Monday, April 30, 2007

Plug-In Hybrids

Increase the battery capacity of a hybrid like a Toyota Prius so it charges while parked, then operates on batteries for 20-50 miles without needing its gasoline engine, and you have a Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV).

Half of Americans travel 25 miles or less per day. PHEVs use electricity instead of gasoline for many of their miles, yet retain the range of a conventional car when needed. Their electricity can be sustainably generated from wind and solar, and there is ample off-peak capacity in today's electricity grid for charging.

Although the only PHEVs available today are aftermarket conversions of Priuses (as in the photo; also note the plug-in cord), major auto manufacturers including Toyota and others have announced plans. See the LA-based Plug In America and Austin-based Plug In Partners for two national campaigns to push the car companies to build them.

Sherry Boschert, author of the excellent Plug-in Hybrids will speak on Thursday, May 10, 7:00 p.m., at the Sierra Club Angeles Chapter office, 3435 Wilshire Boulevard, suite 320 (the tall Equitable building across from the former Ambassador Hotel; park free after 6 p.m. under the building off Mariposa, or on 6th Street, or ride the Wilshire Purple Line subway or Metro Rapid bus #720 to Wilshire / Normandie). Office phone is 213-387-4287.

The batteries of electric vehicles and PHEVs could also be used for distributed storage in a smart electric grid, to balance peak demands and intermittant generation from wind and solar. Saturday's LA Times noted:

California power companies are salivating at the idea of plug-in hybrid vehicles that would provide extended all-electric travel using bigger batteries that are recharged from the conventional power grid. ...

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. demonstrated bidirectional, or vehicle-to-grid, technology in San Francisco this month, using a Toyota Motor Corp. Prius modified by Energy CS, a Monrovia firm that develops plug-in hybrid conversions.

After the car's extra lithium-ion battery was charged, a PG&E technician flipped a switch and the power in the battery started flowing back onto the grid, causing the electric meter monitoring the activity to start running backward.

... plug-in hybrid owners could recharge their batteries at night, when most electric rates are lower, said PG&E environmental spokesman Keely Wachs.

Then on hot days, when demand for power soars, owners not using their cars could plug them in and transfer electricity from the batteries to the commercial grid. Utility companies would pay hybrid owners for that power, and at the higher daytime rate. ...

See New Energy News for more on vehicle-to-grid.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Wilshire bus lanes

Also on the LA City Council Transportation Committee agenda Wednesday is a staff recommendation (1.9MB pdf) to implement dedicated peak hour curb bus lanes on Wilshire Boulevard, per the map above (click to enlarge). Here are key excerpts.

Option A: Peak Period End-to-End Bus Lanes. Convert the curb lanes of Wilshire Boulevard within the City limits from mixed flow to bus and right turn only operation between Downtown LA and the Santa Monica City limit during weekday peak periods (7-9 AM and 4-7 PM). ...


Option A would result in significant improvement for bus travel times and speeds. End-to-end Metro Rapid bus travel time within the City would be reduced by an average of 11.7 minutes from 48.0 to 36.3 minutes, or 24%. ...


Conversion of the curb lanes from mixed flow to bus and right-turn only operation would mean that Wilshire Boulevard could carry fewer mixed flow vehicles during peak periods, resulting in significant adverse impacts on mixed flow traffic. The traffic impact analysis indicates that mixed flow travel time on Wilshire Boulevard in the peak periods would increase by an average of 26% (11 minutes). ...

These impacts would diminish over time if drivers find new routes or switch to transit. ...

As part of its Wilshire Bus Rapid Transit project, Metro is proposing to widen Wilshire Boulevard between Barrington Avenue and Bonsall Avenue (on the Veterans Administration property) in West LA to create new capacity for an eastbound peak period bus lane. ...

Street Pavement

It is anticipated that operation of the bus lanes in Option A would have a significant impact on the curb lane pavement due to the concentration of bus activity in the curbside lanes, The new 60-foot articulated buses, with a gross vehicle weight of 68,000 Ibs. and rear axle load of 30,000 Ibs., are much more damaging to pavement than 40-foot buses, with a gross vehicle weight of 42,000 Ibs. and rear axle load of 28,000Ibs. This would be especially problematic between Western Avenue and San Vicente Boulevard, where the pavement and concrete gutters are in generally poor condition. The curb lane pavement condition is also a problem for buses: Metro's bus operators are instructed to stay out of the Wilshire Boulevard curb lanes where possible.

As part of the Bus Speed Improvement Project, Metro is proposing to install 120' long concrete bus pads at all bus stops and intersection stops along Wilshire Boulevard (200 total), at a total cost of $6,8 million. This would substantially mitigate impacts to the pavement at locations where buses are most likely to stop.


In order to mitigate some of Option A's traffic impacts, certain segments of Wilshire Boulevard could be widened to create additional capacity for the new bus lanes: ...

San Vicente Boulevard to Fairfax Avenue - The north side of Wilshire Boulevard could be widened by reducing the sidewalk width, which is currently 20-23 feet, to create capacity for a new westbound bus lane. This would leave a 10-13 foot width sidewalk along the north side. ...

Like the Lincoln proposal below, this would prioritize people-carrying capacity of the boulevard while we wait for higher-capacity rail transit. It is also consistent with the fall 2006 "A Green Los Angeles" recommendations by the Green LA Working Group, which included more peak-hour bus-only lanes as one of its top-three transportation recommendations.

The LA Times Bottleneck Blog has an item about this plan potentially narrowing sidewalks

Olympic-Pico one-way?

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky's April 15, 2007 "Olympic/Pico One-Way Pair Initial Feasibility Report" (4.7 MB pdf) by Allyn D. Rifkin P.E. describes a range of options. The Los Angeles City Council Transportation Committee will consider a motion by Weiss, Greuel, and Rosendahl this Wednesday (4/25 at 2:00 p.m.):

In January 2007, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky hired a traffc consultant to analyze the feasibility of turning Olympic and Pico Boulevards into oneway streets from downtown Los Angeles to the City of Santa Monica. The traffc consultant has completed a preliminary analysis.

The potential impact to residential neighborhoods of any proposal to convert major thoroughfares into one-way streets necessitates a thorough analysis and consideration of all potential community impacts.

Such analysis must include a thorough assessment of the potential impacts to residential neighborhoods as well as a quantitative analysis of potential benefis in terms of reduced travel times and congestion relief. Analysis of this proposal must also include broad community input.

I THEREFORE MOVE that the City Council direct the Department of Transportation to report back in 60 days with a review and analysis of Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavosky's consultant study on the feasibility of turning Olympic and Pico Boulevards into one-way streets from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica. The report should address potential impacts to surrounding streets and neighborhoods. In addition, LADOT shall engage in comprehensive community outreach during the preparation of their report.

I'll also highlight Kent Strumpell's letter to the LA Times (4/21):

One-way streets prioritize moving cars rather than moving people, perpetuating the traffic problems we face. Instead, we need solutions that help people meet their needs without having to drive.

Unfortunately, one-way streets make our urban boulevards more like freeways, with hazardous speeds, noise and lack of landscaped medians. This works against the strategy of improving our boulevards as inviting public places conducive to walking, transit use, cycling and successful businesses. Creating vibrant, multimodal shopping streets near residential communities is a critical strategy for reducing automobile trips.

It is time that we stop sacrificing the important public space of our roads to the degrading domination of cars.

In a similar situation I served on the Lincoln Corridor Task Force Citizens' Advisory Committee in 2002-4. We faced the question of whether to attempt to move more cars on Lincoln Boulevard -- knowing it wouldn't solve traffic congestion and would further impact its neighbors -- or to focus on moving people. We recommended the latter, taking advantage of the curb parking lanes in Venice and Ocean Park to propose dedicated peak-hour bus lanes first, and potentially light rail later. See SCAG's LCTF webpage for detailed LCTF reports.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Hybrid sales up

The LA Times reported yesterday that hybrid car sales are up 91% year-to-year:

Hybrid sales are on a roll, and it's no secret what's driving them.

"It's called $3 gasoline," said Fritz Hitchcock, who owns Toyota dealerships in Santa Barbara, Northridge and the City of Industry. "We are absolutely, positively liking hybrids, and it's only going to get better." ...

In the first three months of the year, sales jumped 91% compared with the same period of 2006, to 59,613, according to research firm AutoData Inc. In March, year-over-year sales of the segment-leading Toyota Prius climbed 142% to 19,156.

Prius sales were juiced by a rush to buy before the federal tax credit on the vehicle was cut by 50% on April 1 to $788 per vehicle. But other popular models also showed strong growth last month, including hybrid versions of the Honda Civic (up 26%) and the Ford Escape sport utility vehicle (up 51%). ...

Although gas savings are attracting buyers, having more cars on dealer lots has also helped. Toyota is boosting production of U.S.-bound Priuses by almost 50% to an annual rate of 110,000. That's giving buyers more bargaining room — the cars are selling for almost $3,000 less than last summer, according to The average sale price of a base model is now about $21,200, according to Edmunds. Toyota is offering discounts of $600 to $2,000 a vehicle on common options packages. ...

Almost 700,000 hybrids have been sold in the U.S. since 1999. They accounted for 1.8% of vehicle sales last month, double the year-earlier market share. ...

If you're buying a car, it seems obvious to buy the highest-mpg car you can, both from expecting rising gasoline prices and to reduce our individual global warming emissions. If all cars averaged what today's Prius does, it would save half of U.S. gasoline, one fourth of all U.S. oil used.

Speaking as a delighted Prius owner, it's just a great car! I love its comfortable upright driving position, good interior space, and very useful hatchback. It's nimble for parking, yet a good cruiser. And it's averaged over 40 mpg for two years.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

California High-Speed Rail

High-speed trains offer the prospect of travel between Los Angeles and the Bay Area in 2-3 hours. Electrically powered, they can be a sustainable alternative to fossil-fueled airplanes and automobiles.

France just set a new speed record of 356 mph. The California High-Speed Rail Authority has plans for our state to join Europe and Asia's accomplishments.

After completing system-wide environmental study, two project-level EIR/EISs are now beginning, for Los Angeles-Palmdale and LA-Orange County. The last Scoping meeting for LA-Palmdale will be at the Los Angeles River Center & Gardens (Atrium), 570 W. Avenue 26, Los Angeles, CA 90065 on April 17, 2007, 3:00-5:00 and 6:00-8:00 p.m. Comments for both may be submitted until April 27, 2007.

While we wait for the real thing, here are two of a number of simulations (the photo above is from the first): San Diego Mission Bay and Tehachapi windmills.

See the local Friends of High Speed Rail to help.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Step It Up!

This Saturday, April 14 is the "Step It Up National Day of Climate Action":

"Citizens around the nation concerned about the catastrophic effects of global warming will rally together on April 14, 2007 to urge Congress to cut carbon emissions 80% by 2050. The events are part of the Step it Up campaign, the largest day of citizen action focusing on global warming in our nation’s history."

This is consistent with the reduction in global warming emissions many climate scientists say is necessary to avoid runaway warming, and the goal of Rep. Henry Waxman's Safe Climate Act (graph, right).

Look for me at the Sierra Club booth at Earth Day on the Santa Monica Third Street Promenade, 10 a.m.-7 p.m., featuring personal carbon footprint calculations and the Carbon Family.

Expo Line

The Expo Line is a planned light rail transit line from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica, a sustainable alternative to horrible Westside traffic. Construction on Phase 1 from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City is starting, with opening scheduled for 2010. Environmental study for Phase 2 to Santa Monica is now beginning.

For more information see Friends 4 Expo Transit (the volunteers who brought the popular support leading to its approval in 2001) and the Expositon Metro Line Construction Authority. The Authority will host a Project Status Open House on Tuesday, April 17, 6:30-8:30 p.m., at the Culver City Senior Center, 4095 Culver Boulevard.

A great proposal for a "green corridor" park with restored stream west of Overland Ave. (below) was developed by Light Rail for Cheviot.

Saturday, April 07, 2007


Our challenges for the Los Angeles region are acute, especially in transportation, housing, Global Warming, and the coming decline of fossil fuels. But transitions bring opportunities.

I'm beginning this to explore possiblities of what can work to make L.A. more livable and sustainable, and celebrate special places, past and present, that we can expand on. Welcome to what I'm seeking to be an important and entertaining discussion!