TN Moving Stories: Snowtorious Storm Smacks Northeast, and Cycling on a Roll in DC

Monday, December 27, 2010

Abandoned taxi, NYC (Alex Goldmark)

Blizzard slows down travel in the Northeast (WNYC): in New York City, airports and rail shuts down, but other transit gamely presses on (NY1) --with the exception of an A train stuck in Queens where passengers overnighted without food or water.

How you know it's a Snowpocalypse in NYC: John Hockenberry tweet: "Still wild white caps and snow mountains in Red Hook. @FairwayMarket NOT open!" I repeat: Fairway is NOT open!

In other news: USA Today says that there are gaping holes in subway and rail security that "leave travelers more vulnerable on the more than 4 billion trips they take by subway and rail each year than in the sky, where airlines carried fewer than 700 million passengers from U.S. airports last year." And, apparently, cargo that flies over (but not to) the U.S. doesn't get screened to federal standards. (Washington Post)

Cycling is on a roll in the nation's capitol. "The District has 50 miles of bike lanes on its 1,200 miles of streets. It has created 47 of the 50 miles in the past nine years." (Washington Post)

A Boston nonprofit is teaching bicycle mechanics to inner city kids, and shipping out nearly 6,000 abandoned bikes a year--some to South America and Africa. (WBUR - Here and Now)

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NYC Subway Video from 1949 -- Happy Holidays

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Here's a video from 1949 of the NYC subway. Enjoy the vintage ride.

Happy Holidays from the Transportation Nation crew.

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TN Moving Stories: Build Your Own Bamboo Bike, and Combatting Beijing Traffic

Friday, December 24, 2010

Fast rail, slow build out: "Only 20 miles of track on the 284-mile Amtrak route between Chicago and St. Louis will be upgraded to handle 110-mph trains by 2012, state officials said Thursday." (Chicago Tribune)

Want to build your own bamboo bike?  You can, in Brooklyn. Video below! (via ABC News)

Turning solar energy into fuel: a new technique involves the element Cerium. (NPR)

An explosion of drivers in China has led to some hasty transportation planning in Beijing: The future will bring: "280,000 new parking spaces; 1,000 share-a-bike stations; 348 miles of new subway track; 125 miles of new downtown streets; 23 miles of tunnels; 9 new transportation hubs; 3 congestion zones; and 1 cure-all, “the use of modern technology.” (New York Times)

Toyota to launch family of Priuses. (Or is the plural Prii? Hmmm.) (AltTransport)

A new app helps you find on-street parking, of which Wired says: "Having access to real-time parking information could be the difference between finding a space and circling the wrong block endlessly, or seeing that parking is at a premium and deciding to leave the car at home."

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Seeing Roads As Rails—A Clever Cartographic Experiment

Friday, December 24, 2010

Detail of Interstates as Subways Diagram, by Cameron Booth

(Matt Dellinger, Transportation Nation)  Transportation geeks with empty walls (and graphic design fans with wanderlust) have just one week to procure themselves a poster of Cameron Booth’s clever and fascinating “Interstates as Subway Diagram.” Booth, a Senior Graphic Designer at Parsons Brinckerhoff’s Portland office and the father of a newborn, has decided to quit selling the prints, which met with some success.

“It was a fun design exercise for me: to come up with a set of rules for the diagram (a design brief, if you will) and to see what came out,” Booth said by email. “Secondly, I see it as a way of playing with perceptions. I took one kind of network, one that's almost always shown with absolute geographical accuracy (a road map) and substituted the simplified iconography and colored route lines of a subway diagram instead.”

Separating the road network from its context and creating “stops” for major exits produced some interesting results, Booth says. “Concentrating on route intersections instead of city population makes Teaneck, NJ look more important than New York City on my diagram, and Pittsburgh (which sits BETWEEN three different Interstates, but doesn't actually lie on any of them) doesn't appear at all.”

Booth’s fresh take on the Interstate map comes in part from the fact that he’s an Australian by birth. He moved to the United States just a few years ago, in pursuit of the woman who is now his wife. “The U.S. is definitely in love with the automobile. And while I love a good road trip as much as anyone, the state of passenger rail here is sad to see,” Booth wrote. He’s ridden the TGV from Paris to Nimes—around 450 miles in three hours—and he’s suffered the five-plus-hour Amtrak ride along the 170 miles between Portland and Seattle. (Booth has also created an Amtrak-as-subway diagram.)

Booth’s glad to see things gradually changing, he says, although “a lot of effort seems to be required to simply rebuild what existed before the car took over (witness the "new" Streetcar project in LA).” His job, he says, gives him ample chance to imagine the future: he makes maps, diagrams and graphs in support of proposals that Parsons Brinckerhoff produces up and down the West Coast. “We’re definitely at the forefront of a lot of the new metro/transit work and transit-oriented development around, so it's great to be a part of that.”

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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Heading Out of Town? Check Out the Traffic

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holland Tunnel traffic on Varick Street (photo by Alex Goldmark)

We reported yesterday on the coming holiday travel—and traffic—surge. From our window out of WNYC it looks like it's already underway as of 4:45 p.m. EST.   --Transportation Nation

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Shake-Up Continues In Washington Metro's Leadership

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Marcell Solomon will no longer serve on Metro's board of directors. The board has been facing a series of changes to its membership.  (Courtesy of: WMATA, photo by Larry Levine)(Washington, DC -- David Schultz, WAMU) Washington, D.C. area Metro's board of directors is undergoing major changes, with several members resigning or being removed in the past few weeks.

Marcell Solomon, a lawyer from Prince George's County, Md., will no longer serve on Metro's board. The new executive of Prince George's County, Rushern Baker, has reportedly informed Solomon that his services are no longer needed.

An investigation by the Washington Examiner found Solomon had the worst attendance record on the board, despite being paid a nearly $40,000 annual salary. He was appointed by Baker's predecessor, Jack Johnson, who is currently under indictment on federal bribery charges.

Solomon is the fourth Metro board member to leave -- or be asked to leave -- in the past two weeks, and the shake-up is expected to continue in the near future.

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Weinshall, Steisel: DOT Brooklyn Bike Lane Data is Wrong

Thursday, December 23, 2010

We missed this yesterday, but since we've published DOT's data, we thought we should bring you this letter to the editor of the NY Times, in response to an editorial about how cyclists should be more law-abiding. In it, Iris Weinshall, the former NYC DOT commissioner (Janette Sadik-Khan's predecessor) makes a pretty strong public statement against the Prospect Park West bike lane.  Weinshall, BTW, is a resident of Prospect Park West, where resistance to the new lane is strongest, and the wife of U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. --Transportation Nation

To the Editor:

Your editorial about the problems caused by law-evading bicyclists mentions data released by the New York City Department of Transportation that purport to show that the 50 miles of bike lanes it is adding each year “calm” traffic and cut down on fatalities.

But as the rest of your editorial suggests, the connection between encouraging biking — which we also strongly support — and making our streets safer and more pleasant for all users is far from established.

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100,000 Caddies Recalled

Thursday, December 23, 2010

(Detroit -- Jerome Vaughn, WDET) General Motors is recalling nearly 100,000 Cadillacs for a possible problem with the airbag system.

The recall affects the Cadillac CTS from the 2005 through 2007 model years.

The automaker says the sensor that detects when a passenger is in the front seat could fold or develop a kink when the seat is in use. The issue can prevent proper signals from being sent to the airbag system and might keep the airbag from deploying during a severe crash. That could increase the risk of passenger injury.

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DC Streetcar...or National Monument View? Reason #4,080 Why D.C. Is Not Like Any Other City

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A prototype of D.C.'s new streetcar

(Washington D.C. - David Schultz, WAMU) So let's say you're a city. You want to build a big public works project, like a school or a fire house - or let's say a $1.5 billion, 37-mile streetcar network.

First you formulate a design for the project, then you find the money to pay for it and then you get local politicians to sign off. (Not necessarily in that order) In most cities, with most projects, that's how it works.

Not in the District of Columbia. In Washington D.C., you also have to make sure the project you're working on doesn't impinge on any of the august, historic symbols that populate the Nation's Capital.

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TN Moving Stories: 100th Countdown Clock in NYC Subways, India's Railways Prioritize Onions, and Spain Now Leads Europe in HSR

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A countdown clock on the 110th Street 1 train platform (Kate Hinds)

NYC's subways have their 100th countdown clock -- exceeding the MTA's original goal to get 75 stations online by the end of the year.

You can still buy tickets for American Airlines flights online--but not on Orbitz, because the airline wants to cut out that electronic middleman.  (USA Today)

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board levied the first fine in its 14 year history---$250,000 against the Canadian National Railway Company for failure to report blockages at its Chicago-area street crossings.  (Chicago Sun-Times)

India's railways will prioritize the delivery of onions throughout the country. The country's staple vegetable has grown scarce due to heavy rains in growing areas, and prices are spiraling upwards. (Daily News and Analysis)

Spain is now the European high-speed rail leader. (New York Times)

Everyone may finally be on board with Indiana's new, comprehensive transit plan, which includes tripling buses, establishing BRT, and building commuter rail. (Indianapolis Star)

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says that his priority is a new subway line. And only subways. "There’s no more above ground,” he said. “No, everything’s going underground. I want to do subways." (The Globe and Mail)

Could high oil prices hurt the economy's recovery in the new year? (Marketplace)

NPR's series on ethanol concludes with a look at the industry's response to critics -- and its partnership with NASCAR.

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MTA Squabbling + Poor Management = Years of Delays and Nearly $2 Billion Over Budget on Mega-Projects

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

(New York -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC)  The Inspector General of the New York area Metropolitan Transportation Authority slammed the agency in a report for ignoring procedures it had set up to keep mega-projects on budget and on schedule.

Predictably, says Inspector Barry Kluger, three of those projects are now nearly $2 billion over-budget combined and delayed by two to five years. That means subway riders and others must slog through construction zones all the longer while waiting for expanded service that is repeatedly postponed as taxpayers rack up greater and greater debt.

These “mega-projects have experienced well-publicized budget overruns and disruptive schedule delays that have seriously undermined public confidence in the MTA’s management,” the report said.

Two of the projects are already five years behind schedule: an extension of Long Island Railroad to Grand Central Terminal, now expected to be done by April 2018, and the first leg of the Second Ave. subway, now scheduled for completion in 2017. The Fulton Transit Center, with its projected finish in 2014, looks good by comparison. It’s only two and a half years late.

Only the 7 Train Extension, the last of the MTA’s four megaprojects, does not suffer from significant lateness or cost over-runs. The four projects have budgets totaling $15.32 billion.

Kluger says MTA Capital Construction, a subsidiary charged with overseeing the agency’s capital spending, clashed with an “independent engineering firm”—it did not name the firm—over who was in charge of monitoring the projects. His report says the engineering firm was at times given too much to do with too little information. And the firm wrote bad reports that lacked clear summaries or were too technically detailed to be easily understood. Sometimes, when the firm did make a plain recommendation, MTA Capital Construction ignored it.

At Kluger’s insistence, the MTA has separated the squabbling entities. The agency’s Office of Construction Oversight will now manage the independent engineer. The Office's mandate is to bring about “less conflict and more effectiveness to the oversight process.”

Kluger said another problem was megaprojects bidding against each other for a limited number of highly specialized contractors, which drove up prices. He warned that this might soon happen again as each project goes shopping for contractors to install signal and communications systems.

The Inspector General said MTA Chairman Jay Walder has accepted the report’s findings and used them to tell the Office of Construction Oversight to get a firmer grip on spending and scheduling.

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FAA, NORAD Plan for Santa's Flight

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Santa is cleared for take off and he'll be tracked by NORAD, too (see video above).

In the federal government's yearly foray into fantastical Christmas fun, both aviation agencies have issued press releases about the most awaited (at least by children) aircraft of the year. Not only is Santa's sleigh is approved to enter American airspace, but, the agencies say, air traffic control, NextGen technology and other transportation technology will make his flight smoother, facilitating his crucial mission. It's child-focused outreach on behalf of the work of government, and a transportation teaching moment.

“Santa’s cockpit display will help improve his situational awareness by showing him and his reindeer flight crew their precise location in relation to other aircraft, bad weather and terrain,” said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt. “NextGen will help make this an extra-safe Christmas Eve.”

Santa, as seen from Air Traffic Control

See a full slideshow of how NextGen air traffic control technology will help Santa improve his aeronautical safety and efficiency over at the FAA website.

"...when air traffic controllers working the North Pole clear Santa One for landing now, Santa will be gliding down onto rooftops. This will be faster, save fuel and guarantee that presents are delivered up to 53 percent faster than in previous years. "

The North American Regional Aerospace Defense command—a serious military agency charged with detecting and responding to a potential missile strike or other airborne attacks—treats this yearly publicity opportunity in an appropriate tongue and cheek teaching style. "NORAD uses four high-tech systems to track Santa – radar, satellites, Santa Cams and fighter jets." Followed shortly in their "how we track Santa" section with: "Amazingly, Rudolph’s bright red nose gives off an infrared signature, which allows our satellites to detect Rudolph and Santa." They've also created an interactive website of Santa's village with games like Santa's Bureau of Investigation.

NORAD's "about Santa" section explains what advanced technology has discerned about how he touches down on every house in the world in one night, "the fact that Santa Claus is more than 16 centuries old, yet does not appear to age, is our biggest clue that he does not work within time as we know it."

Links: FAA's Santa page, track Santa, via NORAD, on Google Earth, NORAD's Santa focused site.

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Holiday Getaway Day: T-Minus 48 Hours

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holland Tunnel traffic on Varick Street (photo by Kate Hinds)

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation)  If you're taking to the road this holiday season, you'll have a lot of company. The American Automobile Association says that over 92 million Americans will make trips of at least 50 miles from December 23 to January 2. AAA New York spokesman Robert Sinclair said it could be an augur of a financial uptick.

"We're thinking that the improvement in the economy, at least on a personal level for a lot of people, is the reason that people are getting out there," he said. "And probably some pent up demand."

Sinclair also expects the distances people are traveling to be longer as well, with an average trip length of 1,052 miles. That's a 33 percent increase over last year. And 93 percent of those travelers will be in their cars. He said that the remainder of the travelers fly (3 percent) or use rail, bus or even watercraft.

According to AAA's surveys, New Yorkers are 50 percent more likely than the rest of the country to take road trips in part because of economic conditions.

"We tend to have a higher median income in New York and environs than the rest of the country," he said, "so we have nice cars, we have cash in our pocket, and we like to take advantage of both those things by going out and taking a long trip."

According to the AAA, the biggest travel days will likely be Christmas Eve and January 2nd.

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TN Moving Stories: How Ethanol Affects Food Prices, Honda Takes to the Air, and Colorado City To Link Schools with Bike Lanes

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

NPR reports on how US ethanol subsidies affect food prices. "When the price of gas goes up, it raises the demand for ethanol — and that means consumers will feel it in two places: at the gas pump and on the dinner table."

The Federal Transit Administration awarded $25.7 million in grants to help communities analyze and expand their transit systems. One of the winners was Washington DC, which won $1 million for a feasibility study looking at running streetcars along DC's K Street. (WAMU)

Next American City asks: can a new streetcar save Atlanta's MARTA?

From four wheels to two wings: Honda just made its first flight in a FAA-conforming jet, paving the way for Honda Aircraft to sell planes in the American market. (AutoNews)

The Aurora (Colorado) City Council moved forward with a plan to implement bike lanes that will connect nine area schools. (Aurora Sentinel)

The New York State comptroller rejected a $118 million transit contract with Science Applications International Corp., saying the company's role in the CityTime contracting scandal remains unclear. (Wall Street Journal)

The New York Daily News wrote an editorial taking the MTA to task for "replacing subway literature with self-congratulatory ads." Reminder: write your own literary service announcement and post it to the WNYC website!

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NY Subways Replacing Poetry With Service Update Ads

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) The Metropolitan Transportation Administration for the New York City area is removing poetry from the subway ad spaces.

The MTA is replacing Train of Thought (seen above) with a new ad campaign designed to communicate subway service advisories and improvements to straphangers. Goodbye, Kafka and Herodotus; hello MTA service advisories.

An MTA spokesman said there wasn't enough room in subway cars for both the literary placards and the ads that the agency wants to run touting the work they're doing.

“There’s a small percentage of ad space in the subway and bus and commuter rail system that’s reserved for the MTA,” Jeremy Soffin said. “We use it to communicate with our customers.We don’t advertise on television or in the newspapers, so this is it the one bit of space that doesn’t cost anything and we can use it to tell our customers what we’re doing in the system.”

He added that it was time for a change. “We’re overhauling how we’re doing business, and we’re taking the same approach to this space.”

It's the first time in 18 years subways have not made room for some form of literary musings and thoughtful straphangers like Manhattan's Tom Murphy is sorry to see them go.

"I see them and I appreciate them,” Murphy said. “It gives people a voice and there's room and it’s a noisy city. And anything that touches your heart and moves you in a different way is good for everybody."

The feature, not noticed by all on their travels, is something that Janet Dunne -- also from Manhattan -- suspects she will miss.

"It’s something I think that will be more noticed when it's taken away -- that you don't have that respite from being sold things or the big bustle," Dunne said.

WNYC has a suggestion. Why not combine the two? If the MTA doesn't have space for both literature and service updates, do them together.

Can you combine the wisdom of Thucydides with an announcement of signal work on the C line? Marry the wit of Mark Twain with the rehabilitation of the Dyckman Street 1 train platform?

WNYC reporter Jim O'Grady gets the ball rolling with his Dante-esque ode:

In the middle of the journey of my life,

I find myself astray in a dark wood,

Where the straight way has been lost...

...But really I'm just in the

Underground warren that is

Fulton Street station

As it undergoes a massive reconstruction

With Phase Four scheduled for completion

In March 2012

Take it away, New Yorkers. Comment below! Or update or post them to WNYC. There are already a couple transit poems from readers posted.

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New Jersey Gets More Time to Come Up With $271 Million

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) The Federal Transit Administration has told New Jersey it has two extra weeks to come up with the $271 million it owes on the ARC Tunnel project.

Earlier this week, the FTA sent a letter to Patton Boggs, the law firm that New Jersey Transit hired to fight the $271 million bill, extending the repayment deadline to January 10, 2011.  The original deadline was this week.

NJ Transit has been disputing the amount--and its reluctance to pony up the money immediately has paid off.  Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said recently that if the state repays the money in full, the DOT will give New Jersey $128 million back for projects that improve air quality by cutting traffic congestion.

You can read the FTA's letter to Patton Boggs below.

Response to Patton Boggs Extension Final Dec 20

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TN Moving Stories: Ireland Wants More Bikes, US Airlines Report Profits, and Ethanol Gets Taxpayer Boost--What Do Taxpayers Get?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Does ethanol deserve a multi-billion dollar tax credit? (NPR)  And: a new EPA rule from the fall allowed for more ethanol to be mixed in with gasoline, but now automakers are suing, stating that the new blends aren't safe for cars. (Marketplace)

The New York Post says there's been a 16% rise in vehicle/bicycle collisions this year.

U.S. airlines report highest profits in at least four years. (Los Angeles Times)

Ireland's transportation minister, in an effort to promote bicycling, has announced that local authorities must include specific cycling policies and objectives in future development plans. (Inside Ireland)

New York subway ads now have less literature, more MTA self-promotion. (New York Times) And your TN correspondent has composed a haiku to mark the occasion: Goodbye, poetry/Hello, line improvements tout/but whither Dante?

GM says it is recycling oil-drenched boom material from the BP oil spill and turning it into plastic resin to be used in the Chevy Volt. (Wired)

Toyota will be fined $32 million for failing to swiftly recall defective vehicles. (New York Times)

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New York Transit Strike's Fifth Anniversary.

Monday, December 20, 2010

NYC Transit Strike, Second Day. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and supporters walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. (Getty Images)

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) It was a colder day than it is today.  I'd hardly slept -- waiting as I was, for word of whether there would be a transit strike. Negotiations went up to midnight, and then beyond.  I was quite sure there wouldn't be a vote to strike. How could there be?  And then there was. The trains and buses -- hundreds and hundreds of miles of them, had stopped. Stations were locked.

My assignment:  cover the Mayor, then, as now, Michael R. Bloomberg.  So sometime before 5 a.m. I was up, and out, pulling on the layers.  I rode my bike on dark streets over to the Brooklyn Bridge, looking to lock it up before crossing the East River into Manhattan. This was pre-PlaNYC, and there were almost no bike paths. No one but messengers and the insanely devoted rode bikes on New York City streets in those days. Especially not when it was 10 degrees Fahrenheit outside.

Before I had to a chance to lock up my bike at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Mayor and his entourage were upon me.  This was no Ed Koch-like stroll, asking New Yorkers how they were doing.   It was a grim, unsmiling forced march.  Between my bike and my recording equipment I could hardly keep up. At one point, my bike toppled over. "Can't you do something about that, miss?" the Mayor snapped.   He was not a happy man. The thermometer as we crossed the bridge hovered in the teens.

NYPD direct traffic at a checkpoint on 96th St. and Lexington Ave. (Getty Images)

As the day wore on, cars, trucks and buses crammed the streets. Passengers negotiated to share cabs, or hitched rides over the bridges, but the traffic hardly moved. Most normal days, we complain about the transit system. On this one, we realized, how, without it, the city would stop. It practically did.

Commuters wait in line to board trains outside Grand Central Terminal during the evening rush of day two. (Getty Images)

The Mayor's fury boiled over at several points during the three-day strike.  He won punishing fines against the Transport Workers Union. The sub-freezing temperatures did not abate. I biked from our offices in Lower Manhattan to downtown Brooklyn, where the court cases were being heard.

By day three I was dreading all the clothing I had to wear, and the 5 a.m. calls from our assignment desk. I was cratering, and so was the city. And then, just when I was sure another day would break me, the strike ended. The transit system -- dirty, crammed with delays, stuffed with people, the source of tsuris every day -- up and running again, seemed like the train from heaven.

After three days, commuters at the Jay Street subway station return to mass transit. (Getty Images)

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Matching Money Announced for Calif. High Speed Rail Construction

Monday, December 20, 2010

California's High-Speed Rail Authority approved matching funds to the latest round of federal money the state has received. That means the state will match the $616 million slated for California after Ohio and Wisconsin turned it down. With the new federal money and now matching funds, California has $5.5 billion available to begin construction on the high-speed rail project to connect Los Angeles with San Fransisco.

Here's the full press release from California High-Speed Rail Authority:


SACRAMENTO – Moving quickly to take advantage of $616 million in new federal funding, the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board voted unanimously today to approve committing state matching funds to extend construction of the initial Central Valley backbone of the statewide system south to Bakersfield.

The new federal funds – which were redistributed from other states that returned federal high-speed rail support – will now be coupled with state matching dollars, bringing the total available funds to begin construction to $5.5 billion. The new total will allow engineers to significantly extend initial construction, potentially building as many as 120 miles of the project’s 520-mile first phase, and incorporate the Valley’s largest urban centers: Bakersfield and Fresno.

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Mixed Signals for NYC Pedestrians

Monday, December 20, 2010

(New York-- John Keefe, Jim O'Grady, and Brian Zumhagen, WNYC; Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation)

New Yorkers are famous for crossing streets whenever they feel like it, taking a blasé attitude toward crosswalk signals. But the signs tend to capture the attention of pedestrians when the "walk" and "don't walk" icons are lit up at the same time, which is the case at intersections all over the city.

At the corner of Spring and Greene Streets in SoHo, the orange "don't walk" hand is illuminated. But so is the "walking man" icon. Latonya Turner and her husband Otis are visiting from Arkansas. What would they have done if they'd been left to their own devices?

"We probably would have stood here and thought, 'Okay, what do we do?'" "I guess you have a choice then, you can either walk or not walk," Otis said.

"I guess you can just take your chances," Latonya added, laughing.

Listen to WNYC's story on the pedestrian crossing signals:

See WNYC's mixed signals map here.

And upload your photo to the map here!

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