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TN Moving Stories: Predatory Auto Lending Scams, Ohio Pulls Funding from Cincy's Streetcar Project, and Weird Items People Try to Fly With

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ohio has pulled nearly $52 million in funding for Cincinnati's proposed streetcar project. (Cincinnati.com)

DC's Metro says a new report shows that an increase in peak fares has not stopped riders from using the system (WAMU).

The Red Line rolls into Metro's Judiciary Square station (photo by Kate Hinds)

State and local officials in Virginia have taken the next steps in their fight to block a plan to build a new underground metro station at Dulles airport. (WAMU)

Gas prices are up 40% over last year, and economists are debating the effect on consumers. (NPR)

So are drivers buying less gas? Or are fuel-efficient vehicles partially responsible for a slowdown in gas sales? (Marketplace)

The Center for Public Integrity investigates predatory auto loans -- the same scams outlawed by Congress after the mortgage crisis.

ProPublica reports that natural gas might not be cleaner than burning coal.

The New York Post says a new study contradicts the NYC DOT's cycling numbers.

New York's MTA sometimes uses regular subway cars --with passengers on them -- to haul garbage. (NY Daily News)

Virgin Atlantic blogs about the strangest items passengers have tried to pass off as checked baggage, including bathtubs, dead cows, and a bag of cutlery previously stolen from another Virgin Atlantic flight.

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: The US DOT conducts surprise bus inspections -- and finds that one in 10 are unsafe. A budget deal is made -- and the slashing isn't just for high-speed rail. The Willis Avenue bridge makes its final journey. Bikes are now used to sell bridal wear. And: the San Francisco Bay Area's most dangerous transit mile.

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Get Married, Ride Off...On a Bike? Bike Used to Sell Bridal Wear

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  Spotted in Soho, New York City, the grandma of all artsy-trendy neighborhoods in the United States...a white bike used to hawk bridal wear.   I'm spotting this more and more, bikes popping up in movies and fashion-spreads to signify uber-chicness.  Seen this trend?  Post your photos.

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In Surprise Inspections, US DOT Finds 1 in 10 Coach Buses Unsafe

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

This in from the US DOT:

U.S. DOT Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and State Law Enforcement Agencies Conduct Thousands of Surprise Passenger Carrier Safety Inspections Nationwide;  Strike Force Inspections Remove 289 Unsafe Passenger Buses and Drivers

WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and its state and local law enforcement partners across the nation recently conducted 2,782 surprise passenger carrier safety inspections over a nine-day period that resulted in 289 unsafe buses or drivers being removed from our roadways.

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UPDATE: Spending Deal Spreads Pain Across Transpo Projects, HSR Gutted

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

UPDATED WITH NEW DETAILS ON FUNDING: (Washington, DC -- Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) Transportation cuts in Capitol Hill's budget deal are coming into clearer focus -- and while high-speed rail retains some funding, almost all types of transportation take a big hit.

Appropriations aides on both sides of the aisle say that $2.9 billion is the limit of the deal's cuts to high-speed rail. A previous cut of $1.5 billion had spread fears that the actual cuts were cumulative at $4.4 billion, but as aides pored over the fine print -- released at 2 am --  and ran the numbers through their calculators, both parties agreed the final cut was 2.9 billion.  That means President Obama's signature transportation initiative is left with no new funding whatsoever for the remainder of the fiscal year.

Obama Administration officials point out that the Department of Transportation still has $2 billion on hand for high-speed rail projects. That means the program isn't dead, just unfunded for this year. "The Obama Administration looks forward to working with states eager to build the foundation for a world-class rail network," read a statement released by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

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SLIDE SHOW: The Willis Avenue Bridge's Final Journey

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

(New York, NY -- Stephen Nessen, WNYC) The 109-year old Willis Avenue bridge drifted down the East River early Tuesday morning as it headed for Jersey City. It was replaced last July as part of a $612 million project. Full slide show here.

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High-Speed Rail Gutted in Spending Deal

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

(Washington, DC -- Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) It's been a bad week for some of President Obama's cherished domestic programs, but perhaps for none more so than high speed rail.

(Read an updated post HERE.)

Details of the nearly six-month spending deal that kept the government from shutting down came out overnight. They contain a whopping $2.9 billion cut for high-speed rail projects. Keep in mind the one-week spending bill used to buy time for the bill-writers on Capitol Hill cut another $1.5 billion from the program immediately.

You can do the math yourself, but that's a staggering $4.4 billion cut to high speed rail in the span of four days. And it means the project won't be funded at all this year. More details as they emerge.

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TN Moving Stories: Sales Decline as Gas Prices Climb, Budget Deal Spares DC Metro, and Big Wheel Vs. Big City Bus

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Gasoline sales have fallen for five straight weeks, signaling that pump prices may have reached an economic tipping point. (Marketplace)

The former Port Authority of NY-NJ chair says he's turning his attention to the president’s goal of creating a nationwide high-speed rail network (Star-Ledger). (Although the president's plans just took a big hit.)

Detroit's City Council approved a bond sale that will fund the city's new light rail system. (AP via BusinessWeek)

The Congressional budget deal spares $150 million in federal money for DC's Metro. (Washington Post)

The New York City's Department of Transportation is dropping plans for a four-mile bike lane that would have run along Bay Ridge Parkway in Brooklyn. (NY Post)

Meanwhile, NY1 says that NYC DOT head Janette Sadik-Khan is trying to rebuild good will, one intersection at a time.

One man decided to race a New York City bus on a Big Wheel bike for a mile down 42nd street to make a point about public transportation being slow. Guess who wins? (Video below, via Good.)

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: the budget deal has gutted high-speed rail funding. NYC is installing more countdown clocks at dangerous pedestrian intersections. And we mapped who got fined in NYC for not shoveling their sidewalks during snowstorms.

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Pedestrian Countdown Clocks Placed At Dangerous NYC Intersections

Monday, April 11, 2011

New pedestrian countdown clock in Brooklyn.

(New York, NY -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Pedestrians have forty-three new countdown clocks at some of New York City 's most dangerous intersections to tell them how much time there is left to cross the street. When the LED crosswalk signals show a flashing red hand, they also start displaying the dwindling seconds left until vehicles regain the right of way and may zoom past again.

City officials held a press conference announcing the new lights at the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Fulton Street in Brooklyn, where six streets cross.

"Individuals should not have to take their life into their hands when they cross Flatbush Avenue," said City Councilwoman Letitia James, who represents the area. "These countdown clocks will go a long way in improving safety and reducing pedestrian fatalities and cyclist fatalities in the city of New York."

The current crop of clocks is installed at dangerous intersections on major thoroughfares like Queens Boulevard, the Grand Concourse in the Bronx and Hylan Boulevard in Staten Island. Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said at the press conference that a 2010 department study showed "major corridors are two-thirds more deadly for pedestrians” than smaller roads.

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Interactive Map: Who Gets Fined When NYC Sidewalks Stay Covered with Snow, Ice

Monday, April 11, 2011


Full screen.

(New York -- Ilya Maritz, WNYC) Last winter New York City endured the third snowiest season on record, and the City doled out more than 4,500 tickets for snow and ice violations. Building owners are required to shovel the sidewalks in front of their properties, if they don't, they risk a $150 ticket.

Ice-coated sidewalks in New York can be dangerous for pedestrians, not just the residents of the property, in some cases forcing them to walk in the snowy streets.

While blizzards typically dump snow fairly evenly across the city, tickets for failing to clear snow and ice are spread unevenly, according to an analysis by WNYC.

More than 1/3 of all tickets were handed out in the Bronx. Manhattan, where apartment buildings predominate, had only 1 percent of the violations.

The most ticketed block in the city was a tree-lined residential strip in the Bronx with two- and three-story homes. Freeman Street — between Union and Prospect avenues — tallied an astonishing 41 violations for failure to clear snow from the sidewalk including several that neighbors say have fallen into foreclosure.

"It's no maintenance man, it's no owner, it's nothing," said Mac, who lives in one of the buildings and only provided his first name.

He said he hasn't paid rent there in over a year, and there's no hot water. No surprise, then, that the sidewalk wasn't shoveled.

"I think the Sanitation [Department] made this building a part of their training route for training new employees how to put tickets on the building," Mac said, "because they know they gonna guarantee a ticket over here."

For the full story of Freeman street and NYC snow and ice violations, go to WNYC.

KEY: Each pin marks an address receiving at least one snow/ice violation this past winter, between 12/27/2010 and 2/25/2011. Citations dismissed as of April 1, 2011 are omitted, and some violations shown may yet be dismissed. Source: NYC Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings/Environmental Control Board

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High Speed Rail Takes a Hit in Budget Deal

Monday, April 11, 2011

(Washington, DC -- Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) Congress managed to avoid a government shutdown over the weekend. But guess who paid for it? Supporters of the Obama Administration's high-speed rail program.

Meanwhile, transportation projects are set to take another hit in the spending agreement that funds the government until September 30.

Lawmakers managed to avoid a shutdown by announcing a spending deal at about 10:30 pm on Friday. But it was too late to draft the deal into legislative text by the midnight deadline, so the House and Senate also quickly approved a one-week spending measure to bridge the gap. But with many lawmakers committed to vote only for budget bills that reduce spending, even the short-term "bridge" carried $2 billion in cuts. That's where rail comes in. The agreement took $1.5 billion from high-speed rail projects immediately, forming the lion's share of the total cuts.  However, that cut will not affect existing grants.

President Obama signed the measure on Saturday, making the cuts a done done deal. But for transportation watchers on Capitol Hill the fun isn't over yet.

"Now up on the Hill, the fine print is being worked out," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday.

Details of the five-and-a-half month spending bill that avoided the shutdown are expected by tomorrow. But tucked inside is likely to be another big hit on transportation projects. In the high-stakes money hunt, Republican and Democratic negotiators sniffed out $2 billion to $2.5 billion in spending authority lurking on the books in the transportation committee.

That means that up to $2.5 billion in possible future spending for transportation projects got raided by leaders to help them reach their $38 billion spending cut deal.

"We basically took it," a Democratic negotiator said. "We're taking House transportation money away from them."

More details should emerge after Hill staff finish drafting the spending deal. But that won't be the last word in the budget frenzy going on on in the Capitol. President Obama will lay out his vision for deficit and debt reduction in a speech in Washington on Wednesday.

And debate has already begun on a budget plan for Fiscal 2012, where Republicans are demanding steep reductions in domestic spending. Before that, get ready for a fight on the federal debt limit. Republicans have said they won't vote to raise the limit without as-yet unspecified spending limits that could easily reach transportation programs.

Carney said Monday that the White House wants a "clean" vote on the debt limit without spending cuts attached. On that score, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), has said, "Not a chance."

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TN Moving Stories: Texas Looks At 85 MPH Speed Limits, Seattle Looks at a Highway's Next Generation, and: Funding Troubles Ahead for NY's MTA?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Seattle looks at how to replace a highway: dig a tunnel - OR put in a surface boulevard with "new public transit options"? (New York Times)

The Texas legislature is considering a bill that would raise speed limits to 85 mph on some highways (Houston Chronicle).

Funding trouble for New York's MTA? Cuts in federal support look likely. Meanwhile, a state senator wants to eliminate the 50-cent surcharge on city taxis. (Crain's NY)

The New York Daily News reports on misdemeanor sex crimes on the subway --  "the No. 1 quality-of-life offense on the subway," says one former official.

As Washington DC gains whites and Latinos, some talk about the city's demographic change -- including one political strategist, who says: “The new white voters....want doggie parks and bike lanes. The result is a lot of tension." (Washington Post)

A professor from the Netherlands has designed a six-wheel electric 'super bus' with top speeds of 155 mph. Video, in Dutch, below. (Jalopnik)

Arizona public transit drivers competed in a ‘Rural Transit Roadeo’, which consisted of an obstacle course, written test and safety skill demonstration. (KNVX-TV)

The Colorado cities of Loveland and Fort Collins are looking at establishing a regional system. (The Coloradoan)

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: the former head of the NTSB criticizes both bus companies and the government. NJ Transit got $38.5 million to replace a balky bridge. We take a close look at New York's parking placard reform efforts. Texas wants high-speed rail money for a Dallas-Houston line. And: does DC need a second Beltway?

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Former National Safety Board Chief Rips Bus Industry

Monday, April 11, 2011

(New York, NY -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) When three inter-city buses crashed in the northeast last month, killing 17 people and injuring dozens of others, public officials and many in the booming industry itself said the time had come for reform. The debate is over what kind of regulations to impose on the sprawling industry, which makes 750 million passenger trips a year and accounts for more than 2,000 arrivals and departures every week in New York City.

Among those calling for stricter regulation is James Hall, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board from 1984 to 2001, who in an interview with Transportation Nation criticized long distance bus companies for placing profits over safety, and government for letting it happen.

“We haven’t seen a commitment by the industry or the government," Hall said. "They have treated the people who ride these buses as second-class citizens and given them second class safety.”

He said the 2009 crash of a commuter airline in Buffalo, which killed 50 people, led to tighter regulation of short-hop air carriers; but fatal bus accidents have left bus operators relatively untouched by stricter safety rules.

"I'd like to see the federal government take the responsibility for the safe transportation of citizens on motorcoaches just as seriously as they take the safe transportation of more affluent citizens on commercial aviation," he said.

Hall said he's familiar with the rise and fall of official ire in the months after deadly bus crashes. Federal lawmakers, who have authority over interstate travel, express grave concern. They sometimes even take the next step and author a serious set of recommendations, such as the U.S. Department of Transportation's 2009 Motor Coach Safety Action Plan.That report inspired The Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act, which would've mandated safety upgrades like seat belts, stronger windows and fire suppression equipment on long distance buses.

The American Bus Association, a trade group based in Washington, DC, largely opposed the measure. It estimated the cost of the regulations for new buses at as much as $89,000 per vehicle. A typical new motor coach costs about $500,000. The bill failed.

Association president Peter Pantuso said he supported training bus drivers to a national standard. But he's concerned that mandatory safety features could drive up fares. And low fares are what keep bus operators in business, especially in the burgeoning discount sector.

"The industry is really made up of a lot of very, very small mom and pop companies who operate very safely," he said. "And there are a lot of regulations already in place. It’s a matter of enforcement."

Hall was not satisfied with that sentiment. “I have yet to see the American Bus Association be aggressive on the subject of safety," he said. "They’re aggressive in regard to insuring the profits of their own membership but they need to be just as aggressive in policing their own industry.”

Congress is poised to weigh in with two separate bus safety bills, both of which call for training drivers to a national standard and conducting stricter checks on them. They differ as to how much safety equipment upgrades should be imposed.

And soon the NTSB will release the results of its investigation into the March 12 crash in the Bronx that killed 15 people. The NTSB will also be examining the effectiveness of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the agency charged with regulatory enforcement of the tour bus industry and which has been criticized for lax oversight.

Pantuso said his association is all for rigorous enforcement of existing rules on driver rest and fitness, and inspections of vehicles. But he's wary of over-regulation. He says despite recent crashes, taking a long-distance bus is one of the safest modes of travel in North America--and that should count for something.

Philip White is a bus driver who earns $320 for driving round-trip in two days from New York to Richmond, VA--a five and a half to seven hour trip each way, depending on traffic. He works for Apex Bus, a company based in Manhattan's Chinatown. He recently leaned on the steering wheel in his bus and considered what's at stake when it comes to bus safety.

“Everybody on this bus has a wife or husband and kids," he said. "Or a mother and father at least. It’s not a joke.”

Listen to WNYC FM this morning to hear Hall's remarks.

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$38.5 M to NJ Bridge Upgrade Needed for High-Speed Rail

Saturday, April 09, 2011

(New York -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) New Jersey Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez just sent out a press release announcing federal funds to replace a balky rail bridge that commonly causes delays for Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains. The upgrade is considered crucial to bringing the next generation of high-speed rail to the northeast corridor. A new bridge at the site is also integral to plans for the Gateway Project, a proposed two-track rail tunnel under the Hudson. The release, which contains one of Senator Lautenberg's patented references to unnamed Republican operatives out to thwart him, is below.

Federal Recovery Act Funding Secured for Critical Infrastructure Project

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senators Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) today announced that New Jersey Transit will be awarded $38.5 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to begin replacing the 100-year old Portal Bridge that crosses the Hackensack River between Kearny and Secaucus. With the funding now being provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), work could begin shortly.

“The Portal Bridge is a major chokepoint for thousands of commuters every day and an obstacle in the way of our efforts to improve regional rail transportation,” stated said Lautenberg, who as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee helped write the Recovery Act.  “This federal funding will help replace the bridge so that train riders have a shorter, safer and more reliable commute every day.  Replacing the bridge will also prepare our regional infrastructure for new high-speed rail opportunities that will improve the economy and get cars off the road.  I am pleased to see the Recovery Act again deliver funding for a New Jersey project that will create jobs and benefit our state.  This funding is a good start on a great project and I will continue fighting against Republican attempts to shortchange infrastructure projects like the Portal Bridge.”

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Old Plans, Current Debate: Would A Second Beltway Work Today?

Friday, April 08, 2011

Beltway

This map from the early 1960s shows all the highways planned for construction by the end of the century. Some were actually built. Others, like the second Beltway, weren't.

(Washington D.C. - David Schultz, WAMU) The idea of a second Beltway -- a circular highway in Virginia and Maryland,  is sort of mythical now, but back in the 1960s, it was a reality. An official map from back then shows the highways that regional planners thought would be finished by the year 2000. A bright, red line forms a concentric circle around the Beltway -- the first Beltway, that is. This red line goes around or, in some cases, directly through the towns of Mount Vernon, Fairfax and Herndon in Virginia and then Rockville, Bowie and Upper Marlboro in Maryland.

Stewart Schwartz is the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, a local nonprofit group opposed to sprawling development. Schwartz says a second Beltway would have made our outer suburbs look very different than they do today.

"You would see what typically follows highways -- especially at interchanges -- is development. And you'd have hotels and gas stations and strip malls along these areas," he says.

The second Beltway does not exist, despite its presence on the 50-year-old maps of the future. Funding for the highway was just never there.

Still, not everyone thought it was a bad idea. In fact, there are still some folks out there who think a second Beltway could actually work.

Bob Chase, president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, leads a pro-business advocacy group that seeks to steer more funding to roads and highways in the Commonwealth.

"The reason the existing Beltway is so crowded is because we have not constructed alternatives and we are forcing an inordinate amount of traffic onto a very limited facility," he says.

To be sure, many transit activists say more trains and buses would accomplish the same goal.

Chase says the politicians that killed the second Beltway did so in the name of slowing growth. But, he says, that growth happened anyway. Now there aren't enough roads to accommodate it.

"Two-thirds of your population is outside the Capital Beltway and in the future an even higher percentage is out there. And right now, there's no way to move people between Maryland and Virginia other than the Beltway," he says.

Chase doesn't just want a second Beltway, though. He thinks the region also needs a third.

In fact, the regional planners of the '60s agreed with him. A third Beltway is also on their maps. It would've gone west of Dulles Airport in Loudoun County, then down past the Manassas Battlefield and across the Potomac River into Charles County, Md. Beyond that well, the planners didn't really get that far.

Today, the mere idea of a third Beltway is a political nonstarter. And that, Chase says, is what's wrong with the modern day political process.

"Transportation policy is responding too much to small groups, small neighborhoods, small situations and ignoring the big picture. And that's why we have the nation's worst congestion," he says.

Right now, though, and off into the foreseeable future, we're stuck with the one Beltway we already have. But the idea of multiple concentric circles isn't just theoretical. After all Baltimore has a Beltway, Atlanta has a Beltway, Houston actually has two.

And Schwartz, the anti-sprawl advocate, says he'll take D.C. over any of them: "We have been much more successful as a region because: a.) We've protected our greenspace; b.) Because we've revived our city; and c.) Because we've tied it all to a transit system," he says.

Perhaps it's just as well. Because once you build a third Beltway, you'd probably need to build another one...and another one...and another one. And really at that point, who can keep track?

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Note: This story was originally written for broadcast on WAMU in Washington. To listen to the audio version, visit WAMU.org.

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Texas Goes After HSR $ for Dallas-Houston Line

Friday, April 08, 2011

(Houston--Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is hoping to snag a portion of Florida’s unwanted high-speed rail money. TxDOT, which submitted its application to the Federal Railroad Administration this week, is hoping to secure nearly $43 million of the $2.4 billion dollars that’s available. The agency wants to spend $18 million on preliminary engineering and environmental studies for the proposed Dallas-Houston high-speed rail line, which is considered the most economically viable route in the state—not surprising given that, with a combined population of 3.3 million people, they’re two of the most populated cities in the country. “We feel like it’s time to connect those two,” said Jennifer Moczygemba, the rail system director with TxDOT’s Rail Division. There’s not a whole lot going on in between the two cities though, which is why Moczygemba says it would likely operate as an express service with speeds up to 150 miles per hour and few or no stops.

TxDOT wants to spend the remaining $24.8 million on the final design and construction of a federally-mandated safety system (called Positive Train Control) for the Trinity Rail Express corridor, which operates between Dallas and Fort Worth. The safety technology monitors train movements to prevent rail collisions and derailments on tracks that carry both passenger and freight trains.

But Texas isn’t the only one chasing the money. California, the District of Columbia, and 23 other states are all vying for the heavily sought-after funds too. And it’s hard to say how Texas will stack up against all that competition. Moczygemba says TxDOT put in “a pretty good application and we’ll just have to see how everything plays out.”

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NY State Parking Placard Reform: A Closer Look

Friday, April 08, 2011

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Many state employees still get "free parking" cards.

When New York State Inspector General Ellen Biben announced yesterday that the state's police parking placard policy was so slipshod it "invited abuse," she immediately followed with two numbers meant to convey an air of stern reform. She said the number of police placards had been cut from 1,730 to 261--an 84 percent reduction. But that doesn't mean the total number of placards has been cut by that much.

Many users have been shifted to "official business" placards, which are more restrictive than police placards that say "this vehicle is on official police business." The "official business" placards allow users to park in commercial zones, spots near some government offices and, let's be honest, where they can get away with it. Though the total number of placards has been reduced by ten percent, there are still nearly 2,000 of them in circulation.

The state has 3,500 placards at its disposal, according to the Office of Court Administration, which has in the past overseen production of the placards for reasons lost to history. Biben said the executive branch had previously issued 2,210 of them. After the inspector general's review of users, there are now a total of 1,993 placards in circulation. Officials say that number is necessary because state employees, such as food inspectors, need the placards to drive to multiple locations to do their jobs.

Giving out a mere 217 more placards would get the state back to its pre-crackdown number, though most of them would be "official business" rather than police placards.

Advocates like Transportation Alternatives have called for big reductions in the use of parking placards, because they say, easy parking encourages people to drive more -- at a time when governors and mayors are encouraging people to use transit, bike, walk, or carpool to relieve congestion and reduce carbon emissions.  After a brouhaha a couple of years ago about the loose distribution of placards to New York City employees, Mayor Bloomberg said he'd reduce the number from 140,000 to something less than half of that.

Biben said the real innovation is that each new state-issued placard has an ID number tying it to the user's license plate number.That should reduce the practice of passing them around. Each placard also shows the name of the agency for whom the bearer works. For example, a restaurant inspector's placard would say "Board of Health."

The new placards have a one-year expiration date, which presumably means an annual review of whether the user really needs it to do his job. And a government employee must now apply for a placard--which was not the case before, when the privilege was handed out to friends and family of the politically connected. Employees must now also sign an agreement saying they will only use it on government business. If a worker gets caught using a placard on personal business or in violation of other guidelines, he or she could face civil and criminal penalties.

The Governor's Director of State Operations Howard Glaser, who was at the press conference with Biben, said he's counting on the public to report misuse of the privilege, though he didn't say how besides calling the inspector general's office. When asked if he'd list placard bearers online by agency and job title, he said he'd "look into it."

Transportation Alternatives says the best way to insure proper use of the placards would be to stamp each one with a bar code that could be scanned by traffic enforcement agents.

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On Central Park Traffic Lights, NY Cycling Club Begs To Differ

Friday, April 08, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) We reported yesterday that the NYC DOT is denying it's making special arrangements for cyclists in Central Park, who've been subject to a heavy blitz of traffic tickets lately for running red lights on the park loop, even when the park is closed to cars.

“The current light synchronization for 25 mph is not a new timing plan," the NYC DOT told us.  "DOT adjusted the timing for several signals on March 26 on Central Park’s drives after an inspection determined that some had fallen out of synch.”

Well, turns out the New York City Cycling Club has a different interpretation:   It issued this statement:

"NYCC and other members of the cycling community have been meeting with a number of concerned parties, including City Council members, Community Boards, staff from the DOT and others.  It's our understanding that this pilot program has been arranged to allow cyclists some time in Central Park to do the kind of training laps that we've been accustomed to doing.

"We are appreciative and understand our responsibility to be safe cyclists.  This pilot program will encompass the early morning hours from 6:00 to 8:00 a.m. Monday through Friday when there are few pedestrians in the Park, so we do not foresee any problems."

Keep us informed on how it's going.

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TN Moving Stories: EV Sales Boost US Economy, NJ Highways "Deficient," and Amtrak Sets Ridership Record

Friday, April 08, 2011

Chevy Volt (Photo: GM)

Are sales of electric vehicles behind the growth in the US economy? (The Takeaway)

Toyota and Nissan restart production (Marketplace).

The nuclear disaster in Japan could undermine support for nuclear power here in the US -- and build support for natural gas. (NPR)

A new report says half of New Jersey's highways are deficient. (AP via the Star-Ledger)

More on New York's parking placards in the NY Daily News and NY Times.

Can smartphones -- with commuting apps -- get people out of cars and onto public transit? (Wired)

Amtrak says it's on track for record ridership. (The Hill)

Will a new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons spur economic development -- or acres of empty parking lots? (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The Los Angeles Metro launched what it says is the nation's first major public transit agency's Spanish language blog (The Source). Called El Pasajero, the blog formally launches today.

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: NY Gov. Cuomo tightens parking placard rules; Caltrain isn't slashing service...yet; traffic light timing is adjusted in Central Park's loop; Dulles's Metrorail link answers the question 'over or under?,' and: how much high-speed rail will $2.4 billion buy?

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Gov Cuomo's Office Announces Tightened Rules on Parking Placards

Friday, April 08, 2011

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Governor Cuomo's Director of State Operations Howard Glaser said that from now on the state will use a new method to distribute parking placards to its employees. The old way, he said, was to hand them out "like candy" to friends and family of the politically connected. The new way, he said, will be to keep track of every employee who has one and how he or she is using it.

The changes come after an investigation by New York State Inspector General Ellen Biben found widespread distribution of police parking placards to government employees who had no police business to conduct.

"It was a system that had no clear guidelines governing the appropriate uses of the placards, which made enforcement of the abuses nearly impossible," Biben said. "Quite simply, it was a system that invited abuse."

She said a crackdown on the distribution of police parking placards to state employees has reduced their number by eighty-four percent. But thanks to a new "official business" type of placard, which more than 1,000 employees have qualified for, the overall number of state parking placards has dropped by only ten percent.

Glaser said the real advance is that every state parking placard now has an ID that can be tracked back to its user, making it easier to report and investigate misuses of the privilege.

Government workers must now be approved by the state police or the Governor's Office of Public Safety before they can get a parking placard. Applicants must also sign an agreement saying they will only use the placard on government business. If a government worker is found to be misusing a placard, he could face both civil and criminal penalties.

Glaser said the ID number on every placard will empower the public to turn in suspected placard abusers. "What you will be able to do is to look at the number on a placard and if you believe that the parking is inappropriate, that can be reported to local law enforcement or to the state police," he said. A report can also be made through the complaint page on the Inspector General's website.

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Caltrain Isn't Slashing Service – Yet

Friday, April 08, 2011

The Popular Palo Alto California Avenue Station Would See No Weekend Trains if Plan Is Approved (Photo: Caltrain)

(San Francisco – Casey Miner, KALW News) Caltrain’s Joint Powers Board voted Thursday to keep its current level of service – at least for the next two weeks. Facing a $30 million deficit, the board had debated a series of cuts that would have closed three stations indefinitely and cut 10 weekly trains, including the popular Baby Bullet service. And that was the less drastic proposal: the agency at one point threatened to cut nearly half its trains, whittling service down to peak commute hours only.

Caltrain is unique among the Bay Area's many transit agencies in that it has no dedicated funding source. But board members decided today to spend the next two weeks looking for the money to preserve service as-is. Hundreds of riders have spoken out to oppose the cuts, even hosting a weekend summit to generate ideas.

The most recent proposal was a compromise – most service retained, but in a way that would inconvenience some riders. Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn said staff based its recommendations on a combination of factors including ridership at each station, proximity to other stations, and geographic equity (in other words, making service available down the whole Peninsula). Dunn said that if the plan were adopted the agency expected to sacrifice about $2 million annually in lost ridership, but that overall the cuts would save them $5.3 million – a net gain of $3.3 million.

We'll be following this as it develops; interested Caltrain riders can check out the latest proposed schedule for themselves here.

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