Romance of the Rails

Featuring Randal O’Toole and Caleb O. Brown : cato – excerpt

Randal O’Toole claims streetcars were taken out by a city bus manufacturer, not GM as legend has it.

Listen to the podcast featuring Randal O’Toole and Caleb O. Brown In Romance of the Rails, author Randal O’Toole details the rise and fall of trains as a mode of transportation why it’s quite likely we can never go back to it. (Or download:mp3)

“The problem is politicians like to fund new transportation but they don’t like to fund maintenance.”

Los Angeles Is Now Offering Car Rides to Metro Stations

By Aarian Marshall : wired – excerpt

Public transit agencies are not known for their flashy, up-to-date technology. In many cities, you’re lucky if your diesel bus shows up on time. But this week, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is trying something new.

Starting today, riders who live near three Metro stations will be able to download an app, tap a few times, and have a car show up at their door—or at least within a few blocks—and take them to that station. The service, provided by ride-hail company Via, will cost riders with the system’s TAP cards $1.75, though it will be free for those who already use Metro’s low-income subsidy programs. Riders will share their car trips with between two and five others, but the agency says they shouldn’t have to wait longer than 10 minutes for a pick-up.

If LA has its way, the one-year experiment with on-demand service will solve the devious first-mile, last-mile problem, connecting those who live just a touch too far away from stations to get there. The idea is to make it easier for a whole new group of people to use mass transit. “We’ve created an additional layer of public transportation,” says Chris Snyder, Via’s head of global expansion. “It’s complementary.”… (more)

This sounds like a jitney service similar to the one San Francisco just nixed. This also looks like a last gasp effort to an “anything but” solution that is picking winners among the corporate choices, but, I suppose any service can offer a cheap alternative, including neighbors with their own cars. Hope it works for the public who needs it.

Tom Rubin Thoughts on Congestion Pricing

By Tom Rubin

I’ve studied the current Metro 28 by 2028 Plan – and it is pie in the sky.

To give a bit of background, Metro has a very long and consistent history of promising everything to everyone and then, when the plan crashes, everyone is worse off – yes, a few (nowhere near what was promised) rail lines get built, but transit ridership goes down due to the cost overruns – and the fare increase and bus service cutbacks to try to pay for them.  Then, another sales tax to pay for what was promised last time is proposed, and passed.

Metro now has one quarter-cent and four half-cent sales taxes that will bring in about $3.8 billion this year – and the fourth sales tax, passed in 2016, includes some of the same rail lines that were in the first, passed in 1980.

The LA Mayor is running for President.  He wants to run on the great “success” of what he is doing in LA, specifically, all the rail lines he has built and the wonderful things that have occurred.  Now, when Measure M passed in 2016, the plan was to have the fastest rail construction program in history, 20 new projects to being service by 2028 (well, a couple of those were road projects).  Speaking as someone who has studied LA transit in great detail for decades, it is utterly unbelievable that this will occur.

So, of course, the plan is, let’s go for 28 projects by 2028, with the extra eight being among the most expensive on the entire 40-year plan list.  No chance in hell.

So, how to pretend that this is viable?  A new revenue source is needed, and not another sales tax.  So … congestion pricing.

There are three flavors discussed.  The smallest, which would be the “easiest” to implement (that is a relative scale, compared to the other two, not an absolute one) would be a congestion corridor around the Los Angeles Central Business District, now shown as brining in $1.2 billion per year, beginning July 1, 2020.

OK, to start with, the schedule in beyond impossible.  At a minimum, it would need new legislative authority from Sacto to even being essential to even begin.  Then, because it is, arguably, a tax, because the collections from the vehicles entering would be used for transit, not roads, it would, some say, need a two-thirds, not a 50%+1 majority, to be enacted (we’ll know a lot more when the current RM3 case, raising the tolls on the Bay Area bridges to fund transit, is decided).  There will also be huge public relations, work with interest groups, etc. – and setting up the charging system will not be something that can be done in a few weeks.

OK, $1,2 billion/year.  Let’s compare that to the London Zone, which is going on two decades in use, is significantly larger geographically, and has multiple times the population and, more important, jobs.  It netted $198 million last year – charging $14.53 per day.  Someone want to explain the math?

Then, we have the most desirable option, vehicle mile travelled (VMT), which would bring in $10.35 billion a year, again, show as starting on that same July 1, 2020.  OK, you might note that this would be about 270% from the sales tax revenue on the largest county in the U.S.  It is also about four times what the entire State of California paid into the Federal Highway Transit Fund – hell, it is 25% of what the entire nation paid into the HTF.

Also, not only would this require State legislation, but it would also require Federal legislation – and, why would Metro think that it would get all the money from this?  Good luck on that.  By the way, again speaking as someone who has been watching this for a long time, trying to come up with a way for LA County to collect this without the rest of the U.S. putting it in is pretty much impossible.

So, while I think that Congestion pricing is the way to go in the long-term, and there really isn’t much of an alternative, it will take a LONG time to get there and, I have very great confidence in the ability of the elected officials at all levels to delay and screw this up beyond belief.

Good luck with that.


Los Angeles Congestion Pricing Study

By Howard Wong : savemuni – excerpt

For San Francisco, I’ve had qualms about a regressive congestion tax that disproportionately harms low-income drivers.  Los Angeles is studying a congestion pricing plan that could fund free public transit—which better competes against surging ride-sharing.  In the not-too-distant future, free public transit could move towards automated micro-buses that adopt on-demand ride-share technology.  Free, frequent, 24/7 public transit would be equitable and democratic…

RELATED: A Possible congestion pricing plan for Los Angeles takes a step forward

ARCHITECT’S NEWSPAPER:  Metro officials claim that congestion pricing could bring in enough new funding to lower base transit fares or even make the entire system free to ride. It’s possible that with the right congestion pricing plan, Metro could make transit more affordable and useful as it makes driving more expensive and difficult in tandem… (more)



By Howard Wong : savemuni – excerpt


With the everchanging world of shipping, cruising, boating, transportation, recreation and technology, port cities have to be nimble—inventing mixed-uses of piers, berths, docks, yards and structures that mesh with maritime circulation.

PORT TECHNOLOGY: PSA to Unveil Drones, Robotics and Futuristic Port Tech

MARYLAND SEA GRANT: What is Aquaculture?

NEWGEOGRAPHY: Asia Dominates Largest World Seaports

The distribution of cargo traffic is similar. East Asia accounts for 56 percent of the top 100 port volume, four times the volume of Europe (14 percent) and five times that of North America (11 percent). The world of ports is by no means static. With the expanded Panama Canal now in operation, the maximum capacity of container ships has been nearly tripled. This means that US Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic ports are more competitively positioned by being able to berth the larger ships originating from Asia. This permits substitution, for example, of longer and less costly ocean voyages for intermodal truck and rail shipment across the United States,

QUORA: Why are Singapore and Shanghai the busiest cargo ports in the world

ARCBEST: 10 Busiest Seaports in the World

WORLD BANK: Competitiveness of South Asia’s Container Ports

The report proposes a three-pronged approach to improve the performance of container ports: (i) Encourage private sector participation within a well-regulated and administered landlord port model; (ii) strengthen the governance of port authority boards; and (iii) promote competition between and within ports, in part through transparent and competitive concession bidding.


PROJECT FOR PUBLIC SPACES: Great Waterfronts of the World

A truly great urban waterfront is hard to come by. The PPS staff has examined more than 200 urban waterfronts around the world–cities on the sea (Hong Kong, Vancouver, Miami, Athens), rivertowns (London, Paris, Buenos Aires, Detroit), and sturdy lakefront burgs (Milwaukee, Chicago, Cleveland, Zurich).

TELEGRAPH: The world’s most beautiful ports: 19 places you must arrive at by sea


Everyone wants historic Pier 70 and the waterfront to be a magical place. But not all new developments succeed. Certainly, wise decisions and planning have laid the groundwork for success. All involved deserve gracious kudos. Now, let’s study the details and elements that assure long-term rewards. Here’s an example of one of the best historic preservation projects—followed by lessons learned and activation ideas.


The Pearl neighborhood is a sensory immersion into a story of history. This grand historic preservation project is infused with historical architecture, spatial experiences and industrial objets d’art. Along the extension of the San Antonio River and Riverwalk, the Pearl is a mix of residential, office, retail and dining, creating a destination hub—especially for food. But history is the palpable draw because the sense of place has maturated for 130 years. Recognition has included: Global Award for Excellence by the Urban Land Institute, Great Neighborhoods Award by the American Planning Association and Top Green Project by the American Institute of Architects.

CONGRESS FOR THE NEW URBANISM: Pearl Brewery Redevelopment

At the turn of the millennium, the 26-acre Pearl Brewery in San Antonio was abandoned and desolate—a collection of empty buildings and pavement with only five trees. Now, thanks to an ambitious Pearl Brewery Redevelopment Master Plan, the site is an economic and social powerhouse, drawing an average of more than 10,000 visitors to events weekly, including 3,000 shoppers at a farmer’s market. Thirty locally run businesses thrive in the district, which is known for its restaurants. The entire district was built without street curbs, allowing flexibility for public gatherings like the farmer’s market. Public spaces abound, including an outdoor amphitheater. A 500-kilowatt array in the district is the largest solar roof installation in Texas. A combination of design and connectivity reduce parking needs. Residents and visitors have multi-modal transportation options, including a bike-share station on site.

INHABITAT: Abandoned Pearl Brewery Adapted into a Vibrant Mixed-Use Project in San Antonio

The Pearl Brewery was abandoned in the early ’90s in favor of other breweries. But rather than let the industrial infrastructure sit vacant, it was transformed into a vibrant mixed-use office, retail and entertainment district. Located along the famed San Antonio River, the Pearl Brewery/Full Goods Warehouse is at once a tribute to the history of the brewery and a modern and sustainable project.

RIVARD REPORT: Rise of the Pearl: How a Historic Brewery Transformed a City

Rare is the modern-day development that has the power to transform a city. Yet the crown jewel of downtown San Antonio revitalization, unfolding on the banks of the Riverwalk since 2001, has been accomplishing that for more than a century.

HOTEL EMMA: Pearl Brewery, San Antonio

This great historic preservation project tells a story of history. Much of the hotel has public access, with surprising spaces and industrial artifacts. Ranked #19 best hotel in the world by Condé Nast Travel, and #4 best hotel in the U.S. by TripAdvisor, the design is stellar to the smallest details. Within the Pearl district hub, Hotel Emma is an attraction in itself.

SAN ANTONIO CURRENT: A Walk Through Hotel Emma

When you walk up to Hotel Emma’s reception area, through the slate-gray gravel and naturally arranged flora, you start to feel as though you’re entering a unique place with an old personality and an authentic soul. To say that there were no accidents in the Herculean, multi-year undertaking of decorating and designing Hotel Emma is to “deny the accident,” as Jackson Pollock once did. Led by New York design firm Roman and Williams, with huge assists from countless locals, the interior design of Emma is rooted in the history of our city and in the artifacts of the Pearl Brewery’s history.

RIVARD REPORT: Hotel Emma: San Antonio Gets a Showcase Hotel

Set in the Pearl’s iconic 121-year-old brewhouse, the Emma is a design, engineering, and construction triumph that can be described at length, yet can only be truly appreciated through personal experience. What distinguishes the Emma from all other luxury hotels in the state and region begins with the approach its owner and developer, Silver Ventures, and its visionary, Kit Goldsbury, took to preserve and celebrate the site’s history as a blue-collar brewery with all its gritty industrial edges.


Like the entire historic waterfront, Pier 70 has an intrinsic economic value, which requires chipping away rubble to unveil the hidden gem of history. The Pearl Brewery and Hotel Emma in San Antonio show the power of historicism—from city planning, historic preservation and design to details and textures— maximizing the valuable asset of history.


Tenants have to engage the public realm—at all times of the day. A decade of public processes envisioned a public realm at Pier 70, with Prop D (2008), Pier 70 Master Plan (2010), Prop F (2014) and Pier 70 General Plan Amendments (2017). Frontages of tenant spaces should serve a public purpose. At frontages, small-scale retail can be sub-tenants, sidewalk cafés/ carts/ kiosks, beer gardens, night markets, art fairs, historical displays…. Tenants should be encouraged to operate 7 days a week—day and night—for more human connectivity.


When applicable and possible, adhere to the Master Plan for maximum public connectivity.


Design standards of historicism should apply throughout Pier 70—for historic structures, new buildings, interior renovations and tenant improvements. Also, often the best predictor of design quality is the steadfastness of the client, as well as project managers and reviewers.


The City and tenants together can install new historical art, sculpture and artifacts.


For the district as a whole and the site, routinely reevaluate circulation paths for people and vehicles—to assure a rich sequence of spaces, events and surprises.


Historic architecture and historical/ industrial artifacts have unique appeal that should be featured ubiquitously. Make Pier 70’s history palpable. Besides faithfully-restored buildings, small details add authenticity, like bathroom designs, lighting, handrails, door hardware, flooring….


Creative maritime/ industrial artifacts add to the sense of place, as functional objects, art and building systems. The sense of history should be everywhere.


The grittiness of the maritime and industrial age should be evident, with careful attention to design of sidewalks, street surfaces, plazas, floors, walls and roofs.


The public realm reinforces historic buildings, with creative design of streetlights, traffic lights, fire hydrants, signage, landscaping…. Wider sidewalks can incorporate historical displays, plaques, art, sculpture, planters, trellises, seating…. Combine streetscaping and buildings so as to frame views.


Highlight historic buildings with floodlighting and spotlighting at night, as well as historical lamps at doorways. String-lighting over streets can have the flavor of industrial gas lamps.


Design the historic core as a holistic composition of buildings, streets and spaces—for 24/7 activity. The historic core is the comforting symbol that people will remember and return to.

Regards, Howard Wong, AIA, CWAG (Central Waterfront Advisory Group) Member

San Francisco transportation commission taps McMillan as new leader

progressiverailroading – excerpt

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) has named former Federal Transit Administration (FTA) official Therese McMillan executive director. She will succeed Steve Heminger, who is retiring next month after serving as executive director since January 2001.

MTC is the transportation planning, financing and coordinating agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay area. McMillan — who also will serve as the top executive for the Association of Bay Area Governments — currently is the chief planning officer for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro).

“McMillan is no stranger to the bay area or to MTC, having worked for 25 years as a member of the commission staff, and for more than eight years as MTC’s deputy executive director for policy,” commission officials said in a press release… (more)

MTC, ABAG Name Therese W. McMillan New Executive Director

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 23, 2019 /PRNewswire/

Obama Administration Veteran Returns from L.A. to Replace Steve Heminger

…The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) today named Therese Watkins McMillan as its new Executive Director.  This position also serves as the top executive for the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).  McMillan, who currently serves as the Chief Planning Officer for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, will replace Steve Heminger, who is retiring next month after serving as MTC’s Executive Director since January 2001 and as ABAG’s Executive Director since July 2017

McMillan is no stranger to the Bay Area or to MTC, having worked for 25 years a member of the Commission staff, and for more than eight years as MTC’s Deputy Executive Director for Policy before her 2009 appointment by then-President Barack Obama to serve as Deputy Administrator of the Federal Transit Administration in the U.S. Department of Transportation. McMillan subsequently served as Acting FTA Administrator from March 2014 to March 2016 before taking the position as LA Metro’s Planning Chief in April 2016. During the final five years of her original MTC tenure, McMillan also was an instructor of transportation funding and finance in the Transportation Management Graduate program at San Jose State University’s Mineta Transportation Institute… (more)

Will new East Bay transit option save you money?

abc7news – excerpt

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) – On Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019 ferry service debuts between Richmond and San Francisco.

It’s the newest route on the San Francisco Bay Ferry, which has seen ridership increase 94 percent since 2012. Ferries are scheduled to go to and from Richmond only during commute hours.

TIMELINE: Bay Area bridge toll increases

A one way trip for riders paying cash costs $9.00. Clipper card riders pay less – $6.75. Here’s how that cost compares to other options. Each is calculated for a single adult, using a Clipper card, traveling one-way during commute hours.

RELATED: Commuters happy to have new ferry service from Richmond to San Francisco

  • BART: from Richmond station to San Francisco’s Embarcadero station costs $5.30
  • AC Transit: from Richmond to San Francisco means taking at least two buses, maybe three depending on your starting point. One local bus and one transfer to a transbay bus costs $5.40. Two local buses and a transbay transfer costs $7.65.
  • Driving: from Richmond to San Francisco across the Bay Bridge means paying a $7.00 bridge toll during commute hours.

The costs don’t reflect the convenience factor – whether stations are close to your starting or ending points, the timing of departures and arrivals, and other practical considerations that Bay Area commuters balance when deciding how to get to and from work… (more)

I don’t know how many people will be concerned about the cost. Convenience is worth a lot these days, and scheduling is probably the more important. Parking in the lot may also play a role in deciding whether or not to take the ferry.

SF’s Van Ness project nearly 2 years behind schedule, millions over budget

By Phil Matier : sfchronicle – excerpt

The $316 million makeover of San Francisco’s Van Ness Avenue is running a year and nine months behind schedule, according to the main contractor, with the completion date now pushed to late 2021.

At the same time, contractors have submitted claims for cost overruns totaling $21.6 million, with more claims likely to come.

“It’s ridiculous. We need better project management both from the contractors and from the MTA,” said San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board member Art Torres (more)

Plague of Muni train switchbacks in Bayview may finally be ‘eliminated’

By Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez : sfexaminer – excerpt

Imagine riding a train home only to have it stop suddenly. The operator activates the loudspeaker and asks everyone to disembark, just so the train can swing around and pick up more passengers at the beginning of the line in a wealthier neighborhood.

Welcome to the dreaded “switchback.”

Ask any Bayview Muni rider, and they’ll tell you: switchbacks are more than a nuisance, they’re a plague, and the bane of any T-Third rider just trying to get home at night.

Now switchbacks will finally be “eliminated,” said incoming Supervisor Shamann Walton.

“It’s been overdue,” Walton told the San Francisco Examiner, Thursday. “We’re hard at work on this, it’s coming.”… (more)

Best news we have heard from Muni in a long time. Best possible improvement they could make. Hope the new supervisor can work on this with the new Muni Director to make it happen fast.