Streams

Federal Rail Administrator Szabo: Loss of Wisconsin Won't Slow Midwest High Speed Rail

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Federal Rail Administrator, Joe Szabo, is telling the TRB conference the loss of Wisconsin won't really affect the Midwest high speed rail network.

Szabo "This is a state driven program -- it's up to the states to determine what their vision is.  The population will be 70 million more people in the next 25 years...how do you plan to move ‘em? The dollars are so hotly competitive that if one or two states decide this isn’t a part of a vision there are dozens of states that have decided it is part of their vision….At this point there’s enough work to be done to build out that midwest plan…Illinois is moving forward, Michigan is moving forward, the plan is going forward to build Chicago to Milwaukee.  Others will clearly be clamouring for their leg."

Adds Roy Keinetz: "Don’t confuse the short term with the long term.”

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More hints on what the State of the Union will say about Transportation

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

(Washington, DC -- Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  What's in tonight's speech?  No one is saying for sure, but Deputy Secretary of Transportation John Porcari just told an audience of transportation professionals in Washington:  "You can bet the President will talk about what we need to do to address our shared challenges…our economy can’t roll along on rusty rails or overburned roads or congested runways.  Transportation is  essential to our nation’s success, the President understands that.

"We may not be able to discuss exactly what we’ll be hearing tonight, but we do know this after years of stagnant budgets…this President clearly gets how important [transportation infrastructure] is.  In America we invest in the future not just in spite of the challenges but because of them...We’ve always found great opportunity in the shadow of great challenge"

"If we’re honest with our selves we look at transportation infrastructure and we know it was built by our parents, our grandparents, in some cases our great grandparents."

We'll have more soon.

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Hiking Up Fees In Texas Could Help Congestion Problems, But Not Solve Them

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

(Houston - Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) David Dewhurst, the lieutenant governor of Texas, told the Dallas Morning News that he’ll encourage lawmakers to seek out more money for highway construction.

He said he won’t support a tax increase, but would possibly favor raising fees, namely on vehicle registration. Alan Clark, the director of transportation planning at the Houston-Galveston Area Council, says if nothing is done, money for road projects could actually fall over the next ten years. “I’m very encouraged that the legislator is talking about it," says Clark, "and I think that there are many things they could do that would be a step in the right direction. Raising the vehicle registration fee could be one of those.”

Listen to the story here.

Clark says if everyone in the greater Houston area paid $20 more for vehicle registration, that would generate an additional $60 to $70 million a year. Clark says the extra money would help repair some of the roads and pay for some new projects in the region. But he says it wouldn’t solve all of Houston’s congestion problems.

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TN Moving Stories: Madison To Get Bike Share Program, Distracted Walking Under Fire, and NYC To Renovate Dozens of Subway Stations

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Perfect transit moment in DC, not too far from the Transportation Research Bureau conference: Metro, bikes, buses, pedestrians, cars (Kate Hinds)

Lawmakers in New York and Arkansas are considering restrictions on using cell phones and music players such as iPods by people running and walking on the street or sidewalk. (AP via Syracuse.com)

Mazda gets in the electric vehicles game; the "Demio" to be produced in Japan next year. (Business Green)

The NYC MTA is renovating dozens of subway stations in the outer boroughs. (NY1)

Five leading Democrats in the Virginia state Senate have crossed party lines and agreed to co-sponsor a $3.3 billion transportation package advanced by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, significantly boosting the chances that one of the Republican governor's top legislative priorities for the year will pass the General Assembly. (Washington Post)

Madison's finance committee approved funding for a bike-share program that could begin in May. (Wisconsin State Journal)

The Transport Politic tries to explain the Republican party's reluctance to invest in transit infrastructure. In a nutshell: "The Democratic Party holds most of its power in the nation’s cities, whereas the GOP retains greater strength in the exurbs and rural areas."

Which means: the president will be taking some political risks when he makes a pitch for funding infrastructure in tonight's State of the Union speech. (New York Times)

Stories we're following:  Republican and Democratic officials spar on merits of infrastructure spending, can rail and roads stabilize Afganistan, and Ghanzhou's BRT, with 800,000 riders, wins sustainable transport award.

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Guangzhou Wins ITDP Sustainable Transit Award

Monday, January 24, 2011

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

[UPDATED] (Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) The 2011 Sustainable Transport Award goes to Guangzhou, China in large part for a successful and highly popular bus rapid transit system that integrates with bike lanes, bike share and metro stations, "raising the bar for all cities" according to the Institute for Transportation Development Policy that gives the award every year.

Here's the ITDP write up on the city's BRT system, which carries 800,000 people each day.

Accepting the award, Lu Yuan, a Guangzhou government official said, "It is a big honor to win this award ... and in the future we will continue to grow green transportation" systems to create a "sustainable, low-carbon and happy Guangzhou."

The other cities in contention for the prize were: Tehran, Iran (which inadvertently caused a minor international incident); Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico; Lima, Peru; and Nantes, France. Previous winners include Ahmedebad, India; Bogota, Colombia; and New York City.

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Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy: Infrastructure to be "one of the themes" of State of the Union

Monday, January 24, 2011

(Washington, DC -- Andrea Bernstein)  Assistant Undersecretary for Transportation Policy at the U.S. DOT, Polly Trottenberg, is promising infrastructure will be "one of the themes" of President Obama's  State of the Union address tomorrow night. She told an assembled crowd of transportation researchers at the Sustainable Transport Award ceremony hosted by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.

President Obama has been pushing infrastructure spending since at least, Labor Day, when he proposed a new $50 billion spending plan for rail, airports and roads -- one that got a mixed reception from voters. But it's been a main part of the pre-SOTU leak strategy, so clearly, despite House Republican objections that we've reported on, the President and his strategists think it's ultimately a winning issue.

Trottenberg cautioned that "finding revenue sources on a state, federal, and local level has proved a difficult challenge, as is achieving political consensus."

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House GOP Leader: Not "An Easy Answer" to "Just Spend More" on Transportation

Monday, January 24, 2011

(Washington, DC -- Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) pushed back directly Monday on the Obama Administration calls for increased transportation infrastructure funding.

In an extended exchange with reporters, Cantor said that throwing more money at the nation's transportation infrastructure isn't responsible in the face of mounting government debt. "It's not some easy answer, 'just spend more'. I mean, again, the American people are tired of that," he said.

President Barack Obama is expected to make a push for more spending on research and development and transportation infrastructure in his State of the Union address Tuesday night. Even as the White House and Congress embark on likely difficult negotiations over how to curb overall spending levels, the White House says the president wants to continue to invest in sectors he thinks can help spur economic growth.

Cantor acknowledged that the transportation system is in ill health. "I don't think anybody tell you that our nation's transportation infrastructure is in a state of existence that we would accept," he said.

Republicans are starting to talk about boosting public-private partnerships as a way to leverage more transportation dollars. At the same time, conservatives in the House are calling on their colleagues to kill $10 billion in high-speed rail projects funded mostly by the stimulus.

"Everything is on the table. We've just got to learn how to prioritize and do more with less in all areas of government," Cantor said.

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DOT Contest: Design a Better Way for Cars to Talk With Each OTher

Monday, January 24, 2011

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) The technology research arm of the Department of Transportation launched a competition  to spur new ideas on how cars should talk to each other to increase safety, sustainability and congestion. The cars can also communicate with bikes or anything else actually, as long as they use Dedicated Short-Range Communications technology.

The Connected Vehicle Technology Challenge, “invites problems solvers, and innovators to develop new applications, devices, products, services and business solutions—any operational concept” based on the new kind of technology known as DSRC that lets moving vehicles communicate with each other and with intelligent transportation systems (ITS).

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From Aid to Trade in Afghanistan: How the U.S. Military is Helping Develop Rail

Monday, January 24, 2011

(Matt Dellinger - Transportation Nation) Winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan might involve building roads and rail. That's the idea behind the Silk Road Initiative, an effort that the American military is leading to improve infrastructure and stimulate trade in the region.

Colonel Ted Hodgson, who is on staff at US Central Command, is a member of the Afghan Future Working group, which formed about a year ago. Colonel Hodgson (who appeared this morning on The Takeaway) rattles off a number of telling statistics: only 7% or the roads in Afghanistan are paved; about 90% of crops there rot before they make it to market; the country is rich in coal and mineral deposits, but without rail those resources are virtually moot. Last summer, a 75-kilometer rail line opened from the country's northern border to the city of Mazar-e-Sharif—the first rail line in the nation's history—but more track is needed, and the Afghanis need training on how to operate and maintain a railroad.

December 5, 2010: A train rests on the new track built from the border of Uzbekistan to just beyond Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan. The new track is more than 75 kms long and provides Afghan traders the means of importing and exporting goods. (Photo by Army Sgt. Michael Reinsch, IJC Public Affairs)

CENTCOM's belief is that stimulating economic activity is crucial to creating stability and relative piece in Afghanistan, according to Colonel Hodgson. The Silk Road Initiative, he says, is very much in keeping with the doctrine of Counterinsurgency and has been encouraged by General David Petraeus. But the American military isn't going to do the building, Hodgson says. He came to New York to present the rail plan (and a map of mineral resources) to representatives of international banks, construction companies, and governmental transportation agencies at a conference sponsored by the global infrustructure consultancy CG/LA.

Here is a full transcript of our conversation:

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Houston METRO Slashes Fare to Airport, Hopes to Lure More People On-Board

Monday, January 24, 2011

(Houston - Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) If you need a ride to Bush Intercontinental from downtown Houston,  consider this: For four dollars and fifty cents METRO will drive you there. The new price tag for the 45 minute shuttle ride is 70 percent less than the old price of $15. METRO’s Airport Direct was criticized in the past for its lack of ridership. The 52-seat coach rarely saw more than a handful of passengers per trip. Kimberley Slaughter, vice president of service, design, and development at METRO, says the cost of the service probably deterred some would-be riders. “For our everyday customers,I think, especially with this economy, $15 may have been a little more expensive for them," she said.  "$4.50 makes it more affordable.”

Hear the story over at KUHF News.

The shuttle will also stop at more downtown locations - five in total. Slaughter says the majority of people who use the service are out-of-towners, here on business. But she says with the changes, it’s now a viable option for everyone. The agency is also working to make more people aware that the Airport Direct line exists. “We are looking to do a lot more marketing,” said Slaughter. There are signs and pamphlets at the airport, but Slaughter says they may install permanent monitors advertising the service as well.

But even though METRO expects the changes will increase ridership,  it will cost METRO about the same, some $1.9 million dollars a year. “We’re not reaping any cost savings here," she said. "What we are trying to do is to make it more appealing, add more customer service to it, and make sure that we’re providing the service that the customer wants.”

The revamped service started Sunday and will still run every thirty minutes, seven days a week.

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TN Moving Stories: Cuomo Talks MTA Payroll Tax, and Pregnancy May Have Its (Parking) Privileges

Monday, January 24, 2011

In Miami, a parking garage so beautiful, people get married there.  What can THIS mean for the future of driving?   And of public space? (NY Times)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has unkind words for the MTA payroll tax. "It is a very onerous tax. Not just in this area." Meanwhile: "MTA CEO Jay Walder revealed that he'd yet to talk to the new governor about transit issues -- saying he'd been speaking with the governor's aides, instead." (New York Post)

But: Cuomo is keeping both Walder and Port Authority head Chris Ward on. (Crain's NY)

A NYC Councilman has proposed free parking for pregnant women. (NY Daily News)

Meantime, bobcats and lynx now have a new design for a crossing over I-70 in the Rockies (Denver Post)

The Twin Cities public transit system is "fraught with distrust" as feuding bureaucracies fail to set priorities in the best interests of the public. "People are interested in how decisions get made," said one suburban legislator. "I've asked, and I get a different answer from nearly everyone I ask."(Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

The Washington Post takes a look at the methodology behind the Texas Transportation Institute's recent report.

A summit to save debt-ridden Caltrain yielded ideas ranging from better coffee at stations, free Wi-Fi and business-class seating to toll lanes on Highway 101, tax increases and consolidating the Bay Area's multitude of transit agencies. (San Francisco Chronicle)

First Chicago, then DC...now Boston is considering selling naming rights to everything from the lines and stations of its subway, bus and commuter systems to its Web site, smart phone apps and Charlie Cards. “We want to do it tastefully and not over-commercialize the MBTA,” said general manager Richard Davey. “I would probably be reluctant to rename Park Street the Anheuser-Busch Park Street Station. But, at the same time ... we’re very open to hearing proposals.” (Boston Heral

Some of the Transportation Nation team is in DC this week at the Transportation Research Board conference. If you see people with microphones, emanating that public radio aura, say hello!

Top Transportation Nation stories that we’re following: Not all transportation projects create jobs equally. The Mayor of Tehran can't attend the ITDP awards. And: New York City taxi rides, visualized  in full color.

Follow Transportation Nation on Twitter.

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Recognition of Iranian Mayor's Role in Sustainable Transport Becomes International Incident

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Reuters is reporting that Tehran Mayor Mohammed-Baqer Qualibaf, a political rival of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has been denied Iranian government permission to attend an awards ceremony in Washington, DC honoring cities around the world that have invested in public transportation.

The ceremony is sponsored by the Institute for Transportation Development Policy, a group that works with global cities offering technical advice and other support for setting up mass transit -- in particular bus rapid transit systems. The other cities being recognized are: Guangzhou, China; Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico; Lima, Peru; and Nantes, France.

Previous winners include Ahmedebad, India; Bogota, Colombia; and New York City -- Transportation Nation

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From Midtown to Harlem: NYC Taxi Trips in Color

Friday, January 21, 2011

Taxi Data WheelDetail from a data visualization of NYC taxi trips by Zoe Fraade-Blanar. Click for full image.

(New York City -- John Keefe, WNYC) -- Take me to Midtown!

That's what most New York City taxi riders were saying one Tuesday afternoon,  a new data visualization by Zoe Fraade-Blanar shows in vivid colors.

Fraade-Blanar mapped pick-up and drop-off locations  by NYC neighborhood, based on taxi-trip data from the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission.

The graphic represents one hour of rides -- the 4 p.m. hour, well known to New Yorkers as the most difficult time to catch cabs.

The colorful wheel shows the neighborhoods where riders managed to nab taxis that day in March 2009, and where they went. Look at it closely, and follow the neighborhood's color to the cab's destination neighborhood. White bands along the neighborhood arcs indicate the destinations; so the turquoise line crossing the circle are trips from Midtown to Gramercy.

You can see how most of the late afternoon fares in the West Village and TriBeCa are leaving the neighborhood, while in the Financial District and East Village most of them are arriving. While almost all of the rides to and from Chelsea at that hour are to Chelsea. Even the few riders who hailed a cab from the Chelsea were dropped off in the same neighborhood.

Fraade-Blanar started crunching the data with a small team of programmers -- and this journalist -- at marathon meetup of Hacks/Hackers NYC, which brings together programmers, data experts and media folks. That event also led to another Fraade-Blanar graphic showing 24-hours of taxi trips.

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Montana Considers Tactics To Deal With Refusals From DUI Suspects For Breath Tests

Friday, January 21, 2011

(Helena, MT – Jackie Yamanaka, YPR) – Montana lawmakers are considering a pair of bills to deal with the rising numbers of suspected drunk drivers refusing breath tests.

Montana has the highest number of drunk driving cases per capita in the nation.

The bills seek to give law enforcement authorities easier access to a judge to issue a search warrant to get a breath or blood test if they receive a refusal.

The Montana Department of Justice reports that last year 2,859 drivers refused to submit to breath or blood tests after having been stopped by law enforcement on suspicion of DUI.

“This number represents a trend of more than 2,800 refusals annually during 2008, 2009, and 2010,” says Assistant Attorney General Ali Bovingdon.

She says 2010 had the highest number of refusals recorded over a three year period.

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Weak Economy Relieved Houston Congestion in '09; More Traffic Jams on the Horizon

Friday, January 21, 2011

(Houston -- Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) Houston commuters were fortunate to spend less time sitting in traffic in 2009 than in 2008, according to a transportation study released by the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI). The slight drop in congestion was due to the lagging economy and higher prices at the pump. But the respite from bad gridlock has most likely come and gone.

Researchers with TTI looked at 439 urban areas, both big and small. Tim Lomax, a research engineer with TTI,  found that commuting in Houston in 2009 was less time consuming than in 2008. "The amount of extra time that people spent on the roads in Houston went from 63 hours to 58 hours," he said.

So why the improvement? Lomax says it’s closely tied to the state of the economy. Economic slow-downs, he says, "bring declines in congestion." Lomax notes that with more people unemployed, fewer people had jobs they needed to get to by car. The high cost of gas also persuaded people to drive less.

Still, a five hour savings over 2008 isn’t much. Let’s face it; spending fifty-eight hours twiddling your thumbs in a stationary car is a bit extreme, even if it is over the course of a year. "You’re still spending on the order of a week and a half worth of vacation extra in your car," Lomax pointed out.

Listen to the story over at KUHF News.

So, despite the slight reduction in traffic jams, Houston ranks 4th on TTI’s list of the most congested big cities of 2009. Chicago, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles topped the list. And it wasn’t just time that was wasted.

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Report: Not All Transportation Projects Create Jobs Equally

Friday, January 21, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) .  The Bipartisan Policy Center has a new report out by Berkeley Professor Martin Wachs and the former McCain-Palin 2008 policy guru, Douglas Holtz-Eakin.   "Transportation infrastructure investments are not all equally effective at creating jobs or economic growth," the report argues. "  In language that's admittedly wonky, the report takes on what's been a pretty sacred tenet of every transportation spending bill that's come from the federal government -- that all transpo spending is going to create jobs, no matter how state officials want to spend it (a ring road, a lane widening, a bike lane, whatever.)

The report's an interesting table-setting for discussions around the new transportation authorization bill, which are already happening at the highest levels in Washington, we hear.  Also interesting, that Holtz-Eakin, an earnest thinker who's tied himself to pretty conservative, partisan causes (most notably in the health care debate), is now hitching his star to a bi-partisan group.

Keep an eye on Transportation Nation for more developments on the bill.

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House Republicans Zero in on High Speed Rail

Thursday, January 20, 2011

(Washington, DC -- Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation)   High-speed rail projects could be among the first to go if conservative spending hawks get their way in the new 112th Congress.

Republicans are sharpening their budget shears, looking to make good on promises to cut federal spending and reduce the overall size of government. And it looks like high-speed trains are high on the list.

A new House budget-cutting bill introduced Thursday by the conservative Republican Study Committee aims to return federal non-defense discretionary spending to 2006 levels. It cuts more than 100 programs, including the more than $10 billion in high-speed rail money funneled to cities and states in the economic stimulus bill.

Overall, the RSC bill looks to slash $2.3 trillion in federal spending over the next 10 years.

“This bill represents the first step in the process, not the last. To achieve long-term fiscal stability, we must finish the race by making the tough decisions Congress has put off for far too long,” said Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ) head of the RSC’s budget task force.

The RSC represents the conservative wing of the Republican House conference, so consider that the “high water mark” in negotiations that ultimately will have to satisfy Republican leaders, the Democratic-controlled Senate, and President Obama.

But other Republicans with direct influence over transportation projects also have high speed rail in their sites. They include Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), the new chairman of the subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, who has made it clear that high speed rail funding is about to face new scrutiny.

The newly-empowered chairman has begun to get critical of the way in which the Obama Administration doled out high-speed rail grant money, suggesting politics, and not practicalities, guided many of its choices. Shuster told CQ Today that the Obama Administration isn’t responding to his requests for information on how they chose where to steer high-speed rail money.

A statement on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Web site says high-speed rail has “potential” in transportation infrastructure. But it also suggests Shuster’s panel is getting set to go after the Obama Administration in hearings.

“The Committee will provide needed direction for this program, working to ensure that taxpayers are not burdened with economically unviable and ineffective projects. The Committee will seek to incorporate private sector participation in financing, building, and operating rail projects,” it says.

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More Parking Reduces Traffic: Orwellian Nonsense Or Necessary Evil?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

This garage fills up every morning by 7 a.m., so local officials are building another one.

(Washington D.C. - David Schultz, WAMU) Earlier this week, we told you how some cities in Europe are trying to encourage transit use by making parking more expensive and less convenient.

Officials here in the U.S. - specifically in the D.C. suburb of Montgomery County, Md. - are trying to accomplish the same goal, only through the exact opposite means. They're trying to encourage transit use by building more parking.

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West Virginian Is Highest-Ranking Democrat on Transportation Committee

Thursday, January 20, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation)  The ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is Nick Rahall, a West Virginia, who according to the editor of our sister site, Itsafreecountry.org and former WV public radio reporter Anna Sale is a "big supporter of building roads in rural areas to spur economic development, just like Senator Robert Byrd, another southern West Virginian who famously steered federal money home to build roads."  He likes coal, too, as you might suspect.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is headed up by Republican John Mica (you can read a TN interview with him here).

Other dems with "power" are Pete DeFazio, a big "sustainable transportation" supporter, southern Illinois Rep. Jerry Costello, and two urbanites, Jerrold Nadler, from NYC, and DC's Eleanor Holmes Norton.

Here's the release:

Rahall Announces Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Democrats, Subcommittee Ranking Members

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DOT Reaffirms "Rampage" Against Distracted Driving "Epidemic"

Thursday, January 20, 2011

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood reaffirmed that distracted driving will remain front and center in the  DOT's safety campaigns. At a press conference in Washington today, LaHood again referred to distracted driving as an "epidemic" and hinted at further public-private partnerships to combat the phenomenon.

LaHood said, "We've been on a rampage against distracted driving for nearly two years," adding that "we can and must address all three: driver, automobile, and roadway safety."

US DOT Secretary Ray LaHood

The message seemed to be that the DOT will not forget about dangerous driver practices while the agency also pursues more conventional safety initiatives, like improving automobile crash performance and safer roadway planning.

The data support that approach. Drivers who text are 23 times more likely to be in a crash, and an estimated 1.4 million-- 23 percent of motor vehicle crashes -- involve drivers using cell phones, according to the anti-distracted driving organization FocusDriven. While other behaviors may be more dangerous, the group says, cell phone use contributes to the greatest number of crashes.

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