Settlement in High-Speed Rail Case

Although the pending high-speed rail project connecting Sacramento and San Diego doesn’t necessarily have a large affect on San Francisco’s internal transportation affairs, it is an interesting project that will affect most Californians in one way or another. Last Thursday, April 18, a Sacramento Judge approved a settlement between a coalition of Central Valley Farmers and the agency overseeing the construction of the high-speed rail. The settlement, which dictated that the agency set aside $5 million to preserve farmland in the Central Valley and that it pay $1 million in legal fees, puts the high-speed rail construction on track to begin this summer. The first section to be built will be a 30 mile section between Fresno and Madera right in the middle of the state.

This $68 billion project originally had quite a bit of voter approval and support at its outset, but the many legal delays (such as this most recent settlement) and rising estimated costs, have left many Californians disillusioned with the project which promises to connect most of California’s major cities and to provide public transportation in a state whose highways are legendary.

Despite the many setbacks, the Transportation Authority can breathe a sigh of relief and celebrate Thursday’s settlement. The settlemetn is esepcially timely given that the Authority is up against an impending deadline that will make or break the project. The first phase of the project- a 130-mile segment from Fresno to Bakersfield- has been approved and funded ($2.6 billion in bonds for construction and  $3.2 billion from the federal government) all based on completion by 2017.


San Francisco to Better Enforce Commuter Benefits Law

Commuters in the Bay Area are already having a (slightly) better year. On January 1st, Congress increased the pretax commuter benefit to $245 as part of the American Taxpayer Relief Act. Now,  it looks like the City will be strengthening the enforcement mechanism of a four-year old law that requires larger businesses to offer their employees commuter benefits.
“Under San Francisco’s Commuter Benefits Ordinance, all businesses with 20 or more workers nationwide must offer one of three transit benefits: The pretax deduction, up to $245 per month, for transit or van pool expenses; transit subsidies valued at $74, the cost of a monthly Muni pass; or a van pool from a worker’s home to place of business.”

The goal of the renewed focus on the law is two-fold. First, the city wants to make sure that employees are aware of the law and how to best take advantage of it.  Second, the city wants to strengthen the enforcement mechanisms of the law.

Under the proposed changes to the law, a complaint would lead to an investigation, and if the investigation determined that the business was indeed in violation of the law, then it would be issued a warning. If the business did not comply with the warning within 90 days then it could be fined $500.

The commuter benefits aren’t just small change either. It is estimated that employees taking advantage of the law save between between $200 and $1,000 annually.


Widow Expected to Receive $900,000 in Muni Wrongful Death Suit

In 2009, a N-Judah operator failed to stop for journalist Bill Brand as he walked in a crosswalk. Now, Mr. Brand’s widow is “poised to receive one of the largest settlements Muni has issued in the past two years.”Along with operator error, the operator believed that Mr. Brand was going to yield to an oncoming car so he continued into the crosswalk colliding with Mr. Brand, the lawsuit stated that the company created dangerous conditions when it did not properly maintain the tracks, signals and signage near that intersection.

If the $900,000 settlement is approved, then “the amount the agency has paid out in accident-related incidents in the past two years would rise to $17 million.”


BART to see Fare Hikes through 2020

BART’s Board of Director’s renewed the inflation-based fare increase measure through 2020. This move by the board means that on January 1, 2014 BART users fares will increase 5%. In 2016, 2018 and 2020 the increase will be 4%. The new plan also allows for an increase in parking fees if BART should think it necessary. With the new measure BART stations are now allowed to increase parking by 50 cents twice a year with a maximum daily limit of $3 (West Oakland being an exception). The parking and fare increases are expected to net around $410 million between 2013-2020.

The parking increases were of particular concern for those BART representatives from areas with few other public transport options. In these areas BART riders commute to the station and park there at a rate much higher than in areas with more public transportation options. These representatives were worried that any parking increases would disproportionately affect their constituents. In order to remedy these complaints, the proposal was amended to stipulate that parking increases would go toward access improvements in the more remote stations.

The fare and parking hikes are considered necessary because although BART has come out of the past two years with surpluses, they have many long-term operational projects that experts anticipate  will create a shortfall for this coming fiscal year. The additional $410 million in revenue would go towards those projects in an attempt to offset the $10 billion shortfall.


Amgen Tour of California to End in Bay Area!

For the first time since its debut in 2006 the Amgen Tour of California will be running South to North and ending in the Bay Area. The Amgen Tour is North America’s biggest cycling event drawing the world’s best cyclists to compete. This year organizers planned the race in an effort to show off the best that California has to offer. The race, which is 750 miles, begins May 12 in Escondido in Southern California and ends on May 20 in Santa Rosa.

The Bay Area challenges are sure to be some of the most exciting of the 8 day race. On May 17 there will be an individual time trial (‘an all-out sprint against the clock with the fastest riders in the standings going last’) ending at Metcalf Motorcycle Park. For those who are not too familiar with the logistics of major cycling events, individual time trials are one of those rare times when cyclists can really change their standing.

However, according to the Marin Independent Journal, many people predict that it will be the grueling ascent of Mount Diablo that will determine the final line up. On May 18, riders will begin a 93 mile ride from Livermore to the top of Mount Diablo. After the difficult ride on the 18th they will finish the race with ‘a trip across the Golden Gate Bridge before competitors head to Point Reyes National Seashore and west Sonoma County. The race will end with a couple laps in downtown Santa Rosa as a coronation of the victor.’

If you are around the Bay Area in May you will not want to miss this! It is sure to draw a crowd and the festivities will be something the entire family will enjoy.

If you ever need a bicycle accident attorney in San Francisco, Paso Robles, or the surrounding Central California Coast area, contact us for a free consultation.


Fiscal Cliff Deal Unexpectedly benefits Transit Commuters

The lukewarm compromise reached by Democrats and Republicans to avert the impending doom that was the fiscal cliff contained a New Year’s surprise for transit commuters. The new deal included a return to the 2009 commuter benefits program “that allows workers to pay for up to $240 of their monthly transit costs with pre-tax dollars.” This means that transit commuters could potentially exempt up to $1,500 of their annual commute costs from taxes.

“Any incentive to get people to take transit is a bonus,” commented Tom Nolan, who sits on the Caltrain and San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board of directors. And in the Bay Area, any relief from the often high financial burden of taking public transportation in the Bay Area is welcome.

Since the fiscal cliff package is retroactive to January 1, 2012, commuters may be able to apply the benefits program to their upcoming tax returns. The details of how to do this are still being determined, however, since the reinstating of the program was so sudden and unexpected. The Peninsula Traffic Congestion Relief Alliance, a transit advocacy organization, is working on determining how it can be done.


It’s All About How You Walk

A new year means new resolutions. Make 2013 a year to remember and make one of your resolutions to walk more! Here are a few tips from Walk SF Director Elizabeth Stampe and the U.S. Surgeon General.

1) Walk with a purpose: Walk to work, or walk to the next bus stop over. Get off BART one station away from where you normally do. Find a coffee shop on the way, or stop by the store to pick up milk on the way home. Make it a daily routine (then you will have to drink a lot of milk as well).

2) Walk somewhere for lunch: Even if you pack your lunch everyday, take it with you and go find a park to sit at for lunch. Even a 5 minute walk to your favorite lunch spot will wake you up and make you more productive for the afternoon.

3) Set a daily goal: If you are into it, get one of those step-counters and set a daily goal for yourself. If that’s not your thing, then set a time goal (try for at least 20 minutes a day).

4) Make it a family or group habit: Find a friend to walk to work with, or to share that lunch spot with. Walk your kids to the bus stop or make it a family outing to the grocery store on the weekend.

5) Most of all don’t forget that you live in San Francisco! It is a beautiful city, with beautiful walking opportunities! As Stampe pointed out, in San Francisco there is “no ice, no snow – sure, we have hills, but that’s how we get beautiful views. Many neighborhoods are just minutes apart….Not everything you see in San Francisco will be beautiful, but it won’t be dull. Whether you look for bay views, fabulous outfits, migrating birds, new restaurants or interesting faces, you won’t be bored.”

So make it your resolution to walk more and to enjoy the amazing city in which you live this year!


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Fed Report Raises Additional Funding Concerns for CA High-speed Rail

The California High-speed Rail that will transport passengers from San Francisco to L.A. in just 2 1/2 hours, the largest proposed public works project in the state’s history, has it another speed bump (cheesy, over-used pun intended of course). Said speed bump being a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The report indicated that many problems plague the project, something of which California Law-Makers and the California High-Speed Rail Authority are well aware. The major set backs for the 68 billion dollar project is the volatility in ridership projections, the lingering environmental issues and a serious lack of available funds.

The $68 billion estimate (a mind-boggling number) breaks down like this:

  • $11.5 billion in state and federal funds have been set-aside. That means that as of right now, only 16% of the project is actually funded. And that is not including the millions and probably billions of dollars that the project will go over budget.
  • The CA High-speed Rail Authority has projected that $37 billion will come from the Federal coffers.
  • That still leaves a shortfall of $20 billion dollars.

The Authority believes that once construction of the rail has begun private investors will take the project seriously and jump on board. They will cover the rest of the costs for a cut of the profits.

This article may seem a bit cynical, but it is not because the project is undesirable. A high-speed rail that connects Northern and Southern California is great for the state. Any public transportation is a step forward in a country that is so automobile-centric. However, this project has many obstacles that need to be overcome. This is not to say that they cannot be addressed in a fiscally feasible way, but it will take time and planning. It definitely will not be a smooth ride for the high-speed rail project, but it will be worth the bumps along the way.



48% of Car Accidents in Los Angeles are Hit and Runs

The statistic really speaks for itself. Nearly half of Los Angeles car accidents, that 20,000 each year, are hit-and-runs.

That is a percentage completely off the charts. In the United States as a whole about 11% of crashes are hit and runs. The Los Angeles numbers are not even within the realm of reasonable. Los Angeles drivers are 4 1/2 times more likely to bail after an accident than drivers in the country on the whole. There are any number of reasons that the percentage in Los Angeles is so much higher, but two stick out. One, Los Angeles is a huge metropolis of nearly 3.8 million people. That is a lot of people. Two, Los Angeles has a car-centric culture. Southern Californians are quick to complain about public transportation and the highways are a landmark in and of themselves. The size of the city and surrounding suburbs and the sheer number of cars on the road probably contribute to the shocking 48% hit and runs.

Whatever the causal factors, 48% is much too high of a number. Los Angeles city, county and the police department need to focus more of their energies on an epidemic that is sweeping the city. These 20,000 hit and runs leave families torn apart and people disabled for the rest of their lives. Whether it is by dedicating more officers to investigating these hit and runs, or better yet devoting resources to determining what is fueling this culture and how to prevent hit and runs before they happen, Los Angeles cannot continue to ignore this alarming trend.


Nearly half of Los Angeles car accidents are hit-and-runs