The Great Shift Away From Driving Continues in Southern California

Dec 8th, 2013 | Posted by

Southern Californians are driving less and riding transit more, according to a new study from US PIRG:

The Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana area saw similar changes since the mid-2000s. Residents drove 2.3% fewer miles in 2010 than they did in 2006, the study said, using the most recent data available. In total, the number of miles fell by about 2.9 billion miles.

The volume of workers who commuted by car in the same area fell by about 2% during roughly the same time frame. Other California areas, including Riverside-San Bernardino, San Diego and San Francisco, saw similar declines….

The average number of miles traveled on public transit in Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana increased by about 14% in the second half of the 2000′s, the study said. The number of trips rose by 1.1%.

You can bet that the number of trips would rise significantly more if more transit options were provided, including buses as well as rails. Los Angeles County is hard at work expanding its mass transit system, as is San Diego. Someday soon Orange County will join them, even if it’s just a streetcar in Anaheim to start.

But the point here is that further investments in automobile capacity are pointless, as there isn’t increasing pressure on the system from the public. No, the gains are all in transit and that is where regional and state transportation funding ought to be directed. In the 1950s California embarked on a major transportation infrastructure building program that emphasized automobile capacity. Here in the 2010s it is time to embark on a major transportation infrastructure building program that this time emphasizes transit capacity, with high speed rail being a part of it.

Sadly, that isn’t what we’re seeing just yet, at least not outside LA County. San Diego County and Caltrans are still planning to move ahead with a completely pointless $4 billion widening of Interstate 5. That $4 billion would go a long way toward making even more improvements to the rail and transit networks in the San Diego area. Some money is being spent on capacity upgrades on the LOSSAN corridor in this area, including numerous double tracking projects and that’s awesome, but more of that type of work is needed rather than freeway expansion.

Transit advocates in San Diego are leading the charge for a better solution. The completely awesome Cleveland National Forest Foundation, which has developed its own 50/10 plan (modeled on LA’s 30/10 plan), last week announced it was suing Caltrans to stop the I-5 project, charging that Caltrans has mishandled the environmental review process and that the project will cause massive carbon emissions that undermines the AB 32 goals. I’m glad to see them standing up to fight the widening project, and especially with the ultimate goal of promoting transit over freeway lanes.

As Californians continue to shift away from driving, it’s time that governments across the Golden State shifted their funding priorities as well.

  1. Ted Judah
    Dec 8th, 2013 at 23:30

    Southern California was not a trailblazer in regard to these trends. Driving reduction per capita was higher in SF and San Diego; mass transit ridership increased more in Sacramento and San Jose. The story about San Diego planning is way more compelling.

  2. EJ
    Dec 8th, 2013 at 23:33

    Why do you hate American workers? Widening I-5 will create hundreds of jobs.

    Jerry Reply:

    You would get many many more jobs and benefits from double tracking the entire 351 mile rail corridor between San Luis Obispo and San Diego.

    Observer Reply:

    HSR and public transit would create even more jobs.

    Emmanuel Reply:

    This logic has been discussed since this blog has started. You might as well employ people to dig a hole and fill it with concrete. There. Jobs created.
    I can’t point enough on this experiment that has happened in Manhattan and many places in Europe (recently some California cities even).

    Actually eliminating some of the lanes has made traffic run smoother, reduced traffic deaths and improved bus schedules. All it took is draw some lines and strictly dedicate certain lanes to certain forms of transportation in a particular direction. I heard drawing those silly lines cost the city around $250,000. Cities in East Asia have figured it out a long time ago and people just know the rules.

    What I have noticed is that more lanes actually encourages rude driving more, people switching three lanes at once in the last minute or not staying in their lane. In contrast, I have noticed that traffic around construction zones with plenty of lights and fewer lanes keep drivers alert and thus made the traffic more efficient. So the solution seems very obvious to me. What would help reduce traffic congestion is less freedom and more rules on the road because freedom usually translates into irresponsible and selfish behavior that hurts everyone else.

  3. Reality Check
    Dec 9th, 2013 at 05:42

    Northeast Corridor high-speed-rail plan slows to 160 m.p.h.

    Has Amtrak abandoned its vision of 220-mile-per-hour bullet trains speeding up and down the Northeast Corridor?

    The railroad recently issued draft specifications for new trains to replace its existing Acelas that call for 160 m.p.h. trains, not the 220 m.p.h. versions Amtrak said in January that it was seeking.

    Amtrak and the California High-Speed Rail Authority in January announced they were jointly seeking proposals for trains that could run at 220 miles an hour on the West Coast and the East Coast. California still wants 220-m.p.h. trains for its planned high-speed line between Los Angeles and San Francisco.


    Rod Diridon, a high-speed-rail expert who is the executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute in San Jose, said the new Amtrak 160-m.p.h. specification “is sure news to me.”

    “We all thought the joint specs called for the standard international definition of high-speed rail, which is at least 300 kilometers per hour, or 186 miles per hour, remembering that the most modern of the international trains are indeed traveling 220 m.p.h. in daily service,” Diridon said.

    Spokesman Craig Schulz said Amtrak hoped to buy 160-mile-an-hour trains that could be modified in the future to go faster, as the Northeast Corridor was upgraded to permit higher speeds.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    He hasn’t been paying attention. The short term plan has always been for 160 mph operation. Since the 60s.

    Mike Reply:

    So, speaking of Amtrak’s HSR procurement, does it really make any sense for CHSRA to be partnering up with Amtrak in a joint procurement? I expected CHSRA to hold off until they’ve got a solid timetable (and funding) to complete construction of the IOS, and then test the marketplace to see if a private consortium wants to finance and build trainsets and operate the system.

    Best case (i.e., fantasy world) the IOS is complete in about 10 years; if you believe that schedule, is “now” the right time to begin procuring trainsets?

    Joey Reply:

    All this tells us is how utterly clueless Diridon is. There’s absolutely no need for trains going faster than 160 mph on the NEC any time in the next two decades at least.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Silly silly Amtrak and it’s predecessors keep testing trains at those speeds. Have been since the 60s. Looks like they will be doing it regularly sometime soon. Pity they didn’t consult with you.

    Joey Reply:

    I was unaware that Amtrak had done any testing for revenue speeds above 160 mph (noting that revenue speed is usually 90% design speed). Perhaps you’d like to enlighten me.

    JJJ Reply:

    They were testing for 170MPH at Princeton Junction last year.

    Joey Reply:

    Yes, testing. But as I mentioned, testing is done a bit above the intended revenue speed, to ensure an adequate safety margin.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Joey Reply:

    Okay, so they have one section of track that is theoretically capable of 186 (and there’s no explicit indication that it won’t require additional upgrades). Taking advantage of that speed will save what? 30 seconds?

    Clem Reply:

    While saving those 30 seconds, having 186 mph trains pass by each other on 12-foot track centers is going to be kind of exciting.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    That can be changed, though. Amtrak widened track centers to 13′ in Rhode Island and Massachusetts in the 1990s.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Track doesn’t last forever and the next time they come through, rip it all out, clean the ballast and lay it all back down again they can spec out wider track centers. Which if they’ve been running the 186 MPH trains through at 160 can then be done at 186. If they have trains that can only do 150 they can only go 150.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Gotta start somewhere. If you don’t have the trains capable of high speed what’s the point of improving the track. If you don’t have the track what’s the point of buying the trains? When they are done with that section move onto the next tangent section that can be upgraded from 135 to 185 and they’ve saved two minutes. Then onto the next section. Straightening the 105 MPH curve when it’s surrounded by 185MPH track saves more time than when it’s surrounded by 125MPH track.

    jonathan Reply:

    Yeah, but you have to straighten that curve a lot more for 185 mi/hr than you’d need for 125 mi/hr. Or, to put it the other way, if you increase the curve-radius for 125 mi/hr now, it’ll have to be done all over again to allow 185 mi/hr running.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    You can run trains capable of 125 MPH, at 125, over track that is good for higher speeds.
    As far as I know they don’t have any serious plans to do any curve straightening in the near future so straightening things to 125 and coming back in 15 years to make it 200 isn’t on the table. There are things like straightening the nasty ones in Baltimore in the 140 year old tunnel. Fixing that saves them 5 minutes. And the train exits the tunnel at 125 instead of 30 which I’m sure saves them a fraction of minute if the track outside of the tunnel is rated for more than 125. The planning for that isn’t very far along and they might rethink it for 140 and save another 30 seconds. Things that have to be done anyway gets it down to 2:15.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    I think that’s the problem with the NEC in general. 220 mph only works if you bypass or run through stations…principally Philadelphia. However, given that ridership right now is evenly split between Philadelphia and DC from NYC and the handful of people going to Boston, there’s no point.

    160 mph to 186 between Philadelphia and Baltimore saves seven minutes. From Trenton to New Brunswick, 90 seconds.

    However, note that General Electric and other interlopers aren’t even satisfied with 160mph because they want to sell products that go a paltry 110mph instead. So, I’m wondering if that is what is meant by “160 mph means a different product entirely”.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Wait, what? First, you don’t need to skip Philadelphia at all. Second, the Acela already runs 135 mph, and GE isn’t in the loop. And third, the handful of people going to Boston is about 40% of each of New York-DC and New York-Philly; if New York-Boston were sped up – some of which requires cheap upgrades (higher cant deficiency south of New Haven, and secondarily an I-95 racetrack from New Haven to Kingston) – then the ridership would be more than 40%.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    skipping Philadephia on a train between DC and NY would be silly. Skipping it on train between Harrisburg and New York saves around an hour. So sometimes skipping Philadelphia makes sense.

    Joe Reply:

    Diridon is reacting to the new specification in the purchase announcement. the previous announcement stated 220-225MPH. It’s all in the article. His reaction is reasonable given the unanticipated change in the write-up.

    Joey Reply:

    No one should be surprised by this. The need to supplement or even replace the Acela fleet is immediate, and plans for major infrastructure changes are nebulous at best right now. And when infrastructure changes do occur, they should emphasize improving the slowest segments rather than increasing top speed.

    Joe Reply:

    “This” refers to the text, not the train system. This isn’t a philosophy of trains discussion that confused him.

    He’s not stupid for recognizing a specification was changed – that shows he knew what was written prior.

    Joey Reply:

    Sure, but he acts like this came out of the blue, which it didn’t.

    Joe Reply:

    I wasn’t there di I can’t speak to how he acted.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    he acts like this came out of the blue, which it didn’t.

    Every day is a fresh surprise to The Father of VTA Light Rail.

    Look, squirrel!

    Ted Judah Reply:

    I guess Amtrak is preparing already for the Christie Administration in 2017.

  4. trentbridge
    Dec 9th, 2013 at 07:52

    Widening I5 is not pointless – the Orange County portion is four lanes and then the freeway drops to three lanes in each direction in LA County. It causes daily traffic jams when the volume that’s handled by four lanes tries to squeeze into three lanes. It’s like building a passenger rail system where four tracks are squeezed into three tracks as you approach San Francisco…how could that possibly affect the capacity of the entire system?

    The biggest bottlenecks on freeways and railroads are when you reduce the number of lanes or tracks. Completing the system to have a more uniform number of lanes/tracks is not pointless.

    I am dismayed that SMART is building commuter rail that has so many single-track sections when it obviously will limit capacity as a result.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    you should be more dismayed that the LOSSAN corridor still is single track in many places. I is widely used; SMART will probably have enough capacity for years to come!

    trentbridge Reply:

    I am! But SMART is a fresh beginning in an old freight ROW. There are several projects either being constructed or planned in the LOSSAN corridor to reduce the amount of single-track operation – double-tracking a few miles inside Camp Pendleton and in the Sorrento Valley. They just finished double-tracking the brand-new Santa Margarita Bridge just north of Oceanside.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Keep it narrow and spend the $4b on making Surfliner/Metrolink/Coaster more attractive instead. You can get under two hours Los Angeles to San Diego easily for less money than that.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    I am sure that is exactly what OCTA wants to do. Along with spinning off SLO to LA back to the State and extending the Surfliner to Palmdale, lol.

    synonymouse Reply:

    SMART is essentially all single track and with a low-level moveable bridge. Add midday freight ops and you only have a few trains inbound in the morning and outbound in the evening.

    SMART is all about a free track renewal for Doug Bosco and his freight schemes.

    Joey Reply:

    It causes daily traffic jams when the volume that’s handled by four lanes tries to squeeze into three lanes.

    And if widened then it will be backed up along the entire length. Freeways are notoriously sensitive to induced demand.

    It’s like building a passenger rail system where four tracks are squeezed into three tracks as you approach San Francisco…how could that possibly affect the capacity of the entire system?

    Trains, unlike cars, run on a schedule, and aren’t trying to compete with each other to get to their destination first. Having wider sections for timed overtakes is perfectly valid and works all around the world today. Delays only occur when schedule adherence is bad. This sort of set up actually exists on some roads too, but usually only on roads that are primarily one lane per direction.

    trentbridge Reply:

    If most people have to be at work to start between 7-9 a.m. and go home eight or nine hours later, then cars do run on a “schedule”. It’s called a rush hour(s). I’m not saying that freeways should be widened per se but the standard should be four lanes in each direction for I 5 and I 405 thru’ the Southern California urban areas. Congestion is useful in as much as it represents a form of tax on users at given times of the day. If you don’t need to be travelling thru’ LA County in rush hour – don’t. I would never advocate that freeways should be widened so there’s never congestion. It’s like requiring shopping malls to have enough parking spaces to handle the volume expected in the last ten days before Christmas. The result being acres of unused parking slots for eleven months per annum.

    Joey Reply:

    That’s not the kind of schedule I was talking about.

    And just as a thought exercise, why not just remove the additional lanes through OC or dedicate them to some other use? It’s politically impossible, but the overall throughput of the freeway is the same and the traffic-inducing funnel is eliminated?

    Eric M Reply:

    SMART is planning on 14 trains a day each direction at half hour intervals. You don’t need to completely double tracked for efficient operation. Just look at the freight corridor in the southwest, a lot of single track.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    14 trains/direction/day is “why even bother” territory.

    SMART is America’s Finest Transportation Planning Professionals in a nutshell. Out of control costs, and pretty much nothing of any use to show for it. Freight as the only design criterion, beyond-crapulent one-off FRA high-floor super fuel inefficient bullshit trains, maximally stupid station inaccessibility, out of control consultants (the guy responsible for the FRA DMUs ended up revolving door to manage the whole worthless shebang), out of control construction costs, out of control operating costs, over-staffing, and putting public-private cash transfer maximization (build any crap anywhere now!) ahead of actually making the train connect to anything (LARKSPUR FERRY TERMINAL) or serve anybody.

    Compare and contrast with a different provincial tertiary line that was out of service for decades, and is now back and in the 21st century with low costs, good equipment, attractive service … all things SMART will never have.
    (Yes, even ITALIANS can fuck up less than America’s Finest Transportation Professionals. Actual service delivered!)

    synonymouse Reply:

    I have not seen any double track so far. That’s a lot of runs for such little demand and does not touch southern Marin or the City.

    The GGT commute has been in decline over the decades. And in this scheme you will have to pay two fares(the ferries are not cheap)and walk to get to the boats. Unless GGT takes over SMART.

    As Willie Brown says, just get your foot in the door, we’ll figure out how it works later.

    Eric M Reply:

    There is a full speed passing track in Santa Rosa, one to be built in Cotati, one in Petaluma and one to be built in Hamilton.

    swing hanger Reply:

    At what point does a long loop track become a stretch of plain old double track?

    Eric M Reply:

    Well 4-5 miles of passing track is cheaper than completely double tracking the whole 40 miles and unnecessary too

    synonymouse Reply:

    Those are undoubtedly spots where there is plenty of room and maybe sported a yard in times past. The NWP has many sections not that easy to double track. Light rail standards would make infrastructure upgrades easier, but I won’t be around to see that.

    Derek Reply:

    It causes daily traffic jams when the volume that’s handled by four lanes tries to squeeze into three lanes.

    That can easily and cheaply be fixed by pricing the section with three lanes at market equilibrium. Therefore, widening that section to four lanes isn’t needed to prevent traffic jams.

    Donk Reply:

    I recently moved from LA to North County SD and lived in SD before that. I agree that widening the 5 at the LA/OC border is critical since that is a major chokepoint. But widening the 5 in North County SD is a joke. Traffic is sometimes rough in the summer on Friday afternoons, but overall compared to LA the freeways in SD are smooth sailing, even during rush hours. Plus you get beautiful views of the ocean the whole time.

    What they need to do in SD is first double track the whole LOSSAN, dig a hole thru Miramar hill, and then switch over to more frequent DMUs instead of the gigantic Coaster trains. They need to turn LOSSAN into something that more people can use. They also need to reduce the cost of an Amtrak ticket or something, because SD is a family destination, and it just doesn’t make sense financially to pay for 4 train tickets when you could just hop in a car. LOSSAN is most useful for single travelers.

  5. Joe
    Dec 9th, 2013 at 13:28

    OC Still wants freeways.,0,1541740.story#axzz2n10h928h

    A $1.47-billion proposal to add toll lanes to a traffic-clogged 14-mile stretch of the 405 Freeway from Long Beach to Costa Mesa has met with wide opposition from officials and residents in the six cities along the route. Civic leaders said they fear the plan could be a harbinger of more toll roads to come.

    Spokker Reply:

    I used the toll roads, the 261 specifically. Greatest transportation experience of my life. Cost only $2.00 with the FastTrak thing. Now instead of being obsessed with trains, I’m obsessed with toll roads now.

    joe Reply:,0,1100196.story

    2.3 Billion in bonds for OC toll road.

    Somehow 9-10B for HSR is a BFD.

    Orange County’s largest toll road network on Thursday sold $2.3 billion in bonds to shore up the finances of several highways that have failed to meet revenue and ridership projections.

    Where’s the oversight? GAO needs to investigate the ridership model and where’s the mooooney to pay all this back coming from?

    joe Reply:

    It’s coming from here:

    The bond issue will extend the time that motorists must pay tolls on the Foothill-Eastern’s highways by 13 years —from 2040 to 2053 — and add upward of $1.75 billion to the corridor’s total interest payments by the time the bonds mature in 2053.,0,1100196.story#ixzz2nLdeIgs5

    joe Reply:

    What about these bonds?

    Two rating agencies, Fitch and Standard & Poor’s, gave the corridor bonds the lowest investment grade, except for $206 million in notes that have received a speculative or junk rating.,0,1100196.story#ixzz2nLe16MFV

    At least CA can build Highways Properly.

    Spokker Reply:

    It’s all a waste of money but I’ll be damned if I didn’t have fun.

  6. joe
    Dec 9th, 2013 at 18:12

    Upscale airline flying out of San Carlos airport (RWC HSR station site) bothering Atherton & Menlo Park residents. If only there were some alternative to expanding air traffic.

    Surf Air pilots trying different strategy to mitigate noise

    Atherton is hosting a community meeting on Monday, Dec. 9, in the Pavilion at Holbrook-Palmer Park, 150 Watkins Ave. in Atherton, to discuss the aircraft noise issue.

    Pilots flying Surf Air planes into the San Carlos Airport have begun trial use of a visual approach technique in an attempt to mitigate the increased noise level over Atherton, North Fair Oaks and other mid-Peninsula communities.

    Residents have been complaining about the noise increase, the result of Surf Air’s summer launch of a flight service to and from San Carlos Airport, using larger, noisier planes than those typically using the small, public-use airport.

    BTW one proposed solution is to route planes over less wealthy areas or Menlo Park and East Palo Alto.

  7. D. P. Lubic
    Dec 9th, 2013 at 19:38

    In the wild thinking category (hope this link works):

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Well, it didn’t quite test out, at least for me. Here’s a lead-in to the print article, which may have a video link as well:

    The “wild thinking” in the not above was the concept of routing a high speed train around a city, but having it meet a “moving platform” train, with the two “docking” side-by-side on parallel tracks, with a connection between the two. Advantages claimed–claimed–include not having to stop the high speed set, just slow down a bit, and to avoid the cost of routing a high speed line into the center of a city.

    I won’t begin to think of the potential disadvantages of such a scheme, starting with wondering how much extra track you would need for the “moving platform,” and also allowing for carbody sway and bounce between the two trains. Heck, that can be bad enough between cars in the same train, and some video footage I’ve seen suggests high speed trains aren’t totally immune to that even with the perfect track maintenance they need and get.

    swing hanger Reply:

    Countries that cannot master timed overtakes and on the dot cross-platform transfers come up with these harebrained ideas.

  8. joe
    Dec 9th, 2013 at 20:25
    California High Speed Rail: Media Piling-on Continues, as Does the Project
    Last week, the media reported, once again, that the California High Speed Rail (HSR) project is in its death throes.

    The latest batch of articles are based on a Nov. 25 decision by Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny. The judge ordered the California HSR Authority to revise a 2011 funding plan before it issues state bonds under Prop. 1A, the 2008 measure that set California’s HSR project going. The ruling also green-lighted work on the Central Valley portion of the project.

    The sticking point is a five-mile section of the 29-mile Madera-to-Fresno segment. Under the worst-case scenario, sources close to the bid said the Authority will renegotiate a $511 million agreement with Tutor-Perini, the construction contractor, to work around it. Meanwhile, Dan Richard, the project chairman, said they will comply with the orders and construction will start as soon as next month.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Wasn’t the whole contract under 1 billon? You have to pay them an extra 50% NOT to build a 5 mile section? Wow

  9. synonymouse
    Dec 10th, 2013 at 12:09

    “But despite all the doom-and-gloom reporting, California HSR isn’t dead. However, given the many challenges, by the time the first train runs from Los Angeles to San Francisco in less than three hours, everyone reading this may be.”

    Real world translation: in order to achieve anything remotely resembling 2:40 this entire project will be recast, lasting decades.

    PB-CHSRA is just one big lie. 2:40 out of the question. And now they will be making the stupidest mistake of getting the next iteration of the Boeing Vertol. Jerry must be in his second childhood.

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