A Man, A Plan, a Canal—Miami

Thursday, March 17, 2011

(Matt Dellinger, Transportation Nation) At noon today, Florida Governor Rick Scott is scheduled to take a helicopter tour of the Panama Canal expansion, to see firsthand the third set of locks that will allow bigger ships to pass from the Pacific Ocean into the Caribbean and, Scott hopes, on into the Port of Miami.

Scott traveled to Panama—his first trade mission as Governor—just weeks after he suggested that his state should fully fund a planned deepening of Miami’s port to allow those bigger ships to dock. He announced the plan on the same day he formally rejected $2.4 billion dollars in federal high speed rail money. In the face of criticism that he is thwarting economic development by refusing to pursue rail, Scott has made a point of touting the 33,000 jobs the dredging is projected to create. Miami is already the nation’s eleventh largest container port by volume, and allowing “New Panamax” ships to call could double its capacity when the canal widening is completed in 2014.

The dredging, which would increase the shipping channel’s depth from 45 feet to 50 feet, is expected to cost around $150 million. Normally the federal government would pay half of that (they pay 65% for dredging down to 45 feet), but in its 2012 budget proposal, the Obama Administration failed to earmark the money Miami needed to proceed, leaving the role of port champion open for Scott to fill.

The Governor has presented the port enhancements as a sort of alternative to the Tampa-to-Orlando High Speed Rail project, but money for the two projects would flow from different springs in Washington: while rail is a Department of Transportation responsibility, ship channel dredging is the purview of the Army Corps of Engineers, and appropriations come from Energy and Water bills.

However, transportation dollars are already playing a huge role in the port’s expansion. The TIGER II stimulus program provided $22.7 million to help rebuild the port’s freight rail connection, and construction has already started on a $610 million tunnel that will obviate what is now a parade of containers through downtown Miami, as trucks make their way to Interstate 95.

Both projects are on track to be completed in 2014, the year the Panama Canal expansion opens. State and local governments have already come up with financing for the tunnel, their half of the dredging, and ancillary tasks like strengthening retaining walls and installing newer, wider, taller cranes. The federal share of the dredging funds—a relatively small sum of $77 million—is the last and the most important piece of the puzzle. The necessary studies have been done, and there’s not much time to wait.

“It's such a tight schedule,” Juan M. Kuryla, the Deputy Port Director, told me. “The canal is going to open in 2014, you're going to have a tunnel open in 2014, the rail is going to be open in 2014, and the last leg of the stool is this deep dredge. I always equate it like you're building airport. The brand new airport is done, you've got the connection to the interstate highway system, you got the terminal and everything done, and the only thing you're missing is the runway is not long enough to land the 747's. And our runway is our water and it's not deep enough.”

Kuryla and his colleagues have not been shy about expressing their needs. When I toured the Port of Miami late last year, before Rick Scott’s tenure began, a sign at the downtown entrance to the bridge leading to the port read “Mr. PRESIDENT, Deep Dredging = 33,000 new jobs.” Obama had recently come through town, and port officials were eager to communicate just how badly they needed recognition in the federal budget.

Container shipping companies joined the chorus as well, sending letters to the President last fall. Ian Calms, Vice President of Terminal Strategy & Development for CMA CGM wrote the president to “respectfully urge” him to fund the deep dredge. “The Port of Miami is the only port south of Norfolk, Virginia, that has Congressional authorization to dredge to -50 feet,” he pointed out, “and perhaps most importantly is the only port that can complete the project in the next three-four years.”

On November 14th, CMA CGM brought its ship the Don Carlos to Miami to show just how impressive these new, larger post-Panamax ships were. The Don Carlos carries an impressive 8500 TEUs (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units, or standard containers). The current Panama Canal locks permit boats carrying about 5000 TEUs, but the expansion will allow ships carrying 13,000 TEUs. “The largest ship we do now is about 5800 TEUs, and if that one comes fully laden, we have to wait for high tide and only the two newest cranes can work it,” Kuryla said. “They couldn't bring the Don Carlos in here fully laden. You could see the watermark on the ship. It was more than half empty. But with the 50 feet dredge, we can handle 8500 TEU's fully laden with the proper equipment. We're excited. But we need the 50 feet. If not we're going to remain a second tier port.”

Kuryla says the port doesn't even need the full $77 million to get moving on the deep dredge. A "symbolic appropriation" from Congress would allow the Corps to start drawing up contracts. But with the current budgetary climate in Washington, the port will likely find its money closer to home.

Since Governor Scott's initial declaration, almost two weeks ago, that he had "directed the Florida Department of Transportation to amend their work plan to include $77 million so that Florida can take another leap forward in international trade,” there have been no further news or details on the state's efforts to fund the dredge. Emails and calls to the Governor's office from Transportation Nation went unreturned on Wednesday. We will update this post with any developments.

Matt Dellinger is the author of the book Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway. You can follow him on Twitter.

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TN Moving Stories: Feds to Investigate LA's MTA Over Civil Rights Complaints, Downtown Brooklyn Wants Its Own Bike Share, and TSA Vs. Congress Over Body Scanner

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Spurred by complaints about cuts in local bus service, federal officials said they would investigate whether the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority had discriminated against minority and low-income transit riders. (Los Angeles Times)

The TSA initially refused to send officials to a Congressional hearing on body scanners, but they later relented (WSJ). Republicans said the technology was "flawed and that "sometimes there's nothing like a good old-fashioned German shepherd." (The Hill)

Money from New Jersey's Transportation Trust Fund will pay for much of a proposed commuter rail line between Camden and Gloucester County, according to the state senate president. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Downtown Brooklyn is putting together proposals for a bike share program. (The Brooklyn Paper) (UPDATE: The NYC DOT says this is the same RFP that was announced last November.)

The December blizzard spurred a shake-up in the MTA's management. (NY Daily News)

The governor of Connecticut is meeting with Ray LaHood today to lobby him for some of Florida's rejected high-speed rail money. (NECN)

Jalopnik writes that Scott Burgess resigned today as The Detroit News auto critic after his editors bowed to a request by an advertiser to water down his negative review of the Chrysler 200.

Did your commute take longer than usual today? INRIX says Thursday is the worst commuting day of the week.

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: The MTA's pothole-filling truck hits YouTube. Massive megaloads travel through a Montana city. And: two city planners talk about trying to de-sprawl Houston.

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Pothole-Filling Truck Video is YouTube Sub-Sensation

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority  has taken to You Tube--land of lip-syncing teens and musical cats--to tell New Yorkers it's filling potholes as fast as it can. The authority has recently drawn attention to a video it produced and posted that profiles one of its two heavy-duty Road Patcher trucks.

MTA Bridges & Tunnels spokesman Charles Passarella stands near what looks to be an entrance to the Whitestone Bridge in either the Bronx or Queens and explains how the truck fills small-to-medium-sized potholes by spraying crushed rock and liquid tar through a nozzle. The material is different from the hot asphalt that human crews use to patch larger holes.

"The truck is controlled with a remote-controlled joystick," he says. "And basically, what it does, it performs the same function as the hot asphalt except you don't have the guys out on the roadway."

Everything works smoothly in the one-minute video, which has more than a thousand views and four "likes," before a deep-voiced narrator intones "This team can fill in over one hundred potholes a day, keeping roads smooth and drivers safe."

New Yorkers probably need reassurance after a winter that saw nearly 47 inches of snow and eight inches of rain fall on the city. MTA Bridges and Tunnels says it has filled "more than 4,000 of the pesky craters" since mid-March.

The New York City Department of Transportation, which also fills potholes, doesn't seem to have posted a video about its efforts but it does maintain a website called The Daily Pothole on which it keeps a tally of road repairs.

NYC DOT spokesman Seth Solomonow said the agency also uses Road Patcher trucks but that they work a little slower than a human crew. If there's a pothole-filling version of the legendary laborer John Henry, he has not yet been bested by a machine.

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De-Sprawling Houston

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Galina Tachieva & Tom Low

(Houston - Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) Ever since post-war communities like Levittown and the advent of cheap gasoline, the suburban model has been one built around the automobile. But that model may be changing, even in the sprawling suburbs of Houston. Old strip malls and shopping centers are being retrofitted into walkable town centers, and high density, pedestrian-friendly enclaves, where people can live, shop,  and grab a bite to eat, are popping up around the region. I sat down with two sustainable development experts, Galina Tachieva and Tom Low, to talk about this move to urbanize the suburbs. They're in Houston today to lead an urban planning workshop, where they'll talk about how their ideas can be applied to Houston. (You can listen to the interview over at KUHF News.)

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Megaloads Travel Through Montana's Capital City

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

(Helena, MT – Jackie Yamanaka, YPR) – Early Wednesday morning, the big rigs hauling equipment to a Billings, Montana oil refinery crossed through the second major city on its route.

A big rig makes its way through Helena (photo by Jackie Yamanaka)

Megaloads have been described as "heavier than the Statue of Liberty, nearly as long as a football field, wider than the roads that they’re actually traveling on, and three stories high."  Their use has sparked some controversy over whether they sufficiently compensate the state for the wear and tear they cause on roadways.

Unlike the trip through Missoula which drew a crowd of several hundred and resulted in the arrest of one protester, only a handful of people watched the 2 coke drum shipments cross through a major intersection in Helena, Montana’s capital city. The big rigs were able to shoot a gap between the traffic lights. The signals did not have to be dismantled or pivoted out of the way. Utility crews in bucket trucks held up the utility lines so the rigs could pass.

(photo by Jackie Yamanaka)

“That was cool,” says Jim Whitehead. The Helena resident waited nearly four hours for the big rigs to shoot the gap between traffic lights at this intersection.

He says curiosity brought him out on this rainy and windy night to watch the two megaloads bound for the ConocoPhillips refinery in Billings, Montana.

A heavy haul truck pulled the load from the front while another pushes from the back. The company’s fact sheet says the rigs are 226 feet long, 29 feet wide, 28 feet high, and weigh approximately 300 tons.

“That’s just amazing,”  says Whitehead. “I had no idea they could move things that big on a street.”

About 30 people are traveling with the big rigs. This includes the transport company, Emmert International, traffic control vehicles, Montana Highway Patrol officers, numerous utility trucks, and others.

This is the first of two loads. The remaining shipments are awaiting transport to the ConocoPhillips Refinery in Billings at the Port of Lewiston, Idaho.

This is the first of a series of megaloads to be transported through Montana. ExxonMobil has loads also in Lewiston, ID bound for the oil tar sand fields in Alberta, Canada.

Protesters are trying to stop these shipments.

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TN Moving Stories: Japanese Automakers Scale Back US Production, Miami Beach Begins Bike Share, and Chinatown Bus Riders Undeterred

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Chinatown bus (Sam Lewis/WNYC)

Many travelers have remained undeterred from taking Chinatown buses in the wake of two deadly crashes this week involving smaller bus lines. (WNYC)

Some Japanese automakers are scaling back US production as they assess the difficulty in getting parts from Japan. (NPR)

And the NY Times reports, of life in Tokyo: "In a nation where you can set your watch by a train’s arrival and a conductor apologizes for even a one-minute delay, rolling blackouts have forced commuters to leave early so they will not be stranded when the trains stop running." (NY Times)

Transit agencies, experiencing a rider increase because of higher gas prices,  would like more money - but no one wants to raise the gas tax, and Congressman John Mica says he won't support an increase in transit funding. (WSJ)

A new report says Indiana's increased restrictions on teen drivers have resulted in a steep reduction in car accidents involving young drivers. (Indiana University)

There's a new bike share program in Miami Beach -- DECOBIKE began operations yesterday. (Miami Herald)

The Chinese government has halted a tree removal program for planned subway construction in Beijing after residents protested. (Xinhua)

The NYT writes about real estate developers and NY's MTA. “The MTA has learned the hard way that it is one thing to ask a developer to make an upfront capital investment, and quite another one to maintain something on a day-to-day basis over the years," says one policy analyst.

The governor of Rhode Island said the state needs to stop borrowing money to pay for transportation projects. (The Providence Journal)

Opponents of the bike lane on Prospect Park West offer up an alternative: move it a block. NYC DOT says “the ‘compromise’ doesn’t hold up.” (Brooklyn Paper)

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: the Northeast Corridor is now a federally designated high-speed rail corridor. Lawmakers are trying -- once again -- to create an infrastructure bank. And a subway artist passes away.

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NE Corridor Officially Designated a HSR Corridor; Pols Begin to Organize

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) The US Department of Transportation has officially designated the Northeast Corridor the "eleventh and final" high-speed rail corridor. (You can read the DOT's letter here: 110314 NEC Corridor Letter)

The designation means that Amtrak can apply directly for high-speed rail funding -- as opposed to states applying individually for their segment of the line. Or, as New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez enthusiastically tweeted earlier today: "Northeast designated as #HSR corridor by @RayLaHood. Means we are eligible for $2.4 billion in rejected FL $!"

DOT Secretary Ray LaHood said last week the money Florida rejected was up for grabs -- putting rail-supporting politicians on high alert. And now they're organizing. Earlier today, New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg announced the creation of the "Bi-Cameral High- Speed & Intercity Passenger Rail Caucus." The group's purpose is to support high-speed rail, and it's composed of representatives from states with horses in that particular race -- but so far it's only attracted Democrats, not Republicans.

Besides Lautenberg, other members of the group include congresspeople Louise Slaughter (NY), Corrine Brown (FL), Zoe Lofgren (CA), David Price (NC), Tim Walz (MN) and John Olver (MA). Illinois Senator Dick Durbin said today he will also join the caucus. The group formally announced its formation today at a press conference in DC's Union Station.

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Lawmakers Try Again on Infrastructure Bank

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

(Washington, DC –Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) If at first you don't succeed, try try again. But with less money.

That seems to be the philosophy behind a new congressional push to establish a government-owned "infrastructure bank" to help fund America's ailing water and transportation systems.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers--backed by unions and business groups--is pushing the idea as a way to pay for projects without dipping into the Treasury at a time when Washington is allergic to spending.

"We've got to be creative," said  Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), who is behind the effort with Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Sen. John Warner (D-VA). They see the bank as a way to help fill the yawning gap between what the nation's aging infrastructure needs and what Congress and the public seem willing to pay. (You can watch a video of today's press conference here.)

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The Art He Left Behind

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

(Photo by Jeremiah Cox )

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) The NYC MTA Arts for Transit Program, which cultures up the subways, just announced the passing of artist Ellsworth Rashied Ausby, whose “Space Odyssey” graces my local station, the Marcy Ave stop of the J / Z. When the late sun hits the glass right, part of the platform gets kaleidoscopic skin.

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Ray LaHood Answers Questions, Shares Disappointment Over Lack of Jet Pack Innovation

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) US Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood already blogs, Facebooks and tweets. Now he's answering questions in the first installment of what he says will be an ongoing video feature called "On the Go With Ray LaHood."

In the nearly seven-minute long video above, LaHood sits in what’s presumably his office (with the browser on his computer monitor opened to his Facebook page) and he's filmed answering questions on these topics:

A national cell phone ban on distracted driving (he doesn't directly answer the question: "We need good enforcement...but more than anything else, we need people to realize you cannot drive safely while using a cell phone")

Will the administration push for the reauthorization of the Recreational Trails Program and Transportation Enhancement Activities ("Absolutely. We've spent the last two years in this job promoting livable and sustainable communities...We know that people are always going to have cars. We also know that people want to get out of congestion, they want to get on a streetcar, they want to get on a transit system, they want to get on a bus, and they also want the availability of walking and biking paths and the amenities that those provide.")

The future of Tiger 3 ("We're not sure if there will be a Tiger 3 program… (the 2012 budget)  include(s) some programs where people can come directly to us – we don’t call them TIGER.")

And whether the programs in place to maintain bridges and highways are still viable, or will new government cutbacks cause improvements to be delayed. ("Not really...the president also understands that the transportation budget is also a jobs program...[he] has increased dramatically over the next six years the amount of money for roads and bridges -- over $336 billion -- a 48% increase.")

But he leaves the answer to one key question to his blog, not the video. In response to someone who asked, "Where are the jet packs; they said there'd be jet packs," LaHood writes: "I can only say that I share your disappointment that the 21st century so far lacks a decent jet pack.  But it may be of some consolation that, at last year's Oshkosh AirVenture, I did see a flying car."

LaHood writes that he hopes people will keep asking him questions and he's designated a twitter hashtag (#q4ray) for that purpose. No word, though, if he'll offer to come dig your car out of a snowbank, though, the way Newark Mayor Cory Booker did.

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Who Regulates Chinatown Buses?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) A second fatal bus crash in as many days has sparked renewed calls for increased regulation and safety oversight on so-called Chinatown buses. There just isn't that much oversight to begin with now.

The Super Luxury Tours charter bus flipped on its side while headed to Philadelphia from New York City's Chinatown. The driver was killed, along with one passenger. About 40 people were sent to area hospitals,  according to police.The cause of the crash remains unknown.

Listen to a radio report on WNYC about bus regulations and these two crashes.

The second crash comes as National Transportation Safety Board investigators are set to interview the driver of the World Wide Tours bus that crashed on Saturday, killing 15. The driver of that bus, Ophadell Williams, has not been charged with anything at this time, but he has come under public scrutiny after his initial story was contradicted by passengers and witnesses. His driving record is also under review because, investigators say, he gave a false name several times when stopped for traffic violations in the past. Federal and state investigators want to know if that should have resulted in a suspension of his driving privileges and why the violations weren't linked to his commercial driving record.

New York Governor Cuomo said he's "asking the NTSB do a top to bottom review of this industry."

Right now there isn't all that much regulation of intercity bus companies, Chinatown or otherwise, says DePaul University transportation professor Joseph Schwieterman.

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TN Moving Stories: Auto Factories Idle in Japan, FTA's Bus Safety Formula May Be Rewritten As America Gets Heavier, and Dems Form Caucus on HSR

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The crisis in Japan is affecting that country's auto production, as plants owned by Toyota, Honda and Nissan remain closed (Detroit Free Press). Grist writes that it appears bicycling is up in Japan, as public transit is affected and energy conservation measures are in effect.

The Federal Transit Administration may adapt the formula it uses to write municipal-bus safety rules because the average passenger is getting heavier. (Bloomberg)

Seeking to defend President Obama’s high-speed rail initiative from conservative criticisms, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and several Democratic House members will announce the creation of a bicameral rail caucus. (The Hill)

The city of Chicago and two airlines reached a $1.2 billion agreement (brokered by Ray LaHood) about how to expand O'Hare Airport. (Chicago Tribune)

Public comment ended yesterday on Detroit's Woodward Light Rail line (Detroit News). Not sure where Transport Michigan stands on the issue? They made a video, complete with Lego characters, explaining why they support the center running option. Sample lyric: Pushing bikes off the side streets ain't real nifty/we got Complete Streets laws -- it ain't 1950.

Top stories Transportation Nation is following: NYCDOT formally unveiled the redesign of its 34th Street redesign. We took a look at the safety record of the bus company involved in this weekend's fatal crash in the Bronx. And a new report says that $5 a gallon gas means 1.5 billion new transit trips.

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NYC Transpo Department's New 34th Street Design Wins Business, Local Plaudits

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How a new design would divide up parking, buses and vehicular traffic on parts of 34th Street (Graphic by NYC Dept of Transportation)

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Last night at a public meeting in Midtown Manhattan, the New York City DOT unveiled a new design for 34th street. Major parts of the old plan were scrapped. There will be no wide pedestrian walkway on what was to have been a carless stretch of 34th Street between Herald Square at Sixth Avenue and the Empire State Building at Fifth Avenue, in an area that lacks as DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan has mildly put it "quality public space."

Also gone from the plan are bus lanes protected from traffic by concrete barriers. Instead the bus lanes will be marked with terra cotta paint, as on Select Bus Service lanes along First and Second Avenues. And two-way traffic will remain along the corridor, allowing vehicles to move in both directions toward approaches to the Lincoln and Midtown tunnels at either end of 34th Street.

Urban planners, who did not want to speak for attribution, lamented the death of what transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan once called "the the only true bus rapid transit plan" on the boards for New York, with physically segregated plans.  The plan had been modeled on successful bus rapid transit systems in cities like Bogota, Columbia, and Ghanzhou, China.  In those cities, cars cannot wander into the bus lanes, as they frequently do in New York, making buses far more speedy than cars.  The plan for 34th street, planners say, would have provided a true "subway-on-wheels" experience river-to- river in midtown, connecting Bellevue hospital, the Empire State Building, Penn Station, and the Javits Convention Center.

But major businesses had complained the previous plan had too little space for pick-ups and drop-offs. The new plan has 300 loading zones, a seven-fold increase.

“This is good," Dan Biederman of the 34th Street Partnership said of the plan. "The property owners who were most upset before—Macy's, Vornado and the Empire State Building—were all either happy or not quite ready to endorse it but thinking this is a much better plan.”

Christine Berthet, co-chair of Community Board 6 transportation committee, said the city's attention to public feedback had produced a better design.

“I think this is the one which has the most interaction, where they seem to be listening the most,” she said.

More public meetings about the 34th Street design are scheduled for March 30th and 31st.

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NY Bus Crash: World Wide Travel Safety Record Not So Bad

Monday, March 14, 2011

Click to enlarge. (Data: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration)

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) The bus company at the center of the New York crash that killed 15 people on Saturday morning has a safety record better than average in several categories, according to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration data.

That's an image above of a snapshot from the company's safety record in the FMCSA data. Click to enlarge.

World Wide Travel of Greater New York operates 13 buses with 75 drivers,  according to the data. Forty-three random safety inspections over the past 24 months have found just one violation. That includes both driver and vehicle inspections. The company had one bus pulled off the road out of 16 vehicle inspections--6.2 percent--for a violation so serious it amounted to an immediate hazard. The national average is substantially higher --  at 20.7 percent of inspections failed.

Even so, New York elected officials are calling for greater regulation of the intercity bus industry, which has grown rapidly in recent years.

World Wide also does better than the national average on driver inspections which examine the certifications, license endorsements and log books of drivers. These inspections are meant to reveal if a driver is on the road more than the maximum 10 hours in a 15 hour work day. World Wide had no drivers fail in the  inspections 27 past inspections.

World Wide has had two crashes resulting in injuries over the past two years.

We'll bring you more on the safety record and regulations of intercity buses as the day goes on.

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Report: $5 a Gallon Gas Would Mean 1.5 Billion More Transit Trips

Monday, March 14, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  At $4 a gallon, transit systems would see almost 700 more passenger trips.  At $5 a gallon -- nearly 1.5 billion.  That's the conclusion of a report out this morning by the American Public Transit Association.

Using data from 2008 and other times in recent history,when gas prices have spiked, APTA  is projecting that transit systems will see more riders if gasoline prices continue to rise.

But since 2008, many municipalities have severely curtailed transit services, or even eliminated them entirely.  APTA says its model takes this into account.

The report says "many of the public transit systems across the country are already seeing increases in the month of February, some reaching double digits.  For instance; the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority in Pompano Beach, FL increased by 10.6  percent; Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority of Philadelphia, PA increased by 10 percent; The Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority of Oakland, CA increased by 14 percent and the Utah Transit Authority in Salt Lake City Utah increased by 12 percent."

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TN Moving Stories: NY's $14m Fare Beaters, and NJ's Legal Bills to Fight ARC Tunnel Repayment Mounting

Monday, March 14, 2011

A blind man in California uses echolocation to ride a bike. (NPR)

The NY Times Week in Review takes a look at anti-bike lane sentiment, and offers an interesting theory about bike lane acceptance and normative behavior: Yeah, mini-van drivers are unhappy, Elisabeth Rosenthal writes,   "But of course, that is partly the point. As a matter of environmental policy, a principal benefit of bike lanes is that they tip the balance of power away from driving and toward a more sustainable form of transportation." (New York Times)

New York plans a $3 billion overhaul to the waterfront - complete with more waterfront parks and biking paths, dredging for bigger ships, and more ferries. (AP via WSJ)

Fare beaters cost NY's MTA $14 million annually. (New York Daily News)

So far, NJ has racked up a $330,000 legal bill in its fight with the feds over the repayment of ARC money. (Star-Ledger)

DC's DOT is considering new regulations for curbside intercity buses. (Washington Post)

"Smart bridges" use electronic sensors to check structural health. (New York Times)

Top Transportation Nation Stories we're following: Florida's high-speed rail money will be available to other states through a competitive process. If gas hits $5 a gallon, that could mean over a billion new trips on public transit. And economists are weighing in on the bike lane debate.

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Bike Lane Economic Debate Rages

Sunday, March 13, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)   The economic blogs are aflame with a debate prompted by a John Cassidy item in the New Yorker on why he thinks bike lanes are "a classic case of regulatory capture by a small faddist minority intent on foisting its bipedalist views on a disinterested or actively reluctant populace."

That prompted this from Reuters Felix Salmon:

"On top of that, every driver who decides to bicycle on one of the new lanes is one less driver for Cassidy to compete with in crosstown gridlock. By rights, he should be loving the way that bike lanes are reducing the number of cars on the road, rather than railing against them. But for all that he claims to be “wonky” in this post, it’s clear that he’s much more interested in coming up with any conceivable justification for his already-existing prejudices than he is in dispassionate analysis. The fact is, it’s the bicyclists who have all the data on their side. The car lobby just has inchoate rants."

And this from The Economist:

"When Mr Cassidy drives, he imposes a small congestion cost on those around him, drivers and cyclists included. Because he and others do not consider this cost, they overuse the roads, creating traffic. Mayor Michael Bloomberg had hoped to address this problem by adopting a congestion pricing programme in Manhattan, but he was unable to generate the necessary support. As a result, there are too many cars on New York's streets. From an economic perspective."

Oh, by the way, we did this story for Marketplace back in December.

So, (warning: Department of shameless self promotion!) if you want to know what everyone else will be talking about in a month, you should be reading Transportation Nation today!

And, need we remind you, we first had the interview with Marty Markowitz a year ago on this subject.

And, of course, we broke the story of the Prospect Park West bike lane law suit.

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Tony Kushner: "Homosexual," "Socialism" on Sides of Minneapolis Buses

Saturday, March 12, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  Over at our sister site, WNYC Culture, I've posted an interview I did with award-winning playwright Tony Kushner on his plays, old and new, and how they reflect back on American politics.

It's the third interview I've done with Kushner since 1995, and this time we talked about his new play, The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures opening in New York later this month,  Angels in America,the revival of which runs until the end of April, his work on the screenplay for Munich, and what he thinks of the The Kids are Alright.

And, yes, we did talk about buses (read to the end of this excerpt):

Here's an excerpt:

AB: Your new play is the…

TK: Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures.

AB: Thank you.

TK: It’s about ten, God when was it, about 1997, my grandmother, my father’s mother, died in Louisiana where I’m from and I went down to Louisiana to help my father sort of pack up. Her husband—my grandfather—had been dead since 1984 and she died in 1997 and we went down to sort of pack up the house. They were wonderfully educated people and they had the kind of library that you’d expect very educated Jewish people of their generation to have. They had the Encyclopedia Britannica 11th Edition and they had the plays of Ibsen and the novels of Mark Twain, Dickens, and they had a lot of Shaw. And one of the things I found that I’d never even heard of it was this book that Shaw wrote called The Intelligent Women’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism, which I thought was just a wonderful title.

And I sort of decided,

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Tour Bus Crash Kills 14 in New York [UPDATED]

Saturday, March 12, 2011

(New York -- Alex Goldmark, with AP) Officials say 14 people have died in a tour bus accident in the Bronx, New York.

A New York Fire Department spokesman said a tour bus overturned on the New England Thruway near the West Chester County line at about 5:30 a.m. Saturday. The World Wide tour bus skidded on its side into a sign post that sheered the roof off along the window line of the bus. (Photo) According to the New York Police department the cause of the accident is thought to be a tractor trailer that swerved towrd, or possibly hit, the tour bus.

The FDNY spokesman says the bus was carrying 31 to 33 passengers. He says in addition to the fatalities, six passengers were critically injured and four have been transported to hospitals.

The spokesman says 11 others sustained minor injuries.

Safety oversight on tour buses--and trucks--is sometimes difficult to execute and often inconsistently enforced according to The Center for Public Integrity's News21 report on tour bus safety. News21 cites the lack of a consistent federal system for enforcing safety regulations and the ease with which companies can skirt regulations by changing their names and re-incorporating as a new entity.

Family members needing more information regarding the accident can call 311 in New York City.

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U.S. to Make Florida High Speed Rail $$ Available Through Competitive Bidding

Friday, March 11, 2011

This just in from the US DOT:

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Makes $2.4 Billion Available for High-Speed Rail Projects Across America

WASHINGTON U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced that he is making available approximately $2.4 billion, through a competitive process, to states eager to develop high-speed rail corridors across the United States.

“The Obama Administration’s bold high-speed rail plan will create jobs, reinvigorate our manufacturing sector and spur economic development for years to come,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “States across the country have been banging down our door for the opportunity to receive additional high-speed rail dollars and to deliver all of its economic benefits to their citizens.”

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 on manufacturing, construction and operation of rail lines, and indirectly, as the result of economic developments along rail corridors. A report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, projected that high-speed rail would create tens of thousands of jobs in cities and along rail corridors across the United States.

A one-hundred percent ‘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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