Streams

Minn. Lawmaker Defends Earmarks, Vows to Save Light Rail Funds

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

(St. Paul -- Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio) While Republicans are set to formalize a non-binding pledge banning earmarks, not every legislator thinks it's good policy. U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), defended congressional earmarks today, saying limits have been put in place and that the money spent on them represents only a small part of the overall federal budget.

Republican House leaders called for a moratorium on the earmark process, which allows members of Congress to fund specific projects in their states or districts. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has said he also supports a ban on earmarks.

But McCollum said she's concerned about the $45 million earmark pending before the House for Minnesota's Central Corridor light rail project. She said the project is worthwhile and will create thousands of jobs.

"[Earmarks are] one half of one percent of the entire federal budget," McCollum told MPR's Morning Edition. "This is for local communities. I'm a big supporter of local control, especially when it comes to spending some of our tax dollars."

McCollum said she is working with the Obama administration to save Central Corridor from Republican cuts.

While the light rail project is a priority, McCollum said there are other earmarks she's supported in past years, such as money for the Harriet Tubman crisis centers in the Twin Cities.

"That's a community project that the community came together and said, 'Would you help us fund this,'" she said.

Listen to the full interview with McCollum at MPR.

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NY Governor-Elect Cuomo Announces Transportation Transition Team

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Heavy on builders, light on planners (with the exception of NYU's Mitchell Moss).  Represented are members of the  airplane, truck, and  long distance bus industries. Missing:  advocates for biking, walking, and mass transit, unless you count real estate executive Peter Kalikow, the former MTA chief. From the press release:

Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure

  • Kendra Adams, Executive Director, New York State Motor Truck Association
  • Dave Barger, C.E.O., President and Director, JetBlue
  • Eugene Berardi, Jr., President and CEO, Adirondack Trailways
  • Lillian Borrone, Chairman, ENO Transportation Foundation
  • Martin Dilan, New York State Senate
  • David Gantt, NYS Assembly
  • Robert Gioia, former Chairman, Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority
  • Gail Grimmett, Senior Vice President, Delta Air Lines
  • Peter S. Kalikow, former Chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority
  • Gary Labarbera, President, Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York
  • Cheryl McKissack, Recording Secretary, Women Builders Council
  • George Miranda, Vice President, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, President, Teamsters Hispanic Caucus
  • Mitchell Moss, Director, Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management, Henry Hart Rice Professor Urban Policy and Planning at New York University’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service
  • Andrew Murstein, founder, Board Member, and President of Medallion Financial Corp
  • Vincent Polimeni, Founder, President and C.E.O., Polimeni International, LLC
  • Denise Richardson, Managing Director, General Contractors Association of New York
  • Jay Simson, President, American Council of Engineering Companies of New York
  • Rodney Slater, former Secretary of U.S. Department of Transportation

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SERIES: BRT (as in Bus Rapid Transit)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

BRT in Colombia (photo by Gabriel Mendoza Ardila)

Folks, these aren't new, but a reader requested the WNYC series on BRT from 2009.  And if you're interested in transit models from around the world, the stories still hold.

Bogota, Cleveland, Los AngelesThe Bronx

And: a bonus interview with Enrique Penalosa.

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1st and 2nd Avenue Bike Lanes: Not in 2010. In 2011?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and NYC Council Member James Vacca measure car speeds on Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, with P.S. 261 fourth graders (Kate Hinds)

UPDATED WITH NEW COMMENTS FROM JANETTE SADIK-KHAN  (Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) We've been following New York City's plans to build protected bike lanes on Manhattan's  east side. These lanes were initially planned to stretch from Houston Street in the East Village up to 125th Street in East Harlem, but construction has stopped at 34th Street. Last week supporters held a rally urging the city to move forward on the lanes' full implementation. So when we saw the city's transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, in Brooklyn this morning, we asked her if the lanes would be extended north of 34th street. Here's the exchange.

KH: Are there plans to build out the East Side bike lanes?

JSK: We’re working on what we’re working on right now. We’ve got a full plate.

KH: I know you had said in the summer it wouldn’t happen in 2010; is it on the table for 2011?

JSK:  Not at the moment.

KH: Not at the moment?

JSK: No. Our plans are our plans and we continue to work with communities about what’s the right set of tools and what works best, tailored to meet community needs.

(You can hear the exchange here.)

KH: Why did the city back away from the original plan to go north of 34th street?

(answer after the jump)

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Houston Chronicle: Loss of Red Light Revenue Creates Sea of Red Ink

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The surprise rejection of red light cameras in Houston won't help the city's budget problems anyway, the Houston Chronicle reports:

The city's decision to turn off its red-light cameras on Monday after voters rejected the devices earlier this month will have a $10 million ripple effect that has dramatically worsened an already bleak budget picture for this year and next, city officials said.
Even before the vote, Mayor Annise Parker's administration was struggling to close a budget shortfall of nearly $70 million through a combination of budget cuts, land sales and fee increases.

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Local Planners Squashed in IN; Interstate Gets Approval

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Before a room of concerned citizens, Indiana Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner Samuel Sarvis explains to the Bloomington-Monroe County MPO what the state intends to do if they refuse to acknowledge Interstate 69 in their plan.

(Matt Dellinger - Transportation Nation) When last we reported from Bloomington, Indiana, members of the local Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) were facing a rather difficult decision: The Indiana Department of Transportation had demanded that the MPO amend its Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) to include the few relevant miles of the 1,400-mile Interstate 69 project, which local citizens had consistently and fiercely fought for years.

INDOT Deputy Director Sam Sarvis had been cagey about the importance of the TIP amendment but, as we reported, federal law is clear: An MPO has primary control over what gets built in a given urban area. (Or at least it's supposed to have primary control.) In order for a state to spend federal dollars on a project within a Metropolitan Planning Area, the project must be on the MPO’s TIP. All four elected officials sitting on the MPO policy committee—Mayor Mark Kruzan, Council Member Andy Ruff, County Council Member Julie Thomas, and County Commissioner Mark Stoops—had publicly opposed the construction of I-69, and to many highway foes around Bloomington, the modest power bestowed upon the MPO by federal law seemed like it might be the Achilles heel of the highway that Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels was pushing through.

The state was certainly taking the MPO's deliberations seriously. They were publicly stoic on the matter, but according to Ruff, they were privately playing hardball, threatening to withhold funds for important local projects if the MPO did not budge on I-69. “The state is bullying the MPO and even blackmailing us, in a way, to do what we as a community have decided is completely wrongheaded policy,” Ruff told Transportation Nation. The blackmail seemed to be working: Mayor Kruzan hinted in August that, given this promise of punishment, he might be forced to give in.

And he did. The vote on the matter, originally planned for September, was postponed until November 5th. That afternoon, Samuel Sarvis stood before the MPO policy committee and, in a startlingly public display of what is normally back room arm-twisting, told them what would happen if they voted against the Interstate 69 amendment.

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TN Moving Stories: LA Looks At Congestion Pricing, a Streetcar Named Red Hook, and Is NY Closer to ARC $?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Is New York "well-positioned" to snag some federal ARC funds? Senator Gillibrand spoke to Ray LaHood Monday -- and she thinks signs point to yes. (Wall Street Journal)

The Los Angeles MTA is considering bringing some form of congestion pricing to the city. (Los Angeles Times)

Ray LaHood predicts that Rahm Emanuel will win Chicago's mayoral race.  (Chicago Sun-Times)

China will soon have more miles of high speed rail tracks than the rest of the world put together. (NPR)

The "If You See Something, Say Something" campaign heads to the DC region. Just in time for the holidays! (Washington Post)

Some airline travelers are not so happy about new TSA screening requirements. Neither are pilots.  (NPR)

If a Republican House bans earmarks, one of those transportation projects in doubt could be the Minneapolis region's Central Corridor light rail. (Minnesota Public Radio)

New York's Department of Transportation will present its Brooklyn Streetcar Feasibility Study (read: trolley service in Red Hook) at a community board meeting tonight. (NYC DOT)

More on New York's taxi of the future finalists. (WNYC)

GM dealers say that Chevy Volt production has begun. (Detroit Free Press)

Is F train performance now better than...an F? New York City Transit says yes. (New York Times)

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McConnell Earmark Ban Support Could Mean Even Less for Transpo

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

(Washington, DC -- Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) State and local transportation planners may have had an uneasy sleep last night after hearing that the Senate's top-ranking Republican is backing a ban on earmark spending in Congress.

The impact of Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell's (KY) pledge is still unclear. Senate Republicans are set to vote on a voluntary moratorium on pet-project spending on Tuesday. But McConnell's reversal from earmark champion to reluctant opponent is sure to throw uncertainty into hundreds of transportation projects around the country.

House Republicans have already pledged to forgo earmarks in spending bills that leave the chamber. Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the presumptive next speaker of the House, has said the GOP majority will stick to the pledge in the next Congress. Now that Senate Republicans may follow suit, money for individual projects could become stickier business in the already murky legislative process.

But Democrats have made no such pledge and instead have defended the importance of earmarks to steering funding to projects in their states. Many Republicans make the same arguments but appear to have been overwhelmed by voters' apparent anger over government spending and the success of anti-earmark Tea Party candidates and other conservatives in the recent midterm elections.

So what will be the impact on transportation projects in the near term? Unclear. Many local papers are already worrying aloud that more cutbacks on earmarks could spell doom for critical local projects. But that may not necessarily be the case. Earmarks have many definitions, but the most common one refers to projects not requested by the White House or a federal agency but that make it into a bill anyway at the request of individual lawmakers. Even if that brand of earmark is avoided by some lawmakers, it would be unlikely to prevent Congress from spending an equal amount of money in a less defined way, leaving specific programming decisions up to federal agencies.

The House in July passed a $70 billion transportation and housing funding bill that contained some 560 earmarks, many for local transit and infrastructure projects. But the Senate has yet to act on the bill. In fact, non-stimulus transportation spending is likely to get wrapped up in a much larger "omnibus" spending bill likely to pass Congress in the next few months. Whether the bill contains any earmarks, and who has requested them, is an open question.

And what about the medium and long term? Earmark spending is a time-honored, if unseemly, practice in a Congress that derives it's power primarily by controlling the nation's purse strings. Will Republicans return to earmarking when the economy improves and there is less political pressure around spending?

We'll know a little more after Senate Republicans vote on the earmark moratorium Tuesday.

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After Election, Houston's Red Light Cameras Go Dark

Monday, November 15, 2010

By Derek Jensen (Tysto)

(Houston - Pat Hernandez, KUHF News) Houston's red light cameras are now officially switched off, but the controversy surrounding the traffic enforcement measure is far from over. The city has filed a federal lawsuit asking a judge to determine liability with the contractor that operates the cameras.

Proponents of the devices say the technology saves lives by deterring would-be red light runners, while those behind the anti-red camera campaign argue the cameras increase the number of rear-end collisions and are more about making money than about safety. The cameras went dark after the votes were canvassed from the November 2nd election. Of all the ballots cast, 53.2 percent rejected Houston's red light camera program. For many spectators, the final results came as a surprise, as a pre-election poll showed far more support for the cameras than opposition.

City attorney David Feldman told the mayor and council that two things happened after the votes from the election were confirmed: "I sent a formal notice to ATS, advising that the cameras were to be turned off. In addition, at the very same time, the city filed in federal district court against American Traffic Solutions, seeking a declaratory judgment as to the rights and obligations of the parties under the contract."

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Governor-Elect Cuomo Says Bridges Need Attention, Isn't Saying How He'll find the $$

Monday, November 15, 2010

(Tarrytown, New York -- Richard Yeh, WNYC) New York Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo toured the aging Tappan Zee Bridge with local transportation officials Monday, but offered no details on how to pay for an overhaul or possible replacement of the bridge.

A state report out last year estimated that a replacement bridge with commuter rail would cost about $6.4 billion. It also concluded that rehabilitation options "are not reasonable or prudent" since any overhaul would be massive and result in similar cost and environmental impacts, but with inferior engineering and retrofits that are complex and inherently risky.

About 150,000 vehicles a day cross the Tappan Zee, a three-mile-long bridge over the Hudson River that connects Rockland and Westchester counties. That's compared to just 18,000 when the bridge opened in 1955, and Cuomo says the situation "typifies" New York's transportation needs.

"There are roughly 17,000 bridges in the State of New York. About 5,000 of those bridges are deemed 'deficient' which means the replacement or repair is a chronic problem," says Cuomo, adding that many of those bridges were designed with approximate life span of about 50 years.

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Americans' Car Buying Is Buoying All Retail Sales

Monday, November 15, 2010

Commerce department figures released today show that retail sales didn't have such a bad month in October. Total sales were up six percent from the same period a year ago -- but auto sales were up almost fifteen percent.   Did you buy a car last month?  Tell us why!

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New York City Picks Finalists for Taxis of Tomorrow -- You Can Vote!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Here's one-- there are three other "Taxi of Tomorrow Finalists:  Click here for the others --

From the Press Release: Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Taxi and Limousine Commissioner/Chairman David S. Yassky today unveiled the three finalists to be the new, exclusive New York City taxicab. The competition, called the “Taxi of Tomorrow,” will introduce the first-ever custom-built taxicab specifically designed for New York City. The Taxi of Tomorrow project includes a public input campaign where New Yorkers can vote of the features they want to see in the next New York City taxicab. The winning vehicle will be the exclusive New York City taxicab for a minimum of ten years and will be chosen from among several competitive proposals. The three designs selected as the finalists to be the Taxi of Tomorrow are submissions from Ford Motor Company, Karsan USA and Nissan North America, Inc.

Love 'em? Hate 'em?  Vote here

And send us your comments!

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NY Governor Slaps His Counterpart on ARC Tunnel, Sort Of

Monday, November 15, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  New York's outgoing Governor, David Paterson has been a Saturday Night Live-joke pretty much since he ascended to the post when Eliot Spitzer had a bit of, um, scandal.   Even before two major investigations and Paterson's decision not to run for re-election, he's had a bit of trouble being taken seriously.   But today, he chose a high-speed rail conference in Manhattan to poke his counterpart across the Hudson, NJ Governor Chris Christie,  for making a "somewhat anachronistic" decision to kill the ARC transit tunnel.

Paterson was careful to say,  not knowing NJ's entire fiscal picture, he wasn't saying Christie made the "wrong" decision.  But Paterson said that the entire region's growth depends on increasing transit capacity.

"In the past, even in times of grave financial distress," Paterson said " the Erie Lackawanna railroad was built, and the Erie Canal was built, and that's what made New York the financial epicenter of the entire country."

Paterson himself would like some big infrastructure projects, like a high-speed rail line.  Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo has already written to the U.S. Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, asking for more funding for a New York high speed rail system.   Incoming Republican Governors in Wisconsin and Ohio are sending their high speed rail money back to the federal government, saying the overall cost of the systems would burden local taxpayers.

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Monday Morning, 11:00AM: Bike Lane Installation Continues

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pedestrian island being installed on Columbus Avenue (Kate Hinds)

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) Work on a fully-realized Columbus Avenue bike lane continues today on Manhattan's Upper West Side. It looks like the DOT is installing a floating pedestrian island, which will separate the bike lane from traffic.

It's the first protected bike lane on the Upper West Side, and part of a plan that will include building a matching lane heading uptown on Amsterdam Avenue.  Business owners have protested the implementation of the lanes, which decreased available parking spaces, saying that their ability to receive deliveries has been compromised. Community Board 7 is looking into creating a task force to help solve these issues.

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Queens Midtown Tunnel Turns 70 Today

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sandhogs tighten a bolt in a tunnel-lining ring. Six cylindrical jacks on the back of a shield are visible behind the men. Photographer: Michael Bobco for Somach Photo Service. Feb. 26, 1939. Courtesy of MTA Bridges and Tunnels Special Archive

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) The Queens Midtown Tunnel - which links that borough to Manhattan, and transports not only vehicles, but elephants (well, on one day a year), turns 70 today. Below is some information that the MTA sent out about the construction of the tunnel.

-------

It took 20 years of lobbying and planning and four years of hard work but on Nov. 15th, 1940, the Queens Midtown Tunnel, linking Manhattan and Long Island City, Queens, opened to the public. At the time it was the largest, non-federal public works project in the nation.

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TN Moving Stories: Boston's First Solar-Powered Transit Station Breaks Ground, and: Are NYC's Subway Pickpockets Dying Out?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Attorney, labor mediator--and transit activist--Theodore Kheel died Friday; he founded a group called "Nurture New York's Nature" that supported making mass transit entirely free.

Massachusetts breaks ground today on its first solar-powered transit station--Fenway Center. You know it's only a matter of time before the Green Monster nickname gets bandied around. (WBUR)

Are NYC's subway pickpockets going the way of the dinosaurs? "You don't find young picks anymore," NYPD Transit Bureau Detective Nelson Dones said. "It's going to die out." (New York Daily News).  Plus: crime on the LIRR has dropped 15% over last year. (Newsday; subscription required)

GM retirees wrestle with the decision over whether to buy stock in the company or not. (New York Times)

The National Journal's Transportation blog wonders how to resolve the impasse over the fuel tax.

A NJ Transit passenger videotaped a bus driver's unorthodox driving performance ("At some moments he touches the steering wheel with just an index finger, and at other times he does the grown-up’s version of 'Look Ma, no hands'")--and learns some hard lessons about the transit agency's customer complaint system.  (Newark Star-Ledger)

Omaha will kick off a year-long process to update its transportation master plan this week: one goal is trying to create walkable communities with less dependence on automobiles. (Omaha World-Herald).

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Amtrak, NJ Transit Talks Break Down

Friday, November 12, 2010

(Matthew Schuerman, WNYC) Talks between Amtrak and New Jersey Transit over an abandoned commuter train tunnel have broken down just two weeks after they began.

The two parties began discussions late last month, shortly after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie abandoned the tunnel over cost concerns. The talks addressed, among other issues, whether Amtrak would be willing to buy land that New Jersey Transit had acquired to construct the tunnel—and which the state may try to sell in order to recoup some of the $600 million that’s been spent on the project so far.

“Those talks have concluded and at this point Amtrak is not in talks to revive that tunnel project nor use the property for high speed rail initiatives,” Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole said.

A spokesman for New Jersey Transit, Paul Wyckoff, said, “We’re all interested in exploring affordable alternatives to the trans-Hudson challenge.”

Christie canceled the Access to the Region's Core tunnel last month because he didn't want New Jersey to be primarily responsible for cost overruns on the $10 billion to $13 billion project.

The governor is fighting with the Obama administration over just how much money it needs to reimburse the federal government for money that’s been spent on the project, now that it won’t go forward. The U.S. Department of Transportation this week billed the state for $271 million but New Jersey Transit disputes the amount.

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What The Rail?!?!

Friday, November 12, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) In response to our series on the future of transportation, we got an email pointing us to "tubular rail." ????????

In this vision for an alternative train type, there is no track. Stanchions, 100 feet apart, house rollers that propel the train as it passes.  The train doesn't fall even as it's nose is suspended unsupported in the same way that a pencil on the edge of a tabletop won't begin to tip and fall until more than half of it is dangling past the precipice.

The website for Tubular Rail Inc. explains how the proposed plan would work, and answers many questions about top speed, power sources, emergency evacuation and braking.

Engineers?  Responses?

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Turning Your Bike Into A Paintbrush, and Other Ways To Create Community

Friday, November 12, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Can design be used to encourage bike riding? Pepin Gelardi and Teresa Herrmann, both designers, think so. The number one reason people don't ride, they tell GOOD Magazine, is because people feel outnumbered by cars and don't feel safe. So they created Contrail to visually show the bounty of bikes around town, to convey a sense of a cycling community and get people thinking they, too, can ride around their city.

Contrail turns bikes into (non-permanent) paintbrushes. Cyclists strap the device to the frame and the real wheel powers a pump that drips a stream of colorful chalking fluid along behind, trailing a bright line.

Image: Contrail

It's still in the prototype phase, so it's unclear if it would be adopted in any large number enough to achieve the designers' goal of conveying community through a city-wide cross hatch of colored strips and swirls.

Some bike advocates, however, are already big fans. The designers are encouraging them to imagine Contrail as a tool to draw attention to their cause of building cycle-friendly cities.

There is evidence this kind of tool would be adopted by activists. To advocate for a new bike lane, the artist collective Länsiväylä in Helsinki, Finland poured water-based paint on the street and had cyclists ride through it, trailing the colors along what the group hoped would become the new bike lane.

Flickr user Länsiväylä: Pyöräilykaista2010

Contrail designers also point out it would facilitate group rides of all stripes, from neighborhood tours to anything else, because the trails would make it easy to follow the leader/tour guide even if you lose sight. On their website, they say it can also facilitate fundraising, or just fun, as an artsy addition to city riding. They don't mention critical mass rallies, but it's easy to see how the cycling stalwarts behind the monthly ride to "reclaim" the streets would want to mark their territory, especially because there is no announced route ahead of time.

Watch a video of how Contrail works.

Contrail by Ulicu LLC from Teresa Herrmann on Vimeo.

The project is still a prototype in the fundraising phase with more details and a request for financial support at their Kickstarter page.

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TN Moving Stories: Amtrak No Longer Interested in ARC Tunnel, and Metro-North Now Nation's Busiest Commuter Rail Line

Friday, November 12, 2010

Amtrak breaks off talks with NJ Transit, says it's done talking about reviving the ARC tunnel. "We are no longer interested in this project," a spokesperson for the national rail agency said. "There were exploratory talks going on with NJ Transit. The talks have stopped. … That was commuter rail, and we are interested in intercity rail projects." (The Record)

NJ Gov Christie says his wife didn't like the ARC tunnel either. (The Record via NY Post)

Minneapolis's Northstar light rail line, which opened a year ago, is carrying 5% less passengers than anticipated.  Reasons? Maybe the economy...and low gas prices. Plans for an extension have been shelved. (St. Cloud Times)

General Electric is buying 25,000 electric cars--including 12,000 Chevy Volts. (Smart Planet)

The Florida Times-Union writes: "No one seems to know what Gov.-elect Rick Scott hopes to accomplish when it comes to roads and passenger rail."

Maine's highway fund is facing a potential shortfall of $720 million in the next two-year budget cycle. Interesting:  "The highway budget is funded for the most part by motor fuel taxes, which have grown static due to increasingly efficient vehicles." (Business Week)

The MTA is telling about half of Staten Island's Access-A-Ride customers to take a bus instead. (Staten Island Live)

America has a new busiest commuter rail line: In September, ridership on Metro-North surpassed the Long Island Rail Road's for the first time ever. (WSJ)

There's a booming resale market for the little three-wheeled vehicles most urban police departments use to look for parking violations.  Plus, it's just fun driving around terrifying people who think you're going to ticket them. (WSJ)

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