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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Central Park Cycling Ticket Blitz: The Lights Are Changing

Thursday, April 07, 2011

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Here's what the NYC DOT says about rumors of a change to the traffic signals in Central Park:

"The current light synchronization for 25 mph is not a new timing plan. 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."

Tweaking traffic signal synchronization may not seem like hot news, but it could be a partial solution to the increasingly heated brouhaha over ticketing cyclists in Central Park for running red lights and for one day, speeding. If the lights are synched, then there will be fewer reds to run.

This morning New York Cycle Club's President Ellen Jaffe posted that she had news of the signal synchronization and that there may be other changes afoot in policing of red light running in the park. Transportation Nation is still trying to confirm that with NYPD. We'll update you if we learn anything.

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DOT Gives NY State $3.3 Million for High-Speed Rail

Thursday, April 07, 2011

This just in from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The DOT is giving New York $3.3 million to add capacity and track along a two mile stretch in what NY and the DOT hope will eventually become part of a statewide high-speed rail network.  This is a barely more than one percent of the amount that was allocated to Florida's planned high-speed rail project before it was killed by Governor Rick Scott.

Read on for details from the DOT on this latest grant to NY. --TN

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U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood Announces $3.3 Million for New York High-Speed Intercity Rail Project

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced $3.3 million for the State of New York to add track and rail capacity in the congested Upstate New York area, advancing the state’s high-speed intercity passenger rail program.

The project will relieve congestion, leading to greater reliability and faster travel times, and is necessary to achieve the faster speeds for future high-speed rail development.  The project is being funded from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

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How Much High Speed Rail will $2.4 Billion Buy?

Thursday, April 07, 2011

(Matt Dellinger, Transportation Nation) It should be more fun to give away billions of dollars for rail. One of the happiest things a politician gets to do, after all, is fork over cash for transportation projects. All those gold shovels, ribbon cuttings, and bridge-naming ceremonies! And, one could argue, President Barack Obama and SecretaryRay LaHood should feel triply blessed. With today’s politics being what they are, they get to dole out money more than once!

But there’s something of a deflated mood around the bids that came in this week for the $2.4 billion in High Speed Rail funds that Florida rejected in February. The money seems a little tainted, perhaps, and politically heavy. It’s unseemly to celebrate over such federal largess when Washington is on the verge of a shutdown and budget negotiators are contemplating cutting vital programs. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Florida Governor Rick Scott, elected as a budget hawks, decided the safe bet was to show restraint and send back big fat slices of transportation pie. By doing so, they left more for everyone else—but they also made the indulgence more fraught. These are hungry times, though, and money won’t sit around long. By Monday, twenty four states, plus Washington D.C. and Amtrak, had bid for pieces of Florida’s pie.

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What the Administration and rail boosters lost in the Florida debacle—a truly high-speed segment with right-of-way secured and private investors in line, that could have been built in the visible future (the next Presidential term, for instance)—will not be gained back by anything proposed Monday. Among the list of projects there is no item that will similarly turn a rail-less corridor into a futuristic proof-of-concept. The speeds mentioned are all easily imaginable by anyone with a decent car. Without a confidence in messaging that has so far eluded the Administration when it comes to transportation, it will be hard to sell this reapportionment as anything earth-shattering, or even (literally)  ground-breaking.

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As Planners Decide to Put Station Underground, Intense Political Machinations Over Dulles Airport Train Station

Thursday, April 07, 2011

(Washington D.C. - David Schultz, WAMU) The construction of a subway line out to Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia is one of the largest public works projects in the country, with a price tag of around $6 billion.

With that kind of dough, politics is bound to seep into the process one way or another. And it definitely has, especially after a decision yesterday that puts local politicians here in a no-win situation.

Yesterday, the Board of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which is overseeing the project, chose to locate the planned Metro station at Dulles underground, rather than above ground.

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The Board made this decision against the advice of almost every elected official in the region - local, state and federal. That's because the underground option is more than $300 million more expensive than an above ground alternative.

Airports Board members said they chose the more expensive option because

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Renewable Power Comes To Texas Electric Car Owners

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Richey Cook with his EV home charger

(Houston--Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) Austin-based power company Green Mountain Energy unveiled Texas's first pollution-free electricity package today for owners of electric vehicles (EVs), and Houston resident Richey Cook became the first to sign up for the package.

Cook says he liked the idea of driving a car that's not only tail-pipe emissions free, but downstream emissions-free as well. It’ll be a couple weeks before his Nissan Leaf gets delivered to his home. But when it arrives, he’ll be ready. Cook will be the first in Texas to drive a mass-produced electric car powered by wind-generated electricity. He’ll be charging his car with his home charger, which was just installed in his garage. The electricity will be produced by wind farms right here in Texas, which generates more wind power than any other state.

Cook says one of the reasons he’s making the switch to electric is to save money. “I was paying about $250 dollars a month in gas on my four-cylinder Mazda. And that’s gone up over $300 dollars," says Cook. He boasts that his EV will cost him around $45 dollars a month -- "and that’s using 11 cents a kilowatt which is the national average for electricity.”

Cook will be getting the electricity for his car through Green Mountain Energy. The power company has just launched a home electricity service specifically for EV owners. Green Mountain Energy’s Helen Brauner says when Cook charges his battery at home, the electricity won’t be coming from a fossil-fuel burning power plant, but from a renewable source. If you’re going to buy an electric vehicle, and if you charge it with just traditional electricity, then your electric vehicle is still essentially polluting," she says, "because the generation of that electricity is the largest source of industrial air pollution in the United States.”

NRG Energy, the parent company of Green Mountain, is rolling out charging infrastructure for electric vehicles around Houston this year. NRG plans to install 25 chargers by Labor Day, which will be available for public use. But unlike Cook’s home charger, the electricity for the public charging stations won’t necessarily come from a renewable energy source.

Listen to the story over at KUHF News.

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TN Moving Stories: Gas Prices A Political Problem for Obama, and Saab Stops Production--For Now

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

President Barack Obama inspects an AT&T all-electric vehicle on display during a tour of the UPS facility in Landover, Md., April 1, 2011. (Office White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Rising gas prices present a problem for President Obama's reelection hopes. (Los Angeles Times)

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania yesterday, he talked about electric vehicles, increasing fuel-efficiency standards, and alternative energy sources. (White House transcript)

Gothamist interviewed the bicyclist who was arrested on Manhattan's Upper West Side for either running a red light or resisting arrest.

Swedish automaker Saab has temporarily shut down production due to "limited liquidity," lack of supplies, and ongoing negotiations with suppliers who need to be paid (Wall Street Journal). Meanwhile, a slowdown in Toyota's production is causing ripple effects in Japan (NPR).

But it's not all bad news for Toyota, which just sold its one millionth Prius in the U.S. (Wired/Autopia)

New York's fire department is expanding a program that requires firefighters to follow traffic laws, operate at reduced speeds and turn off lights and sirens when responding to certain non-life threatening emergencies to Brooklyn and Staten Island after a successful pilot program in Queens. (WNYC)

Caltrain cuts may not be as bad as originally projected, but "there is still some pain." (San Francisco Chronicle)

The Citizens Budget Commission released a report that says New York's subways are among the most efficient in the country -- but the MTA's bus operations, and two commuter rail roads, are "relatively inefficient."  Download the report (pdf): Benchmarking Efficiency for the MTA's Efficiency Standards

Stanford University has founded a program for the cross-cultural study of the automobile. (New York Times)

The New York Yankees and the MTA agreed to return the B, D and 4 subway lines to the "Great New York Subway Race," the animated mid-game scoreboard segment. (NY Daily News)

Make mine a double: new double-decker buses roll out in Seattle. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: After Transportation Nation report,Governor Cuomo says he'll overhaul  the state system of handing out free parking placard as perks to state employees. A NY State Senator introduced a license plate bill that he'd benefit from.  The applications are in for Florida's rejected high-speed rail money.Congress floats new motorcoach safety bills. And labor leaders and transit advocates talk about equity with DOT officials.

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New Motorcoach Safety Bill Introduced in Congress

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) In the wake of a string of deadly bus accidents, a Senate hearing, and chilling preliminary findings from the NTSB, Congressman Bill Shuster (R-Penn.) has introduced a motorcoach safety bill, Wednesday. It's not the only one either.

Shuster's bill has two Democratic co-sponsors already. The Bus Uniform Standards and Enhanced Safety (BUSES) Act of 2011 calls for a tighter controls and enforcement of bus driver screening, including calling for federal oversight of state requirements for commercial licenses. What the bill does not do, is mandate safety reforms to the buses themselves by a certain date.

“My legislation also recognizes that the best safety improvements come from sound science and empirical study, not from bureaucratic government mandate,” Shuster said in a statement. Shuster's spokesman Jeff  Urbanchuk explained to Transportation Nation, "The idea here is government putting a mandate with a date certain on an entire industry generally does not work out too well."

That's in contrast to the other bus safety bill that was previously introduced, the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act of 2009. That bill introduced in the last session of Congress by John Lewis (D-Georgia) , along with a version in the Senate introduced by Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tx), calls for specific alterations to buses themselves, like adding seat belts, and strengthening the windows and structure of the buses to prevent passengers from being ejected during accidents.

Bus industry officials say this kind of requirement would impose a prohibitive cost burden on them and prefer voluntary safety improvements already underway.

The Brown-Hutchison bill -- like the Shuster bill -- suggests new measures for preventing unqualified drivers from getting behind the wheel of a passenger bus.

Either bill could be incorporated into the transportation reauthorization bill.

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Full Text of Cuomo's Remarks on Parking Placard Abuse

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) When we reported last week that Governor Cuomo was continuing to issue thousands of parking placards a year, his office told us he was "reviewing" the matter.  That's a pretty standard brush-off that politicians give reporters -- they don't want to magnify a story by giving you a quote, and they hope by saying they're reviewing it the whole story will go away and they will never have to think about it again.

But that wasn't the script here.

To recap, we reported that the the state division of homeland security was continuing to issue some 3500 placards a year, despite Cuomo's election slogan of promising to "end business as usual."  The placards say the bearer is on "official police business," even though, in many cases, the placards go to elected officials and state staffers who have no law enforcement responsibilities.

With them, staffers can (and sometimes do) park anywhere, any time in New York City, where to say parking is at a premium is like saying water is valuable in the Sahara.

And having a placard means it's that much easier to drive to work, or on an errand, rather than use mass transit, at a time when many officials are encouraging people to reduce carbon emissions and relieve congestion by taking mass transit.

Despite repeated requests, we couldn't get the division of homeland security -- or anyone in the Cuomo administration -- to explain who got the placards, or why.

But it turns out, the matter really was under review. The state inspector General, Ellen Biben, has investigated several instances where placards were reported to be used in appropriately. Her conclusion: the whole system is flawed and needs to be redesigned. Cuomo agreed -- his remarks follow.

Here's the full text of Governor Cuomo's remarks on parking placard abuse, from a question-and-answer session with reporters in Albany today.

And here's the audio if you want to listen along.

"Police Placards are actually an abuse that goes back fifteen, twenty years I’ll bet when you look. Every nine months there’s a story on abuse of a police placard.  It’s one of those situations that the design of the system is prone to abuse.

"There are a number of specific case of alleged abuse of police placards.

"Police placards are issued to state employees, elected officials, to be used when they are on official business and they are put in the windshield of the car and the car is allowed to park in areas.  They are also used to gain admission to secure areas.

"A number of specific incidents were being investigated by the inspector general. The inspector general has reported that she believes the entire system is flawed and that unless you redesign the system you will have those incidents of abuse recurring.

"And that does make sense to me and we’re going to follow the recommendation of the inspector general and reform the system.  We will be announcing that shortly."

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BREAKING: Cuomo Says He'll Rein in Placard Abuse

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

When we reported on this last week, the Governor was, essentially, mum.  But now he says he'll act to contain abuse of parking placards by government officials.

From the Associated Press:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he expects to overhaul the use of placards that some politicians have used on their cars to avoid parking tickets in New York City.

Cuomo says he'll act on recommendations from his inspector general, who's expected to release her report soon. The placards placed on dashboards are issued by the state Homeland Security Department.

Cuomo says Wednesday he suspects the placards proclaiming the car is parked "for official police business" have been misused by some elected officials and state workers for 15 to 20 years. They are used to snag a good parking spot without fear of a ticket.

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Senator Diaz Introduced License Plate Bill That He Would Benefit From

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

New York State Senator Ruben Diaz (D-32)

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) At yesterday's New York State Senate Transportation Committee meeting, nine pieces of legislation were on the agenda. Three of those bills were sponsored by State Senator Ruben Diaz, a Bronx Democrat who is a clergyman himself. Two of those dealt with distracted driving. The third, however, aimed to give members of the clergy special license plates.

According to the bill's text: "Clergy who are called to visit hospitals, jails, nursing homes or homebound seniors often find it difficult or impossible to park. In order to perform their pastoral duties they need reasonable access to those places. These plates would provide notification to any law enforcement personnel that the car owner is a member of the clergy. The "Clergy" license plate will not enable the holder to violate any local parking or traffic regulations."

To be sure, State Senators introduce bills all the time in Albany, and this kind of thing can happen so frequently that it barely raises eyebrows when it shows up in the Senate calendar, which is where we found it.

But parking policy shapes urban life. We recently wrote about how the state is continuing to issue parking placards, despite the Cuomo administration's promise to end "business as usual." And today the New York Daily News is reporting that an investigation has found widespread parking placard abuse.

So why would Senator Diaz sponsor legislation that would give clergy special license plates -- especially when he himself is a member of the clergy? (Diaz is the founder and pastor of the Christian Community Neighborhood Church in the Bronx.)

According to its website, The New York City Department of Transportation already offers members of the clergy parking permits, which allow parking near houses of worship, hospitals, and funeral homes.

We reached Senator Diaz to ask him about the bill -- and if he thought introducing it might represent a conflict of interest. "Did it pass?" he asked. When told that the bill failed in committee, he said "there's nothing to talk about -- it didn't pass." When pressed about whether he'd introduce it again, he repeated "there's nothing to talk about now," and then said goodbye.

It turns out that the Transportation Committee didn't support the legislation, which failed by a vote of 12 to six (you can see the list of who voted how here) -- because of a pending US district court decision about the New York State Department of Motor Vehicle's moratorium on distinctive license plates.

You can watch a video of part of yesterday's committee meeting below; the legislation about license plates is dealt with at about a minute in.

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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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