(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) The U.S. Chamber of Commerce released its first "Transportation Performance Indexes" today, which look at how the country's infrastructure is "serving the needs of the U.S. economy and business community."
The report looks at both the overall picture and on a state-by-state basis, and draws the conclusion that the transportation system is not keeping up with the demands placed upon it.
"The bottom line is this: our nation's deteriorating infrastructure is placing a major drag on our economic growth," said Thomas Donohue, the Chamber's president and CEO. The indexes' web page quotes one statistic that says it will take $148 billion just to keep freight rail operational in the year 2035--which is a bit more than President Obama's $50 billion infrastructure plan. -- Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation
(Jackie Yamanaka, Yellowstone Public Radio) Montana has no law banning cell phone use or texting while driving--but that will soon change in the state's largest city. An ordinance going into effect next month says if a Billings City police officer sees a driver holding up a cell phone to their ear, or texting while driving, that driver can be immediately pulled over and given a written warning or a citation.
For a first offense, the fine is $110. Billings Police Chief Rich St. John says he’s hoping the law will deter drivers from using a cell phone while driving. “If we don’t write a ticket for this, I’m okay with that," he says, "as long as we get compliance. Because ultimately the goal is to get people’s heads out of the cell phone or Blackberry and out on the road where it belongs.”
People who use a hands-free device are exempt from this ordinance, as are emergency responders, such as police and firefighters. The ban takes effect October 31, 2010.
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) 2008 was a watershed year for transit in the U.S. -- as gas prices approached $5 a gallon many Americans switched to transit for many trips. Cities like Charlotte, Denver, and Phoenix were adding capacity, and suddenly riding on a train and checking your email began to seem like a better idea than cursing traffic. But then the economy tanked, fewer people had jobs to go to, and trips on all modes, including transit,plummeted.
That may be changing. The American Public Transit Association is reporting that transit trips ticked up by 0.1 percent in the second quarter of 2010. APTA says that may be because the economy is actually shivering to life. "History shows that as the economy grows, public transit ridership tends to increase. This rise in ridership offers a glimmer of hope that we may be coming out of the economic recession and ridership will continue to move upward.”
Still -- the federal government has yet to come up with a plan to fund transportation on a continuing basis, the President's labor day plan to spend $50 billion on roads, rails, and airports is stalled, and local transit systems are slashing capacity. One of the largest transit expansion plans in the nation -- the ARC trans-Hudson tunnel from New Jersey to New York, may be on the brink of going on permanent hold.
With this backdrop, can any one lay out a scenario where transit capacity is ready to capture a desire by commuters to leave their cars?
Dozens of New York City taxi drivers have been arrested on charges that they defrauded customers by doubling fares. (WNYC)
More than a year after Virginia implemented a statewide ban on texting while driving, local police officers say they're unlikely to write a ticket for a violation. (WAMU)
Another round of strikes hobbles transportation in France. (NPR)
The results of an audit of Virginia's Department of Transportation are expected to reveal that the department has almost $500 million in unspent funds. (Washington Post)
(San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) Have a bumpy ride to work this morning? You’re not alone. A new report by TRIP, a national transportation research group, finds that the country’s road infrastructure is in terrible shape – and California’s is particularly bad.
Of the top 20 worst areas identified in the report, eight are in California, and three of those are in the Bay Area, including San Francisco/Oakland (counted together), San Jose and Concord.
Bad roads aren’t just uncomfortable; they’re also expensive. Nationally, substandard roads cost the average driver $400 a year over and above the normal cost of owning a car; in the Bay Area it’s more like $700-$750. With more than two-thirds of their roads in poor condition, San Jose drivers pay the most, but San Francisco/Oakland drivers aren’t far behind.
With the economy in its current condition, things aren’t likely to improve anytime soon: TRIP estimates that the state needs an extra $4 billion a year in road investment to keep them in shape. Nationally, it's $39 billion. For context, that's 80% of the Obama Administration's budget for its proposed infrastructure bank.
(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) Crossing the streets around New York City's Union Square got a little bit easier today, with the official completion of the redesign of the sidewalks and streets surrounding the area. The neighborhood, which hosts the city's flagship Greenmarket four days a week, sees tens of thousands of visitors on a daily basis, and there have been 95 pedestrian injury crashes from 2004 to 2008. The updates include a bike line and changes to the traffic pattern, and a pedestrian plaza has been added to the east side of Broadway between 17th and 18th Streets.
Inter-city bus travel has had a bad name for decades, associated with small seats, seedy stations and slow service. Some new companies are stepping in to re-brand busses in an effort to take on air and train travel in certain regional corridors.
The younger discount lines like BoltBus, RedCoach and Vamoose, are offering upgraded amenities like WiFi and more legroom. Their ambitions go beyond stealing marketshare from Greyhound, in large part because Greyhound is part owner of the market leader, BoltBus. These companies are now saying they want to tap into the lucrative business travel along corridors like New York to Washington, D.C. and Miami to Orlando.
San Francisco's Municipal Transportation Agency wants to "focus on moving people, not cars," says agency head. (San Francisco Chronicle)
Lights out, Minnesota: some towns are turning off streetlights to save money. (Minnesota Public Radio)
Freight railroad companies balk at sharing rails with high speed passenger trains. (Wall Street Journal)
Did Governor Christie say that he'd replenish NJ's Transportation Trust Fund with the Hudson rail earmark? What he meant to say was that he was waiting for recommendations. (Star Ledger)
The Infrastructurist reports on a (fairly unscientific) trial to determine: which makes you crazier, commuting by bus or by car?
(Washington, DC — Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) Commercial interstate truckers hauling cars or chickens are already banned from texting while behind the wheel. So you'd think it would be a no-brainer that rig drivers hauling gasoline or other flammable materials would be banned too.
In fact, federal rules laid down last year prohibiting texting while driving in the federally-regulated commercial trucking industry left out rigs hauling hazardous materials. Now that loophole has been closed, under planned new regulations announced by the Department of Transportation Tuesday.
In addition to the trucking ban, Obama Administration officials also said they want to lean on private companies to do more to curb distracted driving in their vehicle fleets.
(Washington, DC -- David Schultz, WAMU) In the 70s and 80s, highway safety advocates waged fierce public awareness campaings to convince drivers that not wearing a seat belt is dangerous. In the 80s and 90s, their cause shifted to the dangers of drunk driving.
Now, it appears that cause has shifted once again.
This week, dozens of people involved in the transportation field - from industry execs to federal regulators to non-profiteers - convened in Washington D.C. for the second annual Distracted Driving Summit. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood gave the opening address, calling on more states to pass bans on texting while driving and announcing nationwide texting bans for train operators and commercial bus and truck drivers.
But LaHood also said this problem can't simply be legislated away. Each individual driver needs to be aware of how dangerous distracted driving is, he said, just as they're already aware of the dangers of drunk driving and the importance of wearing seat belts.
For more, check out this story from WAMU.
(Detroit -- Noah Ovshinsky, WDET) Supporters of mass transit are touting a new study that looks at the economic impact of high-speed rail in the Midwest. According to the Public Interest Research Group In Michigan (PIRGIM), a new rail network would create 58,000 jobs and tap into the manufacturing base that already exists in Michigan. Several Midwest states, including Michigan, have received stimulus money to help establish high speed train routes.
Meghan Hess of PIRGIM says she hopes the report keeps the issue in the public eye. “There is some money coming in from the recovery act but its not enough to fund the whole system," she says. "It needs the political will and the public pressure behind that political will to make that system a reality.”
Michigan is using stimulus money to build new train stations in several cities along the Chicago-Detroit rail corridor. Advocates say a new high speed rail system would allow passengers to travel between the two cities in less time than it takes to drive.
(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) Beginning today, one of the three shuttle trains running between Grand Central Station and Times Square has what the MTA says is a subway first: an advertiser-sponsored video campaign. The ten-inch screens will be running highlights of the previous night's baseball games. Although the screens are just repeating a commercial right now, subway rider Janet Vasquez appreciates it.
"I think it's great," she says. "I mean, I enjoy baseball, so it's a little different than looking at the regular, everyday mundane."
The MTA says it earns more than $100 million dollars a year from advertising -- but isn't saying how much it will earn from the video commercials. The baseball campaign will run on the Times Square Shuttle for a month.
(Jackie Yamanaka, Yellowstone Public Radio) As the then-Republican Mayor of Meridian, Mississippi, John Robert Smith watched as the city’s $1 million expenditure for the multi-modal Union Station blossomed into a $135 million public-private investment in the historic downtown.
Smith says the area was once a run down inner-city neighborhood. Then, Union Station became a one-stop location for Amtrak, city bus service, shuttles to the airport and a nearby Navy base. After that, restaurants and boutiques opened nearby, and the area became walkable.
“There’s a conference center there now. There’s a restored performing arts center there. There are condominiums, market rate apartments, very affordable apartments, and opportunities there in the downtown that didn’t exist 14 years ago when we opened this station.”
He says Meridian was already the retail, medical, employment, cultural, and educational center for an 11-county region. But the new transit center, he says, was what spurred new growth. Union station, he says, “became the most heavily used public space in Meridian, MS. Over 350,000 passengers a year use that station. Keep in mind you’re talking about a city of 40,000 people.”
More important, he says, it gave young people a reason to come home to rural Meridian when they graduated from college.
Today the Department of Transportation kicks off its second Distracted Driving Summit. Members of the Transportation Nation team are there and will be posting later on today.
But in the meantime: there's no need to let, say, your work schedule interfere with your desire to follow the proceedings. A recent Ray LaHood tweet reads: "Can't watch at work? Staff blogging distracted driving summit live at http://fastlane.dot.gov You can participate w/comments!"
(San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) A little after five o'clock, and you might find yourself on your way back home after a long day at work. How would you describe your commute? A drag? Hilly, boring, sweaty, tedious? Those are a few of the words people in our newsroom used to describe theirs.
But recently, we heard a man characterize his commute in this way: "Conditions: sunny and absolutely bluebird. Number of seals spotted: 8. Amount of road rage experienced: none. Number of waves surfed: about five."
That’s how Stephen Linaweaver describes his daily commute to work crossing the San Francisco Bay in his kayak. And, as far as we know, Linaweaver is the only person to get to work this way. Want to hear what it's like out there? Listen to the full story at KALW News.
The NYPD is monitoring 500 subway cameras, 24/7. (WNYC)
Houston's Metro has been criticized for a lack of transparency. So it's now streaming board meetings live. (KUHF)
The New York Times wrote an editorial that's critical of the Koch brothers efforts to overturn California's clean energy law on the November ballot.
NJ Transit officials are in the hot seat for bad service this summer. Just how bad? "We encountered a series of events that caused 1,400 delays," says the executive director. (Asbury Park Press)
It's like magic: with a wave of your hand, you can ride the San Francisco Muni for free. D'OH! (San Francisco Weekly)
New York's state Public Transportation Safety Board wants subway motormen to have an early warning system to reduce track deaths. (NY Daily News)
And just in time for the UN General Assembly: it's Climate Week NYC, a series of events focused on global warming.
Marti Reinfeld is a big BikeShare fan. She can now easily make short trips within the city, instead of having to commute in all the way from home. "I can ride it in a skirt and heels - that's what I'm most excited about - so I don't have to change after work to ride my bike," she says. Ed Neugent says - as he rides one of the red and yellow BikeShare bikes - he'll use the service to get to work meetings. "Sometimes our meetings are held in other buildings and a lot of times we can probably hop on a bike and go to the meeting if we can't get a vehicle to travel. Plus, it's a good form of exercise too," he says.
(Wilkes-Barre, PA -- Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)How’s President Obama’s plan to spend $50 billion on infrastructure selling?Judging by my interaction with musician Debbie Horoschock in Luzerne County, PA last week, not too well.
“It should all be fixed,” she told me, of the president’s proposal to spend money fixing rail, roads, and airports.So she thinks that would be a good thing to spend money on?“No.But they should be fixed.”How are they going to be fixed without money? “I don't know how they are going to be fixed without money. But we need money to fix the damn roads.”
Horuschock, who had long black hair and plays in a polka band, was out shopping on a Thursday afternoon in the Wilkes-Barre farmers market (by the way, when you get out of major cities, farmers markets are a good cheap place to get vegetables, not lightening rods for the young and well-to-do.)In 2008, like the majority of this hardscrabble county, she voted for Obama for President.But everyone she knows is out of work (this area has the highest unemployment in the state), and there’s just no money to pay for anything.
(WNYC News) One week into a 30-day review a new transit tunnel connecting New Jersey to Manhattan, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says he's not confident that the project will come in under the budget of 8.7 billion dollars.
"I've seen estimates that take this from 2 to 5 billion over budget. Where am I going to get this money? I don't have an answer to that. So I want to know exactly what I'm biting off before I take another bite and start chewing.]
Speaking on WOR this morning, Christie suggested that the federal government should consider stepping up with more money.
NJ Transit and the Port Authority are each contributing 3 billion dollars to the project, which is among the largest stimulus-funded initiatives in the country -- about another $1 billion.