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NYC Mass Transit Facing Another $100 Million Cut

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

(New York - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) The MTA says New York

The NYC MTA is facing a sharp cut to an already tight budget.

Governor Andrew Cuomo's call for a $100 million cut from its already squeezed budget will be painful. But the authority insists it can be done without additional fare hikes or service cuts. Still, riders might see dirtier buses and trains.

Bill Henderson of the Permanent Citizens Advisory

Committee to the MTA says all of the low-hanging fruit has been plucked from the authority's budget. Last year the MTA cut two trains, dozens of bus routes, added several minutes to most commute times, halved the cleaning schedule for trains, and laid off hundreds of workers. Henderson says he worried the new round of cuts could mean longer waits for riders, postponed maintenance and less frequent cleaning of stations, trains and buses.

"That's a lot of money and until I see where the money is coming from that doesn't have an impact on the riders, I'm going to be nervous about impacts on the riders," he said.

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Charlotte Gets Dems, Tampa Gets GOP

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Department of FWIW -- The 2012 Democratic National Convention goes to Charlotte NC, which voted under a Republican mayor to tax itself for a light rail system (it now has a Democratic Mayor).  The 2012 Republican National Convention goes to Tampa, which under a Democratic mayor was part of a county-wide vote to REJECT a transit tax.  Got all that?

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Brooklyn Gets Real-Time Bus Info

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

(New York, NY --John Keefe, WNYC) Brooklynites, now you may know: Your bus cometh.

You may know, that is, if you have a mobile phone and ride the B63, which rolls from Cobble Hill to Bay Ridge through Park Slope and Sunset Park.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced today that real-time data from GPS transmitters on B63 buses is available to the public. Riders can get the info in a few ways:

  • On a Google map.
  • Via a  text version of the entire route, locating the buses with bold text
  • You can get the info by texting a number that corresponds to your stop. A full list of stops and codes is here. For example, If you're  at Fourth Avenue and Atlantic, you'd text "MTA 308536" to 41411 and you'll get latest info texted back. Eventually, the proper code will be posted at each stop.
  • There will also be QR codes at every stop, so if your phone has a camera and a QR reader, you can shoot the pattern and jump online to the bus status for that location.  No word yet from the MTA when those codes will be posted.  As of today, there were blank boxes at many stops.

You won't see countdown signs like those new ones in the subway. At least not yet. But the MTA says it's developing ways for merchants on the route to have their own signs, kind of like what's been done in Boston.

It's also not really an app, and none of the methods above seem able to locate you with your GPS as you stand at a bus stop.

Massachusetts overcame those problems by making all the data available, in real time, to the private sector, and letting private software developers add the bells and whistles -- and as a result, all sorts of apps were created -- including one that will set off a alarm so you can leave your home or place of business when a bus approaches.  Massachustts' philosophy is that they're a transit agency, not software developers -- a fact that the MTA has seemed to partially acknowledge by teaming up with the non-profit group Open Plans to develop "bustime."

UPDATED Feb. 2, 2011: The MTA has also made data for B63 available to the public in this way. Using an API, or application programming interface, you can expect independent programmers will build applications and services using the live information.

In Boston, to get such applications, bus riders need to pay a small fee, usually about $0.99 or $1.99. The current NYC texting and web info is free.

The B63 joins two earlier pilot projects on the M16 and M34 in Manhattan.  Those projects were entirely paid for by the MTA.  The Authority isn't immediately saying how much it has spent on the B63 pilot.

Oh yes. So far as a field test could tell, the information seems to be entirely accurate.


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Red Light Cameras: Money Makers -- AND Life Savers

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

(Photo by FringeHog/Flickr)

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) released a study today that says traffic cameras save lives -- despite the fact that many cities have deemed them too politically divisive to use.

To quote from the study: "Red light cameras saved 159 lives in 2004-08 in 14 of the biggest US cities...Had cameras been operating during that period in all large cities, a total of 815 deaths would have been prevented."

So why isn't the technology more widely adopted--particularly at a time when so many cash-strapped localities are slashing traffic-enforcement budgets?  Because opponents say cities are motivated by earning ticket revenues, not preventing accidents.

That sentiment was the driving force behind a Houston ballot measure last year, in which residents voted down that city's use of the cameras.  “They believed it wasn’t about safety, they believed it was about money, and they stood with us and they voted it,” said one man who helped organize the petition to put the issue on the ballot.  (That same man also said he felt like a "patriot" when he ran a red light.)

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Houston's Light Rail Expansion Could Be On Chopping Block

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

(Houston - Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives want to dump a thirty-five year old federal urban transit program, called New Starts. The program,  governed by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), doles out $2 billion dollars a year to mass transit projects across the country. The House Republican Study Committee has proposed to ax the program to trim back federal spending. Transit projects all over the U.S. could be in jeopardy if the committee's recommendation is heeded - and Houston's light rail expansion program is one of them.

Paul Magaziner, a vocal opponent of METRO’s light rail system, thinks the program should be cancelled. “Like it or not, the 112th Congress will decide the fate of METRO," he told board members at this week's meeting. "The jury is out. Cease and desist until you know what Congress and the FTA will choose to do and be able to approve.”

METRO is currently waiting on at least $900 million dollars from the FTA’s New Starts program for use on the Southeast and North rail lines. The authority has already begun work on the lines under the assumption it will be reimbursed through the federal grants. But Magaziner says METRO should halt all rail construction until it has every penny in the bank to fund the program in its entirety.

But METRO president and CEO George Greanias says stopping now isn't logical. “I understand that we’re all wondering what the new Congress is going to do," he said. "And there’s certainly a lot of statements being made about what the proper course for the country is. I don’t see many businesses in this country, I don’t see many folks just sort of shutting down and saying, ‘We’ll wait for a year or two while the Congress decides which way their going to jump.’”

Greanias says he’s confident METRO will receive the much-needed funds from the FTA. He points out that the FTA sent METRO a $50 million dollar advance on the grant last month and also issued pre-approval letters allowing the authority to commence work on the lines without delay. Greanias says calls to stop Houston’s light rail expansion are imprudent. “To simply shut the program down would cost several hundreds of millions of dollars and you’d have nothing to show for it,” he argued.

Plus, he says, construction is already underway. Roads have been torn up so the project can’t just be abandoned. The METRO board more than doubled this year’s budget for the light rail program, increasing it from $143 million dollars to $345 million.

Board member Christof Spieler says canceling the program due to speculation on the political future of Congress would "go against the will of the voters," who voted in favor of the light rail program in 2003.

The proposal could come to a vote in the House by the middle of February.

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NYC MTA: Budget Cuts Will NOT Mean Service Cuts or Fare Hikes This Year

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

New York's transit cuts (photo by Azi Paybarah/WNYC)

From the NYC MTA:

"We understand that the State’s fiscal crisis requires sacrifice from every area funded by the State, including the MTA. Because the MTA has already taken unprecedented measures to reduce costs, finding an additional $100 million in 2011 will be very painful, especially with sizable deficits still projected for 2012 and 2014. As we continue cost-cutting, further reductions become harder and harder to achieve.

"But we must fill this gap, and we will fill it without resorting to fare and toll increases or service cuts, because our riders have already been hit with these painful measures over the past year. Instead, we will work to find additional cost-savings through efficiencies and improved productivity throughout our company. We are hopeful that this year we can work with our labor unions to find productivity improvements that protect jobs even as we reduce costs.

"Making these cuts will be painful, but we can only spend as much money as we have. Given the financial pressures facing the State, local governments, and every New Yorker, our only choice is to manage the MTA so that every dollar counts."

And the Straphangers Campaign sends this along:

"Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposed state budget has mostly good news for New York City-area transit riders in these tough economic times.

"It's true that the 2011-2012 State budget proposed to diverts a net of $100 million from funds originally passed for and dedicated to the MTA. In the view of the Straphangers Campaign and many other groups, those funds should be used to meet transit needs.

"However, the MTA says it will not have to turn to service cuts or fare increases to make up the shortfall. That's very welcome after an unprecedented three years in a row of higher fares – as well as last year's service cuts, the worst in memory.

"The MTA says that it will have to take "painful" actions. The Straphangers Campaign and other groups will monitor the agency's response closely to see that the transit system has adequate resources to provide safe, reliable, well-maintained, secure and clean service."

More analysis on the way.

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NY Governor Cuomo Proposes Using $165 Million in Transit Operating funds to Pay Debt Service

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

A deep freeze in Albany as Cuomo prepares to unveil budget. Photo: Azi Paybarah/WNYC

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)

NY Governor Andrew Cuomo releases his budget today -- slashing doesn't even begin to describe it.  Here's what his press release says about transportation (remember, this is his office's spin -- the most positive interpretation possible.)  Working on getting reaction:

"Despite the current fiscal crisis, Governor Cuomo's Executive Budget continues prior year funding levels for the core transportation capital programs supported by the Dedicated Highway and Bridge Trust Fund, providing $501 million for highway and bridge construction, $363.1 million for the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) and $39.7 million for the Marchiselli program for local governments, and $16.9 million for Amtrak service subsidies and additional rail capital investments.

"The Executive Budget also provides a modest increase in cash operating support for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) of $43 million, bringing total cash operating support to $3.8 billion, and for other transit systems of $2 million, bringing their combined total to $401 million.

"Although the budget also provides $100 million to the MTA's capital program from redirected economic development funds, it also proposes using $165 million of Metropolitan Mass Transportation Operating Assistance Account funds to pay debt services on State bonds previously issued for the MTA capital program that otherwise would be paid from the General Fund and transferring $35 million in MMTOA funds to the General Fund."

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TN Moving Stories: NYC Mulling Over Sliding Doors for Subway Platforms, Netherlands to Put Solar Panels on Some Bike Lanes, and SF Considers Parking Permits for

Monday, January 31, 2011

Another day of wintry delight in NYC. (Kate Hinds)

Hope you're not flying today. Via CNN: "Airlines canceled flights by the hundreds for Tuesday as a massive snowstorm of historic proportions began to coat the nation's heartland with a thick blanket of snow."

New Jersey Transit opened a new light-rail station in Bayonne, marking the completion of a one-mile extension of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Line from the previous southern terminus at 22nd Street to 8th Street in Bayonne. (NorthJersey.com)

New York's MTA may install sliding mechanical doors on subway platforms so riders can't fall, jump -- or get pushed -- onto the tracks.  The metal-and-glass doors would be part of a barrier along a platform's edge and would open only after a train stops at the station, a Metropolitan Transportation Authority document shows. (NY Daily News)

The US issued a travel warning for the United Kingdom, citing “the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems, aviation and other travel infrastructure in the U.K.” (Bloomberg News)

You can listen to NY Governor Andrew Cuomo's budget address--and learn how transit will fare--on It's A Free Country beginning at 1pm. Which brings us to Tweet of the Day, from WNYC's Azi Paybarah: "anyone on this Amtrak train to Albany not going to #nygovCuomo's budget presentation?"

Florida ranks number one in the country for fatal bicycle crashes. The problem is so bad, communities are spending hundreds of thousands of tax dollars on plans to make the roads safe, but a TV news investigation found little to nothing has been done. (NBC2)

Birmingham's mayor said he will pursue a two-pronged approach to transit that involves lobbying for state funding for the area's existing bus system along with federal dollars for a new light-rail train service. The state does not provide money for the constantly struggling Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority, and Mayor William Bell said he'll work to change what a succession of other city leaders couldn't. (The Birmingham News)

Traffic cameras save lives: a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says cameras at red lights have reduced the rate of fatal crashes by 24 percent in 14 large cities that introduced them from 1996 to 2004. (AP via NYT)

Construction began yesterday on two bicycle lanes in downtown Long Beach, part of an overall plan to make the city more bike-friendly, officials said. (Los Angeles Times)

The Netherlands will be placing solar panels on a cycle path in one town. The project, called Solaroad, will be installed in 2012, and is expected to generate 50 kWh per square meter per year. (AltTransport)

The San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Authority is considering issuing parking permits available exclusively to childcare providers. (AP via Washington Post)

This past weekend a blind man successfully navigated a 1.5 mile road course section at the Daytona International Speedway. The car, a specially modified Ford Escape the uses non-visual technology to convey spacial information to the driver, was built by the National Federation for the Blind and Virginia Tech. (Good)

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: America's fastest growing form of transportation? The high-tech bus. Houston's planned Grand Parkway would go right through the Forbidden Gardens. And: an art project turns the NYC subway map into a musical instrument.

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Art Project Turns NYC Subway Map into Musical Instrument

Monday, January 31, 2011

Conductor: www.mta.me from Alexander Chen on Vimeo.

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Forget riding the subway, try playing it. Conductor: mta.me is an impressive digital art project inspired by the New York City subway system.

Artist Alexander Chen recreated, and then animated, the famous Massimo Vignelli subway map. He combined real data from the MTA made available as part of their effort to encourage the creation of more third party transit apps for mobile phones and the internet. They were thinking more like HopStop, but this is certainly creative use.

Each time a train leaves the station in the MTA dataset, so does a dot on Chen's interactive map, trailing a line the color of the train line. The music comes in when two train lines cross. Each intersection causes a twang, like a plucked string on viola, for example--Chen's chosen instrument.

The data isn't 100 percent accurate though. The system has changed since 1972 when Vignelli made his map so Chen made the K train and the old Third Ave El train run as well. But only on a limited schedule.

You can also use your mouse to pluck strings/subway lines on the site, though not on the video above sadly. For all you techies who want to know who he did it, Chen explains it all here.

See if you can tell what portion of the map is visible in the animation.

(Via Mashable.)

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A Cultural Casualty of Ambitious Road Construction

Monday, January 31, 2011

(Terracotta soldiers at the Forbidden Gardens, by Flickr user etee)

The road to the Grand Parkway goes through, and over, the Forbidden Gardens. The Houston area is undertaking a $5 billion road project to circle the city with the Grand Parkway. But that planned road will pass right through a currently quiet cultural center in Katy, TX--about 25 miles west of Houston--called Forbidden Gardens. The museum owners say that would destroy the intended purpose of their organization.

KUHF's Wendy Siegle took a serene visit to the Forbidden Gardens. Listen to the full story here.

The museum is scheduled to close in the middle of February and is looking to sell its collection of 6,000 miniature terracotta soldiers.

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The High-Tech Bus Is The Fastest Growing Form of Intercity Transportation

Monday, January 31, 2011

A Bolt Bus boards on New York's 33rd Street (Alex Goldmark)

(San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) While the nation's attention is focused on high-speed rail, another mode of travel has been quietly expanding – and expanding, and expanding, and expanding. Intercity, curbside bus services like Megabus, Bolt Bus, and the ubiquitous Chinatown buses have grown dramatically over the past several years, according to a study by researchers at DePaul University. Right now, write co-authors Joseph Schweiterman and Lauren Fischer, they are America's fastest-growing mode of transport.

Schweiterman describes these buses as "feisty, low-cost services," easy investments for anyone with the capital to buy some buses and increasingly attractive to travelers weary of long airport delays and TSA pat-downs. What's more, they allow those travelers to bring their lifestyles with them: even the cheapest services offer free on-board WiFi, still a rarity on most airlines and an impossibility while driving.

This isn't a trivial detail: Schweiterman estimates that 40 percent of travelers on any given bus are using a portable electronic device of some kind. "This means sitting on a bus for five hours is not a death sentence," he says. And that means more people are getting in on the action, including business travelers who normally might scorn a cheap ride.

What does this mean for high-speed rail? Schweiterman, who also heads up the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, says the two forms of transport could potentially complement each other, especially in big states like California where traveling between big cities by road – no matter how luxurious the ride – still takes six to eight hours. But the fact that buses are so cheap, and that they require virtually no investment in new infrastructure, is a huge mark in their favor. "The curbside operators are getting really good at getting you to spend  an extra hour or two traveling in exchange for a low-stress environment," he says.

Read the full-study here.

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TN Moving Stories: TX Transpo $ "in Crisis," Car Poolers Disappear, and How To Plow Your Driveway...With Your Bike

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Where are the car poolers? The percentage of workers who car-pool has dropped by almost half since 1980. (New York Times)

More ARC tunnel casualties: a week before Governor Christie froze construction on the ARC Tunnel, the Port Authority paid $95.5 million to rent a Manhattan waterfront parcel officials said was critical to the commuter-rail project. (NJ Record)   Also: Stewart International Airport was supposed to be the long-sought fourth major airport to serve the New York metropolitan area. But the lack of a rail link has made its future unclear. (NY Times)

The chairman of the Texas House Transportation Committee says that transportation funding in that state is in "a crisis." (AP via the Houston Chronicle)

Calling it "another arrow in our automotive safety quiver," Ray LaHood visits a company that's working on an alcohol-detection prototype that uses automatic sensors to instantly gauge a driver's fitness to be on the road. (AP via NPR)

Officials in Alaska say that climate change is hurting that state's infrastructure. (Fairbanks Daily News-Miner)

Rahm Emanuel wants to expand Chicago's bike network. (Chicago Sun-Times)

Sources say NY Governor Cuomo will propose a reduction in MTA funding - but he doesn't want to trigger an increase in what riders pay to ride the subway, buses and commuter trains. (NY Daily News)

Despite growing tea party opposition to high-speed train proposals, Republican Bill Shuster, the new chair of the House railroad subcommittee, told a group of New England political leaders that he supports the proposed $1 billion New Haven-to-Springfield line, envisioning it as part of a high-speed rail network that would link Boston, Montreal, Manhattan, Albany and Washington, D.C. (Hartford Courant)

NYC manufacturer for NYC bike share? Ever since New York City started asking for proposals for a citywide bike-share program in November, a small bike factory in Queens has been trying to get noticed. "A contract for 10,000 or more bikes for New York City's program would be a huge boost for the small company, and would mean hiring more welders, painters, assemblers and packers for the Queens plant." But can they compete against BIXI? (Crain's NY Business)

What counts as an alternative form of transportation at Portland State University? The car. (OregonLive.com)

How to plow your driveway...with your bike. (Gothamist)

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: DC bike sharing: it's not just for tourists. The NY State Senate majority leader made some enigmatic comments about transportation funding. And over a dozen members of Congress descended upon Grand Central to talk about high-speed rail in the Northeast.

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Bike Sharing - Not Just For The Tourists Anymore

Friday, January 28, 2011

Courtesy Capital Bikeshare

(Washington D.C. - David Schultz, WAMU) Last year, D.C. unveiled its nifty new bike sharing service, Capital Bikeshare, which allows riders to swipe a credit card and rent a bike for a few hours from dozens of street corner bike-sharing stations across the city.

It was billed as one of the crowning achievements of former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and his prolific transportation guru Gabe Klein. (Ironically, the launch ceremony for Capital Bikeshare was held just days after Fenty's devastating primary election loss to the city's current mayor, Vincent Gray.)

At the time, one of the big questions that many people a few people I had was: who is Capital Bikeshare for? Is it really going to significantly improve transportation in Washington? Or is it going to be used only by committed cyclists and/or tourists looking for a quick way to museum hop?

Well, some early data is in and it looks like my skepticism may have been unfounded. As the map to the left shows, most of the trips taken by Capital Bikeshare have been within D.C.'s residential areas - not around the touristic mecca of the National Mall.

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NY Senate Majority Leader: MTA Needs a Balanced Capital Plan

Friday, January 28, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) It's a very, very thin thread, but the new Republican majority leader of the New York State Senate told a group of New York business leaders this morning:

"Another way we can create jobs is through smart investments in our transportation infrastructure. New York needs a balanced multi-year capital plan for both the MTA and the roads and bridges in New York State," Dean Skelos (R-Long Island) told the Association for a Better New York breakfast this morning.

His comments could be meaningless or anodyne -- or they could me he doesn't mean do what the (then Democratic-led) legislature did last year, which was  to repurpose $140 million in revenue that was supposed to go to the MTA to fill the state's own budget needs.

As we reported here earlier, Governor Cuomo has not committed to keep MTA funding for the MTA -- he's  said all budget money is fungible.

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High-Speed Rail Should Focus on Northeast, Say Politicians--and Involve Private Sector

Friday, January 28, 2011

(photo by Kate Hinds)

(New York, NY -- Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) UPDATED WITH RENDELL COMMENTS AND VIDEO Two days after President Obama called for bringing high-speed rail to 80% of Americans in 25 years, his approach was criticized as being too slow--and too diffuse--to make an impact.

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a field hearing this morning at Grand Central Terminal with the title "Developing True High Speed Rail in the Northeast Corridor -- Stop Sitting on Our Federal Assets." Despite the snow, more than a dozen members of Congress came out to hear witnesses like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell testify in support of high-speed rail.

Committee Chair John Mica (R-FL) kicked things off by saying that the Northeast Corridor is "one of the most valuable and potentially productive federal assets in the United States--and that the Boston-to- DC corridor is home to 20% of the nation's population. But Mica said the government's current high-speed rail plans are on a "slow-speed schedule."

John Mica, center, chairing a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meeting at Grand Central Terminal (Kate Hinds)

"This is our nation's most congested corridor, on land and in the air," he said. "And 70% of our chronically delayed air flights in the country -- 70%, get this-- start right here in the New York airspace." If high-speed rail can take some of the pressure off short-hop flights, he said, it would ease up air traffic.

But Mica had harsh words for Amtrak, saying that federally-funded rail provider is not the entity that will bring America to the promised land of a fast train that will bring passengers from New York to Washington in under two hours.

"Let me tell you -- this is my 19th year of following Amtrak -- (it will) never be capable of developing the corridor to its true high-speed potential," he said. "The task is too complex and too large-scale, and can only be addressed with the help of private sector expertise...and also (Amtrak) will never get the funding for it with the plan they've currently proposed."

Mayor Bloomberg (who showed up late to the hearing because, in his words, "I've been up since 4:30 this morning implementing the Mayor's program to prevent a drought this summer. Some people call it snow, but we have to look on the bright side") said that he was a huge booster of high-speed rail.  And while he lauded the President's plans to allocate $10 billion for it, he criticized the money as not being efficiently targeted.

"I understand the politics, everybody in this country wants to pull together, everybody contributes, and everybody wants to get the benefits," Bloomberg said. "But in some cases the benefits are going to be in one part of the country and then spill over to the others.  Other endeavors, like the interstate highway system, and building airports-- every city can share in that. But high-speed rail really only fits for certain parts of the country. But it's something that's good for all of us."  He said that we needed to "make sure we have the structure and rules in place that don't discourage private investment."

This worried some, like labor leader Robert Scardelletti, who said "we do not understand how the public will benefit by allowing a private operator to take over one of Amtrak's most successful routes."  He also referred to the omnipresent comparisons between the United States and China. "They won't need any environmental study. In fact, they don't need anything...I don't believe it's proper for our government to compare ourselves to a Communist regime."

"The Chinese must be doing something right," Mayor Bloomberg snapped, "because they're the ones that are loaning us the money so we can subsidize things like Amtrak, where if you took the amount of money we spent on Amtrak, divide it by the number of riders and offer everybody that amount of money if they walked, they'd mostly walk! This is ridiculous!"

But it seemed like everyone was on board with prioritizing Boston-to-Washington. As Governor Rendell said: "Making significant investments in the Northeast Corridor to achieve true high speed rail must be our number one priority. No other corridor in the country has the population density and ridership as well as the economic wherewithal to result in successful and likely profitable, high speed rail line....The Northeast Corridor will demonstrate the value of these investments to our entire nation."

UPDATE: video of the hearing below!

Congressional Field Hearing - Northeast Corridor from Steven Skemp on Vimeo.

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TN Moving Stories: New York Pols Line Up for High-Speed Rail, Ford Posts Profit, and First Electric Smart Car Arrives In U.S.

Friday, January 28, 2011

At least the bike will be easier to dig out than the car behind it (Kate Hinds)

Dozens of passengers spent the night huddled in subway cars after the snowstorm that blanketed the northeast stranded their train in Brooklyn's Coney Island station.  But hey, that's better than the time when trains were stuck on the tracks for hours on end with no means of egress! (AP via Wall Street Journal)

Meanwhile, the MTA's web site was inaccessible to many Thursday morning as 500,000 users tried to log on at once to find out about storm-related mass transit disruptions but were unable to load the site. (WNYC)

A federal judge in St. Paul ruled Thursday that Central Corridor light-rail planners failed to analyze how construction of the 11-mile transit line would affect businesses in the corridor. (Minnesota Public RadioNote: For more on Rondo, check out TN's documentary Back of the Bus: Mass Transit, Race and Inequality

The first electric Smart car has arrived in the U.S. (Wired/Autopia)

New York State Senator Malcolm Smith, a self-described "aggressive" supporter of high-speed rail, talks about Thursday's congressional hearing--and why he's so optimistic. "This was major. Think about it -- you have a chairman of a House committee, he's a Republican from Florida, who already has high-speed rail moving in his state, here, having his first hearing of the year, in New York City, to talk about how important high-speed rail is to the Northeast Corridor...it's a major happening for this initiative." Watch the video below, or go to Capital Tonight.

Toll-takers on the Golden Gate Bridge would be eliminated in September 2012 under a plan approved Thursday by the district's finance committee. (Marin Independent Journal)

Following six fatal bicycle/car collisions in six months, Tampa is deciding whether to adopt a Bicycle Safety Plan. (ABC News)

Tweets of the day, via WNYC's Azi Paybarah, who's listening in to Mayor Bloomberg's weekly radio show: "everyone was in favor of this" @mikebloomberg says of congestion pricing." and "Shelly [Silver]'s plan was to toll all the bridges" says @mikebloomberg of the Assembly Speaker." 

Metro officially names a new director. (WAMU)

Ford says it earned $6.6 billion in 2010, its highest profit in more than a decade. (AP via NPR)

Top Transportation Nation stories that we're following: The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a hearing on high-speed rail in the Northeast yesterday; chair John Mica said 70% of all chronically delayed flights originate in New York's airspace. The takeaway: paring down short-hop flights in the Northeast will have a positive ripple effect nationally. Meanwhile, planners want NYC's airports to expand, saying that more capacity to handle more flights is desperately needed. Also: the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey explained why doing big things in America has become so difficult, and Chicago mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel released his transportation plan--which, as it turns out, is a transit plan.

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Planners Say NY's Economy Will Strangle If Airports Don't Expand

Thursday, January 27, 2011

(New York - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Managing air traffic at New York's major airports is like coaxing three large men through a skinny door: the squeeze is tight and there's no room to grow. That's why the Regional Plan Association issued a report on Thursday calling for a major expansion of Kennedy and Newark airports. The only way out, they say, is to build.

Planners kibbitz at a conference about airport expansion in New York

New York's three major airports, which already lead the nation in congestion and delays, can expect an increase of almost 50 million yearly passengers by the 2030s. The Association says the way to handle all those people is to build new runways to handle more flights.

LaGuardia has no room to expand. So RPA is proposing to add a runway to Newark-Liberty by demolishing and rebuilding a terminal and moving two cargo areas. It also recommends adding a runway to JFK by filling in part of Jamaica Bay. Total estimated price tag: $15 billion.

Taking advantage of the new runways depends on installing a new flight control system that replaces radar with GPS, allowing planes to follow more efficient flight patterns while flying closer to each other. The Federal Aviation Administration is in the early phase of a 20-year, $22 billion roll-out of the technology, called NextGen, which will need to prove itself in field conditions.

RPA considered other options, such as shifting some of the burden to local airports like Stewart in Newburgh and MacArthur in Long Island, along with improving rail connections to the airports and between cities. The report says those improvements would bring gains but not nearly enough.

Area airports currently move 236 flights per hour during peak hours. In 20 years, given increased demand, they will need to add 78 additional peak hour flights. RPA concluded that only more runways and a drastically improved flight control system will add enough flights to approach that number.

But airport expansions, besides being costly, bring more noise to local neighborhoods and carry environmental costs. On the other hand, expansion advocates say, doing nothing will slowly overwhelm area airports and, by 2030, cost the regional economy as many as 125,000 jobs, $6 billion in wages and $16 billion in sales each year.

At a conference on Thursday that brought together business and political leaders to absorb and discuss RPA's findings, a group of planners chatted during a break about the political battles that surely lay ahead. Then grew quiet until one of them said: "Are you ready? Strap in."

Listen to Jim O'Grady discuss this story on WNYC's Financial 411:

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Port Authority Chairman: Doing Big Things Will Be Hard

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Last week, before President Obama called on Congress to “do big things” and invest in our national infrastructure, Anthony Coscia, the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, explained to a roomful of bankers and builders why doing big things had become so difficult in America.

Anthony Coscia, the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

Coscia is to be believed in these matters. Before taking the Chairmanship of the Port Authority—the $5.9 billion annual capital budget of which would make many governors jealous—Coscia was the Chairman of New Jersey’s development bank for eleven years. He also sits on the Board of Amtrak. His remarks, delivered at a conference sponsored by the global infrastructure consultancy CG/LA, were rather candid. America's labor and environmental regulations have made projects more expensive, he said, and, he added, the country need to overhaul the way projects are chosen and financed. He predicted that the ARC Tunnel would indeed by built, but hinted that Amtrak and the private sector might shoulder more of the cost. He believes private investment should and will be explored as a way to build High-Speed Rail, which he called “essential.”

Edited excerpts of his remarks after the jump…

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NYC MTA: Our Website Maxed Out at 500,000 Users in This Blizzard

Thursday, January 27, 2011

(New York, NY -- Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  The NYC MTA says some 500,000 people tried to access its site this morning, causing some users to be blocked from the site, MTA.info. Spokesman Jeremy Soffin says that's nearly double the amount -- 270,000 -- that tried to access the site at any one instant during the infamous blizzard of 2010.  Soffin says the MTA is in the course of "dramatically increasing"  the site's capacity, and is hiring a contractor for a site overhaul.  In the meantime, he says, the transit authority is planning "an interim bump-up" in capacity within the month.

Soffin says the site is a "victim of its own success," as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and several media outlets, including WNYC, referred users to the site, which has come to be seen as a source of relatively reliable information.

As the site got more and more users this morning, it downshifted from one that has enticing, colorful graphics to a plain text site posting service alerts.

Those alerts were aggressively circulated to the MTA's media list, with frequent updates on where subways were not running, and, in the cases of buses, when they were returned to service after a midnight suspension.

Many commuters who spoke with WNYC said their commutes were slow..but possible.   In one case, a train was diverted to Coney Island terminal overnight, and dozens of passengers were stranded there, but Soffin said it was preferable to be in a terminal than stuck on the tracks, and it meant the morning commute wasn't impeded by stranded trains on the tracks, as happened in the December storm.

Gene Russianoff, a frequent transit gadfly -- who was able to access the site between 7 and 9 am  -- offered a "Congrats!" to the authority on his twitter feed for "much useful travel info on MTA website."

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Northeast Faces a "Transportation Crisis"

Thursday, January 27, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) "The Northeast is approaching a transportation crisis."

That grim prognosis came this morning from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was at Grand Central Terminal to testify at a field hearing of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Bloomberg was on hand to voice his strong support for high-speed rail. "Our airports are among the most clogged, our highways are among the most congested, and our train corridor is the most heavily used in the country," he said. "And all of that is just going to get worse, as the region's population is expected to grow by 40% by 2050."

More to come later.

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