Streams

Union Leader: On Transit, First Two Years of Obama No Different from Bush

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

ATU President Larry Hanley (far left) and US DOT Deputy Secretary John Porcari (far right) address the TEN annual meeting (photo courtesy of TEN)

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) On the day that President Obama formally kicked off his reelection campaign, the amount of work the president has to do to energize his former allies came into stark relief. (More on what the administration is doing further down in this post.)

Speaking at a breakfast at the Transportation Equity Network's annual conference, Amalgamated Transit Union president Larry Hanley ticked off a list of urban transit systems that slashed service during the first two years of Obama's presidency: New York, Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh... “This administration was indistinguishable from the prior one with respect to transit operating aid,” said Hanley.  He said he was grateful for the new money budgeted for transit  -- but wanted to know “what can we do…to get the president to recognize publicly that what’s happening to transit is a national crisis and we need collectively to elevate this on the national agenda?”

Seated near him at the dais Deputy Secretary of the US DOT John Porcari responded that the federal government doesn't  control local government decisions.

"When you look at how a transportation reauthorization bill actually gets passed," he said, "it's not from the top down...we are going to push as hard as we can, but it's from the bottom up. It's the mayor, county commissioners, and the governors, articulating their needs."  To fund the bill, he told the crowd of civil rights, union, and transit advocates, "you need to push that and you need to make sure that your elected officials at the local and state level are making that clear to your congressional delegation. That's what brings the bill home."

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But what funds the bill is not as clear. Speaking later in the day at the conference's lunchtime event, Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff  said: 

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US DOT: 24 States, DC and Amtrak All Want Florida's HSR Money

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) The federal Department of Transportation just sent out a press release listing the applicants vying for a piece of Florida's rejected $2.4 billion in high-speed rail funds. More analysis later - but you can read the release below.

Statement of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on High-Speed Rail

Washington, DC – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood issued the following statement today regarding the $2.4 billion available for High-Speed Rail:

“Today, we are another step closer to delivering an innovative, national transportation network that brings new jobs and economic opportunity to the American people. Since I announced the availability of an additional $2.4 billion for high-speed rail projects, governors and members of Congress have been clamoring for the opportunity to participate. That’s because they know that high-speed rail will deliver tens of thousands of jobs, spur economic development across their communities and create additional options for their citizens as the country’s population grows. We have received more than 90 applications from 24 states, the District of Columbia and Amtrak for projects in the Northeast Corridor, with preliminary requests totaling nearly $10 billion dollars. We are extremely pleased to see the bipartisan enthusiasm behind all of the requests to get into the high-speed rail business. Thanks to President Obama’s bold vision for a national high speed rail network, we will win the future for America.”

Additional background:

Showing bi-partisan support for President Obama’s High-Speed Rail program, 24 states, the District of Columbia and Amtrak (for projects in the Northeast Corridor) submitted just under $10 billion in funding requests.

California Michigan Rhode Island
Connecticut Minnesota South Carolina
District of Columbia Missouri Texas
Georgia North Carolina Utah
Illinois New Mexico Vermont
Kansas Nevada Washington
Massachusetts New York Wisconsin
Maryland Oregon
Maine Pennsylvania

The application period for the $2.4 billion of high-speed rail money closed on April 4.  Now, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will begin its official review of the applications.  A merit-driven process will be used to award the newly available high-speed rail dollars to projects that can deliver public and economic benefits quickly. A project’s ability to reduce energy consumption, improve the efficiency of a region’s overall transportation network, and generate sustained economic activity along the corridor are among the selection criteria.  At this time, a date for the announcement of project selections has not been determined.  Information about the Notice of Funding Availability can be found here: http://www.fra.dot.gov/rpd/passenger/477.shtml.

President Obama’s vision is to connect 80 percent of Americans to high-speed rail within the next 25 years.  To put America on track towards that goal, the Obama Administration has proposed a six-year, $53 billion plan that will provide rail access to new communities; improve the reliability, speed and frequency of existing lines; and, where it makes economic sense, build new corridors where trains will travel at speeds of up to 250 miles per hour.

The Obama Administration’s investments in high-speed rail are also projected to create hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs in the United States. Jobs will be created both directly in manufacturing, construction and operation of rail lines, and indirectly, as the result of economic developments along rail corridors.

A “Buy America” requirement for high-speed rail projects also ensures that U.S. manufacturers and workers will receive the maximum economic benefits from this federal investment. And, in 2009, Secretary LaHood secured a commitment from 30 foreign and domestic rail manufacturers to employ American workers and locate or expand their base of operations in the U.S. if they are selected for high-speed-rail contracts.

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TN Moving Stories: Cost of Driving Up, Budget Battle Threatens Transpo Reauthorization, and it's Yankees Vs. MTA in the "Great New York Subway Race"

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

At a Municipal Arts Society panel (hosted by TN's Andrea Bernstein), NYC DOT head Janette Sadik-Khan talked about public plazas -- and Gridlock Sam talked about the backlash to current street changes. (Streetsblog)

The budget battle is endangering the Obama administration's transportation reauthorization plans. (Greenwire via New York Times)

The NY Daily News is reporting that an Inspector General probe found widespread misuse of police parking placards by lawmakers and other state officials, says Governor Cuomo will call for major changes in the way the parking passes are distributed.

AAA says the cost of driving rose 3.4% over last year. (USA Today)

San Francisco's Muni has a plan to bring riders more frequent service and faster trips on its busiest lines. But it will take nine years and cost $167 million - including at least $150 million the agency doesn't have. (San Francisco Chronicle)

The New York Yankees and the NY MTA are in a dispute about the "Great New York Subway Race." But it sounds like it was a misunderstanding and fans will hopefully see the epic battle between the B, D and 4 trains on the scoreboard soon.  (Article from NY Daily News; see video of the Subway Race below.)

March Madness fans broke Houston's Metropolitan Transit Authority's light rail ridership record numbers with an estimated 148,000 basketball fans riding trains to and from the NCAA Final Four games during the four-day event. (Houston Chronicle)

Stanford University tops the League of American Bicyclist's list of bike-friendly university. (Kansas City Star)

Richard Branson has launched Virgin Oceanic, a deep-sea submarine project. (BoingBoing)

Actor Kevin Spacey rode a DC's bikeshare program bike. (DCist)

The 2011 NYC Cycling Map (pdf) is now available.

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: New York's MTA is installing...subway communicator thingies on some station platforms. California applies for high-speed rail funds. And the DOT says that airline tarmac delays were down last month.

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NYC MTA Installs New Subway Emergency Thingies

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

MTA New York City Transit's new Help Point subway communications system (Photo by: NYC MTA.)

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) When the NYC Metropolitan Authority balanced its books in part last year by laying off 450 token booth clerks, riders wondered who they'd turn to in an emergency. Today came the authority's second try at answering that question.

Riders can now use intercom kiosks on two subway platforms to talk to NYC MTA staff. The devices are tall, attached to columns and glow blue. Riders can push a red emergency button to speak to the subway's Rail Command Center. Staff there, which works around the clock and includes police officers, can locate the rider by caller ID and dispatch police to the scene.

Speaking on a 6 train platform at 23rd street, NYC MTA Chairman Jay Walder said the devices--called Help Point-- are being tested at two subway stations on the Lexington Avenue line.

"It is the use of technology to make our customers more comfortable and feel more secure in our subway system," he said.

The kiosks also have a green information button connecting riders to the station's token booth clerk. The NYC MTA maintains there is still at least one token booth clerk at each of its 468 stations at all times.

Help Point replaces a previous generation of customer assistance devices that proved problematic. The older devices did not have digital audio, which sometimes made it hard to hear and be heard. They also had an indistinct design that made them blend with their surroundings--few riders knew where they were or what to do with them.

If the Help Point program is successful, the NYC MTA will consider expanding the kiosks to other subway stations, but wouldn't commit to a time line. Walder said it would cost an average of $300,000 per station to install Help Point systemwide. It would take more than 5,000 of the devices to meet the NYC MTA's goal of having one every 150 feet on platforms.

Riders have expressed concern about safety since the MTA laid off the token booth clerks last year.

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California Applies for High Speed Rail Funds

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Here's the CA release:

CALIFORNIA SUBMITS APPLICATION FOR BILLIONS

IN RAIL CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS

State, Governor send strong signal that California is ready to put federal dollars to work

SACRAMENTO – The State of California submitted its application today for the federal High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program for billions in rail construction projects, including a request for funding to complete construction of the “backbone” of the planned statewide high-speed rail system.

The federal government recently announced that states can apply for Florida’s returned $2.43 billion in high-speed and intercity passenger rail funding. This funding includes $1.63 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding and $800 million in Fiscal Year 2010 Department of Transportation funding. Applications were due today.

“California’s application seeks funding for projects that will be the building blocks for a statewide network of rail lines linking high-speed and intercity rail lines to regional rail lines,” wrote California Governor Edmund G. Brown in a letter introducing the state’s application. “The projects will provide the foundation for a transportation system that will improve mobility, help the environment, reduce energy dependency, and put Californians to work.”

The California High-Speed Rail Authority submitted its application for the entirety of the re-allocated funds, including a primary ask for funds to extend initial construction of its statewide system into downtown Merced and to downtown Bakersfield, including both stations and the complicated area of track known as the “Wye”, requesting $1.44 billion and offering a 20 percent state match from the Proposition 1A (2008) funding. This application seeks final design and construction funds for civil infrastructure, including track work, and two stations.

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US DOT: No Tarmac Delays Longer Than Three Hours in February, down from 60 in Feb 2010

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

This in from the US DOT:

The nation’s largest airlines reported no flights in February with tarmac delays of more than three hours, down from 60 flights in February 2010, according to the Air Travel Consumer Report released today by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

Data filed with the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), a part of DOT’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration, showed there have been only 16 total tarmac delays of more than three hours reported from May 2010 through February 2011 by the airlines that file on-time performance data with DOT, compared to 664 reported from May 2009 through February 2010.  In February, the carriers also reported that .0400 percent of their scheduled flights had tarmac delays of two hours or more, down from the .0600 percent reported in January 2011

February was the 10th full month of data since the new aviation consumer rule went into effect on April 29, 2010.  The new rule prohibits U.S. airlines operating domestic flights from permitting an aircraft to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours without deplaning passengers, with exceptions allowed only for safety or security or if air traffic control advises the pilot in command that returning to the terminal would disrupt airport operations.  The Department will investigate tarmac delays that exceed this limit.

During February, when large parts of the country experienced severe winter weather, the carriers canceled 4.9 percent of their scheduled domestic flights, compared to 5.4 percent in February 2010 and 3.9 percent in January 2011.

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TN Moving Stories: Dynamic Pricing Comes To SF Parking and Amtrak Wants $ To Plan New Hudson River Tunnels

Monday, April 04, 2011

Cuts to the education budget led one Colorado school district to eliminate school buses; parents say more people are driving their kids to school -- and causing more traffic.  (NPR, Denver Post)

San Francisco is rolling out demand-based parking fees ranging from 25 cents to $6 an hour, depending on how many spaces are available. (Silicon Valley Mercury-News)

Is it time to reassess airplane maintenance? (The Takeaway)  Meanwhile, US airlines performed better last year -- but complaints were up 28%. (BusinessWeek)

A turkey visits the parking lot of Minnesota Public Radio. (Full-size picture here.)
Turkey! near the MPR building tonight in d'town St. Paul... on Twitpic

The Minnesota Senate passed a bill that reduces spending on Twin Cities bus and rail operations by $32 million over two years. (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

Electric car owners in Washington (state) may soon have to pay a $100 annual fee to make up for lost gas-tax revenue. (Seattle Times)

Amtrak applied for nearly $1.3 billion to start planning two new Hudson River tunnels, as well as an expanded in- New York City station -- and Governor Christie signed off on it. (NorthJersey.com)

Peer-to-peer car sharing -- or 'l'auto se partage' -- comes to France. (Sustainable Cities Collective)

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: New York has applied for more high speed rail funding. So has Amtrak. Short haul flights are on the decline. And: the Texas DOT says road projects need to be bike- and pedestrian-friendly.

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TxDOT: Road Projects Need To Be Bike and Pedestrian-Friendly

Monday, April 04, 2011

(Houston -- Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has adopted a new policy: all road projects must make room for pedestrians and bicycles, not just cars. In some cases this would require building narrower car lanes to make room.

The new rules mean Houston should start seeing more bike and pedestrian-friendly roadways in the future. TxDOT’s requirements come a year after the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a policy statement underscoring the importance of integrating walking and bicycling into transportation projects.

TxDOT says its new mandate emphasizes its commitment to invest in projects that cater to those on bike and those on foot. Under the guidelines, any shoulder on a new or reconstructed road must be at least 14 feet wide.  That will give cyclists a tad more space to ride since the norm has usually been between 11 and 12 feet.

Tom Beeman, an engineer with TxDOT’s Design Division, says the wider lane will also give cars more room, “to either maneuver around [cyclists] or move into the other lane a little bit." He believes the extra couple of feet will create a safer environment for all modes of transportation. "That would be our minimum design," he notes.  Where feasible, says Beeman, more feet of pavement can be saved for bike and pedestrian use.

Beeman says a road's main lanes may become slightly narrower in some cases to allow for a wider shoulder.  TxDOT will also be adding more sidewalks and widening existing ones in some places to make it easier for people to walk on a continuous route.

So why has TxDOT decided to revise its policy? Well, according to Beeman, "The world’s changing. A lot of people are now walking, or they’re using bikes for fitness, or to commute just to cut down on the gas price. The cost of gas is going up so they may be taking shorter trips or living closer. We’re developing communities that are much more dense and we have all modes of transportation that we’re trying to provide for."

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NY Governor Andrew Cuomo Applying for High Speed Rail $$

Monday, April 04, 2011

And now, this in:

Albany, NY (April 4, 2011)

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced he is seeking approximately $517 million in federal funding for eight projects that advance New York's high-speed rail plans.

"Days after my election as Governor, I began pushing for more federal money for high-speed rail because New York has projects across the state that are ready to go," Governor Cuomo said. "New York is embracing high-speed rail as a faster way to move people and products and drive our economy in the 21st century, and these federal resources would help us achieve these goals."

The projects cover an array of vital infrastructure upgrades across New York that will continue to lay the groundwork for wide-scale high-speed service in New York. The federal government has made $2.4 billion in high-speed rail funding available after it was returned by the State of Florida.

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The projects include:

Northeast Corridor Congestion Relief: Harold Interlocking: The largest application is for $294.7 million for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA) Harold Interlocking plan.

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Hear That? Construction Season Begins

Monday, April 04, 2011

Construction Season Begins (Photo: Andrea Bernstein)

If it seems a bit messier and a bit noisier, it's because street construction season is beginning. (We're also getting lots of  reminders from US and local DOT's about watching out for those workers while driving).  Weather's warming, projects are getting going.  Yes, it's a seasonal industry, but in the Northeast, it sure was a looooong winter. -- Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation

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Amtrak applies for High-Speed Rail Money

Monday, April 04, 2011

We're beginning to get word of applications for Florida's High Speed Rail money (the applications are due today.)

This in, from Amtrak..we'll post more as get 'em...and more analysis later.

AMTRAK SEEKS $1.3 BILLION FOR GATEWAY PROJECT AND NEXT-GENERATION HIGH-SPEED RAIL ON NEC

Portal Bridge, Hudson River Tunnels, NY Penn Station among projects

WASHINGTON – Amtrak is applying for nearly $1.3 billion in recently available high-speed and intercity passenger rail federal funding to move forward with a series of infrastructure improvements -- including the Gateway Project --as critical first steps to bring next-generation high-speed rail to the Northeast Corridor (NEC).

“The Northeast Corridor is a premier region in the country to advance the nation’s high-speed rail program,” said Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman.  “The Gateway Project improvements to increase passenger rail capacity and access into the heart of Manhattan are absolutely essential to make next-generation high-speed rail a reality,” he added.

A recent decision by the U.S. Department of Transportation to name the NEC a federally designated high-speed rail corridor allows Amtrak to apply directly for this funding.

Amtrak worked closely with its state partners to coordinate projects election in order to maximize the expected regional improvements.  Each of the coordinated projects submitted by Amtrak and individual states are vital for the reliability and capacity of the current NEC network, and are critical building blocks for expanded and higher speed intercity passenger rail service.

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Specifically, Amtrak is requesting funding for three Gateway projects including for a $720 million project to replace the more than 100-year-old movable Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River in New Jersey with a new, high-level fixed bridge.  The Amtrak request is for $570 million with a contribution from the State of New Jersey of up to $150 million.

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US DOT Orders Safety Review After 22 Workers Die in Pipeline Explosions in 2010

Monday, April 04, 2011

This in today:

U.S. TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY RAY LAHOOD ANNOUNCES PIPELINE SAFETY ACTION PLAN

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today launched a national pipeline safety initiative to repair and replace aging pipelines to prevent potentially catastrophic incidents.

Following several fatal pipeline accidents, including one that killed five people in Allentown, PA, Secretary LaHood called upon U.S. pipeline owners and operators to conduct a comprehensive review of their oil and gas pipelines to identify areas of high risk and accelerate critical repair and replacement work. Secretary LaHood also announced federal legislation aimed at strengthening oversight on pipeline safety, as well as plans to convene a Pipeline Safety Forum on April 18th in Washington, DC, to gather state officials, industry leaders, and other pipeline safety stakeholders in order to discuss steps for improving the safety and efficiency of the nation’s pipeline infrastructure.

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“People deserve to know that they can turn on the lights, the heat, or the stove without endangering their families and neighbors,” said Secretary LaHood.  “The safety of the American public is my top priority and I am taking on this critical issue to avoid future tragedies we have seen in Allentown and around the country.”

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In Case You Missed It: Bike Lane Poll Shows Remarkable Stability in Opinion

Monday, April 04, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  In case you missed it over the weekend (what, on a beautiful Saturday you weren't plunked in front of a screen?), here's my analysis of the poll Jim Brennan released on Brooklyn's Prospect Park West bike lane.  (Never has a mile of roadway been so parsed.  But anyway.)

Essentially, its results are identical to the Brad Lander survey taken in December.  That shows a remarkable steadiness in public opinion, despite heated coverage in almost every form of media, and noisy and vehement arguing on both sides.

The bike lane remains the choice of the plurality of respondants...and if you add in those who want to keep it with (unspecified) changes, that turns into a big majority.

The analysis is here.

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Business Travelers Using Fewer Short-Haul Flights

Monday, April 04, 2011

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) The number of short haul flights has declined 25 percent in the past five years due in part to higher fuel prices and increasing airport fees, leaving business travelers with fewer options. These frequent fliers are turning to other modes of transportation for trips shorter than 500 miles.

(Listen to the radio version of this story on Marketplace)

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Neil Shah used to fly eight to 15 times a month as a management consultant, but he started to feel it wasn't the best use of his time. "Getting to the airport, waiting in the security lines, the potential for delay," he said, all add up to make flying less convenient on shorter trips. From Boston to New York in particular, Shah said, he started to take the train more often because of amenities like on-board WiFi, and hassle-free last minute ticketing.

"If all things were equal, my preference would be to fly." He said he likes the affinity programs offered by airlines including frequent flier miles. "However, all of the other things have accumulated that make other means of travel just more convenient," he said.

For one, business travelers need flexibility more than other fliers. They want to be able to show up at the airport at the last minute at get right on a plane, according to Scott Gibson of ICF Skyworks, an airline advisory firm. If a meeting is canceled, or runs late, business travelers want to be able to head to the airport as soon as they can and find a flight on their timetable, not the airline's.

"So what we now find is: choice, which is really important for business travelers, is gone. So you end up sitting at airports where you used to be able to have a flight literally every hour in a lot of markets," said Gibson.

There are just fewer flights available on these short haul markets. The trend has been happening for decades, Gibson says, though a Transportation Nation analysis of Department of Transportation data show it has grown especially acute in the last half-decade. (See charts above.)

One factor is cost-per-flight. "A lot of the fuel burn is in takeoff and landing," Gibson explained. "The airplane is really efficient when it's up high in the air. And so as fuel costs have gone up, it actually impacts short-haul flights as a percent of the airfare more than it impacts long-haul flying." He added that per-passenger fees charged by airports are also increasing, often to pay for swanky redesigned terminals. So if it costs an airline an extra $25 per person per flight, that might not matter that much on a transatlantic flight, but for a trip from Phoenix to Las Vegas that could be a big percentage of the ticket cost.

In response to these cost trends, airlines have cut back on the number of flights they operate each day on short-hop routes. In some cases though, carriers are compensating by using bigger airplanes, so the net number of seats could remain the same, or even increase on some routes, while the scheduling options are curtailed.

More people are flying, but business traveler just are not flying last minute short distances as often as they used to, data show and experts like Gibson confirm.

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TN Moving Stories: NTSB To Look At Discount Bus Industry, South Korea Upgrades HSR, And British Posties Dismount

Monday, April 04, 2011

Chinatown bus (Sam Lewis/WNYC)

The National Transportation Safety Board will conduct a comprehensive review of the discount bus industry and the safety regulations governing it following a crash in the Bronx last month that left 15 passengers dead. (New York Times)

Inspectors have found small, subsurface cracks in three more Southwest Airlines planes that are similar to those suspected of causing a jetliner to lose pressure and make a harrowing emergency landing in Arizona. (AP via Washington Post)

South Korea will expand and upgrade its high speed train network over the next 9 years to cut travel time from the capital to major cities to under an hour and a half. (AFP)

Los Angeles will start testing its Expo Line; trains may formally roll in Westside in November. (Los Angeles Times)

Posties -- British mail carriers -- have been ordered to stop delivering mail via bicycle in a bid to cut down accidents and speed up delivery times. (The Mirror)

The Chicago Transit Authority is trying to revamp how it leases retail space on its properties, because "sixty-six of the 137 concession spaces at CTA rail stations are vacant." (Chicago Tribune)

Are bicycles more like cars or pedestrians? Discuss. (New York Times)

Transportation Nation stories we're working on:  despite loud protest on both sides, bike lane poll numbers remain remarkably stable, only a minority wants Prospect Park West bike lane removed entirely.   Congress may actually reauthorize FAA funding bill; LI buses saved, for now, Orlando suburban  businesses kill plan to add a median to a busy roadway, arguing it would impede customer access to their shops, and transportation proves extremely popular in NYC big apps contest.

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Transportation and Transit Apps Slay in NYC App Contest

Monday, April 04, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) The software developer Roadify won the grand prize in the NYC government-sponsored "Big App Compeitition." The app has allowed users of the B-67 bus to "give' or "receive" information about bus arrival times, thus allowing the wisdom of the crowd to give faster, more accurate, and more true-to-life bus arrival times than the signs posted on MTA placards at bus stops.

Dylan Goelz, one of the founders of Roadify (whose slogan has been, "Put the Community in Commuting")  says wining was "a complete shock."  Roadify just recently launched a subway for all New York City subway lines.

Its prize-winning software also dispenses crowd-sourced parking and traffic information.

Other winners include Wheeels, which allows users to find, and potentially share, nearby car-services to say,the airport.  and bestparking.com which allows users to find the nearest, best, or cheapest parking at any given time.

Brandon Kessler, who ran the competition, say transit and transportation apps mesh perfectly with the current "zeitgeist." He says: "milions of people are going too and from work . There's a a huge amount of lost efficiency, and frustration.' Kessler adds that billions of dollars can potentially be saved if straphangers can share real-time information about where a bus or subway is, versus where it's scheduled to be.

The NYC MTA is also pretty enthusiastic about the apps -- anything that can make the system easier to use redounds well to the cash-strapped transit system, which recently underwent huge service cuts and big fare hike.

"We need to improve real time information," MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin said.  We But don’t have resources to do everything, these apps will create things at no cost to us that really help our customers."

The MTA has already starting installing countdown clocks on some platforms and hopes to have 2000 by the end of 2011, and is experimenting with real-time bus information on its B-63 bus in Brookklyn, available through mobile phones.  All of Staten Island will get the service by the end of the year.

Information on all the winning apps is here.

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Congress Could Get First FAA Bill in Years

Sunday, April 03, 2011

(Washington, DC -- Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) The House has passed a four-year Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill 223 to 196, setting up talks with the Senate that could lead to the first aviation policy renewal in years.

But those talks could get complicated by perennial political issues, as Republicans strive to weaken recruitment in some sectors of the aviation industry. There's even a veto threat coming from the White House.

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Congress hasn't passed a reauthorization for FAA since 2003. Instead it's racked up 17 temporary extensions as agreements eluded the House and Senate. Friday's House bill authorizes $60 billion in spending over four years for the FAA, airports, freight programs and even some new GPS-based air traffic control systems. That's a reduction back to 2008 spending levels at the FAA.

"It acknowledges that – especially in these tough economic times – the federal government must make spending cuts while at the same time providing necessary services and maintaining our current high safety levels,” Rep. Chip Cravaak, a pilot who chairs the aviation subcommittee, said in a statement. Cravaak, a Minnesota Republican, knocked off long-time incumbent and transportation committee chairman Rep. Jim Oberstar in 2010 mid-term election.

That take doesn't wash with a lot of Democrats.

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NY's Long Island Bus Service Saved... For Now

Sunday, April 03, 2011

(New York, NY -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) The New York State Senate announced Friday it had come up with $8.6 million dollars to spare riders of the Long Island Bus drastic cuts in service. The bus line carries 33 million riders per year on routes that connect suburban Nassau County with Queens. The move came after months of high-stakes negotiations between Nassau County, a New York City suburb, and the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The authority, which runs the local bus system on behalf of Nassau County, told county officials last year they needed to pitch in $17 million more per year for the bus operation, raising the yearly contribution by Nassau County to $26 million. That would've put the county in line with nearby Suffolk and Westchester counties, which respectively pay $24 million and $30 million per year for similar services from the MTA.

Nassau officials said they couldn't afford it, especially after a state oversight board stepped in earlier this year to seize control of the county's depleted finances. The MTA said that without the money it would have to cut 27 of 48 bus lines by July, stranding 16,000 out of 100,000 passengers.

Nassau County is one of the richest counties in the nation, but has, over the years, run its finances into the ground.

Then came a public hearing last month,

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"Talk Text Crash" TxDOT Launches Distracted Driving Campaign

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Distracted-Driving Simulator

(Houston -- Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is launching its “Talk Text Crash” campaign at the University of Houston. TxDOT hopes the month-long campaign will raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. Students were able to get behind the wheel of a driving simulator at the event to see how easy it can be to lose control when sending a text.

Listen to the story here.

I met Emil Helfer--student and frequent texter-- at the event. Typing on his phone while driving, admits Helfer, may not be such a smart idea. “It’s definitely not the best decision but sometimes it vibrates in your pocket and you have to get a hold of somebody.”

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On PPW Bike Lane: They Like It. They Really Like It.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  The most interesting thing about Assemblymember's Jim Brennan's scientific poll of people living in neighborhoods around Prospect Park is how remarkably consistent opinion is on the two-way, protected bike lane.  It was installed last June, reducing automobile traffic from three lanes to two.  But there has been noisy discussion around it -- and a lawsuit to remove it -- ever since.

When Councilmember Brad Lander did a 3000-person survey back in December, 49 percent of respondents said they wanted to keep the bike lane as is, 22 percent said they wanted to keep it with changes, and 29 percent said they wanted to remove it.

When Brennan hired a national polling firm to do a statistically significant survey of how some park-bordering communities felt, 44 percent of respondents said keep it as is, 25 percent said it should be altered in some way,and 28 percent wanted to remove it.

Thus, in December of 2010, 71 percent of those surveyed wanted the bike lane to remain, 30 percent did not.  Today, 69  percent of respondents want the bike lane to remain (albeit some want changes) while 29 percent wanted it removed.  That difference is minuscule, and certainly well with the margin of error on Brennan's poll, 4.5 percentage points.

Given all the press that the lawsuit against the bike lane has gotten -- and all the opportunities for both sides to make their arguments, the sentiment has been remarkably consistent.  Nothing is moving these numbers.

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"This is only the most recent proof that bike lanes and this particular bike lane are and is popular,” Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson told me in in a telephone interview. “Sixteen points is a pretty overwhelming margin. If you have a sixteen point electoral victory they call it a landslide.” (Wolfson, having been a top aide in Hillary Clinton's campaign for President, knows something about elections.)

But if this were an election campaign, it's almost impossible to think of numbers holding like this.   Some public officials have been loudly and vocally berating bike lanes -- the lanes have literally become a punch line.  The tabloids have run anti-NYC DOT headlines for days in a row.  Even the NY Times and NY Magazine have raised the question of whether bike lanes can turn New Yorkers against Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Apparently not.  The Lander survey -- not scientific, but sampling a broad range of opinions using an array of techniques, the Brennan poll, and a recent Quinnipiac poll showing overall, 54 percent of New Yorkers say bike lanes are "a good thing" vs. 38 percent who do not -- would seem to indicate that, actually, bike lanes are one of the more popular things Mayor Bloomberg has done.  (His education numbers by contrast, show only about a third of New Yorkers approve what he's doing in the schools.)

Now, this doesn't mean there isn't dissent.  The Brennan poll probed depths of feeling, and found that both sides felt strongly about their positions, but more of those who are opposed felt strongly in their position.  That's exactly the kind of feeling that gives rise to angry testimony at the city council, lobbying of elected representatives, and, even lawsuits.

But apparently, these strongly held beliefs are not persuading people on the other side.

Now, there were some interesting secondary questions in the poll.   More people than not said  the bike lane made traffic, presumably automobile traffic, worse.  But that's what the members of Community Board were aiming for -- cars were speeding, they wanted them to slow down, they thought trimming Prospect Park West to two automobile lanes from three would have that effect. In general, slower speeds are experienced as more traffic-- whether you like to drive,walk, or bike.

What would be really interesting to know, and traffic engineers have studied this in elsewhere ,is whether making Prospect Park West a less auto-friendly street has affected the overall volume of automobile traffic in Park Slope.

Gridlock Sam one related to me a tale of how, when the West Side Highway fell down, he and the other engineers at City DOT were convinced that surrounding streets would be inundated with traffic -- and they were, for a while. But as they studied the traffic patterns over time what they found was that traffic was dispersing through the grid, and that a full 1/3 of it simply disappeared altogether as people switched to other modes.

A highway, former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist once argued to me, draws traffic.In fact, because drivers will go out of their way to take a route they see as faster. But if you remove a highway (as he did) it doesn't mean 40,000 cars traveling on the highway will suddenly be plunked down into the surrounding streets.  Ultimately, what happened in Milwaukee is that traffic volume dropped as cars dispersed around the street grid.

Was Prospect Park West functioning in the same way, pre-bike lane,when it was faster to drive on?  Were drivers going out of their way to take PPW versus, say, Seventh Avenue, two blocks over, a notoriously slow commercial street?  (PPW is mostly residential.)

But back to the poll.  Jim Walden, the attorney for the group suing to remove the bike lane, was clear in his dismissal of this poll:  "Safety is not a popularity contest," he said.

But he couldn't resist parsing the numbers, anyway.

"Pedestrians feel less safe crossing Prospect Park West, as this poll decisively shows.  But DOT's own data tell the same story, and the numbers don't lie:  people feel less safe because they are less safe.  In the end, safety is not a popularity contest.”

The poll does not decisively show pedestrians feel less safe:  It shows most of the respondents -- a plurality -- feel neither safer nor less safe.  In fact , 44 percent either feel no impact  (38 percent) , or aren't sure (6 percent).  Thirty three percent feel less safe, and 22 percent feel safer.

The lawsuit argues that the DOT manipulated safety data to make it look as if the bike lane were making the street safer.

Some other interesting numbers -- two thirds of respondents said they owned a car that they used regularly, while only a third said they biked regularly.  Which means that drivers are for the bike lane in pretty big numbers.

Unfortunately, the poll didn't ask a follow up question to the 25 percent who said they were "in favor of altering the bike lane and traffic pattern to address driver and pedestrian concerns," so its impossible to know what those people meant -- putting in pedestrian signals, islands, and adding parking spaces, as Councilman Lander has advocated?  Make the bike lane one-way, instead of two way, as some bike lane opponents have articulated?

The battle now really does move to the courts, as the court of public opinion seems to have weighed in.  The first hearing is scheduled for May 18.

Except, somehow, I'm guessing we haven't heard the last word.  From anyone.

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