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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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Was it Worth It? The Saga of San Francisco’s Central Subway

Friday, March 11, 2011

Winner of the Art Contest for the Central Subway Chinatown Station

(San Francisco -- Casey Miner, KALW News) When it's all done, San Francisco's Central Subway will add four stops to the light rail line that runs up the city's southeast side. By the time it opens it will have been in the works for 15 years; the price tag is $1.6 billion. At a time when MUNI is already facing more than a billion-dollar deficit over the next 20 years, is building the subway worth it? Listen to our report over at KALW News.

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Bike Lane Meeting Gets Hot

Friday, March 11, 2011

(Brooklyn, New York -- Kaomi Goetz, WNYC) It got heated at last night’s Community Board Six hearing on proposed changes to a bike lane along Prospect Park – literally.

But it was due to an overheated auditorium – not vitriolic words – that had nearly all of the about 400 attendees mopping their brows, including board chair Daniel Kummer.

The board was collecting comments about proposed changes to the contested two-way bike lanes on Prospect Park West and on bike lanes in general.

The audience was made up of mostly supporters, including seven-year old Ava Sonyos.  "For kids to have a really safe opportunity to ride in a bike lane without riders who are speeding that a kid could hit, so a bike lane is a very good safe opportunity for a kid to ride."

Supporters outnumbered opponents on a  pre-hearing sign-up sheet by about six to one.

But opponents -- many of them senior citizens -- weren't deterred. Lois Carswell was there representing Seniors for Safety.  "Prospect Park West would revert to three lanes of traffic with speeds controlled like every other street in New York City, with signalization."  Carswell was booed, but retorted "Please, I didn't boo you."

The board will make its own recommendation on the changes to the city DOT next week.

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TN Moving Stories: Now FLDOT Says HSR Would Have Been Profitable In Its First Year, But Ray LaHood Says "There's a Line Outside My Door" Waiting For The Rejecte

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Florida Department of Transportation released a study showing the now-dead high-speed rail line connecting Tampa to Orlando would have had a $10.2 million operating surplus in 2015, its first year of operation. (Miami Herald)

Meanwhile, DOT head Ray LaHood says "there's a line outside my door of governors, senators and congressmen" hoping to claim Florida's rejected $2.4 billion. ( First covered in Transportation Nation, now also The Hill,)

President Obama will talk about rising gas prices this morning (CNN). The Department of Energy said that U.S. drivers will spend about $700 more for gasoline in 2011 than it did last year. (AltTransport)

Gizmodo writes about a recent FAA rule requiring airplane lavatories to remove oxygen masks -- and says it turns bathrooms into "deadly traps" in the event of depressurization.

The Brooklyn Paper says the CB6 meeting on the Prospect Park West Bike Lane last night produced a lot of partisanship and no real solutions. (Coverage also in the NY Times and the NY Post, which called the hearing a "generational war.")

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: New NYS Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald spoke about the fiscal challenges facing the state's infrastructure. And: megaloads traveled through a Montana city.

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NYS DOT Commissioner: I'm Tired of Challenging Economic Times

Thursday, March 10, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) In her first public event in New York City since being confirmed as state Department of Transportation Commissioner, Joan McDonald spoke about maintaining the state’s aging infrastructure during a tough economy.

“I don’t know about all of you,” she told the audience at the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council’s annual meeting, “but I’m getting a little tired of the challenging economic times.”

Particularly in the Northeast Corridor, the most heavily traveled region in the country -- and the place with the oldest infrastructure.

“Here in the Northeast, in New York and New Jersey, we’re blessed and we’re cursed," she said. "We have an infrastructure that has been in place for over a century. We were ahead of the curve – but it’s old...We are doing our best to preserve the highway and transit networks, but the age and magnitude are daunting and they work against us."

McDonald ticked off a long list of New York's aging transportation assets, like the Long Island Rail Road (which began operating in 1836), the city's subway system (1904), and the Brooklyn Bridge (1883).

Speaking of bridges: "We rank New York State in the bottom ten in the nation in bridge conditions," McDonald said. "The average age of a bridge in New York State is now 46 years old – when 50 years is considered the average life. It’s a sobering statistic."

The bridge that was on everyone's mind during the NYMTC meeting is the Tappan Zee, -- a "600 pound gorilla," according to one participant. The 55-year old bridge bears more traffic than it was ever designed to carry, is enormously expensive to repair, and even more terrifyingly expensive to replace.

But McDonald tried to put a positive face on the proceedings, and talked about the need for continually planning and designing -- even  at times when finding money for just plain maintenance is a scramble. "You never know when an opportunity is going to present itself," she said. "The economy will turn around. And if you don't have plans and designs on the shelf, you can't take advantage (of it.)"

McDonald also voiced her support for smart growth. Last year, New York passed smart growth legislation to address sprawl. "And New York State DOT has the responsibility to insure that its provisions are implemented. I am a very strong proponent and advocate for those smart growth principles," she added.

She said she saw the need for it while serving as the serving as the commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development. "I never saw so closely the link between housing, transportation and economic development, and overlaying it all is land use planning," she said. "We have got to make sure we continue those principles and advance them together."

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Megaloads Travel Through Montana City

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A megaload waits on a snowy road (photo by Jackie Yamanaka)

(Helena, MT – Jackie Yamanaka, YPR) – ConocoPhillips successfully transported its two huge megaloads of refinery equipment through the city of Missoula early this morning.

Hundreds of protesters and onlookers flanked the 15-mile route through a major city street.

Each load is 26 feet high and 29 feet wide. The loads are so big crews had to move traffic signals and utility lines out of the way. As described in an earlier TN story, each load is “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.”

Rich Johnson is a ConocoPhillips spokesman who flew to Missoula from Houston to accompany the loads. He says this is the first time he’s worked on a project this big that’s been the focus of intense media and public scrutiny.

“We had a lot of people out watching,” he says. “I mean there were the protesters. But there were many more people out watching to see this pretty amazing, unique site of these huge coke drums being transported through their city.”

The loads are not without controversy. A few protesters did try to block the loads. But they were removed by police. One person was arrested. Last month, the Montana Legislature was set to consider a bill that would have required separating permitting for megaloads, but it was tabled.

The route this morning through Missoula totaled about 15 miles. Johnson says the transport went smoothly.

“It went very well,” Johnson says. “We were able to safely transport our shipment from Lolo through the city of Missoula and ended up at our designated stopping point well before our required stopping time of 6 am.”

It took about an hour and a half to travel the 15-mile route. The load is destined for the company’s refinery in Billings.

The total miles to be traveled over the road is about 700. The loads were manufactured overseas, arrived via ocean freighter after traveling some 5,300 miles and then were sent by river barge to Lewiston, Idaho

When these two coke drums arrive at the ConocoPhillips refinery in Billings, the crews will return to Idaho for the two remaining vessels, also bound for the Billings refinery. The equipment is to be installed next year.

Montana is awaiting another set of megaloads. That one is for an ExxonMobil project destined for the oil tar sand fields of Alberta, Canada.

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You can read more TN coverage about this issue here and here.

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TN Moving Stories: Ray LaHood Goes to Capitol Hill, Reversing DC Metro's Decline Will Take Years, and More British Coverage of NYC Bike Lanes

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will be up on Capitol Hill again today to field questions from lawmakers on President Obama's proposed $556 billion in new transportation spending in his 2012 budget. (The Hill)

Marketplace looks at the economic impact of high-speed rail.

The head of DC's Metro said reversing the growing decline in its bus and rail network will take years. "This system is stretched to its limits," GM Richard Sarles said. "Every time we try to make another adjustment to it, it becomes much more complex and takes a lot longer than we thought." (Washington Post)

Scotland has okayed a £290 million plan to renovate Glasgow's subway. (BBC)

Speaking of Ray LaHood...he blogged about his speech to the National Bike Summit and posted a video of it:

Janette Sadik-Khan and other NYC officials get a little love from transit and bike advocates. (NY Daily News, Streetsblog)

Even The Economist has something to say about bike lanes and the New Yorker's John Cassidy.

Slate theorizes about why -- in their words -- conservatives hate trains, and points out that it didn't used to be that way.

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: Texas lawmakers consider a range of distracted driving bills. NYC is going after cabbies who refuse outer-borough fares. NYC DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan talks about bike lanes -- and unveils an Urban Bikeway Guide. And: California's census shows that the high-speed "train to nowhere" is really "the train to where the population growth is happening."

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Texas Lawmakers Consider Statewide Distracted Driving Bills

Thursday, March 10, 2011

(Houston - Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) Texans used to juggling phone calls and emails during their drive to work may have to come up with another way to multitask soon. Several states have passed laws making it illegal for people to fumble around with their mobile phones while driving, regardless of their age. Texas isn’t one of them, but that could change soon.

Members of the Texas House of Representatives are considering bills that would make texting and emailing while driving illegal. Joel Cooper is a researcher with the Texas Transportation Institute. He testified before the House Transportation Committee on the dangers of texting while driving. “Text messaging turns out to be a perfect combination, the perfect storm, if you will, of three distraction types," he said. "It’s both a cognitive task, you have to think about it, you have to look down at your device, and manipulate it with your hands. So because of that it’s not really surprising that the data are suggesting that text messaging is so dangerous.”

Listen to the story over at KUHF News.

State Representative Tom Craddick suggested combining four of the bills into one that would ban texting while driving. Another bill, introduced by Representative Jose Menendez, would ban both texting and talking on the phone behind the wheel. Charmane Walden, with the National Safety Council’s Texas chapter, says both texting and talking on phones should be outlawed. “People who text and also talk on the phone... might look ahead and see street signs and see other cars, but cognitively they only process about half of what they see," she said. "So we’re in support of eliminating cell phones while driving.”

Mobile phone use while driving is particularly prevalent among younger drivers. A poll out this week found that 63 percent of drivers under 30 admitted to using a wireless device while driving in the last month. Thirty percent reported texting behind the wheel.

The U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has made his opinion of distracted driving clear: He’s not for it. He calls the practice an epidemic and insists that distracted driving will stay on the top of the Department of Transportation’s list of priorities. But the verdict is still out on using hands-free device to talk while driving. Earlier today Secretary LaHood said he would not yet advocate for a ban on drivers using blue-tooth technology until more research is done.

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California's High-Speed Rail: Census Shows the 'Train To Nowhere' May Actually Be The Train to the Boom Towns

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

(San Francisco -- Casey Miner, KALW News) The new census numbers mean big changes for California politics. Huge population growth in the Central Valley, compared to relatively anemic growth in the coastal cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, seems likely to shift a good deal of the state's political clout inland to cities like Bakersfield and Fresno. That's also where the first high-speed rail tracks will be laid. What some have called a "train to nowhere" is now a train to the fastest-growing part of the state.

"We're particularly interested to see the growth in these Central Valley cities," said Rachel Wall, a spokeswoman for the California High-Speed Rail Authority. "In Fresno and Bakersfield the populations are increasing, but they're still very isolated as far as accessibility and mobility." Wall added that these cities would be among those who saw the first jobs come from the project.

But Central Valley politicians aren't necessarily buying it.

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NYC Mayor Goes After Cabbies Who Refuse Outer Borough Fares

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

(New York -- Stephen Nessen, WNYC) The city is further cracking down on taxis that refuse to drive outside of Manhattan with a proposal for steeper fines and possibly revoking the license of repeat offenders. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Wednesday said such "geographic discrimination" is unacceptable and on the rise.

Under the new proposal, the city would issue a $500 fine for the first offense, a $750 fine and a 30-day suspension of the driver's license for a second offense within 24 months of the previous offense. A third offense would result in loss of TLC license.

"It doesn't matter which borough you are coming from or which borough you're going to, if you want to hail a cab, New York City cab drivers are required by law to take you to any destination in the city," Bloomberg said. "Without argument, pure and simple."

The Taxi and Limousine Commission has been creating undercover videos using Baruch college students posing as passengers hailing taxis to locations outside of Manhattan.

In one video, the student asks for a ride to Liberty Ave. and Lefferts Blvd. in Queens, and is flatly refused. He asks the taxi driver if he has a map, and the driver speeds off. (You can see the video, from Mayor Bloomberg's YouTube channel, below.)

The mayor was joined by TLC chairman David Yassky and City Council Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca, who is sponsoring the legislation. Yassky and Bloomberg said the number of cab refusals is on the rise and that when it occurs passengers should call 311 and report the medallion number of the driver.

The TLC currently has 100 enforcement agents ensuring city taxi drivers are obeying the rules. Yassky warned drivers that "if you turn down a fare that may well be a TLC enforcement agent."

Licensed taxi drivers are required to carry a map of the city, but not a GPS.

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Senators Meet With LaHood, Ask for $$ for Northeast Corridor High Speed Rail

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

A congressional delegation today met with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, asking him to redirect to the Northeast Corridor the money Florida Governor Rick Scott rejected for high speed rail.  The U.S. DOT will only say it will make a decision "soon."

Senator Frank Lautenberg's office issued the following press release -- TN

LAUTENBERG, CARPER, COLLEAGUES MEET WITH SECRETARY LAHOOD, URGE ADMINISTRATION TO REDIRECT REJECTED FLORIDA RAIL FUNDING TO NORTHEAST CORRIDOR

WASHINGTON— During a meeting today in Senator Lautenberg’s office, U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Tom Carper (D-DE), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Chris Coons (D-DE) asked U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to redirect the $2.4 billion in High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program funds rejected by the state of Florida to the Northeast Corridor.

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Sadik-Khan Offers Full-Throated Endorsement of Large-Scale Urban Bike Networks

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan with Congressman Earl Blumenauer (photo by Chris Eichler/League of American Bicyclists)

(Washington, DC -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan sounded like anything but an official on the defensive in a speech this morning at The League of American Bicyclists’ National Bike Summit here.

“It is wonderful to be here with so many friends,” she began, addressing a ballroom full of cycling advocates at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. “The movement is there,” she said of pro-bike and pedestrian advocates and policy-makers. “The people are there, the projects are there—and none of this really was there just five years ago.”

Sadik-Khan has been sharply attacked of late. Some residents of Park Slope, Brooklyn, sued this week to have a bike lane along Prospect Park removed, a much-discussed profile in The New York Times called her “brusque” and worse; and a New Yorker writer described her as the head of “a small faddist minority intent on foisting its bipedalist views on a disinterested or actively reluctant populace.”

But Sadik-Khan is continuing to make the case that the economic and cultural future belongs to cities that wring transportation efficiencies out of moving more people above-ground by bus, bike and foot.

Further, she said opponents of the kind of streetscape re-engineering that shifted space from cars to bikes and pedestrians were up against a movement with momentum. “We’re starting to see real cycling systems in American cities,” she claimed. “In New York, we have added 250 miles of on-street bike lanes since 2006.”

She then launched into a list of famous streets around the U.S. that now have bike lanes and more space for pedestrians, from Market Street in Portland to Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. She praised Barcelona for throwing “infrastructure parties”—transit projects and urban upgrades completed in preparation for large events like the Olympics. And to the approval of the room, she talked up the pedestrian plaza her department created in Times Square.

“You can see this on Broadway, in my town, which is now the Great Green Way,” she said. “And more is coming. I don’t know if you heard that just last week Mayor Villaraigosa of Los Angeles talked about plans for a 1,700-mile bike network in Los Angeles. I think that’s really extraordinary.”

All of this is proof, she said, of a global competition by cities to innovate with their transportation systems. “City leaders—mayors, certainly— understand this is an economic development strategy,” she said. “If we are going to attract the best and the brightest to our cities, we have to make these cities work.” She said that means urban planners are looking at the competition and asking: “Who can be the greenest, who’s got the next bike share program, who’s got the coolest new bus rapid transit line?”

But she said urban development is not solely competitive.  Together with  transportation officials around the U.S., she launched an online Urban Bikeway Design Guide that cities can use as an engineering template to construct even more bike lanes. “For too long, these basic tools have been out of the tools of local officials,” she said. The group will be lobbying the Federal Highway Administration to recognize the guidelines as national standards, she added, making it easier to install bike lanes around the country.

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City Transportation Officials Issue Design Guide

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) Janette Sadik-Khan is not only the NYC Transportation Commissioner -- and the subject of a lot of press coverage, plus a lawsuit, surrounding bike lanes these days -- but also president of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO). And speaking today at the League of American Bicyclist's National Bike Summit, she unveiled NACTO's Urban Bikeway Design Guide.

The guide draws upon the experience of transportation planners from over a dozen cities nationwide and is "intended to help practitioners make good decisions about urban bikeway design."  It covers a host of topics like bike signals, intersection design, and pavement markings, and it can be found here.

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U.S. Sect'y LaHood Says Cars Should Play Smaller Role In Next Gen of Transportation

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Ray LaHood at the 2011 Natonal Bike Summit (photo by Chris Eichler/League of American Bicyclists)

(Washington, DC - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told a conference of bicycle advocates in Washington, DC, that President Obama’s national transportation plan will continue to de-emphasize private vehicles. LaHood has faced opposition from some governors over spending on high speed rail and support for biking and walking paths. But he said those priorities come from “his boss," the president, and the transportation budget that the president has put before Congress.

Ray LaHood's blog post on the speech is here.

“It’s about the next generation of transportation," he said of Obama's agenda. "It’s about high speed rail. It’s about streetcars. It’s about transit. It’s about livable and sustainable communities where you can live in a community and you don’t have to own a car.”

LaHood didn't jump up on a table, as he did in a fit of enthusiasm at last year's League of American Bicyclists' National Bike Summit, but he scaled some rhetorical heights in showering praise around the room.

He began by calling New York Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik Kahn "a quite extraordinary lady" for re-engineering part of the city's streetscape to allow more room for buses, bikes and pedestrians. "She has really put New York on the map when it comes to making New York a liveable, sustainable community," he said. "And you can live in New York and not own a motor vehicle. So Janette, thank you for your leadership."

His remarks come as Sadik-Khan has faced noisy protests from some quarters for making life less convenient for some motorists.

LaHood also defended President Obama's high speed rail initiative, even though Florida Governor Rick Scott last week became the latest governor to turn down federal transportation funds for a high speed rail project--in his case, $2.4 billion.

"There's a lot more governors that have accepted money," LaHood said to reporters in a hallway of the Grand Hyatt Hotel after speaking to a ballroom full of bicycling enthusiasts. "Only three governors have turned back money. I've got people lined up out my door ready to take the more than $2 billion that's coming back from Florida."

He said the Obama administration has already spent $11 billion on high speed rail and is proposing in the current budget to spend $50 billion more. "There's a lot of enthusiasm for high speed rail in America," he concluded.

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TN Moving Stories: DART Shows Off Battery-Operated Streetcar, Bk Bike Lane Brouhaha Being Watched in UK, And Equality Comes With a Price

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Denver's FasTracks needs more money to complete its rail expansion, but the question of a tax increase has been put off until May. (Denver Post) (Meanwhile - if you want to learn more about Denver's transit expansion, listen to the TN documentary "Back of the Bus: Race, Mass Transit and Inequality")

Another step has been taken toward building a $778 million commuter-train line that would link nearly 20 suburban communities to downtown Chicago. (AP via Bloomberg Businessweek)

Apparently equality comes with a price: a European Union court ruled that insurance companies must charge men and women the same rates -- so now women drivers will pay as much as men do to insure their cars. (NPR)

Dallas Area Rapid Transit demonstrated a new energy-efficient streetcar that uses rechargeable batteries, not overhead wires. (Dallas Morning News)

The New York Observer weighs in on the bike lane brouhaha, which it terms "New York's last culture war."  And the New Yorker's John Cassidy pens a defense of bike lane opponents. Which is then picked apart by Reuters' Felix Salmon.

Even the British paper the Guardian is writing about NYC's bike lanes. "How New York – the city that still has a uniquely low level of car ownership and use – manages its transport planning in the 21st century matters for the whole world: it is the template. If cycling is pushed back into the margins of that future, rather than promoted, along with efficient mass public transit and safe, pleasant pedestrianism, as a key part of that future, the consequences will be grave and grim."

A pregnant subway commuter tracks chivalry in New York -- with a positive outcome. Out of 108 subway rides, she was offered a seat 88 times.  (WSJ via Second Avenue Sagas)

And, okay we bit.  Here's the full Mad Men pro-high speed rail video, produced by the pro-high speed rail group, US PIRG.

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: has the backlash to the bike lane backlash begun in NYC? And: Montana legislators mull penalties for multiple DUI's, but should the 3rd crime get offenders a felony charge...or the gallows? And: in DC, lawmakers want graduated driver's licenses for teens, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood talks about transportation of the future at the National Bike Summit.

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Rising Gas Prices Affect More Than Your Wallet

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) As the average price of a gallon of gas hit $3.50, The Takeaway looked at how that determines the price of... just about everything. It affects the cost of things that we make out of oil (plastic, fiberglass, petroleum based products), and it also affects the cost of shipping nearly every product to our doorsteps.

According to guest Christopher Steiner, of Forbes Magazine and author of  the book, $20 Per Gallon, "We know that Americans start to change their behavior at four dollars [per gallon]. We saw it in 2008, when Americans drove 100 billion less miles than they did in 2007, and that's something we've never done before as a nation. And that was a clear reaction to four dollar gas."

Listen below to how oil prices will determine the future of American consumer and social trends.

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Lawmakers Want National Standard for Teen Licenses

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

(Washington, DC --Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) Lawmakers introduced a bill Tuesday forcing states to meet a national standard for teens’ drivers licenses or take a hit on their federal highway funding.

The bill pushes graduated drivers license programs, or GDL’s, which phase in driving privileges for teens in the hopes of taking some of the danger out of getting behind the wheel.

All 50 states already have some form of phased-in driving for teens, but standards vary widely. Six states allow permits for 14-year olds, while South Dakota has no restricts at all for 16-year-old drivers.

Safety groups and insurance companies have long backed GDL programs, as a way to improve teen driving safety and also to lock in one set of nationwide rules.

Car crashes remain the number-one cause of death for US teens, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Crashes killed more than 40,000 teens over the last five years.

“This is a national problem that requires a national solution,” said Rep. Tim Bishop (R-NY).

Teens are notoriously bad risk takers, but advocates have become increasingly alarmed by the rise of cell phones and other electronic devices. Distracted driving campaigns have zeroed in on adolescents and their texting.

The bill would force states to take on three-stage licensing schemes with unrestricted driving privileges delayed until age 18. The process involves learners permits with passenger restrictions and cell phone bans. It would also let the federal government set standards withholding full licenses from kids caught driving recklessly, with DUIs or other violations.

Teens in the intermediate license phase would face restrictions on night driving and on the number of car passengers.

States would have three years to put in minimum requirements.

“If they don’t, they would face penalties and reductions in funding,” said Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand, D-NY.

The bill authorizes $25 million to help states put new laws in place. Lawmakers said they intend to attach the bill to surface transportation legislation expected to move in Congress later this year.

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Backlash to the Bike Lane Backlash

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

New York City Council member Brad Lander, flanked by Park Slope residents Joanna Oltman Smith, Eric McClure, and Michael Cairl, on the steps of City Hall

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) A day after opponents filed a lawsuit against the New York City Department of Transportation to compel the removal of Prospect Park West's bike lane, supporters of the lane gathered on the steps of City Hall.

City Council member Brad Lander, who represents Park Slope, said the the lane had gone through years of community review and process before being built.

"A small group of opponents  have chosen to bring a baseless lawsuit in an effort to block further safety improvements, to eradicate the lane, to go back to three lanes of traffic on Prospect Park West—the speedway that it was before—and essentially to impose their will on the community through lawsuit,” he said.

Transportation Nation nation first reported on the lawsuit last month.

Lander said a survey of neighborhood residents showed that the majority support the new street design. Out of the 3,150 people who responded, 54% like the bike lane as-is; 24% want some changes, and 22% want to revert to the street's previous configuration. Lander said he was impressed with the response to the survey. “I think if we offered free money at our office we wouldn’t get 3,000 people," he said, "so there’s real passion on this issue.” The survey can be found here.

Michael Cairl, the president of the Park Slope Civic Association, said that his group supported the lane and that its installation had made the street safer. "Prospect Park West before the reconfiguration had been a speedway," he said. "It was unsafe to cross, it was unsafe to cycle on, it wasn’t all that safe to drive on.” New York City Department of Transportation says that data shows crashes involving injuries are down 63%, speeding is down from 75% of cars to 20%, and cycling on the sidewalk is down 80%.

But Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes and Seniors for Safety, which is bringing the suit, say that data has been manipulated and the city's actions were "arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to the civil and criminal laws of the State of New York." In a statement today, the group's attorney, Jim Walden, says:

"Everyone should be concerned about DOT's misuse of the data. Everyone. This case is about a government agency wrongfully putting its thumb on the scale by fudging the data and colluding with lobbyists. That is not what 'public integrity' means. Some people on both sides of the issue are affluent and have political connections. So, the continuous, one-sided name-calling is hardly appropriate. But, more importantly, it keeps people from focusing on the real issue in the case, which I suspect is the true aim."

But Gary Reilly, the chair of the environmental committee of Community Board 6, said he couldn't count the number of meetings that the DOT had with CB6.  "And at various steps in the process, DOT has come back and taken input from the community, absorbed lessons from the survey, taken a look at the safety results, and looked at ways to tweak and make this project better at every step along the way."

Separately Tuesday, following a wave of coverage critical of city DOT chief Janette Sadik-Khan, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, the Straphangers Campaign, Transportation Alternatives, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Pratt Center for Community Development said they would stage a rally at City Hall Wednesday morning "to Thank City for 3+ Years of Transportation Improvements."

And on Thursday, Brooklyn's Community Board 6 will hold a meeting about proposed revisions to the bike lanes.

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NY May Be Second In Traffic, But It's Tops in Bottlenecks

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Cross Bronx (photo by Jon T/Flickr)

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) Although the New York City metropolitan area is second to Los Angeles in traffic, it has the number one bottleneck in the country.

That honor goes to the Cross Bronx (I-95),  according to the 2010 National Traffic Scorecard, released by the Washington State-based traffic company INRIX.

In congested traffic it took an average of 63 minutes to drive the 11.3 mile corridor.

"In almost the same amount of time you could make the 100-mile trip from New York to Philadelphia on Acela Express," said Sam ("Gridlock Sam") Schwartz, a former NYC traffic commissioner.

New York City also had six out of the top ten bottlenecks nationwide. You can download a pdf of the NYC findings here.

It's unclear whether the recent spike in gas prices will affect congestion levels.

INRIX's research dovetails with a report released earlier this year by the Texas Transportation Institute, which also said Los Angeles and New York City had the worst congestion in the country.

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Montana Lawmaker: Gallows for 3rd DUI

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

(Helena, MT-Jackie Yamanaka, YPR) – Montana Legislators want to catch DUI offenders early and hit them hard.

DUI is one of the major issues before the 2011 Montana Legislature this session. State Representative Kris Hansen, R-Havre, is sponsoring a bill that would make a third DUI conviction a felony. She says the idea is to force people into detox earlier.

"People who get a 3rd DUI obviously have an alcohol problem," Hansen says. "If you let them go to 4th you're taking a risk that they've committed several more DUI offenses which they did not get caught. They are putting people at risk."

Currently, if someone commits a 4th of subsequent DUI offense they may be  sentenced to the Warm Springs Addictions Treatment and Change program, or WATCh.

Under House Bill 299, offenders instead would be allowed to stay in their home communities, but they would have to submit to mandatory supervision and alcohol testing and monitoring.

Hansen says she was told not to introduce this bill because it’s too expensive.

Under House Bill 299, offenders would be supervised by the Montana Department of Corrections Probation and Parole offices. The initial cost estimate, says Hansen, was $4.5 million dollars. That has since been cut in half, but Hansen still disputes that figure.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Ken Peterson, R-Billings, voted against the bill in his committee, but he’s now in favor of the measure. He says it’s a primary responsibility to get chronically impaired drivers off the road.

“If we can help them also that’s fine,” says Peterson. “This is the best bill I’ve seen come along this term that’s going to slap them alongside the head and get their attention. They know that when they get a 3rd DUI it’s a felony.”

But it’s not tough enough for state Representative Alan Hale, R-Basin. He says that’s why he’s against the measure.

“I would say we need to maybe look in a different direction,” he says. “I have a suggestion that maybe we should just build a gallows down here and if they get a 3rd offense we just take ‘em down and put the gallows to work and maybe that would cure the problem.”

The Montana House gave preliminary approval to the bill.

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