public transportation

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Can a Bullet Train Shrink California’s Carbon Footprint?

A Berkeley study says it just might — but not right away

By Roger Rudick

Near Antwerp, Belgium, there’s a two-mile section of high-speed rail (HSR) line with solar panels over the tracks to help power the system. That kind of technology is essential to maximizing environmental benefits from California’s proposed bullet train, according to a new study co-authored by Berkeley’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. California is poised to begin construction of an HSR line from San Francisco to Los Angeles early next year.

CA High Speed Rail Authority

How "green" California's bullet train is depends in part on how electricity for it is being produced.

But before the electrically powered trains start cleaning up California’s air, they have to make it dirtier. That’s because the construction generates pollution. “We calculated after ground breaking, so the net benefits come at best 10 years after the system starts running,” said Mikhail Chester, a professor at Arizona State and a study author.

And some of that depends on how quickly people switch from driving and flying to using the train, he added. According to the study, entitled “High-speed rail with emerging automobiles and aircraft can reduce environmental impacts in California’s future,” 67% of the construction pollution for HSR comes from making cement.  “But construction is a one-time cost…the benefits continue for the life of the system,” he said. Continue reading

L.A.’s Holy Grail: Transit that Works for Most

When cities add light rail and cut bus service, are they “robbing Peter to pay Paul?”

By Alex Schmidt

It really is true that decent public transport to Angelenos is like the Holy Grail to Indiana Jones — especially on L.A.’s Westside. Looking a bit more deeply into transportation in L.A. makes you check certain assumptions that you may have grown up with. There are, after all, over one million people who ride public transport here every day, and most of that takes place on buses.

L.A. Metro bus stop headed downtown..for now. (Photo: Alex Schmidt)

Now, and when bus cuts were previously threatened L.A. (notably when the Red and Gold lines opened on the east side of town), Metro has been accused of racism. In fact, in 1996, the NAACP and Bus Rider’s Union sued the MTA in federal court and won a consent decree to expand the bus system every year for 10 years. Now that the consent decree has ended, bus lines have been cut regularly. And once again, the Bus Rider’s Union has filed a complaint with the FTA’s Office of Civil Rights. Such investigations take many months, and sometimes as long as a year, so it’s not likely that it will halt the cuts this time around. Continue reading

High Marks but Few Takers on California Transit

So…if Bay Area transit is so good, why don’t more people use it?

(Photo: Craig Miller)

A new study from the Brookings Institution finds that compared with the rest of the nation, the Bay Area offers pretty good public transportation options.

Among 100 major metropolitan areas, San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont ranks 16th, and San Jose-Santa Clara-Sunnyvale ranks second.  Areas were ranked according to how accessible transit is to riders, how long it takes to get to work on transit and how often the systems run during rush hours.

So…if Bay Area transit is so good, why doesn’t anybody seem to take it?

Just one out of ten people in the Bay Area commute by public transportation, according to John Goodwin of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. He says that number hasn’t changed much over the years, despite huge investments in the system. And the Bay Area isn’t alone in that. A recent study by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) found that between 1990 and 2008, the share of commuters taking transit increased by less than one percentage point, from 5% to 5.5%, despite the construction of 217 new rail stations, and the fact that more than a third of California’s transportation spending since the early 1980s has gone to public transit.
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