Monday, May 16, 2016

High Speed Rail - Expert Testimony

Former head of the High Speed Rail Association Joe Vrainich for the first time ever in his advocacy of HSR plans testifies against the CA HSR:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SS0RD6dqpKY

At a CA Senate hearing on High Speed Rail former World Bank analyst William Grindley provided a report showing the impossibility of HSR providing a viable alternative to air travel in terms of destination to destination time - video here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ijepB3FBT0

A report by Grindley and others showed the costs were escalating far beyond the original estimates as a result of which the Palo Alto City Council was unanimously opposed to the HSR.  Report here:
http://www.stanforddaily.com/2012/01/10/1053800/

The one-time subsidies for HSR construction will be dwarfed by the Operations and Maintenance costs.  It will be too costly to maintain to compete with air without ongoing subsidies.  Here is UC-Berkeley Civic Engineering professor William Ibbs testifying to that and the 450% average cost over-runs on rail projects around the world to the CA State Transportation and Housing Committee hearing. Video of testimony here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHvBZo8JW7Q

The traffic congestion (and auto pollution) is in the SF-SJ and LA *METRO* areas which would require massive extensions of heavy urban rail (like BART) to relieve.  That would be wonderful and would benefit far more people and save a lot more gas and eliminate a lot more pollution.  >That< is where the $150B should go - not HSR.

Existing HSR in Europe costs exactly as much as air travel despite being typically subsidized for 33% of the costs.  That is mostly business travelers and Eurail Pass foreigners.  A family of 2 adults and 2 children going on vacation for SF to LA, faced with a choice between $200-$640 for 4 rd-trip air or rail tickets ( http://www.amtrakcalifornia.com/index.php ) or $100 in gas (762 miles rd-trip, 30 MPG, $4/gal) will almost always take the car.  (Air or HSR travelers to LA have to rent a car when they get there, anyway).

A recent NY Times article on High Speed Rail in the US left me feeling that a lot of people who support HSR don't understand what it is.  The hundreds of reader comments talked of eliminating congestion, replacing the automobile, and gems like 'I live in a small town in the South and I would love HSR to enable me to visit my relatives 80 miles away.'

High Speed Rail is conceived as an alternative to air travel between major population centers.  If HSR made more stops to relieve congestion it wouldn't be High Speed Rail, it would be "Plain Old Rail" (POR) which we already have.  It will NOT serve small towns anywhere.  In the SF-LA route HSR would make very few stops (maybe 2-3) and will only relieve congestion on I-5 in the Central Valley.  Except there isn't any congestion on I-5 in the Central Valley.  If you aren't doing 80 on I-5 you aren't keeping up with traffic.  


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The California Drought

"Whiskey's fer drinkin' - Water's fer fightin'"

Summary:  The main problem with California's drought is that we are not using water wisely in our most intensive areas of water use - agriculture - 77% of our water use.   There has been enormous variation in drought conditions over the last 2,000 years and California's water rights were mainly resolved in one of the wetter of those periods.  It has been drastically over-committed as if one of the wettest periods of the last 2 millenia was normal.  High variation doesn't mean that global warming isn't real. Whether global warming is real or not, doesn't matter.  We need to properly use the water we have.

Details
Since farming uses 77% of California's water (for 1%-2% of CA's GDP), it is of immediate interest.  That  77% means that if agriculture cut down it's use by 5% (= 3.5% of the total water used in CA) the average city dweller would have about 50% more water.  Conversely, if city dwellers stopped all water use right now - perhaps using only desalinated water and "gray water" - farmers would only see 10% more water than they get now.
Water Consumption
(Click to enlarge) SF = Single Family, MF  = Multi-Family
(Graphic from http://www.environment.ucla.edu/reportcard/article4870.html )

CA GDP by Sector
(Click to enlarge)

The 77% figure is of water consumed by people, excluding "environmental" use.  There is a lot of water for environmental purposes (maintaining streams and rivers) but most of that is too remote for use by any farmers, assuming you wanted to dry up every river and stream for agriculture.  Even as the population grows, urban water use is holding steady.

Above from http://www.ppic.org/main/publication_show.asp?i=1108

(Some of the following from NY Times)
http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/04/07/can-farms-survive-without-drying-up-california-13

CA's agriculture has 3 million acres now using drip irrigation.  But, 4 million acres are irrigated by flooding which is extremely wasteful.  In 1991 15% were drip irrigated but by 2010 that was 38%.  The 70% that was irrigated by flooding in 1991 is now down to 43%, but it could go much lower.
http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/article2591279.html

Of the acreage used for farming in CA, 2 million acres had their water supply cut to zero and another 1 million acres had their supply cut to 5%.  So they are draining aquifers (underground stored water from previous rainfall) which is expensive and unsustainable  At the same time they are moving towards more efficient watering methods.

An enormous amount of water goes to growing almonds and pistachios, 67% of which is for export. More water was allocated than can possibly be delivered.  The CA and Federal govt. should buy out and retire the water rights that should never have been promised.

(Click to enlarge)

The New York Times has a fascinating article showing how much water common foods use here:
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/05/21/us/your-contribution-to-the-california-drought.html?_r=0



The single largest water use in CA is for alfalfa for cows.  Some of this alfalfa is exported to other countries like Japan and China for their cows.

All cows in CA consume 10 million Acre-feet of water in a year.  All the people in CA consume 8 million acre-feet per year.  Other parts of the US (like Wisconsin, Iowa) can grow alfalfa and cows as well as CA. From: http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-04-13/cows-suck-up-more-of-california-s-water-than-almonds

The US shouldn't be so dependent on CA for fruits and veggies.  Iowa could switch just one county's worth of land from growing corn to fruits and veggies and supply most of the mid-west - and make more money doing it than they do growing corn.  The reason they haven't grown more fruits and vegetables in the mid-west is largely tradition but also that it takes more labor to grow and harvest fruit and vegetables.  With a little education in different farming techniques, farmers can switch crops.  With tobacco subsidies gone, N. Carolina is turning to growing healthy foods like apples.

"Dry Farming" techniques can make now fallow fields grow gourmet tomatoes, figs, almonds, etc.
"Dry farming" is showing great success in CA as a way to make best use of limited water.  Tomatoes grown this way look a little shriveled but with very rich taste so calls come in from around the country from gourmet restaurants for them.  Figs, apricots, olives, walnuts and almonds have all been grown that way in Europe and Northern Africa.  "In some places in southern France it’s illegal to irrigate because it changes the quality of the wine".  C.f. "Modern Farmer":
http://modernfarmer.com/2014/07/well-runs-dry-try-dry-farming/

Dependence on CA for so much food is not in the best interests of the country.  Food has to be trucked thousands of miles burning gas and adding expense. More mid-western farmers are thinking of growing vegetables since there is a demand for fresh vegetables that haven't traveled thousands of miles by truck and lost their taste and nutrients.  More here:
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/05/dining/the-seeds-of-a-new-generation.html?_r=0

(Click to enlarge)
CA grows 82% of the world's almonds.  44% more land is used for almonds in CA than was used 10 years ago.  "thousands of endangered king salmon in northern California’s Klamath River are threatened by low water levels because water is being diverted to almond farms."  It is hard to justify so much water for almonds and walnuts used mainly as a snack or garnish.  Endangered salmon going extinct to supply almond croissants and chocolate-walnut muffins?  Other parts of the world could grow almonds and walnuts - almonds originally came from the Middle East.  England is starting to grow some now.
http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/08/almonds-demon-nuts/379244/

Last year CA passed legislation that would require, for the first time, tracking how much water is drained from aquifers.  But the time limit legislated to get to sustainable withdrawals is 20 years.  The aquifers are being drained to the point they may not recover since once an aquifer is drained the ground compresses and it is not always possible to reconstitute the aquifer after compression.
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/06/science/beneath-california-crops-groundwater-crisis-grows.html

In Santa Clara County, the draining of the aquifers resulted in a 13 foot subsidence of the land.  As a result, some of Santa Clara and Sunnyvale is now below sea level and needs to be protected by levees. The following three graphics are from the Santa Clara Valley Water District's  Protection and Augmentation of Water Supplies 2014/2015 at http://www.valleywater.org/Publications.aspx The SCWD is the "wholesaler" to local districts which supply the water to individuals.  The local districts determine local pricing.
Click to enlarge

The following chart (from the same SCWD publication) suggests if every user could cut their water use by 25% - perhaps by using CA drought tolerant plants for their front yards - we could make a massive difference in how much water is used in Santa Clara County.
Ag = Agriculture, M&I = Municipal and Industrial
An interactive map of water use by town or district shows wide variation of who uses how much.  Sunnyvale uses 52 Gal/person per day (G/P/D), San Francisco uses 45 G/P/D, Coachella Valley in S. California - a retirement community - uses 238 G/P/D
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/04/01/us/water-use-in-california.html
(Click to enlarge)
Above photo from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/us/california-drought-tests-history-of-endless-growth.html

There is a huge variation in water use in populated districts during the year with Winter the lowest usage period and Summer the highest.  During the Winter, there is very little difference in water usage between high density areas and low density areas.  Sunnyvale vs San Francisco shows what happens when landscaping takes more water and the temperatures are warmer (causing faster evaporation).  Sacramento shows what happens when you don't meter water usage.

2014 Water Use Gallons/Person/Day
July: Sacramento:   159    Dec: Sacramento:     63
         Sunnyvale:       91             Sunnyvale:      44
         San Francisco  46             San Francisco  40

Above data from "June 2014 - February 2015 Urban Water Supplier Report" Excel spread sheet downloaded from:
http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/drought/conservation_reporting_info.shtml

Desalination:
There are 15,000 desalination plants in the world and several big new ones are being built in California.  Desalinated water is roughly two times as expensive as current urban prices for water.
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/12/science/drinking-seawater-looks-ever-more-palatable-to-californians.html

Israel has essentially solved it's perennial water shortage with desalination and recycling: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/30/world/middleeast/water-revolution-in-israel-overcomes-any-threat-of-drought.html#

Global Warming Cause?
The drought is hard to directly connect to global warming since there has been enormous variation over the centuries in dry-wet cycles but the drought has been made worse because when rain does fall it evaporates more quickly.

Some scientists do see links as here:
 http://sacramento.cbslocal.com/2014/04/24/study-links-california-drought-to-global-climate-change/

and here:
http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/september/drought-climate-change-092914.html

Others don't:
http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2014/20141208_californiadrought.html

Some who are in the middle:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150409143041.htm

From last link above: "Bond says that although the blob does not seem to be caused by climate change, it has many of the same effects for West Coast weather."

For a little "drought & global warming" humor try this:
http://www.newyorker.com/humor/borowitz-report/poll-americans-starting-to-worry-about-climate-change-now-that-it-affects-their-lawns

Does it matter?  If global warming is the cause, we aren't about to reverse global warming in a few years so we need to make better use of our water resources from now on.  If natural variation is the cause, we can't do much about it and need to make better use of our water resources from now on.  Same result either way.

Historical Variation:
From the charts below you can see enormous variation in the drought cycles.  The first chart shows that the period from 1800 to 2000 was the wettest since the years 600-700.

(Click to enlarge)
Above chart from http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/ctl/cliihis1000a.html

The next charts show that the area in drought was far more extensive in the period 800-1300 than any time since.  We are possibly coming off an extended period of a relatively small area in drought.
(Click to enlarge)

The next chart shows that there have been periods of extended drought far longer than we have experienced in the last 50 years.  The difference is that there were far fewer people in the southwestern US then.
(Click to enlarge)

A paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) attributes 52% of the drought to the normal Pacific and Atlantic oscillations and 22% to a warming in the northern hemisphere.
http://www.pnas.org/content/101/12/4136.full.pdf+html

A simulation of a long (72-year) drought similar to those in the past with CA getting 50% of the average water supply was done.  It found that agriculture would suffer a potential decline of about 50% in land area but that water trading schemes would enable CA overall to manage to get through it if it managed it well.
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/14/science/californias-history-of-drought-repeats.html.

It may seem as if I am placing all the blame on agriculture.  Well, they use 77% of the water so they get 77% of the blame.  But we all get some of the blame.  We all need to do our part.  For our own self respect, if nothing else.  Claiming we don't have to do much because someone else could do more isn't going to fix the situation.  We are in a dry climate and should act like it, respecting the resources we have.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Surging Seas

A fascinating map by ClimateCentral.org shows the areas expected to be inundated by rising seas.  It is an interactive map so you can set various parameters and get different views - political, population, etc.  By holding down the left mouse button, you can "grab" the map and move it around to survey the area or state.

For California, the map is here:
http://sealevel.climatecentral.org/ssrf/california


What you notice for California is the SF Bay area and up to Sacramento are most at risk.  So. Cal. not very much.  The most at risk area in the South Bay is land near the bay that was filled in and should not have been.  This is due to a 3 foot rise in sea level.  Of course, in the event of a storm there could be unexpected rises over the average.
A 3 foot rise in sea level
If you ever get up to Redwood Shores you may find yourself wondering why anyone would buy one of those nice homes a foot or so above the water. (see below)
Redwood Shores
The most surprising to me was the area inland towards Sacramento.  If things go as projected, Sacramento and Stockton could be receiving container shipments from China, as Oakland is now (admittedly, dredging would be needed).

A 3 foot rise in sea level
A sea wall has been suggested.  It is a terrible idea and won't work.  For one thing, a glance at the map shows it would have to be incredibly huge and with cost overruns and corruption (same thing, really) we can't afford it.  More importantly, it won't be needed most of the time so it will be neglected until all of a sudden a big storm reminds us that "Oops! Maybe we should invest in infrastructure, after all!"  Just as the levees around New Orleans were poorly constructed and neglected before Hurricane Katrina.  C.f. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2005_levee_failures_in_Greater_New_Orleans

(photo from http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/28/us/gallery/katrina-anniversary/ )
Having levees around New Orleans was worse than if there had been no levees as they gave a false sense of security.  See:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/five-myths-about-hurricane-katrina/2012/08/31/003f4064-f147-11e1-a612-3cfc842a6d89_story.html

What will happen is the govt. flood insurance co. will buy out people in danger of flooding or refuse to insure them so they have to sell - maybe at a loss.  Here is a video on that happening now in Staten Island, one of NYC's boroughs.
http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/hurricane-sandy-retreat-waters-edge
Photo from "New Yorker" video of Staten Island homes being abandoned
California won't get the massive devastation of New Orleans or Staten Island because we don't get hurricanes (though that could change).  But it will be difficult or impossible to get a mortgage or flood insurance after the first few floodings due to storms reveal a pattern.

Here's a photo of a Staten Island home after Hurricane Sandy.

For other areas of the US see:

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Sunnyvale CC Limits Building Permit Appeals

The Sunnvyale City Council meeting of 11/25/2014 took the following actions on item 3 - appeals of building permits to the city council.

The major item - removing the right of citizen appeals to the City Council for "variances to codes" permits - was defeated.  If passed appeals on variances (height, density, etc.) could only have gone to the planning commission which approved it.

The secondary item - requiring 2 city council members (instad of just one) to bring an appeal of a building permit before the city council was passed.

Other items were relatively innocuous and passed.

CM Davis and others noted that there had been few if any appeals to the city council brought by council members in the last year so it was a solution looking for a problem.  Mayor Griffith replied it was necessary to stop future council member actions bringing endless numbers of appeals to the CC thereby bringing actions to a halt.  CM Whittum noted that most cities nearby allow one CM to bring an appeal.  Several CMs noted that it was much more difficult to get a second CM to agree without violating the Brown act (which essentially outlaws "back-room" deals).  The city lawyer said CMs would have to exercise caution in that regard.

CM Meyering noted "spamming" of appeals had never happened.  He then proposed a limit of 1 appeal per year per individual councilmember and only after that requiring two CMs to bring an appeal.  That would forestall any future "spamming" of appeals (which have never happened anyway) while letting the occasional one through.  That was voted down.

CM Meyering (who is a lawyer) noted that courts had required rationales for some of the provisions being voted on and the items provided no rationales.  In reply to which the city attorney said the CC could pass any ordinance it wanted.

The city staff portrayed these as all innocuous measures which would essentially change nothing.  Others see it as a start to dismantling the appeals process.  The measure was difficult to parse.  One friend ran it by a lawyer who said it allowed a lot more than it appeared without appeal beyond the planning commission or director who approved it to begin with.

We will have to see what develops.  It may be a foot in the door, or a probe to see how much staff and developers can get away with.  It may, in fact, actually *be* innocuous - but that has the smallest likelihood.  Why bring up a solution to a problem that has never happened if you don't have something in mind?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Costs and Subsidies of Transportation

Summary:
The costs of transportation include many subsidies for public transportation, ranging from 75% subsidy - so the user pays only $2 of the $8 cost of a bus ticket - to over 90% - the $10 cost to ride a light rail costs the user only $1.  Subsidies include the cost of parking and road maintenance.

Green house gas emissions and fuel economy are about the same per passenger mile for cars as for public transportation.  Air pollution per passenger mile from cars is about double that of buses

None of this should be taken to mean I am against public transit or opposed to subsidies.  I am for both, but we should be aware of what are the true costs and revenue sources.  Wild claims that one form of transportation is subsidized and the other isn't are obviously false and help no one.

Subsidies for Public Transit:

One source claims that: "Most (public) transit systems in the United States have fare box recovery ratios between 25 and 35%. BART in the San Francisco Bay area is an example of a relatively high fare box recovery at almost 66%".

So typically, 65% to 75% of public transportation costs (buses, commuter trains) are subsidized.  If people had to pay the true cost of taking a bus, about $8 per ride, ridership would fall resulting in more congestion which is why people consistently vote to subsidize public transportation that they themselves don't use.  CA's subsidies for public transportation are the second highest in the country after NY's.  In LA, 67% voted for massive expenditures for public transport - most significantly, a metro-sized subway.  Most subsidies come from sales taxes in CA though other states use other taxes.

C.f.: http://publictransport.about.com/od/Transit_Funding/a/The-Basics-Of-Transit-Funding.htm

Another source gives the following table - note the "% Subsidy" on bottom row (click on table to enlarge):
(page 24: http://www.vtpi.org/tranben.pdf )
So if the bus fare is $2, the total cost including subsidies is about $8.

There are other indirect subsidies such as public parking, wheelchair access to buses, etc.  They have been quantified as well (click table to enlarge):
(page 75 http://www.vtpi.org/tranben.pdf )

Overall these come to about $0.20 per passenger mile for cars, and about $0.34 per passenger mile for buses.  Most of the subsidies for buses are direct while those for cars are indirect (economists call these "externalities") such as noise, roadway land value, pollution, etc.  Some of public transport subsidy is for social equity.  The air and water pollution from cars averages about twice that of buses.

Society collectively spends to help those needing transportation but unable to provide their own.  (click graphic to enlarge):
Clearly, buses make the most sense during peak hours.  A dedicated bus lane that only operated during peak periods would provide the most benefit with the least cost.

Above tables and charts are from http://www.vtpi.org/tranben.pdf

Sources of Subsidies:

Federal and state gas taxes pay for interstate highways.  Since trucks from out of state pay those taxes they also pay for the interstate highways they travel on.  Weight fees are collected on trucks in CA and when they enter CA since heavier trucks do more damage to roads.  That amounted to roughly $1B in 2013-2014.

The CA state base tax of 4.75% on gas is allocated to public transportation:

$0.58 of gas taxes are collected on every gallon of gas to pay for transportation.

http://www.lao.ca.gov/handouts/transportation/2013/Trans_Funding_03_13_13.pdf

By CA Prop 42 passed in 2002, 20% of gas taxes pay to subsidize public transport.  Another 40% pay for general roads, the remaining 40% go to local govt's for road and local transport costs.
http://ballotpedia.org/California_Proposition_42,_Allocation_of_Gas_Tax_Revenues_(March_2002)

CA raises and spends about $15B for transportation (including buses, and rail) of which $6B comes from gas taxes. (click on graphic to enlarge)

Part of the state retail sales tax is dedicated to reimburse local govt for public transit including bike paths.

C.f. "Financing Transportation in California: Strategies for Change" at http://escholarship.org/uc/item/7fh2v7

Fuel Economy:
  1. Plug-in hybrid  - 111 person-miles per gallon
  2. Passenger train -   72 p-mpg
  3. Airplane           -   43 p-mpg
  4. Bus                   -   38 p-mpg
  5. Car                   -   36 p-mpg
Avg. car ridership is around 1.6 so p-mpg is higher than vehicle mpg.  Buses make a lot of empty or mostly empty trips because many runs have to be made in off hours or people won't take the bus during rush hours, since they often need to be able to stay later than rush hour.

C.f., http://truecostblog.com/2010/05/27/fuel-efficiency-modes-of-transportation-ranked-by-mpg/

Green House Gases and Pollution:

(from page 55 of http://www.vtpi.org/tranben.pdf )

So on average, the GHG emissions per person-mile are about 17% higher for buses as for a passenger car.

On a vehicle basis, cars are less polluting than buses, but since buses average about 6 times the passengers, they end up about equal.  Obviously hybrid cars and buses are better than standard ones, and all-electric vehicles charged from solar or wind-generated electricity are the cleanest of all.
Ridership:

"One study found ... that each 1% increase in density increases transit ridership by 0.22% (PBQD 1996). Destination density (e.g., clustering of employment) tends to have a greater impact on transit ridership than residential density." (click on table to enlarge)
(page 21 http://www.vtpi.org/tranben.pdf )
Since the population of the El Camino cities for BRT (Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Palo Alto) is less than 500,000 we will likely be limited to about 5% to 6% of residents using the bus.  That is a maximum since some people already take the train which counts in that 5%

Conclusion:

Public transport is subsidized around the world and in the US.  Some forms are so heavily subsidized they might as well be free.  In some very heavily congested areas they are free.  The relief of traffic congestion makes it worhtwhile to make it free for all in congested urban areas with side benefits of reducing road improvement costs, reducing pollution, and speeding boarding times.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Bus Rapid Transit - Ridership & Transit Time

Summary:
  1. Ridership increases due to BRT can be from -3% to +80% - around 30% is typical. 
  2. Time decrease in journeys is between 26% to 35%
  3. BRT includes many components, of which a dedicated lane is neither necessary nor sufficient.
  4. BRTs with dedicated lanes can fail while those without dedicated lanes can be successful.
  5. BART is very unlikely to be extended parallel to El Camino.
(see also post on pblic transit subsidies here:
Ridership:

Most studies of BRT are done by advocates of BRT so it is welcome when one sees a study by the impartial General Accounting Office of the US Congress.
Source:  http://www.gao.gov/assets/600/592973.pdf

The argument for BRT is usually that by decreasing bus transit times, it will increase ridership and reduce traffic congestion.  The GAO's study shows mixed results.

Even in the same city (LA) results vary from slightly negative ( a decrease) to a very high 70%.  Many of the increases are less than 10%.  Important to note that LA does not use dedicated bus lanes.  So a BRT does not, by itself, guarantee an increase in ridership and even when it does, it may be despite not having a dedicated lane. (click graphic to enlarge).
In the Federal Transport Agency's report "BUS RAPID TRANSIT - Synthesis of Case Studies" (pro-BRT) we find the following for ridership increases in N. American cities:
(http://bussafety.fta.dot.gov/uploads/resource/2986_filename )

"Los Angeles: 26 to 33% gain of which 1/3 were new riders.
Vancouver: 8,000 new riders of which 20% previously used cars and 5% represented new trips."

I have not included cities outside of the US or Canada because car ownership and city layout is much different.  Non-US cities still have a central hub for work and shopping, and often a lower car ownership rate while US cities are more dispersed, without a central work-shopping hub,

Another study of BRT (an advocacy paper) showed a ridership increase in LA corridors of 27% (Wilshire) and 42% (Ventura).  Weekday corridor revenue service increase was a weighted average of 32%.  Source
Travel speed is not very high:

"Arterial Streets:
 Express, Bogotรก, Curitiba: 19 mph
 Metro bus, LA Ventura Blvd., 19mph
 Metro bus, LA Wilshire Blvd. and Wilshire Blvd, L.A.: 14 mph
 All-Stop – Median Busways, South America: 11-14 mph
 Limited Stop Bus Service – New York City: 8-14 mph"

Source:
http://bussafety.fta.dot.gov/uploads/resource/2986_filename

Whether these results can be applied to mixed suburban-office areas like Silicon Valley is an open question as the writers note that:

"Urban areas with more than a million residents and a central area employment of at least 80,000 are good candidates for BRT. These areas generally have sufficient corridor ridership demands to allow frequent all-day service."

The above description does not seem to fit the Palo Alto-Santa Clara corridor.  The total 2013 census estimate of population of the proposed El Camino BRT (pop. Palo Alto = 66K, Mountain View = 78K, Sunnyvale = 148K, and Santa Clara = 120K) is 412K.  This is well less than 50% of the recommended population. (pop figures from http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/06/0677000.html)

Further, employment is NOT centrally located but is scattered hither and yon.
BRT in Guang-Zhou, China, pop. 11M
In the above photo of the BRT in Guang-Zhou a dedicated lane BRT makes a lot of sense where the population is very high (11M + many millions uncounted transient workers) and very dense and most people still don't own cars.  It also has 6 lanes for cars in addition to the two restricted lanes for buses and center walkways.
http://www.metro-magazine.com/news/story/2011/01/chinese-brt-system-wins-sustainable-transport-award.aspx
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guangzhou#Public_transport

Time:

The time savings varies a lot as well from about 5% to almost 35% from the GAO study mentioned above. (click graphic to enlarge).

In the report "BUS RAPID TRANSIT - Synthesis of Case Studies" mentioned above we find the following for transit time savings in N. American cities:

"Reported travel time savings are as follows:
Busways, Freeway Lanes: 32-47%
Seattle’s Bus Tunnel: 33%
Los Angeles Metro Bus: 23-28%"

What Is Bus Rapid Transit?

On page 13 of the Federal Transportation Administration document (here: http://bussafety.fta.dot.gov/uploads/resource/2986_filename ) seven characteristics that constitute a BRT are listed, of which only one is dedicated lanes and this is listed as optional.  On page 28 of that same document, (first sentence in section 3.A.3) it states that "BRT service operates successfully in mixed traffic as seen in Los Angeles."

The very much pro-BRT Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) (https://www.itdp.org/) has issued a set of standards that need to be met to qualify as a BRT.  https://www.itdp.org/?s=brt+standard

The concern is that some cities are claiming they have a BRT when they don't and it is tarnishing the image of BRTs everywhere.  The ITDP has devised a scorecard for BRTs. Of the many, many criteria (each assigned a point value of 1 to 8) a dedicated bus lane is only one and that gets only 8 points, out of a maximum of 100 points.  A partial list of the approximately 25 criteria to be met (as seen in the "standards" link above) is shown below (click to enlarge):

Two of the lowest ranking BRTs have dedicated bus lanes, but they do so many other things wrong that they get a failing grade - like 22 points for Delhi's system, and Virginia's Shirley Highway Busway, which is about to be killed.  A list of mistakes with point deductions is below.


Cf: the marvelously titled
"Do Bus Rapid Transit Right, And It Won’t Get Killed" by ITDP's staff.
http://nextcity.org/daily/entry/do-bus-rapid-transit-right-and-it-wont-get-killed

A go-slow approach to bringing up BRT would make a lot of sense.  No permanent major changes to arterial flow but rather an incremental approach adding those many things listed in the ITDP scorecard which improve speed without impacting traffic flow.

For example,
  1. Having the ability to pre-pay by buying a ticket at a bus stop would shorten bus stops.  
  2. Elevated entries so wheel-chair and walker users could enter more quickly and easily.  
  3. Distance between stops could be increased so buses stop less often and average higher speeds.
  4. During rush hour, one could have one bus stop at stations 1-3-5 and the next bus 5 minutes later at stations 2-4-6 so everyone could get close to their destination while buses needn't stop so often.
  5. Bus lanes could be marked with removable plastic dividers or special markings on the lane like commuter lanes on the freeway.  They could be used during rush hours to see if it makes a difference in overall transit speed.  There is no necessity to pour lots of concrete to make bus lanes when they really might only help during rush hours.  An example (below) is from Newark's BRT.  Source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bus_rapid_transit_in_New_Jersey
New Jersey BRT without concrete barriers
One of San Francisco's BRT proposals along Van Ness
San Francisco did an extensive study of BRT options along Van Ness Ave. of which one is seen above.  Ref: http://www.sfcta.org/van-ness-avenue-bus-rapid-transit-feasibility-study

BRT with raised platform speeds up boarding of movement impaired
None of this requires massive expenditures or drastically re-organizing cities or requires pouring lots of cement.  Some cynics might argue that this removes the motivation for many of BRT's advocates who want a big ticket project to gloss their resumes or reward contractor campaign supporters.  But I am not so cynical and believe that honest differences of opinion can be approached with an eye to compromise and a gradual approach to alleviate legitimate concerns.

Extending BART:

It is doubtful more subways will be built in the US given the high cost.  (ref: http://www.governing.com/columns/urban-notebook/When-Will-the-US-Build-Another-Subway.html).

The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system is one of the most successful in the US.  It is currently being extended further to the Berryessa area and Warm Springs (Fremont).  The Berryessa extension is 10 miles and will cost an estimated $930M or $93M/mile.  (ref: http://www.vta.org/bart/faq#g) The Warm Springs extension will be 5.4 miles and will cost $890M or about $164M/mile.  (http://www.bart.gov/about/projects/wsx )

To extend BART further is not in the expansion plan at all for the simple reason it would duplicate existing heavy rail (CalTrain) which is closer to most employment centers and in some cases has stations right on El Camino or just a few blocks away from it.  See BART map below (click to enlarge).

The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) estimates the entire SF metropolitan area will grow by 2.1 million by 2040 from 7.2M to about 9.3M, a 29% increase over 26 years -  0.9% annual growth rate.  http://onebayarea.org/file10044.html

The state of CA estimates the SF area will grow by 1.8M by 2060 from 7.2M to about 9M, a 25% increase over 46 years, a 0.5% annual increase.
http://www.contracostatimes.com/ci_23151275/santa-clara-county-is-fastest-growing-county-population

With this growth comes higher rents and more traffic congestion.  But there seems to be little money for expansion.  One report estimates "Most of the transportation money in Plan Bay Area is earmarked for maintenance alone and there is still a $20 billion shortfall needed to keep the region’s transit systems in good repair for the next 30 years." 
http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/Bay-Areas-Population-Boom-a-Burden-on-Transportation-and-Housing-260805031.html

Given the huge expense of heavy rail systems like BART the options for the future are likely to be light rail or BRT.

San Jose's light rail system is clearly a failure to those who study such issues although light rail works well in other areas.  Even if it were later to get enough ridershp to justify it's cost, building light rail is much more expensive than buses.  Saying that because city X has light rail clearly does not guarantee it will work in Silicon Valley.
Ref:  http://publictransport.about.com/od/Transit_War/a/Overview-Of-The-Bus-Rapid-Transit-Versus-Light-Rail-Debate.htm

Similarly wrong is saying that because city X has a successful BRT so will Sunnyvale.

Conclusion:

A BRT would likely ease traffic congestion.  Many characteristics of BRT can be implemented without dedicated lanes.  Making it easier and faster to buy tickets and board would be good things to do in any event and should help decrease travel times and increase ridership.  A dedicated lane without these improvements will likely fail.

After all the other BRT related improvements have been implemented a dedicated lane  for rush hour only using painted road indicators allowing right turning vehicles with posted signs like other BRTs cited above might be the best of both worlds.  If a rush-hour dedicated lane designated with paint fails to show further improvement in ridership - and it might - it can easily be undone.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The US, and the Sahara - Germany and Alaska

There was a consortium ("Desertec") to put up solar panels in the North African Desert and ship the electricity provided under the Mediterranean to Europe.  This is a great idea since North Africa gets so much more sun than Europe that it more than makes up for the transmission losses and cost of setting up the cable.  What most people don't realize is that the southern half of the US is on the same latitudes as N. Africa and the Sahara.

Algiers and Fresno, CA are at 36' 40", Miami, FL (25' 46") is only one degree north of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (24' 38")

And sunny Spain or sun-drenched Greece?  Madrid (40' 23") is to the north of Columbus, Ohio (40' 00") while Athens (37' 58") is to the north of Richmond, VA (37' 33").

Anyone looking into renewable generation of electricity (hydro, wind turbines and solar, mainly) knows Germany is the world leader in getting electricity from the sun (38 GW - more than the US, Japan, or China).  But if you look at the amount of sun Germany gets, it looks worse than Alaska's (click graphic below to enlarge):

Munich, 48' 08", is in southern Germany and it is to the north of Seattle WA (47' 37").  Most of Germany is on a parallel range with Canada.

The US has a huge potential for solar generation of electricity.  We have no need to burn coal or natural gas.

The stone age didn't end because people ran out of stones, but because something better was invented.

All new construction should have solar panels built in.

Ref:
Desertec:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desertec

Latitudes of large US cities:
http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0001796.html

Other cities' latitudes are from Wikipedia entry on that city.

German solar electricity generation
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_in_Germany