Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Guidance for the Metro Active Transportation Corridor: Redondo Beach Blvd Survey from a Local

Urgent Action Alert 

Deadline Extended to May 30, 2023 May 15, 2023 so read on and fill out the survey now 

I need you to fill out a public input survey about a vital active transportation project for Redondo Beach and surrounding cities in the South Bay region of Los Angeles County. This is our chance to reverse some of the damage wrought by past auto-centric road design in North Redondo Beach and allow those who can ride a bike to make school and shopping trips with confidence that they can make it home alive and in one piece. 

There's also a Story Map about the Redondo Beach Blvd Active Transportation Corridor Project with more information. 

Short version if you are in a hurry:

The current street allocation with car parking on both sides and massive SUVs speeding down our streets is not safe or welcoming for cyclists. The proof is in the declining bicycle mode share. 

When filling out the survey, select the options that give a protected bike lane every time. Scroll down past the background info to see my recommendations and why. 

Paint is not protection. Never select an option with a paint-only bike lane in the door zone. If someone opens a door, a cyclist in the door zone will be knocked off their bike and suffer grievous injuries. If they swerve to avoid the door, or are knocked into the traffic lane, they could be killed. No one wants to be killed or have their child killed while riding to school. 

Two-way cycle tracks are a good option, particularly near schools. When kids are arriving or leaving school, there will be a lot of traffic congestion on all modes. But cars are particularly dangerous. The less car traffic they cross while leaving the congested area, the safer they will be. Keep them on the school side of the street, with wide lanes so that there is passing room in the bikeway (keep the kids out of the car traffic lane). 

Plastic poles are not physical protection, but likely the best we can get as a first step.  Plastic poles can be replaced with bollards or concrete barriers later if we allow enough buffer space to install the plastic poles in the first place. Do not let the perfect get in the way of actions we can do right now. 

You can skip the background (but I hope you read it when you have more time).  

Background: The Connection with Schools

The project area below was originally going to be along the old freight route from Redondo King Harbor to the inland rail routes, but Ripley was found to be too steep (several areas with 15% grades) to be feasible for safe cycling. 

A Redondo Beach traffic study determined that 30% of the city's AM/PM peak traffic is the child school run. This travel corridor includes

  • Adams Middle School: 1066 students: 6-8 grades
  • Washington Elementary School: 801 students, K-5
  • Jefferson Elementary School: 509 students, K-5
That's almost 2400 K-12 students arriving and departing each day on this corridor. 

But that's not all, because all students in Redondo Beach Unified School District (RBUSD) attend Redondo Union High School (RUHS) in South Redondo Beach*. Jefferson ES students also attend Parras Middle School south of RUHS. 

Assuming 350/grade at Adams MS and 90/grade at Jefferson ES, 

350*4 + 90*7 = 2030 students cross 190th Street to attend school and return home each day. 

About half of all RBUSD students traverse this corridor every school day.

But that's not all; El Camino College (ECC, 22,000 students, many from the Beach Cities) is on the eastern end of this travel corridor. Some RUHS and MCHS students do concurrent enrollment and take classes at ECC while they are in HS. Due to many factors, including cost and lack of housing at UC campuses, a large number of students are enrolling in grades 13/14 at ECC before transferring to a 4-year college/university. 

When filling out the survey, think about what you would send your kid to school on. Think about what you would be comfortable riding on as you accompany your younger child to school or run your errands. I ride this area 1-2x/week to run errands in North RB or West Torrance. I want better infrastructure for my safety, too. 

Watch this video of the horrifying existing conditions as ridden by two fit MAMILs (Middle-Aged Men in Lycra). Would you ride these steep hills? Next to fast-moving busy traffic?


Here's another video of the area where Kyle, an area father, rides his kids to preschool. 

My opinionated guide for the survey choices and why they matter: 

Every cross-section shown is facing either Eastbound or Northbound.

Q1: For the westernmost portion of the corridor, which alignment(s) do you prefer? 

I picked D because that would give us a 2-way cycle track on Lilienthal and the longest length of protected bike lanes on 190th. 190th St is also the only way to avoid steep hills. 

The problem with B: The first video shows just how steep Ripley is. Notice that the lead cyclist on a light road bike has trouble getting up the hill (and the trailing cyclist with the camera is on an eBike). Going up a 15-16% grade is difficult, but going down them is downright dangerous. Do not send kids on this route. 

A and C are better, but still steep in some sections. Also, if those are the official routes, there will not be likely any road changes except Sharrows, which are shown to be more dangerous than not doing anything

Only Option D along 190th St will yield any road space allocation for cyclists. 

What is a Sharrow? 

Why are Sharrows so dangerous? 

Q2: The proposed street section for 190th St (Alignments C and D) is shown here. How satisfied are you with this proposal?

I picked Very Dissatisfied: These cross-sections are looking towards the east, with Torrance on the Right Hand Side (RHS) and Redondo Beach on the LHS. Cars are coming down the hill from Flagler and often speeding 50 eastbound mph. People drive with the sun in their eyes during the morning and evening commutes. Do you feel safe with just paint and plastic poles designed to bend when run over by vehicles?

I recognize that people living in the apartments in Torrance on the right need overflow parking, but let's swap the bike lane and parking lane. Install a parking-protected bike lane like this one in Long Beach on the Torrance side with breaks to preserve sight lines at each driveway or street crossing. 

On the RB side, I'd like to see real bollards or a curb. Imagine something like these without the parking lane. Images courtesy of National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO)

Q3: Select Option 1, the 2-way cycle track on the east side, next to Washington ES. 

Option 1 provides separation from cars, and is wide enough for passing, and allows parents to ride side by side with a child gaining confidence in their bike skills. In 2-way cycle tracks, people riding opposing car traffic are facing approaching cars, so they can see and react to dangerous drivers. It would be better to have solid protection here, but Option 1 gives us room to retrofit with more solid barriers later. 

Option 2 puts kids in the door zone on one side and makes them cross the street to get to school. It's a dangerous situation. 

Q4: Select Option 1, the 2-way cycle track on the east side, next to Washington ES.  

Don't be distracted by the stock visualization image with a tall solid wall. There is currently short solid wall on the parking lot side and a wood and rope fence on the road side. 

Option 1 gives a clear place for kids to ride that is physically separated from cars. The 2-way cycle track would replace the wide grassy area.

Option 2 is sharrows in a place where drivers are more focused on making a turn at Ripley than cyclists approaching from behind them. 

Motorists trying to make a right turn will pull over to the right, trapping cyclists behind them. Small children on bikes and tall, boxy hoods on todays trucks and SUVs mean that parents may not be aware of cyclists in front of them. This has led to an epidemic of frontover crashes where drivers run over people in front of them because they can't see them over their hoods. Or, they look at their screens and forget that there are children in front of them. 

Option 2, sharrows, is a safety disaster. 

Q5 on Ripley: Pick Option 1, the 2-way cycle track on the Adams MS side

Option 1 keeps the kids on the school side as long as possible. It also preserves the car unloading curb space that people are currently using. 

Option 2 puts kids in the door zone, at precisely the time that kids being driven to school are unloading. This is a safety disaster. 

Q6: Grant Ave from Inglewood to Kingsdale; I am very dissatisfied but I selected other and explained why we need solid protection instead of plastic bendy poles

They are proposing paint, a buffered (space separation) and plastic bendy poles. 

This is better than existing conditions, but not safe. Cars pick up speed heading downhill and frequently misjudge the curve, so they end up sideswiping cyclists in the bike lane. We really need a concrete barrier on the downhill (right hand) side. 

I ride by bike to shop at the Galleria and this is the scariest part. I saw a guy almost get killed here. If we want more people to bike through this area, which connects to shopping, the South Bay Transit Center, and the 300 new homes under construction, then we deserve solid protection in this dangerous area. 

I gotta break for lunch but I'm going to hit Publish on this so you can get started. I'll finish after lunch. 


I'm back. Stay with me because we are on the home stretch, but the most dangerous one that crosses the 405 Freeway and has the most high-speed traffic. 

Q7: Artesia Blvd from Kingsdale Ave to Redondo Beach Blvd pick Option 2.  

Existing conditions are awful and you see very few cyclists brave enough to ride here. If they do, they are often on the sidewalk, conflicting with pedestrians. 

Option 1 puts cyclists next to vehicle lanes, but protected with a concrete curb. Pedestrians and cyclists would intuitively understand where they are supposed to be, as faster bike traffic is at the street level. However, this would interfere with bus stops. 

Option 2 puts pedestrians next to the vehicle lanes, but also next to the bus stop. Trees would provide shade. There could be some confusion with pedestrians wandering on the bike path, but that can be solved with good signage.

Our community has experience with pedestrian and bikeways next to each other in the North Redondo Beach Bikeway (NRBB). While there is some spillover, people have already learned where pedestrians and rollers have priority on the NRBB. Option 2 will work best for us and we already know how to use it. 

Q8: Redondo Beach Blvd from Artesia Blvd to Hawthorne Blvd. Is a tossup but both Options are so much better than the status quo.

Option 1 pits cyclists against pedestrians, but provides 2-way access to Walgreens and Starbucks. It's not terrible as long as cyclists slow down when passing pedestrians and motorists exiting the parking lots look both ways. 

Option 2 provides a clear separation between motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. Cyclists are curb-protected on the eastbound RB side, and parking-protected on the westbound Lawndale side. However, coming westbound from Walgreens/Starbucks, people will likely bike on the sidewalk until they meet the 2-way cycle track. 

Although you lose a traffic lane, it's not the cyclists' fault. One can just as easily blame the space allocated to free car storage (on-street parking) and a turn lane. Motorists are losing a travel lane to other motorists, not cyclists. Don't forget that. 

Option 1, the 2-way cycle track, provides a better alternative not suggested by Metro for the next section. 

Q9: Redondo Beach Blvd from Hawthorne Blvd to Prairie Ave. I am Very Dissatisfied & propose a better solution. 

Although the status quo is very bad, we shouldn't rush into the proposed door zone bike lane next to high-speed traffic heading to the freeway onramps. It is extremely dangerous. This will greatly reduce the number of people brave enough to ride to Alondra Park and El Camino College. 

If there is enough room for on-street parking, then there is enough room for a parking-protected bike lane. That may require narrowing the car lanes a bit, but that would also inhibit speeding, making that stretch safer and quieter for all road users. 

The freeway onramp is on the north side of RB Blvd. A 2-way cycle track on the south side of RB Blvd would keep cyclists away from the crazy line of cars trying to merge onto the 405 on-ramp. Suggest that in Q11. 

Q10: Redondo Beach Blvd from Prairie Ave to Dominguez Channel. Pick Option 1, the 2-way cycle track on the North side, next to the park and El Camino College. 

Option 1 puts cyclists next to the park and ECC. Although it is shown with plastic bendy straws, it can easily be fitted with bollards or a concrete curb for better protection when cycling to and from evening classes at ECC. 

Option 2 puts cyclists in the door zone, where they can be knocked into fast-moving traffic and killed. Drunk or malicious drivers can also harm cyclists easily with only "paint as protection". 

Q11: Additional Comments: This is where we ask for a protected 2-way cycle track on on the south side of RB Blvd between Hawthorne and Prairie. 

What do you need to be comfortable bicycling this corridor? Tell them!

Keep in mind that younger Beach Cities kids will probably only ride the western side of this corridor, west of Inglewood or Kingsdale. But older teens and young adults may need to ride to ECC or to retail jobs between Kingsdale and Crenshaw. 

There are a lot of children and seniors in Lawndale and Torrance who would benefit from these bike facilities, whether they are riding a bike, trike or mobility scooter. 

We should make this corridor welcoming for ages 8-80. 

Think about who needs to travel through this corridor and at what times. What kind of cycling facilities do they need to get there comfortably and safely?  What about seniors in mobility scooters or electric wheelchairs? Would you like to see food delivery robots in the bike lane or more food delivery by privately-owned cars?

With better bike facilities, I may choose to bike to stores further east than I currently feel safe. Every trip I make by eBike instead of car, I am "sparing the air", not taking up road space in front of you, and not competing with you for parking. 

Another thing that excites me about this project is that it connects us to the Dominguez Channel. In a separate project, LA County Public Works will be extending the bike path along the channel southwards. It currently goes north to 120th St, past Amazon, Space-X, Lowe's and to the Metro Green/C Line. A southbound channel bike path would connect to the Harbor Gateway Transit Center, with very fast connections to the Silver/J Line to USC/Expo Park (15 min) and Downtown LA (20 min). Harbor Gateway TS is already linked up to CSU Dominguez Hills. This is a large step forward for a transportation transformation for the South Bay. 

Bike lanes benefit you even if you don't ride a bike, but your neighbors do. 

Bike lanes will save you time currently spent chauffeuring your kids short distances. 

Bike lanes will benefit your kids because students who get exercise before school do better. 

Bike lanes will benefit you when you age out of driving. 

Bike lanes may allow your family to shed one car, saving you over a million dollars per lifetime

Finally, I want to close with this terrific video of a #BikeBus led by Coach Sam Balto in Portland.

This bike corridor will touch the lives of half the students in RBUSD and can be transformative for the way our community gets around. If half of our households can shed just one car, we would be richer, our street parking and traffic congestion problems will evaporate, our air and water will be cleaner, and we will have done our part to slow climate change. Oh, we'll be fitter and happier, too. 

* A very few students living in North RB attend Mira Costa HS in Manhattan Beach, but only if MBUSD will take them. 

Friday, March 03, 2023

True Cost to Own

This post was inspired by a Twitter exchange with a Culver City resident who was able to shed one of her family's two cars due to the Move Culver City Project to reallocate space from cars to transit (bus lanes), active transportation (walking/biking) and micro-mobility (scooters, wheelchairs). 

Culver City's city council balance changed from 3/2 in support of this street space reallocation to 3/2 opposed. The new city council wants to reverse the street space allocation and give 100% of the public space to cars again despite the city's own data that transit and bike use grew explosively while car use declined.  Read the Move Culver City Mid-Pilot Report.  

I think reversing Move Culver City is a big mistake for many reasons, but I will just get into the financial angle in this post. 

Car ownership is so normalized in US society that I think we stop paying attention to how much it's really costing us. When AAA published their annual report "How Much Does it Really Cost to Own a New Car 2022", it surprised many people. 

There were the usual arguments that not everyone buys a new car. But, this assumes the average new car sells for $33,301 when Kelley Blue Book reports that the average car price set a new record in December 2022 at $48,681. Car and Driver reports that Los Angeles drivers pay $681/year more for car insurance than the national average.  

$10,728 is an underestimate for the cost to own a car in Los Angeles. That price also does not include the cost of a parking spot, which you are paying for whether it's a line item in your budget or not.  Everyone seems to complain about parking, even though Los Angeles has more homes for cars than for people

If households with multiple cars can shed one car, they can save $10,728/year. 

Median Culver City household income in $97,540 with a marginal tax rate (CA+Fed) of 33.3%. 

Owning a car costs $16,084/year pre-tax. 

If that money were put in a tax-deferred retirement savings account every year for 30 years, that household can accumulate just under $1 Million! 

I assumed that the money was saved in a Vanguard Growth and Income Mutual Fund (VGIAX) earning about 6.54% over the last 20 years or 10.78% over the last 10 years. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI inflation calculator says inflation ran 2.65% over the last 20 years. 

Using a conservative 4% above inflation estimate for VGIAX, the Bankrate Compound Interest Calculator shows that the household that was able to shed a car winds up with $916,300 after 30 years in their retirement savings account. Yes, you do pay taxes as you withdraw that money, but that's a huge chunk of money nevertheless. 

In Summary, if Move Culver City allows families to shed one car, then that is a $1M gift to the families in Culver City. 

Reversing/removing the street improvements--making buses too slow to use and bicycling too dangerous to attempt--forces families into cars again. If they have to own a second car again, then Culver City families lose $1 M. 

Elected officials should think long and hard about whether they want to force car dependency and costs onto their residents. It's not good for residents, it's not good for the planet, it's not good for the city. Finally, I don't think it's good for the elected officials' ability to get re-elected. 

Sunday, February 05, 2023

We're subsidizing the wrong electric vehicles

I read that Tesla raised the price of their popular Model Y SUV after the US altered the tax credit rule to make the Model Y eligible for tax credits. The Tesla Y is the most popular Tesla in my area so I looked up the specs. It's a relatively heavy vehicle at ~2,000 kg or ~4,400 lbs. But it can only carry a relatively paltry 433 kg of passenger + cargo. That's about a 5:1 ratio between vehicle and payload. 

I've been eying a Tern GSD and one of my friends has been bragging about how his top of the line GSD R14 was the best purchase he's ever made. He's 6'5" tall and he carries his similarly tall 10 year-old son and everything they need for the school and commute run between central Boulder and their mountain home. The Tern GSD S10 weights 33.5 kg (before accessories) and can carry an additional 200 kg! That's a 1:5 ratio between vehicle and payload.

That means this family with two Tern GSDs can haul 400 kg, or almost as much as a Tesla Y at about 1/5 of the cost (before the tax credit).  I know that the battery range on a eBike is much shorter than for the Tesla, but cyclists can easily find regular outlets to charge their eBikes up while taking a break. 

Vehicle kgVehicle Capacity kgBattery WhCostTax Credit
Tesla Y1929-201043381,000$54,990 - $57,990$7,500
Tern GSD S1033.6200400-900$5,399$0
2*Tern GSD S1067.2400700-1,800$10,798$0

You can add a trailer to one of the Tern GSDs and haul just as much as the Tesla Y!

Best of all, you can roll eBikes onto a train and then roll off at farther destination. Or you can carry them in an elevator up to your apartment rather than pay for expensive car parking stalls. 

I digress, if only we had a transportation system with great train service and bicycle-friendly roads.  Sigh. 

Enjoy this video, including the end where the young couple exit from a Taipei rail station near the beach. 


Remember Carbon Intensity of eBiking vs Driving? I use about 10 Wh/mi when utility cycling around my hilly area, often with shopping and other cargo. When I Tweeted about this, a father who carries 2 children and groceries on his Cargo eBike Tweeted back that he gets about 14-18 Wh/mi on his eBike and about 250-300 Wh/mi in his EV. That's similar to the Model Y performance. 

So a family riding on 2 Tern GSDs will use about 35 Wh/mi while the same family & cargo on the Model Y will use 250-300 Wh/mi. The Model Y is very efficient for such a heavy vehicle. They are both pretty efficient compared to an ICE car. 

The current problem is the global supply constraints on batteries. The same battery materials that go into one Model Y could build 200 eBikes. Do we build one electric SUV for one family, or 200 cargo eBikes for 100 families? If we focus only on replacing cars one for one with electric ones, then we will miss out on all the savings from mode shifting to lighter, more efficient electric vehicles.

Researchers in Europe did the math and concluded that fixating on larger and longer range EVs while battery supplies are constrained can increase CO2 emissions by slowing the global mode shift required.

The new electric SUV market under battery supply constraints: Might they increase CO2 emissions?

Again, looking at the micro view, an EV lowers CO2 emissions relative to an ICE car. But, zoom out and look at the macro view, putting too many eggs in one basket (literally too many battery packs in a large EV) vs a bunch of baskets (eBikes), can increase global CO2 emissions. 

We're subsidizing the wrong vehicles. If we really wanted to reduce emissions quickly, we would be subsidizing eBikes and scooters, transit, and building safe and supportive infrastructure for micro-mobility ASAP. We're not and that's the tragedy. 

The College Board is a conservative organization

I'm bemused by the brouhaha over the College Board dropping "controversial" and important subject matter in the AP African America History after Florida Governor DeSantis and other conservatives objected. 

What did we expect? The College Board is a fundamentally conservative organization that preserves the status quo. They long offered subject matter tests for Greek and Latin, which is taught at elite private schools, while they did not offer any tests for Asian languages until the addition of Japanese in 1993. They didn't even offer Mandarin until 1994

What's inexcusable is the deference that we gave to the defenders of the unequal status quo. 

When I applied to the University of California, we had to have studied 3 years of a foreign language tested by the College Board. CB did not test for any Asian languages in the 1980s. Thus, I studied German in high school, sitting in the same classroom as Peter Thiel, a native German speaker who immigrated from Germany. 

I would have loved to have studied Mandarin instead, but my high school only offered languages accepted by the University of California, while only accepted languages tested by a testing service organized to sort students from elite high schools in the Northeast for elite colleges of the Northeast. 

This kind of circularity was mind boggling to observe but I sucked it up and studied German and Latin in HS. It was so unfair that all the Asian American students, many of whom spoke an Asian language at home, could not enjoy the same privilege as white students who got to learn a language at public school that they can use to speak with their parents and grandparents at home. 

Because of US immigration law that severely restricted immigration from Asian countries before 1966, most of the Asian American kids in my HS were immigrants who spoke an Asian language at home. 

We had to learn a THIRD language just to get into California's public universities. 

Our test scores for European languages were evaluated against kids learning only a second language. Even worse, we got no credit for knowing Asian languages. 

The College Board has power in part because we give them power. We can cut them out. 

What if, we didn't give value to AP test scores and the curriculum they represent? What if we taught a more in-depth curriculum, tailored to the needs and interests of the students? We'd lose some uniformity, but be more relevant to each student. We might even foster more love of learning for its own sake. 

Colleges and universities can just request a list of the books and readings used in history classes rather than rely on the AP test to create a de facto curriculum. Have kids supply a writing sample from their history or literature classes. 


Friday, December 23, 2022

Destroying the NIMBY Sewage Capacity Talking Point: Another Zombie Myth


I was coached to give an executive summary so people know where I am going. 

Executive Summary

  • Sewage Capacity is not a reason to deny infill housing in established areas of Los Angeles County. 
  • It's cheaper to service sewage from infill housing than for sprawl housing because you are using capacity that already exists and is currently underutilized. 
  • Infill housing reduces or eliminates the cost of declining water flows, reducing costs to existing residents.  
  • Infill housing spreads the fixed costs of infrastructure among more customers, reducing costs to existing residents

And was also told to add more color pictures, like this One Water Cycle graphic by Brown and Caldwell, 2017. 

Where I normally start my ramblings:

After I signed that petition, offered me another one to consider. 

Their algorithms offered me Oppose the mass build apartment complex on Little Britain Rd (Rt 207)

It was such a classic display of NIMBY Kettle Logic about horrible traffic and parking woes, which they themselves contribute towards. This area is simultaneously such a historic area that it should not be desecrated with more traffic, while it is already so traffic-choked, that it cannot accommodate one more car.

But, since I had just been thinking about the societal impacts of chemistry and engineering, I homed in on the arguments about sewage. 

  • A massive build like the one being proposed will dramatically change the character of our neighborhood.
  • It will also have a significant impact on traffic in the surrounding area.
  • It will further tax our already heavily burdened water and sewage systems, and potentially have damaging environmental impacts to the Quassaick Creek and its wildlife.
The build puts additional strain on the current water supply and added pressure to the city sewage system’s downstream capacity.
Residents in the town of Newburgh are currently nearing our maximum agreed sewage usage with the city.
In 2004 the town updated their intermunicipal sewer agreement with the city to increase the amount of sewage the town sends to the city treatment plant at 2,000,000 gals/day with the ability to send an additional 2,000,000gals/day providing the town pay to enlarge the current city facility. This previously cost taxpayers $1,250,000 to construct the necessary facilities. According to the November 3 town planning board minutes, the town is currently sending 2,000,000 gals/day already and at their first allotment. They have 2,000,000 more gallons owed to them, but much of that has already been allocated to other projects.
As stated in their draft scope, the proposed apartment complex would produce an estimated 28,380 gals of liquid waste per day. And according to the 2004 intermunicipal contract "when the town’s average flow exceeds 3.4 million gallons per day as evidenced by the last 90-day average flow" a second expansion will need to be constructed by and paid for by the town residents, unless we insist the cost be passed on to the builders of these new projects.

The US Census office estimates that Newburgh, NY has a 2021 population of 28,834. 

If 28,834 people send 2,000,000 gals/day of sewage to the treatment plant, that's 69.4 gallons per capita per day (gpcd). How many times are they flushing every day?!?! Or do they have many industrial facilities? Why are they using so much water?!?!

In contrast, 4.8 million Los Angeles County residents and a lot of businesses & industrial facilities sent 242 MGD of sewage (in 2021) to the Joint Water Pollution Control Plant (JWPCP), 50.4 gpcd. 

If Newburgh residents were as water-thrifty as Angelenos, they could house 10,000 more people and have cheaper sewage service as well because they would be spreading fixed costs among more customers. 

JWPCP has a design capacity of 400 MDG, we've added ~1 million people to the service area in the last 20 years, and we are still using only 60% of the capacity. We can add millions more residents without needing any more sewage treatment capacity. 

JWPCP is a huge plant that serves almost half the people in the most populous county and one of the largest manufacturing centers in the US. 

If Newburgh residents were really concerned about not overrunning their sewage capacity, they should look at water saving household appliances, low-flow toilets and low-flow shower heads.  But, perhaps they are just not interested in providing homes for people. 

They do seem interested in providing homes for cars. One of their objections to this apartment complex is that it will only provide 515 parking spots for 259 homes. 

Enough poking fun at Newburgh NIMBYs. We have plenty of NIMBYs at home in Los Angeles County to poke fun of. 

Gratuitous diagram of JWPCP, a social network tying together 4.8 M Angelenos

Consider the problem of declining water flows. This is a serious and expensive problem for established areas that are not building housing fast enough to offset improvements in water efficiency.  Californians in existing developed areas are using about 2% less water per year. If that is not offset by infill, this causes problems for both drinking water and sewage systems. 

California Urban Water Agencies surveyed their members and wrote a white paper on Adapting to Change: UtilitySystems and Declining Flows. Go to Section 6 (page 22), Impacts of Declining Flows on Wastewater Treatment Plant Operations. 40% of urban systems reported effluent quality problems. 

Lower flow means longer residence times in the sewage pipes, which exacerbate production of gases. That's both an odor and a corrosion problem. It also decreases the amount of hydraulic pressure, which works with gravity to move sewage towards the treatment plant. 

In fact, the less hydraulic pressure you have, the more energy you need to apply (e.g. sewage lifting stations) to push the effluent along. We have so much excess capacity in our existing sewage mains, it's costing us more energy to pump it to the treatment facilities.  

You also need to spend more unclogging pipes. We sometimes have to put fresh water into the sewage mains to reduce the residence times, clear clogs, and provide hydraulic pressure. 

We'll save the problem of declining flows on drinking water systems for another day. Spoiler, it's cheaper and safer for everyone if we concentrate new residents in existing areas rather than build new sprawl. 

Bonus Sewer Content:

* C&EN News = Chemical and Engineering News is the monthly general interest magazine for members of the American Chemical Society. Bad Dad and I both hold BSs in Chemistry and he also has a PhD in Chemistry (while I hold a PhD in Chemical Physics). Although our work is far from what most people consider chemistry, we still enjoy learning about happenings in the Chemistry world and the policy implications and societal impacts of Chemistry. Editorial leadership of C&EN News eliminated coverage of science policy and societal impacts. Sign the petition if you disagree

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

SCAG, HQTA & RHNA: Acronyms you never heard of but should understand

 I've given a talk in December 2022 and am scheduled to talk again in January and February 2023 to groups comprised mainly of older homeowners concerned about lack of transit and wheelchair-accessible housing in their communities. Most are unaware that those are connected. 

This is a GIS layer map of High Quality Transit Areas (HQTA) in the 6-county area under the control of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG).  

The High Quality Transit Areas (HQTAs) is within one half-mile of a well-serviced transit stop or a transit corridor with 15-minute or less service frequency during peak commute hours.

Founded in 1965, the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) is a Joint Powers Authority under California state law, established as an association of local governments and agencies that voluntarily convene as a forum to address regional issues. Under federal law, SCAG is designated as a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and under state law as a Regional Transportation Planning Agency and a Council of Governments.

The SCAG region encompasses six counties (Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura) and 191 cities in an area covering more than 38,000 square miles. The agency develops long-range regional transportation plans including sustainable communities strategy and growth forecast components, regional transportation improvement programs, regional housing needs allocations and a portion of the South Coast Air Quality management plans

Seniors want to stay in their own homes, or at least in their own communities. And they want frequent transit to serve them. They've looked around and are deeply unhappy with what they have found. Why can't we have frequent and good transit like other places they have vacationed at? 

Why doesn't the South Bay have good transit? We're visibly a transit hole. High quality, frequent transit does not touch most of the residential areas of the Beach Cities, El Segundo, Torrance and Palos Verdes Cities. 

Is it because wealthy people can afford cars and don't need transit? Nope, not if you compare to Santa Monica, Culver City, Pasadena and Beverly Hills. 

When we purchased our home in the late 1990s, we researched bus lines, bike commutes and USGS geologic maps. We really liked that the Torrance 8 bus ran between our home, daycare, workplace at 30 minute frequency throughout the day and even more often during peak commute hours. Those buses were well-used by people who worked in El Segundo and lived along the route in Torrance, North Redondo Beach and Hawthorne. 

Over time, the service degraded noticeably and wasn't reliable any more. That's the main reason why I ride my eBike during the day and drive at night. Transit isn't viable for me any more, even if I want to take a bus to dinner and then walk home (burn off dessert) or catch a ride home with my dinner companions. Even during peak hours, the buses are infrequent and often get canceled at the last minute. 

I used the Internet Archive to look at bus schedules from 2005. The Torrance 8 ran 41 trips every weekday in 2005

In 2022, the Torrance 8 runs only 13 trips every weekday. 

Moreover, the southern terminus of the route used to be at Newton St and Hawthorne Blvd, a short walk from hundreds of homes. Now the route has been shortened to end at the intersection of two state highways, Pacific Coast Highway (CA1) and Hawthorne Boulevard (CA107). To reach the stop, people have to walk farther from their homes and cross wide highways with 7-9 lanes of deafening traffic. 

When I regularly took the bus, they were well-utilized. Most seats were occupied at peak hours. Even after peak, about half the seats were taken by people out shopping or going to their retail/service jobs. 

Buses operate at a loss. That's why we pay taxes to subsidize them. But roads and parking lots also operate a loss and we never question whether or not they are necessary. Fuel and registration fees cover only about half the costs of roads; the rest comes from general funds. 

The cost of "free parking" is borne by customers or tax payers, including those that didn't drive there. The subsidy is flowing towards drivers, not bike riders. In fact, pedestrians receive the lowest subsidy, then bike riders (cost of bike racks), then transit riders, then drivers. 

But I digress. Let's get back to poor bus service. The seniors I talk to all want frequent buses that run near their homes. They would prefer the buses to run past their existing homes, but are willing to move to a condo or apartment complex within their communities if that is the only way they will get high-quality transit. 

Sounds good. Let's pick some areas to serve intensively with transit, and then build lots of homes there. The more transit riders there are, the better service we can maintain; it's a virtuous cycle that serves seniors aging out of driving well.  

Not so fast, building housing is politically toxic throughout the southland. Today's seniors have elected (for decades) local leaders running on platforms of preserving the "neighborhood character" of their "unique community", and fighting "overbuilding" and "Sacramento overreach". 

Elected leaders are suing the state of California about whether they should be exempt from state housing law (like the Housing Accountability Act) and questioning both the legality and the numbers in the Regional Housing Needs Allocation

The State of California's Department of Housing and Community Development (the CA analog of the Federal Government's HUD), tells each regional planning authority how many homes their region needs to build to provide for existing and future residents. Each region decides for themselves how they want to allocate those homes based on their goals and values. 

After years of considering data and testimony from academics, elected officials, planning professionals and advocates for hundreds of groups, SCAG approved a formula nick-named "The Coastal Plan". It's just a formula that can be programmed into an Excel spreadsheet macro. You can download it from SCAG, and I've made it in to a shared Google Sheets

The formula is a product of our professed values. We claim to value opportunity, so we assign more housing near where the jobs are. We claim to value clean air and want to lower Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, so we place homes in HQTAs. We claim we want to address inequality, so we assign more low income housing to places that traditionally have not provided lower income residents. 

Conversely, it assigns more higher income housing in poorer communities that can benefit from the tax base provided by higher earners. It's not forced gentrification or ghettofication. It's just trying to level the playing field to help everyone succeed. The goal is to work together with neighbors to solve regional problems like pollution, congestion, and the housing crisis. 

Just select your city of interest in cell D5. Here's Torrance, the city that runs Torrance Transit and presided over its demise. Torrance is big mad at their 6th Cycle RHNA "quota" of 4,939 homes over the next ~8 year RHNA cycle. They have never been given such a high allocation before. Their 5th Cycle allocation was 1,450, and they didn't even meet that.  

I pulled the details of a few cities and placed them at the top of this sheet

I paired Torrance with their neighbor, Gardena; and Redondo Beach with neighboring Lawndale. Notice how the smaller cities are given higher RHNA allocations than their larger and more affluent neighbors. They are assigned 2-3x as many homes per capita. 

Is it because of job access? Look at the SCAG GIS map of Job Centers. Torrance is smack dab in the middle of one of the largest job centers in Southern California, with ~129,000 jobs. 

Let's look at the HCD Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) Data Viewer, the Jobs Proximity Index layer

Both loudly-complaining cities, Torrance and Redondo Beach, have more jobs and easier access to jobs than Gardena and Lawndale, hence they were assigned more homes in the Jobs column. 

What explains the big differences then? 

Go back and look at the HQTA map. It's all based on existing population in the HQTAs within each jurisdiction. 

The more people already living inside the existing HQTAs used in the planning formula, the higher their  HQTA-based RHNA allocations. Most cities like jobs (with the possible exception of pre-pandemic San Francisco) so they don't play as many games with that.  

Cities know that the way to finesse lower RHNA housing allocations is to minimize the areal coverage of HQTAs in your city, and then to minimize the number of people who live in the HQTAs. 

This is how El Segundo, home to LAX and the 121,000 jobs in the LAX job center, 

and with 3 light rail stations inside of their cities and one just over the border at LAX, got allocated just 1 home due to HQTA. Yes, just 1 home! 

When El Segundo fought to avoid permitting homes east of PCH, this is the subtext. They gave up land to Hawthorne to avoid having homes in their jurisdiction near a rail station. 

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but South Bay seniors who want to live in wheelchair accessible home with viable public transit will have to move away. Transit sucks now and will not be added back if it will expand HQTA coverage area. No new homes will be built in HQTAs if local officials can stop it. 

(This is also why California enacted laws to preempt local officials to force them to permit home building in HQTAs.)

It's all connected to the decisions made by the people we elected and the incentives they operate under. When they talk about preserving the "neighborhood character" of your "unique community", and fighting "overbuilding" and "Sacramento overreach", they collect donations and win elections. 

They don't tell you that they will never allow expansion of HQTAs within their jurisdictions if they can help it. This is a large part of the subtext of the fight over Metro C line extension routing. Your elected officials are fighting to ensure you don't get access to rail transit (which is harder to cancel/decrease than bus lines) so that they won't have to build housing. 

They don't even want to build in existing HQTAs lest it expose them to higher RHNA allocations in future cycles. So instead, they talk about shadows and view sheds, impose high parking minimums. These all serve to reduce the number of homes that can be built and the number of people in the homes.

They don't tell you that the kind of low-density zoning they are protecting will only every yield townhomes with stairs, built on top of car garages. Low density zoning and height limits makes building accessible apartments with elevators prohibitively expensive to build. They hope developments don't "pencil out" (can't be built profitably), so that the developers go away. 

What homes do get produced will be very expensive because they have to cover the parking and land. If you can build 2 stories of housing over 1 story of parking, they have to charge a lot more than if they built 4 stories of housing over the same parking structure on the same land. To maximize affordability, they could even stop requiring parking since seniors and the disabled are much less likely to drive or own cars anyway. Parking is another proxy war to suppress housing. 

If you want to solve a problem. then you solve the problem. You don't spend decades screaming the problem doesn't exist. You don't enact ordinances that make the problem even worse. You don't sue people who point out that the problem exists. You don't defund researchers who collect data and evidence on the problem. 

This applies to climate change and our regional housing crisis. 

Enough, tonight. I just want to point out that it's all related. 

Enjoy the Metro C Line (Green) Extension to Torrance Project Simulation Video. Think about how you want to live as you or your parents age out of driving. Think about where you want your children and grandchildren to live as the planet gets hotter and hotter. Do you want them on the cooler coast with you? Then make room for them. 

I know that I will fight for a light rail route that is closer to my home. And I will also fight for a 7th Cycle RHNA allocation that can't be gamed by climate arsonists. 

Even if we get a higher RHNA allocation based on light rail routing, California law gives us local control about where we place that home growth. We can and should spread it out, particularly as our area ages. The medical industry jobs in Torrance keep growing, and South Redondo Beach is very close to those jobs. 


Coastal Los Angeles Communities are facing a Silver Tsunami of aging residents and a dearth of younger families. Housing is so expensive, our children move far away. (A few may live with us.) The SCAG RHNA formula projects future housing needs based on demographics of existing residents. If you have few current residents of child-bearing age, then you won't have many births or future residents to house. 

Since we have moved homes affordable for young, families so far into the inland deserts, they were assigned higher RHNA allocations than older communities along the coast.  I included the data for Coachella in my comparison table. 

Coachella has 14,277 Households in 2020, while Culver City has 17,146. Yet, Household Growth in Coachella is projected to be 5,794 while Culver City's is only 296. That's a 20-fold difference! 

If you push young people out of your city, you will be assigned lower RHNA numbers. But then, who will help you change your senior diapers? How often will you see your children and grandchildren?

Anyway, stop fixating on "winning" a game of foisting housing elsewhere. Plan for a better future for yourself by planning for a more inclusive future in your community.