Skip to content Skip to site navigation

Susie Cagle's Posts


If transit doesn’t run on time, riders may just stop riding

Image (8) red-bus_h200.jpg for post 27566If only they moved this fast!

When riders are spurned by bad transit service, specifically late buses and trains, they switch to other modes of transportation entirely, according to new research from the University of California at Berkeley. From the Governing blog:

One statistic in the study stands out in particular and should give transit agencies pause: More than half of the riders said they had reduced their use of public transportation specifically because of its unreliability. Most of them didn't just make fewer trips overall; rather, they switched to other modes of transportation to fill the void.

That's significant because transit agencies and advocates alike place a heavy emphasis on courting so-called "choice riders" -- those who have other options besides public transportation, but for one reason or another choose it anyway. The lesson from the researchers is that quality of service is important, and if it declines, choice riders don't mind finding alternatives. Unlike commuters who travel by car and have few options when it comes to changing their routes, some transit riders do have flexibility. And that flexibility can work against transit agencies if their services becomes too unreliable.

Riders were especially annoyed by delays that seemed to be the transit agency’s responsibility. But crowded trains? Delays due to traffic? Not so annoying.

Read more: Cities


California teams up with Amtrak on high-speed rail

Image (1) high-speed-rail-iStock_000002294764Small-1_309.jpg for post 29333"High-speed rail is well on its way, and it is not turning back," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told a train-happy crowd at this week's Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting (#TRBAM for all you plannerds who want to follow along on Twitter).

LaHood is right, and not just because of hefty federal funding earmarked for building infrastructure and boosting speeds.

Today, Amtrak announced it is teaming up with the California High-Speed Rail Authority to find trains that would run at up to 220 mph along both the West Coast and East Coast corridors. By combining their buying power, they could both save serious resources as they look to purchase about 60 trains over the next 10 years -- and the partnership could make California's high-speed rail look a little less pie-in-the-sky. From the Associated Press:

The high-speed rail efforts in California have come under increased scrutiny by members of Congress who say it has become too expensive to build and operate. The more ties it has with Amtrak, the better its future prospects might be, but officials said the announcement was not designed to bolster high-speed rail in California.

"It doesn't make any sense whatsoever to go out and have a different set of standards for California or any other high-speed train," said Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman. "So, no, it's about doing the right thing for the United States."


How to get absolutely freaking (almost) everywhere in California without a car

Outside of its cities (and inside a lot of them, too), California is a typical car-happy American state, with about .84 cars for every person. With its miles and miles of looping roadway and ingrained car culture, it can be easy to forget how many other forms of transportation there are in the Golden State, too.

Enter the California Rail Map, one giant badass master map of California's trains, buses, and ferries, showing routes to 500+ destinations throughout the state.

Click to embiggen.
Read more: Uncategorized


So much hope and so many problems for the L.A. river

A new, green future awaits the concrete drainage ditch that we know as the Los Angeles River. But it may have to wait for quite a while.


The Army Corps of Engineers, which originally poured all that concrete about 80 years ago (thanks for nothing, dudes), is teaming up with city engineers on a $10 million study of the potential for restoring the river's ecosystem, creating wetlands for animals and hang-outs for people. From The Wall Street Journal:

The study examines an 11-mile stretch of the river on the city's east side, where some resilient plants have survived in a narrow, muddy strip of so-called soft bottom at the center of the channel.

Efforts to manipulate the river's concrete form without losing its flood-control function will be a "delicate balancing act," said Josephine Axt, the Corps' local planning chief who is leading the study, known as Alternative with Restoration Benefits and Opportunities for Revitalization, or Arbor.

It's like "setting the table," said Omar Brownson, executive director of the L.A. River Revitalization Corp., which coordinates economic-development projects along the river. "We're creating a more attractive destination for investment."

Yes, well, what's a revitalized habitat without the business it attracts? I guess?

The Corps is expected to present the results of the study to the public in June. But that public might not take so kindly to the Corps and their master plans by then. Just last month, the Corps razed dozens of acres of the river's wildlife habitat along the Sepulveda Basin, seriously pissed off the local water agency, violated the Clean Water Act, and potentially also violated endangered species protections.

Read more: Cities


European agency declares popular pesticide too dangerous for bees

Are you sick of hearing about colony collapse? Hey, me too! But I'm guessing the bees are even more fed up at this point.

Image (1) bees_flickr_davidnikonvscanon.jpg for post 40313

For the first time, Europe's food safety agency this week officially labeled the world’s most popular insecticide, imidacloprid, as so dangerous as to be unacceptable for use on crops pollinated by bees, though the body lacks the power to ban the chemical. The report also called into question two other types of neonicotinoid pesticides. All three sound super-evil.

From The Guardian:

[Imidacloprid's] manufacturer, Bayer, claimed the report, released on Wednesday, did not alter existing risk assessments and warned against "over-interpretation of the precautionary principle".

The report comes just months after the UK government dismissed a fast-growing body of evidence of harm to bees as insufficient to justify banning the chemicals. ...


Idle No More: A primer on the indigenous green movement

A December 30, 2012 round dance in Toronto.
A Dec. 30, 2012 round dance in Toronto.

Over the last three months, Idle No More has taken North America by storm, blocking roads and trains, and flash-mobbing in community squares and shopping malls (and being summarily arrested for it in some places).

The movement is a response to hundreds of years of environmental rape and pillage by European settlers, who have generally shown themselves to be shitty stewards of this land (OK, "shitty" is generous). So why now?

Well, why not?

Idle No More has been particularly outspoken against tar-sands pipelines in Canada and the U.S. But the movement actually began this past fall in reaction to Canada's effort to weaken the Navigable Waters Protection Act so that it would protect only 97 bodies of water; it currently safeguards tens of thousands of them. It's expanded beyond Canada, but its roots are still up north.

Gyasi Ross at Indian Country wrote a primer on the movement, its motivations, and its goals:

It’s not a Native thing or a white thing, it’s an Indigenous worldview thing. It’s a “protect the Earth” thing. For those transfixed on race, you’re missing the point. The Idle No More Movement simply wants kids of all colors and ethnicities to have clean drinking water.

Read more: Climate & Energy


USDA offers up new seed money for small farmers

happy-farmer-carouselMake your hydroponic backyard organic kale dreams come true, now with help from the federal government. Yesterday the U.S. Department of Agriculture finalized a microloan program to assist veterans, minority growers, and small-time farmers who might otherwise have to rely on credit cards to get their farms up and running.

The microloans, up to $35,000 each, will be majorly helpful in an industry where loans are usually for much bigger sums, and involve much bigger stacks of paperwork. More microloans could mean more microfarms, and more diverse ones on the whole, and super-low interest rates (currently 1.25 percent) could certainly cut down on farmers' debt load. From the Associated Press:

Over the last three years, there has been a 60 percent increase in local growers who sell directly to consumers or farmers markets, Agriculture Department Secretary Tom Vilsack said...

The loan can cover the costs of renting land, buying seed and equipment, and other expenses. One goal is to create more opportunities for entrepreneurship and employment in the farming industry, Vilsack said. Another goal is to provide beginners a chance to build credit, so that they can eventually qualify for higher-value loans and expand.

Read more: Food


‘Sustainable communities’ give Glenn Beck nightmares

High-speed rail! Resilient cities! Cap-and-trade! Common good!

Quick: Is this a list of upcoming Grist posts or Glenn Beck's worst nightmare? Both, probably.


Beck is currently stirring up fear/promoting his new Agenda 21 novel, which imagines a future where only one young couple can save America from a violent and tyrannical government that promotes things like social justice and greenways, the horror.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Farmers hope to plow the way for sustainable U.S. hemp

A couple months ago, I asked if industrial hemp would make a resurgence thanks to new legalization and cultural acceptance of cannabis. A real hemp industry could be as much as 10 times bigger than legal marijuana, which is already a potentially $1 billion industry in Washington and $200 million in Colorado.


But back in November, farmers were a little skittish. "Yes yes, the U.S. is the biggest consumer of hemp which is pretty damn sustainable compared to other fibers and grows relatively easily without a bunch of pesticides, but the federal government is crazy and they're giving us so much money for all this corn!" they said (approximately).

Still, some farmers, like Michael Bowman in Colorado, are determined to cultivate the evil plant. “Can we just stop being stupid? Can we just talk about how things need to change?” Bowman asked The Washington Post, which did not have a very good answer.

Bowman’s project to plant 100 acres of hemp on his 3,000-acre farm on April 30 -- to coincide with the 80th birthday of his friend singer Willie Nelson, known for his support for hemp and marijuana legalization -- could run afoul of the Agriculture Department’s farm program, which helps subsidize his corn and wheat. He also grows edible beans, alfalfa and, occasionally, sunflowers.

In a statement, Agriculture Department spokesman Justin DeJong said that since hemp is considered “a Schedule I controlled substance” under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, it “cannot be grown on farmland” receiving federal commodity subsidies. If convicted of a violation, a farmer cannot get subsidies for five years.

Efforts to plant this seed aren't just relegated to Washington and Colorado, with their newly legal marijuana. “If we’re serious about climate change and the environment, there is no single thing we can do that is more impactful,” said Denver-based hemp-farming advocate Lynda Parker, who may or may not be smoking something. But hemp is also serious business, of the money-and-jobs kind.

Read more: Politics


California’s nutty farmland values are spiking

Over the past few years, farmland values have ballooned nationwide. In California, that rise has not only changed the economics of Central Valley farming, but the crops themselves.

A weak dollar has pushed up demand for exports of California's goods to Asia, especially almonds, pistachios, and walnuts. In 2011, almonds beat out California's iconic grapes as the state's second top commodity, at $3.9 billion a year. Nut-growing farmland value has grown 15 to 20 percent over the last two years, and it's still consistently selling for 10-20 percent above asking price.

Image (1) almond-trees-water-irrigation.jpg for post 42369

In the economically troubled Central Valley, this is the kind of market that makes short-sighted investors drool and long-view economists wince. From the Associated Press:

Investors both foreign and domestic have taken notice, buying up farmland and driving up agricultural land values in a region with some of the highest residential foreclosure rates.

California's almond industry, which grows about 80 percent of the global almond supply and 100 percent of the domestic supply, saw the most dramatic growth powered by strong demand from new money-spending middle classes in India and China. The growth has prompted a rush for almond-growing land and pushed almond land values through the roof ...