed down the center aisle. They talked about everything from illness and contamination from the fire, to racism and economic inequality in the community.

“I didn't get a phone call. I did not hear the sirens until 7 o’clock. You need to fix your system,” one community member said.

Another took the floor to say, “Them white people ain't thinking about y'all. Because why? A lot of y'all are black. So what? Let them die. They need to set up a clinic. They need to examine everybody out here. They need to find out the extent of the sickness of people in this community."

Yolanda Jones, a member of the community, expressed her concern about access to information. “I want to make sure that everybody in this room, including the people who could not get here, have access to fill out the form – not just on a computer, so that people who don't have a computer cannot fill it out. So people who don't have a house phone cannot know what to do,” she said.

Charles Hawthorne, who lives about ten miles from the refinery, left the meeting early in frustration. “Nothing's getting done,” he said. “People are shouting over each other, and they've turned it into their own political forum. To me, this was a big waste of time. They should have had more people to control the chaos."

An investigation into the causes of the fire is underway, headed by the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Chevron officials say they will cover expenses for health problems, property damage, and municipal costs associated with the fire.

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Curiosity Mars Rover Lands on Mars, Looks for Life

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Mary Roach (photo by David Paul Morris)

What’s the size of a car, but travels 13,000 miles an hour? That would be the Curiosity Mars rover, which touched down on the Red Planet Monday after eight months of travel and what NASA engineers called "seven minutes of terror."

The rover will spend the next two years looking for signs of life on the planet. And it could also bring new life to the U.S. space program. The project was managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, which faces significant budget cuts to operations and Mars missions.

Journalist Mary Roach wrote Packing For Mars, a book about what it would take to prepare people to travel to Mars, and the future of space exploration. She spoke with KALW’s Casey Miner about what happens now that Curiosity has touched down.

"It landed right where they wanted it to and everything went right," said Roach. "And [it's] just this unbelievable human achievement. Thousands of people working for the better part of a decade. To do that and it all comes together in this very brief chunk of minutes."

Listen to the interview below.

 

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Explainer: What Happens Now With California's Bullet Train

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The bullet train may be back on track. Earlier this month the California legislature narrowly approved $8 billion dollars in bond money to start construction of the high-speed rail system connecting Los Angeles to the Bay Area. Governor Jerry Brown signed off at ceremonies in LA and San Francisco.

The project is now expected to cost close to $69 billion dollars to complete. The bulk of the money the legislature just approved will go to start building a 130-mile stretch of track in the Central Valley; about a quarter will go to local transportation projects in LA and San Francisco.

The bullet train project is controversial. The scope -- and the price tag -- has changed many times since voters first approved the plan back in 2008, and the project now faces multiple lawsuits designed to stop construction before it starts. KALW’s Julie Caine sat down with Mike Rosenberg, a reporter who covers high-speed rail for the San Jose Mercury News, to talk about what happens next. Below is the full transcript of the interview, which was edited for broadcast.

Listen to the radio version:

JULIE CAINE: I wondered if we could start with giving people a sense of what high-speed rail is right now in California? It's been through so many changes—different price tags, different plans. Can you give us a brief overview about what the Legislature just approved and Jerry Brown signed into law?

MIKE ROSENBERG: Sure. The legislature approved a bill worth $8 billion dollars. It's the starting point for high-speed rail. So there’s going to be a $6 billion dollar stretch of track in the Central Valley, around Fresno. And there's also going to be about $2 billion dollars worth of upgrades to projects in the Bay Area and Southern California. For us, that means electrifying the Caltrain line that runs between San Francisco and San Jose. The reason they're doing that is these are projects that will help now in the Bay Area and LA area, but they'll also lay the groundwork for high-speed rail later. The entire high-speed rail project that runs between San Francisco and LA is slated to cost about $69 billion dollars.

CAINE: So there's $8 billion dollars of that money now. Are there any plans for how to get the $61 billion that are needed?

ROSENBERG: Not really. There's a little bit of bond money left over from when voters approved the project in 2008. There's a few billion dollars left from that, but as far as the rest of the money, it's all sort of on paper. They're hoping the federal government kicks in about $40-50 billion dollars. But they've zeroed out all funding for the last three years, and Republicans have sort of made a mockery of the project in the House. The only way that they'll really be able to get the money is if something changes in the political climate in Washington. The other back-up plan is to use new greenhouse gas fees that are coming down at the state level.  Big polluters would have to pay because of their greenhouse gases and that would have to go to environmentally friendly projects. High-speed rail is going to try to tap into that, but that's also a questionable source of funding.

CAINE: So right now all that the money will pay for is a stretch of track in the Central Valley and improvements to rail systems in LA and San Francisco. Why start in the Central Valley? Why is construction starting there?

ROSENBERG: The consensus view is that, putting aside backroom deals with Central Valley politicians, it was something that was decided on by the federal government. The Obama Administration is desperate to see some sort of high-speed rail built because California is the only state left that actually has plans for a high-speed train that's anywhere near reality. The Central Valley portion is the biggest stretch of land where they can build the biggest stretch of track. They can build about 130 miles down there, whereas if they were to do it here or in LA, it would be a much smaller amount. The theory is that once you have a bunch of tracks sitting there doing nothing, it's going to be much harder to abandon, so that puts the pressure on politicians to give more money. Whereas if you were doing something that had use, like electrifying the Caltrain line, they'd say, well, you know we succeeded at that and let's abandon it. Whereas the entire Central Valley stretch of track is going to be tough to let sit out there as a sign of failure.

CAINE: It would be a source of embarrassment to the federal government if nothing else happened but that stretch of track?

ROSENBERG: Right.

CAINE: I'm curious about the support in California for high-speed rail. The legislature just voted on whether they were going to approve releasing the bond that voters passed in 2008, and that was an incredibly close vote. In the state senate it needed 21 votes to pass, and it got exactly 21 votes. No Republicans voted in favor, and some of the major Democratic supporters of high-speed rail voted against it. One of those was Senator Joe Simitian from Palo Alto, who changed his vote to no at the last minute. I'm wondering what it meant for someone like Joe Simitian to vote against the high-speed rail plan?

ROSENBERG: It's actually really significant. I mean on one hand he's just one guy, but him and also a Democrat from Concord named Mark DeSaulnier and another one from Long Beach called Alan Lowenthal, they were the three guys who were tasked with overseeing the bullet train for the Democratic Party. And they were the three who came out and said, you know, the more we look into this, the more we don't like it. The other Democrats were supposed to rely on their expertise, but once they said that they didn't want to go forward with the project, they had to weigh that with the leadership, like the president of the Senate, Darrell Steinberg, and of course the governor, who are die-hard supporters. And they all ended up just going with the program and approving it, even though as far as I can tell, they didn't necessarily know that much about what they were voting on. But the ones who had been following it decided ultimately to vote against it.

CAINE: Can you tell me a little bit about some of the reasons Joe Simitian gave for voting against something that he has really championed, even since before 2008.

ROSENBERG: The biggest reasons for him, and really anyone who doesn't like the project, is the cost and the uncertain funding. I mean $69 billion dollars is more money than any state has ever spent on any public works project. It's an unprecedented amount of money, and finding that much money is just going to be a really big chore. Following that, there are a lot of questions about whether this is actually worthwhile in the first place. The rider estimates keep going down, and they're questionable. And people are wondering what exactly will happen to the property along the way. There's a 520-mile route that this is going to take, and that's going to take over a lot of businesses and homes along the way. So that's going to cause a lot of economic damages as well, not to mention people's livelihoods. If it was just about whether or not we had the money and we were trying to decide whether it was worthwhile, it would sort of put a lot of people on fence. Those who are wobbling on it get pushed over the edge by the fact that there really isn't that clear of a plan to actually get this done. They're scared that they're going to be only left with that one stretch of tracks.

CAINE: It's interesting that building is starting in the Central Valley where there is a lot of opposition, very vocal opposition to the project, and in fact a lot of litigation. I'm wondering if you can talk about some of the real obstacles, particularly legal obstacles, that are in the way of the bullet train now.

ROSENBERG: Yeah, it’s funny. The Central Valley was supposed to be the easy part. Because the opposition was really in the Bay Area, and there were just so many people in LA that they would have to displace. But the Central Valley, they were supposed to just say yeah, this is great, come on down. It turns out they were the ones who rose up against the fiercest. And now they're really only faced with one option, which is to sue. Because no one has any control over the project, outside of the state and federal governments. So if you're a local county, or a city, or a farmer, or a business owner, the only thing you can do is to try to sue. There are about half a dozen suits going on right now, and there’s going to be more coming. The general idea is to have a judge issue an injunction to stop them from being able to start construction. That’s something that will be playing out over the past six months or so.

CAINE: I know there are also some questions about whether the plan that the legislature and Jerry Brown just approved is actually legal in terms of what the voters voted on in 2008 because the high-speed rail plan has changed so much since that time. Can you talk a little bit about that? What are the major points of contention between what voters approved in 2008, and what was just approved?

ROSENBERG: It’s an ethical argument saying that we voted on a certain plan. It was supposed to be $33 billion, now it's twice that. It was supposed to open by 2020, now it's 2030. The ticket to get from SF to LA was supposed to be 55 bucks, now it's like 85 bucks. The rider estimates have gone in half. Everything has changed pretty dramatically. Some of the opponents are trying to go beyond an ethical argument and saying it's just flat out illegal. You can't use this money—it's a legal statue that was created when voters passed the bond measure to approve the project in 2008, so if you're going to use that money you have to adhere by what you said you were going to spend the money on. That's probably not an argument that's going to win in a legal sense cause they usually give them leeway to spend money on those sorts of things, when the details have changed. But just from an ethical standpoint, that's the main argument that opponents cite, when you talk about people who once supported it and are now against it.

CAINE: I know a lot of the opposition to the plan is very political, and a lot Republicans when they were giving their statements about why they didn't support high-speed rail were starting to invoke huge budget cuts that the state is facing, particularly for education, and really using this as a kind of focal point to turn voter sentiment against Jerry Brown's November tax initiative, which is the centerpiece of how he's going to finance some of the social programs and education in the state. Is the bond money that just got approved actually money that could be used for education for example?

ROSENBERG: It depends on who you ask. The voters approved $10 billion dollars in bonds, and that money can only be spend on high-speed rail. Now, the bond money itself gets paid back through the General Fund, which is used on everything--education, social services, prisons. So the money right now is only available for high-speed rail, but when they start paying it back over the next three decades, that will cut into all the other programs.

CAINE: I'm just curious, in light of all of that, why is Jerry Brown still such a champion of high-speed rail? Why is he still so behind it?

ROSENBERG: There’s a couple of schools of thought on that. I mean what he says is that he dreams of doing big things and he doesn't believe that bad times are the time to shy away.   He had this press conference where he called all the skeptics fearful men and NIMBYs and declinists. He tends to take his point of view and he doesn't necessarily care so much about what the polls say. Especially when it comes to a long-term project. To be frank, by the time the project's finished, even (by) the most optimistic standards, Jerry Brown will probably (have) passed away. So it's something that's so long term, he'll never really have to deal with the repercussions of it. From a skeptic's standpoint what people point to is that the main driver of this project in terms of the funding to get the ballot measure passed and to keep it going and to lobby politicians has come from the construction unions. Because that $69 billion dollars, that's going into their pockets. And Democrats—Brown and some of the others—are funded mostly by the unions so if they turn down a project that the unions support, then they risk losing the support of their major funding backers and then they might not get elected back to office.

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California Governor Signs Bullet Train Bill

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

California Governor Jerry Brown gave high-speed rail the official green light Wednesday, signing legislation authorizing $8 billion in initial funding for the $68 billion project.

This officially frees up money to begin the line's construction, which will start next year in the Central Valley.

Signing ceremonies in San Francisco and Los Angeles emphasized the political importance of the $1.9 billion allocated for improving existing commuter rail systems in these cities, the eventual “bookends” of the rail network that would connect northern and southern California.

In a statement, Gov. Brown said “by improving regional transportation systems, we are investing in the future of our state and making California a better place to live and work.”

Brown had no plans to stop in the Central Valley, where the project faces strong legal opposition from farmers, agribusiness and other groups in the Valley.

Republican legislators in California roundly oppose the plan. State senator Joel Anderson released a statement today equating approval for high-speed rail funding with slashes to education funding in the state. “There should be no doubt that Governor Brown has thrown our children’s education under the tracks to build this train,” he said.

 

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Calif. High-Speed Rail's One Vote Survival Reveals New Anti-HSR Faultline

Monday, July 09, 2012

(Oakland, Calif -- KALW) California Governor Jerry Brown scored a razor-thin legislative victory on Friday when the California State Legislature voted to release initial funding for high-speed rail—a major infrastructure project that he wholeheartedly supports. The plan got the green light four years after voters first approved a bond measure that would help build a network connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles.

The vote to release $8 billion in state and federal funds came at the tail end of sessions on Governor Brown’s latest state budget, which includes potentially drastic cuts to many social, educational, health and public safety programs.

The state still has not secured any of the additional money needed to complete the $68 billion project.

Plans for the bullet train have become increasingly unpopular among voters in California. And up until the last minute on Friday, the future of the project remained uncertain. The State Assembly had already approved funding for initial construction by a wide margin the day before, but the sharply divided state senate also had to approve the proposal. Support falls mostly on party lines, with Democrats in favor and Republicans against the plan. If just five Democrats joined Republicans, that would have been the end of bullet train bond money.

In the end, four Democratic senators voted against the plan—including Transportation Committee Chair Mark DeSaulnier (Concord), Alan Lowenthal (Long Beach), and Joe Simitian (Palo Alto), all of whom had played key roles in the development and oversight of the plan. Fran Pavely (Agoura Hills) also voted against the plan.

Senator Simitian—a long-time supporter of high-speed rail—said that while he staunchly supports the vision of high-speed rail in California, he could not support the current plan, which he said was very different in “scope, content and price,” than what voters approved in 2008.

Sen. Simitian said passage of the high-speed rail plan could imperil Brown’s chances of getting voter approval for statewide tax increases in November that could generate as much as $40 billion in badly needed revenue.

Not a single Republican senator voted to support the plan, and many invoked the upcoming tax initiative and cuts to education in their statements prior to the vote.

The money approved on Friday will combine with $3.3 billion in federal Recovery Act funds, to pay for initial construction of the high-speed rail line in the Central Valley, running between Fresno and Bakersfield.  In addition, money approved on Friday includes $2 billion in “connectivity” funds—that will pay for improvements to existing commuter rail lines in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Approving the funding is just one of many hurdles for the beleaguered plan. The bullet train faces ongoing lawsuits, as well as vocal opposition from Central Valley farmers.

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