Fast rail, slow build out: "Only 20 miles of track on the 284-mile Amtrak route between Chicago and St. Louis will be upgraded to handle 110-mph trains by 2012, state officials said Thursday." (Chicago Tribune)
Want to build your own bamboo bike? You can, in Brooklyn. Video below! (via ABC News)
Turning solar energy into fuel: a new technique involves the element Cerium. (NPR)
An explosion of drivers in China has led to some hasty transportation planning in Beijing: The future will bring: "280,000 new parking spaces; 1,000 share-a-bike stations; 348 miles of new subway track; 125 miles of new downtown streets; 23 miles of tunnels; 9 new transportation hubs; 3 congestion zones; and 1 cure-all, “the use of modern technology.” (New York Times)
Toyota to launch family of Priuses. (Or is the plural Prii? Hmmm.) (AltTransport)
A new app helps you find on-street parking, of which Wired says: "Having access to real-time parking information could be the difference between finding a space and circling the wrong block endlessly, or seeing that parking is at a premium and deciding to leave the car at home."
(Matt Dellinger, Transportation Nation) Transportation geeks with empty walls (and graphic design fans with wanderlust) have just one week to procure themselves a poster of Cameron Booth’s clever and fascinating “Interstates as Subway Diagram.” Booth, a Senior Graphic Designer at Parsons Brinckerhoff’s Portland office and the father of a newborn, has decided to quit selling the prints, which met with some success.
“It was a fun design exercise for me: to come up with a set of rules for the diagram (a design brief, if you will) and to see what came out,” Booth said by email. “Secondly, I see it as a way of playing with perceptions. I took one kind of network, one that's almost always shown with absolute geographical accuracy (a road map) and substituted the simplified iconography and colored route lines of a subway diagram instead.”
Separating the road network from its context and creating “stops” for major exits produced some interesting results, Booth says. “Concentrating on route intersections instead of city population makes Teaneck, NJ look more important than New York City on my diagram, and Pittsburgh (which sits BETWEEN three different Interstates, but doesn't actually lie on any of them) doesn't appear at all.”
Booth’s fresh take on the Interstate map comes in part from the fact that he’s an Australian by birth. He moved to the United States just a few years ago, in pursuit of the woman who is now his wife. “The U.S. is definitely in love with the automobile. And while I love a good road trip as much as anyone, the state of passenger rail here is sad to see,” Booth wrote. He’s ridden the TGV from Paris to Nimes—around 450 miles in three hours—and he’s suffered the five-plus-hour Amtrak ride along the 170 miles between Portland and Seattle. (Booth has also created an Amtrak-as-subway diagram.)
Booth’s glad to see things gradually changing, he says, although “a lot of effort seems to be required to simply rebuild what existed before the car took over (witness the "new" Streetcar project in LA).” His job, he says, gives him ample chance to imagine the future: he makes maps, diagrams and graphs in support of proposals that Parsons Brinckerhoff produces up and down the West Coast. “We’re definitely at the forefront of a lot of the new metro/transit work and transit-oriented development around, so it's great to be a part of that.”
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Marcell Solomon, a lawyer from Prince George's County, Md., will no longer serve on Metro's board. The new executive of Prince George's County, Rushern Baker, has reportedly informed Solomon that his services are no longer needed.
An investigation by the Washington Examiner found Solomon had the worst attendance record on the board, despite being paid a nearly $40,000 annual salary. He was appointed by Baker's predecessor, Jack Johnson, who is currently under indictment on federal bribery charges.
Solomon is the fourth Metro board member to leave -- or be asked to leave -- in the past two weeks, and the shake-up is expected to continue in the near future.
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We missed this yesterday, but since we've published DOT's data, we thought we should bring you this letter to the editor of the NY Times, in response to an editorial about how cyclists should be more law-abiding. In it, Iris Weinshall, the former NYC DOT commissioner (Janette Sadik-Khan's predecessor) makes a pretty strong public statement against the Prospect Park West bike lane. Weinshall, BTW, is a resident of Prospect Park West, where resistance to the new lane is strongest, and the wife of U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. --Transportation Nation
To the Editor:
Your editorial about the problems caused by law-evading bicyclists mentions data released by the New York City Department of Transportation that purport to show that the 50 miles of bike lanes it is adding each year “calm” traffic and cut down on fatalities.
But as the rest of your editorial suggests, the connection between encouraging biking — which we also strongly support — and making our streets safer and more pleasant for all users is far from established.
The recall affects the Cadillac CTS from the 2005 through 2007 model years.
The automaker says the sensor that detects when a passenger is in the front seat could fold or develop a kink when the seat is in use. The issue can prevent proper signals from being sent to the airbag system and might keep the airbag from deploying during a severe crash. That could increase the risk of passenger injury.
(Washington D.C. - David Schultz, WAMU) So let's say you're a city. You want to build a big public works project, like a school or a fire house - or let's say a $1.5 billion, 37-mile streetcar network.
First you formulate a design for the project, then you find the money to pay for it and then you get local politicians to sign off. (Not necessarily in that order) In most cities, with most projects, that's how it works.
Not in the District of Columbia. In Washington D.C., you also have to make sure the project you're working on doesn't impinge on any of the august, historic symbols that populate the Nation's Capital.
NYC's subways have their 100th countdown clock -- exceeding the MTA's original goal to get 75 stations online by the end of the year.
The U.S. Surface Transportation Board levied the first fine in its 14 year history---$250,000 against the Canadian National Railway Company for failure to report blockages at its Chicago-area street crossings. (Chicago Sun-Times)
India's railways will prioritize the delivery of onions throughout the country. The country's staple vegetable has grown scarce due to heavy rains in growing areas, and prices are spiraling upwards. (Daily News and Analysis)
Spain is now the European high-speed rail leader. (New York Times)
Everyone may finally be on board with Indiana's new, comprehensive transit plan, which includes tripling buses, establishing BRT, and building commuter rail. (Indianapolis Star)
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says that his priority is a new subway line. And only subways. "There’s no more above ground,” he said. “No, everything’s going underground. I want to do subways." (The Globe and Mail)
Could high oil prices hurt the economy's recovery in the new year? (Marketplace)
NPR's series on ethanol concludes with a look at the industry's response to critics -- and its partnership with NASCAR.
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(New York -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) The Inspector General of the New York area Metropolitan Transportation Authority slammed the agency in a report for ignoring procedures it had set up to keep mega-projects on budget and on schedule.
Predictably, says Inspector Barry Kluger, three of those projects are now nearly $2 billion over-budget combined and delayed by two to five years. That means subway riders and others must slog through construction zones all the longer while waiting for expanded service that is repeatedly postponed as taxpayers rack up greater and greater debt.
These “mega-projects have experienced well-publicized budget overruns and disruptive schedule delays that have seriously undermined public confidence in the MTA’s management,” the report said.
Two of the projects are already five years behind schedule: an extension of Long Island Railroad to Grand Central Terminal, now expected to be done by April 2018, and the first leg of the Second Ave. subway, now scheduled for completion in 2017. The Fulton Transit Center, with its projected finish in 2014, looks good by comparison. It’s only two and a half years late.
Only the 7 Train Extension, the last of the MTA’s four megaprojects, does not suffer from significant lateness or cost over-runs. The four projects have budgets totaling $15.32 billion.
Kluger says MTA Capital Construction, a subsidiary charged with overseeing the agency’s capital spending, clashed with an “independent engineering firm”—it did not name the firm—over who was in charge of monitoring the projects. His report says the engineering firm was at times given too much to do with too little information. And the firm wrote bad reports that lacked clear summaries or were too technically detailed to be easily understood. Sometimes, when the firm did make a plain recommendation, MTA Capital Construction ignored it.
At Kluger’s insistence, the MTA has separated the squabbling entities. The agency’s Office of Construction Oversight will now manage the independent engineer. The Office's mandate is to bring about “less conflict and more effectiveness to the oversight process.”
Kluger said another problem was megaprojects bidding against each other for a limited number of highly specialized contractors, which drove up prices. He warned that this might soon happen again as each project goes shopping for contractors to install signal and communications systems.
The Inspector General said MTA Chairman Jay Walder has accepted the report’s findings and used them to tell the Office of Construction Oversight to get a firmer grip on spending and scheduling.
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(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Santa is cleared for take off and he'll be tracked by NORAD, too (see video above).
In the federal government's yearly foray into fantastical Christmas fun, both aviation agencies have issued press releases about the most awaited (at least by children) aircraft of the year. Not only is Santa's sleigh is approved to enter American airspace, but, the agencies say, air traffic control, NextGen technology and other transportation technology will make his flight smoother, facilitating his crucial mission. It's child-focused outreach on behalf of the work of government, and a transportation teaching moment.
“Santa’s cockpit display will help improve his situational awareness by showing him and his reindeer flight crew their precise location in relation to other aircraft, bad weather and terrain,” said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt. “NextGen will help make this an extra-safe Christmas Eve.”
"...when air traffic controllers working the North Pole clear Santa One for landing now, Santa will be gliding down onto rooftops. This will be faster, save fuel and guarantee that presents are delivered up to 53 percent faster than in previous years. "
The North American Regional Aerospace Defense command—a serious military agency charged with detecting and responding to a potential missile strike or other airborne attacks—treats this yearly publicity opportunity in an appropriate tongue and cheek teaching style. "NORAD uses four high-tech systems to track Santa – radar, satellites, Santa Cams and fighter jets." Followed shortly in their "how we track Santa" section with: "Amazingly, Rudolph’s bright red nose gives off an infrared signature, which allows our satellites to detect Rudolph and Santa." They've also created an interactive website of Santa's village with games like Santa's Bureau of Investigation.
NORAD's "about Santa" section explains what advanced technology has discerned about how he touches down on every house in the world in one night, "the fact that Santa Claus is more than 16 centuries old, yet does not appear to age, is our biggest clue that he does not work within time as we know it."
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(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) If you're taking to the road this holiday season, you'll have a lot of company. The American Automobile Association says that over 92 million Americans will make trips of at least 50 miles from December 23 to January 2. AAA New York spokesman Robert Sinclair said it could be an augur of a financial uptick.
"We're thinking that the improvement in the economy, at least on a personal level for a lot of people, is the reason that people are getting out there," he said. "And probably some pent up demand."
Sinclair also expects the distances people are traveling to be longer as well, with an average trip length of 1,052 miles. That's a 33 percent increase over last year. And 93 percent of those travelers will be in their cars. He said that the remainder of the travelers fly (3 percent) or use rail, bus or even watercraft.
According to AAA's surveys, New Yorkers are 50 percent more likely than the rest of the country to take road trips in part because of economic conditions.
"We tend to have a higher median income in New York and environs than the rest of the country," he said, "so we have nice cars, we have cash in our pocket, and we like to take advantage of both those things by going out and taking a long trip."
According to the AAA, the biggest travel days will likely be Christmas Eve and January 2nd.
NPR reports on how US ethanol subsidies affect food prices. "When the price of gas goes up, it raises the demand for ethanol — and that means consumers will feel it in two places: at the gas pump and on the dinner table."
The Federal Transit Administration awarded $25.7 million in grants to help communities analyze and expand their transit systems. One of the winners was Washington DC, which won $1 million for a feasibility study looking at running streetcars along DC's K Street. (WAMU)
Next American City asks: can a new streetcar save Atlanta's MARTA?
From four wheels to two wings: Honda just made its first flight in a FAA-conforming jet, paving the way for Honda Aircraft to sell planes in the American market. (AutoNews)
The Aurora (Colorado) City Council moved forward with a plan to implement bike lanes that will connect nine area schools. (Aurora Sentinel)
The New York State comptroller rejected a $118 million transit contract with Science Applications International Corp., saying the company's role in the CityTime contracting scandal remains unclear. (Wall Street Journal)
The New York Daily News wrote an editorial taking the MTA to task for "replacing subway literature with self-congratulatory ads." Reminder: write your own literary service announcement and post it to the WNYC website!
(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) The Metropolitan Transportation Administration for the New York City area is removing poetry from the subway ad spaces.
The MTA is replacing Train of Thought (seen above) with a new ad campaign designed to communicate subway service advisories and improvements to straphangers. Goodbye, Kafka and Herodotus; hello MTA service advisories.
An MTA spokesman said there wasn't enough room in subway cars for both the literary placards and the ads that the agency wants to run touting the work they're doing.
“There’s a small percentage of ad space in the subway and bus and commuter rail system that’s reserved for the MTA,” Jeremy Soffin said. “We use it to communicate with our customers.We don’t advertise on television or in the newspapers, so this is it the one bit of space that doesn’t cost anything and we can use it to tell our customers what we’re doing in the system.”
He added that it was time for a change. “We’re overhauling how we’re doing business, and we’re taking the same approach to this space.”
It's the first time in 18 years subways have not made room for some form of literary musings and thoughtful straphangers like Manhattan's Tom Murphy is sorry to see them go.
"I see them and I appreciate them,” Murphy said. “It gives people a voice and there's room and it’s a noisy city. And anything that touches your heart and moves you in a different way is good for everybody."
The feature, not noticed by all on their travels, is something that Janet Dunne -- also from Manhattan -- suspects she will miss.
"It’s something I think that will be more noticed when it's taken away -- that you don't have that respite from being sold things or the big bustle," Dunne said.
WNYC has a suggestion. Why not combine the two? If the MTA doesn't have space for both literature and service updates, do them together.
Can you combine the wisdom of Thucydides with an announcement of signal work on the C line? Marry the wit of Mark Twain with the rehabilitation of the Dyckman Street 1 train platform?
WNYC reporter Jim O'Grady gets the ball rolling with his Dante-esque ode:
In the middle of the journey of my life,
I find myself astray in a dark wood,
Where the straight way has been lost...
...But really I'm just in the
Underground warren that is
Fulton Street station
As it undergoes a massive reconstruction
With Phase Four scheduled for completion
In March 2012
Take it away, New Yorkers. Comment below! Or update or post them to WNYC. There are already a couple transit poems from readers posted.
Earlier this week, the FTA sent a letter to Patton Boggs, the law firm that New Jersey Transit hired to fight the $271 million bill, extending the repayment deadline to January 10, 2011. The original deadline was this week.
NJ Transit has been disputing the amount--and its reluctance to pony up the money immediately has paid off. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said recently that if the state repays the money in full, the DOT will give New Jersey $128 million back for projects that improve air quality by cutting traffic congestion.
You can read the FTA's letter to Patton Boggs below.
Does ethanol deserve a multi-billion dollar tax credit? (NPR) And: a new EPA rule from the fall allowed for more ethanol to be mixed in with gasoline, but now automakers are suing, stating that the new blends aren't safe for cars. (Marketplace)
The New York Post says there's been a 16% rise in vehicle/bicycle collisions this year.
U.S. airlines report highest profits in at least four years. (Los Angeles Times)
Ireland's transportation minister, in an effort to promote bicycling, has announced that local authorities must include specific cycling policies and objectives in future development plans. (Inside Ireland)
New York subway ads now have less literature, more MTA self-promotion. (New York Times) And your TN correspondent has composed a haiku to mark the occasion: Goodbye, poetry/Hello, line improvements tout/but whither Dante?
GM says it is recycling oil-drenched boom material from the BP oil spill and turning it into plastic resin to be used in the Chevy Volt. (Wired)
Toyota will be fined $32 million for failing to swiftly recall defective vehicles. (New York Times)
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) It was a colder day than it is today. I'd hardly slept -- waiting as I was, for word of whether there would be a transit strike. Negotiations went up to midnight, and then beyond. I was quite sure there wouldn't be a vote to strike. How could there be? And then there was. The trains and buses -- hundreds and hundreds of miles of them, had stopped. Stations were locked.
My assignment: cover the Mayor, then, as now, Michael R. Bloomberg. So sometime before 5 a.m. I was up, and out, pulling on the layers. I rode my bike on dark streets over to the Brooklyn Bridge, looking to lock it up before crossing the East River into Manhattan. This was pre-PlaNYC, and there were almost no bike paths. No one but messengers and the insanely devoted rode bikes on New York City streets in those days. Especially not when it was 10 degrees Fahrenheit outside.
Before I had to a chance to lock up my bike at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Mayor and his entourage were upon me. This was no Ed Koch-like stroll, asking New Yorkers how they were doing. It was a grim, unsmiling forced march. Between my bike and my recording equipment I could hardly keep up. At one point, my bike toppled over. "Can't you do something about that, miss?" the Mayor snapped. He was not a happy man. The thermometer as we crossed the bridge hovered in the teens.
As the day wore on, cars, trucks and buses crammed the streets. Passengers negotiated to share cabs, or hitched rides over the bridges, but the traffic hardly moved. Most normal days, we complain about the transit system. On this one, we realized, how, without it, the city would stop. It practically did.
The Mayor's fury boiled over at several points during the three-day strike. He won punishing fines against the Transport Workers Union. The sub-freezing temperatures did not abate. I biked from our offices in Lower Manhattan to downtown Brooklyn, where the court cases were being heard.
By day three I was dreading all the clothing I had to wear, and the 5 a.m. calls from our assignment desk. I was cratering, and so was the city. And then, just when I was sure another day would break me, the strike ended. The transit system -- dirty, crammed with delays, stuffed with people, the source of tsuris every day -- up and running again, seemed like the train from heaven.
California's High-Speed Rail Authority approved matching funds to the latest round of federal money the state has received. That means the state will match the $616 million slated for California after Ohio and Wisconsin turned it down. With the new federal money and now matching funds, California has $5.5 billion available to begin construction on the high-speed rail project to connect Los Angeles with San Fransisco.
Here's the full press release from California High-Speed Rail Authority:
HIGH-SPEED RAIL AUTHORITY APPROVES STATE MATCHING FUNDS TO EXTEND BACKBONE OF STATEWIDE SYSTEM
SACRAMENTO – Moving quickly to take advantage of $616 million in new federal funding, the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board voted unanimously today to approve committing state matching funds to extend construction of the initial Central Valley backbone of the statewide system south to Bakersfield.
The new federal funds – which were redistributed from other states that returned federal high-speed rail support – will now be coupled with state matching dollars, bringing the total available funds to begin construction to $5.5 billion. The new total will allow engineers to significantly extend initial construction, potentially building as many as 120 miles of the project’s 520-mile first phase, and incorporate the Valley’s largest urban centers: Bakersfield and Fresno.
(New York-- John Keefe, Jim O'Grady, and Brian Zumhagen, WNYC; Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation)
New Yorkers are famous for crossing streets whenever they feel like it, taking a blasé attitude toward crosswalk signals. But the signs tend to capture the attention of pedestrians when the "walk" and "don't walk" icons are lit up at the same time, which is the case at intersections all over the city.
At the corner of Spring and Greene Streets in SoHo, the orange "don't walk" hand is illuminated. But so is the "walking man" icon. Latonya Turner and her husband Otis are visiting from Arkansas. What would they have done if they'd been left to their own devices?
"We probably would have stood here and thought, 'Okay, what do we do?'" "I guess you have a choice then, you can either walk or not walk," Otis said.
"I guess you can just take your chances," Latonya added, laughing.
And upload your photo to the map here!
NJ Governor Chris Christie appeared on 60 Minutes to talk about his state's dire finances --and explain, once again, why he killed the ARC tunnel. (CBS)
The NYC MTA is selling $350 million in Build America Bonds. (Bloomberg) Meanwhile, the agency is also auditing its health care benefits in an attempt to find out who might be illegally tapping into the system (New York Post). And: NY Daily News transit reporter Pete Donohue says that frivolous lawsuits brought by injured straphangers hurt the MTA--and taxpayers.
A dozen livery cab drivers will begin wearing bulletproof vests for protection in high-crime areas. (New York Daily News)
England's transport secretary will unveil the tweaked high speed rail route between London and Birmingham. (UK Daily Mail)
Ray LaHood talked about trying to build a national high speed rail system on NPR's Weekend Edition. And the DOT wants to ban commercial truck and bus drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving. (AP)
Author/illustrator/humorist Bruce McCall comes up with a shared streets proposal in the op-ed pages of the New York Times. "Under the new system, sidewalk parking for all vehicles becomes not only mandatory but also illegal — a one-two punch expected to fatten the Department of Finance’s coffers by an estimated $13 million per day in added traffic summonses!"
The National Journal's transportation blog asks: "FAA: Could it finally happen?" The agency, which is operating under its 16th funding extension, "could actually see a multiyear funding blueprint by sometime next summer."
Remember that crisp morning five years ago? When New Yorkers came together and shared cabs, and walked and biked to work...because of the transit strike? Happy anniversary! (CBS New York)
(Houston -- Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) METRO’s board has approved a deal to terminate its controversial contract with a Spanish rail car company. The settlement means METRO is moving closer to negotiating a much-needed federal grant for the construction of two light rail lines.
Earlier this year the Federal Transit Administration ruled that METRO, under the previous leadership, broke "Buy America" rules when it awarded two light rail contracts to Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF), a Spanish-owned rail car vendor.
The violation put $900 million dollars in FTA grants for a rail expansion on hold. METRO president and CEO George Greanias says, by canceling the contract with CAF, METRO has a better chance of securing the funds. “This meets a very important requirement the FTA put on us if we were going to move forward on the full funding grant agreement,” Greanias said.
Listen to the story here.
METRO had already sunk $41 million dollars into the construction of the rail cars before the Spanish company was told to stop work. Under the agreement CAF will pay back $14 million dollars of that to METRO. The agreement stipulates that CAF will forfeit any additional payments for unpaid work and lost profits.
Greanias says METRO plans to rebid the light rail contract in January. CAF USA, a subsidiary of the Spanish company, will be able eligible to participate in the re-procurement process. Greanias says CAF USA will be treated like every other bidder. “We’re being very careful in putting together the re-procurement request that we have a very level playing field," Greanias notes. "And we have the Federal Transit Administration working with us to make sure that what we do creates a level playing field.”
As for the $900 million in federal funding, Greanias says he expects to get a definitive answer from the FTA in June or July. He's confident METRO will receive the funding, but stresses that if it doesn't, the agency has a backup plan to keep the rail expansion moving.
“If for some reason the full funding grant agreements did not come through we’d have more than sufficient local funds to do exactly what the fall back alternative says, which is to complete the East End line, bringing it across Main, and cleaning up the streets—getting everything back in better shape than we found it when we started—and being prepared to extend the other lines as money comes available.”
Greanias says he doesn’t anticipate any problems in qualifying for the grant as long as METRO continues to comply with the FTA.