Streams

Republicans Announce Proposed Spending Cuts; HSR and Amtrak Take Hits

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) The Republicans released their list of spending cuts earlier today, proposing slashing funding to a wide swath of programs -- including transportation. Among the $74 billion worth of potential reductions: cutting Amtrak's budget by $224 million, and slashing funding for high-speed rail by $1 billion.  The bill will be formally introduced tomorrow.

The Wall Street Journal points out that "it’s difficult to determine the actual level of cuts from current federal government funding levels since the cuts are proposed against President Barack Obama's fiscal 2011 budget request, which was never taken up by Congress."

The list can be found below or here.

From the US House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations:

CR Spending Cuts to Go Deep

WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers today announced a partial list of 70 spending cuts that will be included in an upcoming Continuing Resolution (CR) bill. The CR legislation will fund the federal government for the seven months remaining in the fiscal year and prevent a government wide shut-down, while significantly reducing the massive increases in discretionary spending enacted in the last several years by a Democrat majority. A full list of program cuts will be released when the bill is formally introduced.

The total spending cuts in the CR will exceed $74 billion, including $58 billion in non-security discretionary spending reductions. The statement by Chairman Rogers on these cuts follows:

“Never before has Congress undertaken a task of this magnitude. The cuts in this CR will represent the largest reduction in discretionary spending in the history of our nation.

“While making these cuts is hard, we have a unique opportunity to right our fiscal ship and begin to reduce our massive deficits and debt. We have taken a wire brush to the discretionary budget and scoured every program to find real savings that are responsible and justifiable to the American people.

“Make no mistake, these cuts are not low-hanging fruit. These cuts are real and will impact every District across the country - including my own. As I have often said, every dollar we cut has a constituency, an industry, an association, and individual citizens who will disagree with us. But with this CR, we will respond to the millions of Americans who have called on this Congress to rein in spending to help our economy grow and our businesses create jobs.”

The List of 70 Spending Cuts to be Included in the CR follows:

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TN Moving Stories: Toyota's Electronics Cleared, US News Ranks Top Public Transpo Cities, and DC Metro Escalators: Not Improving

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Portland--the winning city, according to US News (photo by Thad Roan via Wikimedia Commons)

US News and World Reports has ranked what it says are the ten best cities in the country for public transportation, ridership, and safety. (List here.)

The federal investigation into Toyota says that electronics aren't to blame for its sudden acceleration problem. (Christian Science Monitor)

The Ohio Department of Transportation is rescinding a three-year, $150 million funding pledge to Ohio's public-transit agencies that the former made in the waning days of last fall's campaign. Instead, the state plans to share $80 million in federal transportation funding with 59 local transit authorities through 2013. (Columbus Dispatch)

Metro's 588 escalators are breaking down with greater frequency - once every seven to eight days, on average - and repairs are taking longer than in past years. (Washington Post)

The Transportation Security Administration has told members of Congress that more than 15 million passengers received full-body scans at airports without any malfunctions that put travelers at risk of an excessive radiation dose. Now, the TSA has yet to release radiation inspection reports for its X-ray equipment — two months after lawmakers called for them to be made public. (USA Today)

The Infra Blog looks at yesterday's high-speed rail announcement in light of Florida Gov. Scott's recent budget address. "Over the last few years,' the Governor said, "Florida accepted one-time hand-outs from the federal government. Those temporary resources allowed state and local governments to spend beyond their means. There was never any reason to think that Florida taxpayers could afford to continue that higher level of spending once the federal hand-outs are gone. The false expectations created by the federal hand-outs are the reason we hear about a multi-billion dollar deficit."

Bicycles won't have to be registered in Long Beach any longer after the City Council voted Tuesday to end the requirement. (Contra Costa Times)

In New York, it's blizzarding...parking tickets, as alternate side rules have resumed. "The city issued 9,910 summonses on Monday, twice the daily average, to people who did not move their vehicles by the designated time." (New York Times)

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: The president's $53 billion high-speed rail problem inspires cheers and jeers -- and raises questions. Houston's METRO is looking at expanding out to the suburbs. And in San Francisco, a new bike data app shows that the increase in accidents is outpacing the increase in cyclists.

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San Francisco Bike Accidents Rise Faster than the Rate of Cycling; Bay Citizen Maps Crash Data

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation; San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) Bicycling in San Francisco can be glorious - paths by the beach, hills with sweeping views of the bay, the ability to cycle in the middle of January without having to come up with creative ways to keep your hands warm.

But it's also rife with "anger, misunderstanding, and mistrust between motorists and cyclists," according to a report issued last year by a San Francisco Civil Grand Jury, which investigated the implementation of the city's bike plan. (Report here; pdf.) This sentiment is a huge issue and perhaps contributes to this jarring statistic: in San Francisco, bike crashes have grown 8% in the past two years--outpacing the growth in ridership, which was 3%. (By comparison, New York City, which has also seen a growth in cyclists -- saw bike crashes decline by 46% from 1996 to 2003.)

That San Francisco data is courtesy of a new comprehensive interactive map by the nonprofit news organization the Bay Citizen, which just released a data app called the "Bicycle Accident Tracker."  We asked Bay Citizen staff writer Zusha Elinson and web producer Tasneem Raja how they got the data - and what they've learned from crunching hundreds of accident reports. (They also began encouraging people to report accidents directly to the Bay Citizen.)

"The bikers, for the most part, think the cars are crazy. And the cars all think the bikers are crazy," said Elinson. They set about mapping every bike accident the San Francisco Police Department wrote a report for in the last two years.  But what constitutes a report-worthy bike accident throws a bit of a monkey wrench into the data crunching.

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Obama's $53 Billion Rail Plan: Applause, Jeers, and Many Unanswered Questions

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)   The Obama Administration has announced its largest and most specific high-speed rail plan to date.  In proposing $53 billion for high speed rail in the next five years, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Transportation of Ray LaHood began to put some muscle behind the administration's promise to made high speed rail accessible to 80 percent of Americans by 2036.  Up to now, the administration has invested just $10 billion, and $8 billion of that was in the economic stimulus.

This level of spending would be a significant jump -- and comes despite Republican criticism that high speed rail is a waste of money and would serve relatively few Americans.

Petra Todorovich, the high speed rail expert at the planning group America 2050,  said in an email:  "We've been waiting a long time for the Administration's surface transportation bill proposal, and this is the first taste it it."

Under the plan announced today, $8 billion would come from the budget.  The additional $45 billion could come from transportation re-authorization bill, though the administration isn't quite  saying. Still Todorovich and other planning groups saw the announcement as significant.  She sent over the following bullets.

"This shows the administration sees the high-speed rail piece as one of the most sellable and exciting aspects of the transportation program and thus has preceded their larger proposal with this announcement," Todorovich wrote.

"The administration has signaled high-speed and passenger rail should be part of the surface transportation bill which has never happened before," she added."  "Former Minnesota Representative (Jim) Oberstar had proposed this as well, but the Administration has been silent on it until now."

Todorovich's response was echoed by many groups, including US PIRG and Smart Growth America, who attended the announcement.

The administration is still being silent on some issues -- neither the Department of Transportation nor the Vice President's office would offer details of funding beyond that $8 billion would be included in the forthcoming budget. Administration officials would not say which projects would be funded -- -or how  -- given that the Highway Trust Fund is broke.

But the plan indicated a detailed level of thinking about how to prioritize corridors, including "core express," "regional," and "emerging."

But while advocates like Todorovich cheered,  House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair John Mica (R-FL)  issued one of his most sharply-worded statements to date against the plan.  “This is like giving Bernie Madoff another chance at handling your investment portfolio,” Mica said in a statement.  In the past, Mica has applauded high speed rail in concept, while criticizing the Administration's approach. “Rather than focusing on the Northeast Corridor, the most congested corridor in the nation and the only corridor owned by the federal government, the Administration continues to squander limited taxpayer dollars on marginal projects,” he added.

Mica said he would be investigating how previous funding decisions on high speed rail had been made.

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Obama Administration Unveils $53 Billion High Speed Rail Plan

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) The White House just sent out a press release touting a six year, $53 billion plan to invest in high-speed rail -- see below.

Immediately following came this release by House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica.

More to come!

Vice President Biden Announces Six Year Plan to Build National High-Speed Rail Network
Plan Lays Out Vision for Long Term Infrastructure Investments Needed to Win the Future

Philadelphia, PA - Vice President Joe Biden today announced a comprehensive plan that will help the nation reach President Obama’s goal of giving 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail within 25 years, as outlined in his State of the Union address. The proposal will place high-speed rail on equal footing with other surface transportation programs and revitalize America’s domestic rail manufacturing industry by dedicating $53 billion over six years to continue construction of a national high-speed and intercity passenger rail network.  As a part of President Obama’s commitment to winning the future by rebuilding America’s roadways, railways and runways, the plan will lay a new foundation for the nation’s economic opportunity, job creation, and competitiveness.

The Vice President made the announcement with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood during a visit to Philadelphia’s historic 30th Street Station, where passengers traveling from Pittsburgh and Harrisburg on Amtrak’s Keystone Corridor connect to high-speed Acela service to Boston, New York City, and Washington, D.C.  Since track improvements raised speeds between Harrisburg and Philadelphia to 110 mph in 2006, the Keystone Corridor has seen rail ridership rise by 57 percent.  In fact, more passengers now travel from Harrisburg to Philadelphia – and from Philadelphia to New York City and Washington D.C. – by rail than by plane.

“As President Obama said in his State of the Union, there are key places where we cannot afford to sacrifice as a nation – one of which is infrastructure,” said Vice President Biden.  “As a long time Amtrak rider and advocate, I understand the need to invest in a modern rail system that will help connect communities, reduce congestion and create quality, skilled manufacturing jobs that cannot be outsourced. This plan will help us to do that, while also increasing access to convenient high speed rail for more Americans.”

As the first step in this comprehensive, six-year plan, the President’s Budget for the coming fiscal year would invest $8 billion in expanding Americans’ access to high-speed passenger rail service.  In order to achieve a truly national system, these investments will focus on developing or improving three types of interconnected corridors:

  • Core Express:  These corridors will form the backbone of the national high-speed rail system, with electrified trains traveling on dedicated tracks at speeds of 125-250 mph or higher.
  • Regional:  Crucial regional corridors with train speeds of 90-125 mph will see increases in trips and reductions in travel times, laying the foundation for future high-speed service.
  • Emerging: Trains traveling at up to 90 mph will provide travelers in emerging rail corridors with access to the larger national high-speed and intercity passenger rail network.

This system will allow the Department – in partnership with states, freight rail, and private companies – to identify corridors for the construction of world-class high-speed rail, while raising speeds on existing rail lines and providing crucial planning and resources to communities who want to join the national high-speed rail network. With rail ridership reaching all-time highs in many areas of the country during 2010, these investments will ensure that more Americans have the option of taking a train to reach their destination.

"In America, we pride ourselves on dreaming big and building big," said Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.  "This historic investment in America’s high-speed rail network keeps us on track toward economic opportunity and competitiveness in the 21st century.  It’s an investment in tomorrow that will create manufacturing, construction, and operations jobs today.”

This long term commitment builds on the $10.5 billion down payment the Obama Administration already devoted to a national high-speed rail system – including $8 billion of Recovery Act funds and $2.5 billion from the 2010 budget.  These investments are already paying economic dividends in places like Brunswick, Maine, where construction workers are laying track that will provide the first rail service since the 1940s from Brunswick to Portland to Boston.  Private dollars are also gravitating toward Brunswick’s station neighborhood, as investors have financed a number of businesses and residential condos, a new movie theatre, a new 60 room hotel, and a 21st century health clinic.  Similar high-speed and intercity passenger rail projects across the country will create jobs not only in our manufacturing sector, but also in the small businesses that open near modernized train stations.  They will connect large metropolitan communities and economies through a safe, convenient, and reliable transportation alternative.  They will ease congestion on our roads and at our airports.  And they will reduce our reliance on oil as well as our carbon emissions.

By clarifying the long-term federal role in passenger rail, this six-year program will provide states and cities with the certainty they need to make long-term transportation plans for their communities.  It will provide businesses the confidence they need to hire American workers.  Strong Buy American requirements will create tens of thousands of middle-class jobs in construction, manufacturing, and rail operations.   And the proposal will open the door to new public-private partnerships, and attract significant private investment in developing and operating passenger rail corridors.

The proposal announced today by the Vice President also streamlines the Department of Transportation’s rail programs, making it simpler for states, cities, and private companies to apply for grants and loans.  For the first time, all high speed and intercity passenger rail programs will be consolidated into two new accounts:  a $4 billion account for network development, focused on building new infrastructure, stations, and equipment; and a $4 billion account for system preservation and renewal, which will maintain state of good repair on Amtrak and other publicly-owned assets, bring stations into Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, and provide temporary operating support to crucial state corridors while the full system is being built and developed.

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Houston's METRO Looking to Expand Rail Service to the 'Burbs

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

(Houston - Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) Houston's Metropolitan Transit Authority may expand its rail service out to the suburbs. The line would link Houston with Missouri City, roughly paralleling the existing freight rail track along the US 90A corridor for eight miles. It would begin just south of the Medical Center and end just inside Missouri City at Beltway 8. Kimberley Slaughter, vice president of service design and development with METRO, says traffic in the southwest Houston area will only get worse --  so it's crucial to have other transportation options on the table. Slaughter says METRO is studying this corridor "to find another way to provide high-capacity transit to move people in [the southwest Houston] region."

Listen to the story over at KUHF.

Alignment options for Southwest Rail Corridor

METRO is floating five possible options for the rail project. Most involve light rail technologies. Just one considers commuter rail. They would all require laying down brand new track. Sharing track with freight rail has been talked about in the past, but Slaughter says it isn’t possible now because there's just too much freight traffic. The project is expected to cost between $200 and $250 million dollars.

METRO is holding four  meetings this month to get public input on the project.  “We’re asking the public to come and join us," said Slaughter. "We’re asking for all stakeholders, public agencies, residents, landowners...employees in the area, to come to the public meetings and tell us what else should we consider; what other alignments we should consider,” she said.

Slaughter says if all goes smoothly, construction could begin on the rail line by late 2017. But finding money for transportation projects is difficult in this economic and political climate, so METRO may have trouble coming up with the cash.

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"Back of the Bus" on The Takeaway

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Transportation Nation's documentary about transportation and civil rights was featured on The Takeaway this morning. Listen to the interview below!

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TN Moving Stories: Biden, LaHood to Tout Infrastructure In Philly Today, Pentagon Blamed For Traffic Congestion, and Miami Beach Looks At Sharrow Program

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Takeaway looks at why equal rights in public transit are still an issue in this country -- yes, I'm talking about TN's documentary Back of the Bus.

The government plans to release the findings of its investigation into reports of sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles today. (AP via Boston Globe)

The Pentagon should foot more of the bill for fixing traffic problems around military bases that are receiving thousands of new workers under a national realignment plan, a report commissioned by Congress said yesterday. "Though the closings were nationwide, nowhere has the impact on transportation been more profound than in the Washington area. Citing security concerns, the Pentagon relocated thousands of the jobs from inner-hub locations served by public transit to areas accessible only by car." (Washington Post)

President Obama talks infrastructure with the US Chamber of Commerce: "We have ... outdated, inadequate infrastructure.  And any of you that have been traveling to other countries, you know it, you see it, and it affects your bottom lines.  That’s why I want to put more people to work rebuilding crumbling roads, rebuilding our bridges. That’s why I’ve proposed connecting 80 percent of the country ... to high-speed rail."

And VP Joe Biden will be in Philadelphia today with USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood to talk about roads and rail. (Times-Leader)  (See more TN coverage on this visit here.)

How'd you like this to be your morning commute? A zip line strung 1,200 feet over a Colombia ravine. But it saves several hours of hiking for the locals. (Slate)

A east side NYC Council member gives Manhattan's M15 Select Bus Service a "B-" on a report card. As in "needs improvement." (NY1)

Miami Beach is studying how effective their sharrow - shared road - program is, in hopes that it's made bicycling safer. (Miami Herald)

Winter's storms may have already cost airlines more than $6oo million, as tens of thousands of flights were cancelled from Boston all the way to Austin, Texas. Adding to their difficulties, airlines are also grappling with rising fuel costs. (NPR)

Boston says aging equipment is to blame for rail delays this winter: Their oldest cars, on the Orange and Green Lines, suffered the most delays. The Blue Line, with cars ordered just four or five years ago, had few delays in the cold. (WBUR)

As part of a study on how electric vehicles affect the grid, 300 homeowners and early adopters of EVs in the Carolinas will be receiving free charging stations from their local energy providers.(Inhabitat.com)

Good asks, with trepidation: Is the YikeBike the new Segway?

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: Initial reaction to the Gateway tunnel (think 'son of ARC') is positive. NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he's not going to be leading the city's congestion pricing charge. And: we take a look at the psychological underpinnings of NY's bike lane battles.

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Biden Heads to Philly as White House Gets Serious About Transportation Push

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  Vice President Joe Biden heads to 30th Street Station in Philadelphia today, part of the second week of Obama Administration post state-of-the-union events about transportation and infrastructure.  He holds a press conference with U.S. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood  amidst growing evidence that the White House really, truly does care about pushing a transportation and infrastructure agenda in the run-up to the 2012 re-election campaign.

In January, before the state of the Union, Director of Domestic Policy Melody Barnes gathered a small group of high-level advocates at the White House to talk about the upcoming transportation reauthorization bill, where, according to participants, the White House "strongly signalled its commitment to moving forward."  By contrast, in early 2009, Lawrence Summers, then the Director of the National Economic Council, went so far as to squelch transit funding in the stimulus bill.

As Obama took control of Washington, transportation advocates had trouble figuring out who in the White House to call about their issues. One senior administration official told Transportation Nation about a year into the President's tenure there would be "no action" on transportation until after health care reform was passed.

To be sure, President Barack Obama did try to make transportation a theme in the 2010 elections.  On Labor Day, he announced a $50-billion to support roads, bridges and airports.  During the campaign, his DOT distributed some $2 billion in funds for high speed rail, most of that for California and Florida -- (his DOT said it was distributed according to a DOT schedule that was unrelated to the elections.)   But there was serious push-back, even from his fellow Democrats, and the electorate had a decidedly mixed view about whether such an investment was a good idea.

Now, the Administration seems to be ready to roll up its sleeves. The most recent sign that the White House is intending to make a large push was a White House conference call organized Friday with Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.

It's a relatively rare event for the White House to organize a press conference call with Secretary LaHood (there were some around the stimulus bill).

Deputy White House Press Secretary Jennifer Psaki kicked off the call, underlining what she called a "pivotal piece" of the President's agenda.     Winning the future, she said, referring to the President's state of the union address, is all about growing the U.S. economy "In order to do that the President feels we must have a reliable way to move people goods and information."

LaHood then took his turn:

"I personally will be in Raleigh, Carolina," he told the conference call.  "All of our administrators will be traveling, doing different events in Florida, Cleveland, Kansas, Ohio --we will highlight projects that have created the opportunity to build America."

And now, apparently, Philadelphia. As a press release issued Monday put it: to speak about "the Administration’s plan to build a 21st century infrastructure - from roads and bridges to high-speed rail. The Vice President and Secretary LaHood will discuss new initiatives to increase our nation’s competitiveness, export goods to new markets around the world, and put Americans back to work while growing the economy and helping America win the future."

So far, there have been no concrete plans on any of this -- including just how the administration plans to fund access to high speed rail for eighty percent of Americans. And there are still signs that Americans are wary about spending on big projects.   Politically, pushing high speed rail may be a little far removed from the kitchen table issues that still occupy so much of the electorate's attention.

But still, the administration is consistently making the case.

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Initial Reaction to Gateway Tunnel, Son of ARC, is Positive

Monday, February 07, 2011

Route of defunct ARC project in blue; route of proposed Gateway Tunnel in red.

(New York - Jim O'Grady and Kate McGee, WNYC) Gateway Tunnel--bride, son, mutant offspring of ARC--you choose--has been unveiled.

Amtrak President Joseph Boardman joined New Jersey Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez on Monday to pledge $50 million for an engineering and planning study of a new trans-Hudson rail link between New York and New Jersey. It was the first of many steps if the $13.5 billion project is to come to fruition.

Like ARC, which was canceled by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for potential cost overruns, the Gateway Tunnel is meant to address a bi-state rail crisis.

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Chrysler Winning Points for Selling Detroit in Super Bowl Ad

Monday, February 07, 2011

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) In Super Bowl XLV there were more car commercials than beer ads, most out of Detroit and many touting the eco-elements of new models. But the most noteworthy was the classy ad for the new Chrysler 200 featuring Eminem.

"Chrysler 200" was the top trending Google search this morning. Not bad for the new name of what used to be the Sebring, a car the Detroit Free Press called "arguably the most maligned vehicle to ever come out of Auburn Hills."

The ad works because it sells Detroit pride as much as it sells the revamped 200. A gritty baritone announcer apparently speaks for all Detroit intoning, "What does this city know about luxury. Huh? What does a town that's been to hell and back know about the finer things?"

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Bike Lane Battles, What's UP With That?

Monday, February 07, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  Since we posted our article on Friday about an expected lawsuit over the bike lane on Prospect Park West, Brooklyn, I've gotten a lot of questions about WHY some residents of Prospect Park West are opposed to the bike lane.

Their argument:  it causes automobile congestion, it changes the historic character of the boulevard, and it's confusing to pedestrians.  It's a version of a sentiment that we've heard from opponents of bike lanes around the city -- in fact around the nation.

There's also the issue of the pace of change -- some 300 miles of bike lanes have been installed since 2007. There are few cities that have so rapidly redrawn their landscapes as New York City has.

But I also wonder if there isn't an element of the following: it can be disorienting to have our immediate physical environment disrupted.  In  the post-9/11 fog of the fall of 2001, this article from the New York Times made a lasting impression.  Since our hunter-gather days, it suggested:

"Thinking about paths and landscapes was shifted mostly into the subconscious, leaving the rest of the brain free for the hard work of earning a living.

"People still think that way, according to psychologists. Each person makes his or her own little map of the world, with some places colored red for danger or excitement, others warmly tinted with hues of home and safety. That knowledge is then filed away in the back-office of the mind and off we go, commuting to our jobs, and doing lots of other familiar tasks as well, pretty much on autopilot."

Could the same phenomenon be at work with bike lane construction?

By the way, here's a somewhat easier to read version  (than the version we posted over the weekend) of the legal letter sent to the city Department of Transportation by bike lane opponents sent in late December.

Letter

And, in case you missed it, the New York Post reported over the weekend that Senator Charles Schumer has been personally lobbying city council members on this.

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Traffic Deaths Up Slightly in NYC, But Still Lowest In Nation

Monday, February 07, 2011

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Traffic deaths are up slightly, but New York is still the safest big city in the country when it comes to traffic fatalities, according to 2010 data released Monday by the New York City Department of Transportation.

According to the DOT, 269 people were killed in traffic crashes in 2010 compared to a record low 258 in 2009. On a per-capita basis that still makes New york the safest big city in the country, according to a statement from the DOT, with a fatality rate about half the national average.

The increase over 2009 was due mostly to a jump in motorcycle accidents, increasing by 10 to a total of 39 fatalities. Motorcycles are involved in 14 percent of traffic fatalities even though they represent just two percent of all vehicle registrations in New York City.

Also contributing to the slight jump in deaths, was bicycles, inching up slightly, but still considerably lower than historic averages. Pedestrian deaths continued to decline though.

The city DOT says many traffic deaths are caused by speeding cars. A car going 40 mph that hits a pedestrian, for instance, will cause death in four out of five cases.  But a car going 30 m.p.h -- the legal limit in the five boroughs -- is lethal less than a third of the time. So the DOT has embarked on a public awareness campaign to encourage slower driving. The agency is also trying to target specific trouble spots with catered changes like more lighting and removing parking spaces to increase visibility at intersections with high rates of left turn crashes.

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Bloomberg won’t for fight congestion pricing again

Monday, February 07, 2011

(Albany, New York--Azi Paybarah, WNYC) New York City Mayor Bloomberg was once  an advocate for congestion pricing in his city, but since his plan to ease city traffic was never approved by the state, he's never formally tried again to pass it.  (Though when asked, he's consistently said he thinks its a good idea.)

Today, he told state lawmakers it’s up to them to push for congestion pricing, or whatever alternative they can come up with. Because he won’t.

During the mayor’s testimony in Albany about the governor’s budget, Bloomberg was asked what he thought about congestion pricing this year. The bill, which he heavily lobbied for in 2007, was narrowly passed in the New York City Council, and was sent up to Albany.

It died in the Assembly when the Democratic conference decided not to let the bill out of committee. (It’s unclear if there were enough votes for it to pass the Republican-controlled State Senate).

“I’m not going to come back and fight that battle,” said Bloomberg, citing the political risk City Council members took in supporting it, only to see it die in Albany without a vote.

Later, when asked if congestion pricing as a “dead” issue, Bloomberg told reporters it’s up to state lawmakers to come up with a way to fund the state’s mass transit’s needs, saying, he is “not going to stand up and campaign for it.”

For more NY politics coverage, visit WNYC's Empire blog.

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TN Moving Stories: New Trans-Hudson Tunnel To Be Announced Today; Disabled DC Residents To See Fare Hike; Congestion Pricing Opponents Fret About Its Comeback,

Monday, February 07, 2011

Amtrak and NJ Senators Lautenberg and Menendez are set to announce the next iteration of a planned trans-Hudson tunnel: The "Gateway" tunnel, which would largely follow the same footprint as ARC from Secaucus to New York City, but connect to new tracks in an expanded New York Penn Station instead of dead-ending deep under West 34th Street. (TN)

Traffic deaths are up slightly in NYC -- but the city’s traffic fatality rate remains among the lowest in the country, holding steady around a quarter of the national rate. (New York Times)

A NY Daily News editorial accused NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan of being too secretive about where her office plans to install future bike lanes. "Trying to pry information about bike lanes out of Sadik-Khan's shop is this city's version of phoning North Korea to ask about atomic weaponry."

More cheer for JSK: Potholes wreak havoc upon New York's roads. "Mother Nature has thrown everything at us this winter, and we're striking back,"says the NYC DOT commissioner. (NY Daily News)

South Africa's transport minister turned over ownership of Johannesburg's bus rapid transit company --which had been opposed by taxi drivers -- to taxi industry shareholders. (Times Live)

Disabled Washington area residents are facing significantly higher fares starting this month on MetroAccess. Officials say the price of travel on the para-transit service will nearly double. (WAMU)

Ford will boost vehicle production for US market while trimming Lincoln dealerships. (Wall Street Journal)

The Obama administration has decided to allow limited collective bargaining rights for transportation security officers. (Washington Post)

A Charleston (SC) paper comes out in support of a bike/pedestrian walkway over a bridge, says: "It is time to recognize that transportation should include driving, biking and walking."

Opponents of congestion pricing in NYC are moving swiftly. "We'd like to prevent that proposal from seeing the day of light of day," said Queens Assemblyman David Weprin. (WNYC)

New York's MTA says the tunnel boring machine that has been making its way down Second Avenue is about to complete its first run.

Snakes on a train! Boston transit officials say a 3-foot-long boa constrictor that slithered away from its owner on a Red Line subway car a month ago has been found on an adjoining car. (Boston Globe) (And nope, there was NO WAY that headline could be avoided.)

And speaking of ARC: NJ's state Ethics Commission has dismissed allegations the state’s transportation commissioner might have violated ethics policies through his involvement with the ARC train tunnel to New York City. (The Star-Ledger)

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: A new trans-Hudson tunnel will be announced today. Meanwhile, NYC has hired an engineering firm to study the feasibility of extending the #7 train to NJ.  Opponents of the Prospect Park bike lane have lawyered up, while adjustments are in the works for the Columbus Avenue bike lane. And Metro North has slashed service on the New Haven line by 10%.

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Son of ARC? NJ, Amtrak To Announce Plans TODAY for New Version of Trans-Hudson Tunnel

Monday, February 07, 2011

(Jim O'Grady, WNYC)  It’s not ARC 2 but it’s awfully familiar.

Amtrak president Joe Boardman and New Jersey Senators Lautenberg and Menendez plan to stand up today at the Newark Hilton and announce a “Gateway Tunnel” between New Jersey and Manhattan. They’ll propose to build the new tunnel by largely following the footprint of Access to the Region's Core, or ARC, a rail link under the Hudson River that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie killed in October for projected cost overruns.

Construction on ARC had already begun. Gateway Tunnel would pick up where that project left off—with key differences.

Like ARC, Gateway would consist of a pair tunnels with one track each. But its capacity would be less. ARC was set up to carry 25 commuter trains per hour. Gateway would be designed to allow an additional thirteen New Jersey Transit Trains and eight more Amtrak trains per hour.

And whereas ARC was supposed to terminate at platforms under Macy’s, a block east of Penn Station, Gateway would end a block to the south, nearer to street level. The block—West 30th and West 31st Streets between 7th and 8th Avenues—now mostly holds small businesses like restaurants, bars and a repair shop for musical instruments.

A staff member for an elected official familiar with the project said Amtrak, which is taking the lead on the tunnel, would have to assemble properties on the Manhattan block to make it feasible. He said on the New Jersey side, Gateway would use a hole that construction crews had already started digging for the ARC Tunnel at Tonnelle Avenue near Secaucus.

Amtrak is estimating it will take 10 years and $13.5 billion dollars to complete the project.

An important part of the work would be to raise the Portal Bridge, a notorious bottleneck between Kearny and Secaucus over the Hackensack River. Trains must now slow to cross the 100 year-old bridge, or stop altogether while it is moved to let boats pass by. A modernized bridge, along with a new tunnel’s added capacity, would speed up Amtrak’s service along the Northeast Corridor and help set the stage for future high-speed rail.

The Gateway announcement is sure to set off a round of fearsome politics.

Amtrak and the two U.S. Senators will essentially be proposing their tunnel as an alternative to an extension of the 7 subway train from Midtown Manhattan to Secaucus, which the Bloomberg administration has been pushing—and on which it just voted to spend a quarter of a million dollars for an engineering study. Will Bloomberg push back, contending the 7 train extension would be cheaper?

What will Governor Christie have to say? He and Senator Lautenberg have traded contemptuous barbs since Christie killed ARC in October.

Will the Gateway announcement affect the Federal Transit Administration’s demand that New Jersey pay back $271 million of federal funds spent for preliminary work on ARC, which Christie and his DC law firm, Patton Boggs, is fighting? One of the arguments Patton Boggs has made is that ARC-related design work and research is proving useful to other public works projects. Therefore, it needn't be refunded. If Gateway moves forward in ARC’s tracks, would Christie’s case against the FTA be strengthened?

Former Port Authority of New York & New Jersey Chairman Anthony Coscia, now on the Amtrak board of directors, is expected to join in today’s announcement. Will he nudge the deep-pocketed Authority to line up behind Gateway?

And as always, who will pay for it? If the project’s backers manage to find enough funds without pinching a single penny from New Jersey’s depleted coffers, will Governor Christie support the tunnel—holding his nose, perhaps, while crouching next to Senator Lautenberg as they each wear a hard hat and stick ceremonial shovels into the ground?

These questions and more will be raised this week, a week that the Obama Administration plans to devote to promoting infrastructure. And that raises one last question. Will Democratic Senators Menendez and Lautenberg boost their new rail initiative by prevailing on the president to express support for it, or at least say the words, “Gateway Tunnel,” in a speech? We’ll see.

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Politicians: We Like the Columbus Avenue Bike Lane, We Just Want Tweaks

Sunday, February 06, 2011

NY Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, pharmacy owner Ivan Jourdain, Community Board 7 chair Mel Wymore, and NY City Councilwoman Gale Brewer unveil recommendations to improve the bike lanes. (Photo by Kate Hinds)

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) The Columbus Avenue bike lane, which stretches from 96th Street to 77th Street on Manhattan's Upper West Side, has been the source of neighborhood tsuris since is was put in last summer -- despite the fact that the community actively sought its installation.  Now a new report may help pave the way for mitigating what some call the "unintended consequences" of the lane.

It didn't take long after the lane was installed for elected officials and Community Board 7 to begin hearing complaints from businesses about all things parking: trucks were having a hard time making deliveries, customers didn't understand the new signage, no one could find a spot to quickly run in and grab something.  So CB7, with local politicians and residents, formed the Columbus Avenue Working Group (CAWG) to survey local businesses about the lanes. Sixty-five businesses on the east side of Columbus Avenue, adjacent to the lane, were approached and asked to fill out questionnaires; 36 completed it.

The responses weren't pretty: of the businesses surveyed, 72% responded they believe the street redesign had a negative impact on their business, compared to only eight percent who felt the lane was positive.

"Everybody complained about parking and loading zones," said Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. "Meaning: there had to be real change."

So local politicians brokered what seems to be a compromise: an agreement from the city's DOT to return some parking spaces, tweak some signs, and reprogram meters. In a response to CAWG's recommendations, DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan sent a letter to all of the stakeholders, going through their recommendations one by one.

State Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal said today that "bike lanes have recently gotten some bad publicity in the city." This could be an understatement: in just the last few days, the DOT has been threatened with a lawsuit over the Prospect Park West bike lane, and Janette Sadik-Khan was the subject of yet another tabloid editorial on Sunday, accusing her of being secretive in how -- and where -- bike lanes are installed, a charge she has repeatedly denied.

Standing in front of Ivan Pharmacy on Sunday, Scott Stringer said the lessons learned from the Columbus Avenue bike lane represent a model of collaboration that should be repeated throughout the city. "This study and this working group may finally break new ground in bringing together the Department of Transportation and communities," he said. "It is very clear to all of us, that you cannot design a street -- design a community -- simply by having downtown experts tell us what should be in the street grid. We have learned, in a very painful way, what happens when you impose a bike lane on neighborhoods without doing proper due diligence."

"If they follow this model today around the city," he said, "we are going to be able to mix street design and bike lanes with businesses, pedestrians, and cars. And that's how you change what a city looks like -- through collaboration."

City Council member Gale Brewer was more conciliatory. "The Department of Transportation -- I want to be very clear -- was very responsive, even early on in the game."  And the chair of CB7 also voiced strong support for the lane. "I want to be clear that Community Board 7 voted in favor of the bike lane, just because it's the right thing to do," said Mel Wymore. "This is an opportunity for all of us to make it work for everyone."

But it's clear that even within the pro-bike lane CAWG there are some disagreements. During today's press conference, Scott Stringer complained about the pedestrian islands.  "(They are) I believe, a big error," he said -- only to see his colleagues at the podium start shaking their heads. "No," said Gale Brewer. "We like them."  "Well, this is my opinion," amended Stringer. "I think 28 or so are perhaps too many, we think there should be a discussion.  You see, that's what community consultation is all about."

And so far no one has filed a lawsuit.

You can read the Columbus Avenue Working Group's report below, as well as see NYC DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan's response to the group's recommendations:

COLUMBUS AVENUE STREET REDESIGN_ Recommendations for Mitigating Unintended Impacts-1
Columbus Response From Janette Sadik-Khan

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Help Storyboard a Pro-Infrastructure Super Bowl Commercial

Sunday, February 06, 2011

(Matt Dellinger - Transportation Nation) During this Sunday’s Super Bowl you will see beer ads, insurance ads, fast food ads, and car ads. But you will not see any public service announcements on behalf of funding infrastructure investment. At least not this year.

If House republicans get their way, the level of transportation funding will decrease, not increase, over the coming year. That, despite the wishes of a let’s-build-stuff coalition so broad that it finds the AFL-CIO agreeing with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. So why don’t these groups pool their resources and start a public campaign, some wonder.

Former Governor of Pennsylvania Ed Rendell is fond of describing the billboards that the Laborers' International Union of North America erected around the his state. “Bridge Ahead Structurally Deficient,” they read. “Ask Senators Casey and Specter to help.”

“They wanted to put another sign at the other end of the bridge that said ‘Glad you made it!’, but the lawyers talked them out of it,” Rendell remarked at the Texas Transportation Forum in January. "My goal is: Super Bowl 2012, to have an ad on infrastructure."

So c’mon, Transportation Nation readers. Let’s brainstorm. What would a pro-infrastructure Super Bowl spot look like? Football theme? Sex sells? Blockbuster spokespersons? Hollywood production values? Let’s assume a big budget. Comment to the left. Let's get this going!

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

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Letter from Bike Lane Opponents to DOT: Don't Make Us Pursue "Legal Remedies"

Saturday, February 05, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) From the New York City DOT's perspective, the Prospect Park West bike lane was a case study in success -- it was requested and approved by the local community board both to provide a safe passageway for cyclists and prevent speeding.  Once installed, the DOT says, it accomplished its goals, moving vast numbers of cyclists from the sidewalks to the bike lane and dramatically slowing dangerous speeding.    The DOT says all its data is public, on its website.

And a survey by Councilmember Brad Lander says three quarters of Brooklyn residents support the bike lane.

But for opponents, according to a letter written to Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan by the group's lawyer, Jim Walden, of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the process has been less than transparent.  "PPW residents are imperiled by reckless cyclists with dangerous frequency."  That letter did not provide further data, but said without a promise from the DOT to "refrain from making a final determination," on the bike lane "legal remedies" would be pursued.

In testimony before the City Council late last year, Commissioner Sadik-Khan said the lane was permanent, and not an experiment.

Here's the full letter to the Commissioner from Neighbors for a Better Bike Lane.

Walden would not comment on any potential legal action, and the city DOT would not confirm the existence of the letter.

Click the image for a larger version (which you should be able to zoom in on for easy reading convenience).

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Big Names Ready a Lawsuit to Remove Brooklyn Bike Lane

Friday, February 04, 2011

Prospect Park Bike Lane

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) It’s a who’s who directory of city government. Iris Weinshall, the former city transportation commissioner and wife of U.S. Senator Charles Schumer.    A dean at Brooklyn College.  Norman Steisel, the former deputy mayor under Edward Koch and David Dinkins.   And the other former deputy mayor, Randy Mastro (under Giuliani) who introduced the group to a colleague at his high-powered law firm, Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher. And what is all this former government firepower being assembled to do?  Remove a bike lane on Prospect Park West, in Brooklyn.

Controversy over the bike lane began even before it was installed, last June.  Though the local community board approved the lane – both to provide a safe haven for commuting cyclists and to slow traffic along Prospect Park West – some residents of the leafy boulevard and their supporters were outraged.  They said the two-way lane – which is separated from automobile traffic by a row of parked cars -- would cause congestion, change the historic character of the avenue, and make pedestrian crossing dangerous and confusing.  To make room for the bike lanes, automobile traffic was constricted from three lanes to two.

Protest Against the Bike Lane in October Photo Erin McCarty/WNYC

Marty Markowitz, the Borough President of Brooklyn, who’s known for trying to put the whole borough on a diet and for brandishing Star Wars lasers at graduations, called the city transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, a “zealot” for wanting to install this lane.   But cyclists, and the local community board, remained steadfastly behind it, saying it would improve quality of life for Brooklyn residents, make travel safer, and encourage people to use bikes instead of automobiles.

Last month, the city DOT released its findings.  The lane had cut speeding dramatically. One in five cars now speeds, the city says, compared to the three out of four who used to.   The consequences, the city DOT says – are potentially life-saving.  A pedestrian hit by a car driving 40 mph has an eighty percent chance of dying.  A pedestrian hit by a car driving 30 mph will survive two thirds of the time.  That, the DOT says, is the difference the lane has made.

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