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TN Moving Stories: Taking on Railroad Pricing, Colorado Highways Tip Into the "poor" column, and X Prize Marks the Fuel-Efficient Spot

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Do railroads have too much pricing power over farmers? Some say yes, and the head of the federal Surface Transportation Board says he's considering new rules governing freight rail pricing. (Wall Street Journal)

A penny for your thoughts: most Fulton County mayors say they support a one-cent sales tax to fund transportation. But since the referendum is two years away, let the legislative games begin! (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Streetsblog takes a look at three "transit villains" who went down in this week's New York primary. Meanwhile, the New York Times wonders if Eric Schneiderman's past as a public-interest lawyer suing the MTA will win him votes in November.

X Prize marks the fuel-efficient spot: three teams split $10 million prize to create fuel efficient cars. (NPR)  Hey, one of the winners is from Virginia!  (WAMU)

For the first time since state transportation officials began documenting road conditions, more than half of all Colorado's DOT-maintained highways are in poor condition. (Denver Post)

New Yorkers, get your lawn chairs and astroturf and prepare to reclaim some parking spaces: Park(ing) Day NYC is tomorrow. Click here to find a Park(ing) spot.

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Federal Funds Tied to Distracted Driving Laws

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

(Washington, DC -- Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation)  Lawmakers in Washington are moving to withhold federal highway funds to states that don't crack down on distracted driving.

A new bill introduced today would dock 25% of annual federal aid from states that don't enact or enforce distracted driving laws. The bill goes by the catchy handle, "The Avoiding Life-Endangering and Reckless Texting by Drivers Act", or ALERT Act.

The bill orders the Department of Transportation to withhold the money from any state that doesn't prohibit an operator of a motor vehicle from writing, sending, or reading a text message or using a hand-held mobile telephone except in an emergency. It excludes vehicle-integrated, voice-activated devices that can be operated hands-free. States would also have to require the imposition of certain minimum penalties for distracted driving rule-breakers.

"There is no reason for any life to be lost due to distracted driving. We are a smart nation and the technology is available, we just need to put it to work to save lives,” Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), the bill's chief sponsor, said in a release.

Thirty-one states currently ban texting while driving, according to AAA. Thirty-two outlaw teens from using cell phones while driving, while far fewer ban all hand-held cell phone use.

The bill comes just days before DOT is set to convene its second "Distracted Driving Summit" next Tuesday. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood has made distracted driving a top priority, saying all states should move to curb it. Several months ago LaHood publicly embarrassed a pair of lobbying firms when they tried to rally cell service carriers and other companies in a campaign to undermine distracted driving awareness campaigns at DOT.

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Christie Owns His Role in Halting Giant Transit Tunnel; Planners Dismayed.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) "People who use New Jersey Transit have to pay for New Jersey Transit." That's what Governor Chris Christie told the Star-Ledger Editorial Board last spring. NJ Transit fares hadn't been raised in years, he argued, and that wasn't responsible. But neither, a member of the board pointed out, had the gas tax. In fact, the fare had been raised three years earlier -- the gas tax, not in 21 years. "What's the difference between a gas tax hike and a fare hike -- besides who it lands on?" asked another of the journalists.

"That's the difference," Christie said. "My policy choice is that drivers have paid increased tolls two years in the last four years and I didn't think it was their turn to feel the pain." (The Tri-State Transportation Campaign fact-checks that -- they say it's actually been one raise, in seven years.)

Christie seems to making a similar policy choice today: with the highway trust fund broke, and no money to pay for roads, Christie says he's reluctant to use state funds to pay for a transit tunnel. Not when there are so many other pressing infrastructure needs. "And if I can’t pay for it, then we’ll have to consider other options," he told reporters.

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Shallow Waters Tarred With Deepwater Brush

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

(Houston — Wendy Siegle, KUHF)   There may be a moratorium on deepwater drilling, but that doesn't mean the Gulf of Mexico's shallow waters are immune from stricter regulation. More stringent rules mean the federal government is now taking longer to grant permits to operate in the shallow waters, and drillers aren't pleased.

(Oil Rigs near Huntington Beach/Aaron Logan)

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Michigan's (Bridge) Commitment Issues

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

(Detroit - Noah Ovshinsky, WDET) -  The proposed second bridge crossing between Detroit and Windsor has been in limbo in recent months. The legislation that essentially authorizes the project--commonly called the DRIC (Detroit River International Crossing)--is stalled in the state senate. Critics say the bridge is unneeded and too expensive. But in Ontario, the project is moving full steam ahead--even though its U.S. partner has yet to commit.

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DC Metro Gets a Good Rap, Musically-Speaking

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

(Washington, DC - Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) Chronic delays, elevator outages, comically dysfunctional escalators. So many things give Washington DC's Metro system a bad rap. So much so, apparently, that Metro's badness actually has... a rap.

Local musical lampooner Remy Munasifi has just hit Metro with a new rap video,

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TN Moving Stories: Bike-Themed Restaurants, On-The-Go EV Charging, and Trans-Hudson Tunnel Update

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Who halted the Trans-Hudson tunnel?  NJ Governor Christie owns up, says: "If I can't pay for it, then we'll have to consider other options." (Newark Star-Ledger)

Cash for Clunkers...a clunker?  Two economists say that the spending program failed to achieve the desired economic boost.  (Freakonomics/New York Times)

The effect of the program on auto purchases was significantly more short-lived than previously suggested. We also find no evidence of an effect on employment, house prices, or household default rates in cities with higher exposure to the program.

One Wisconsin restaurateur hopes to start the "bike restaurant movement" in Madison.  Bike-themed Velo Bahn to open next year, replete with locally produced food...and indoor bike parking.  (Wisconsin State Journal)

Say your electric car runs out of juice while you're driving.  When you call roadside assistance, will they have a way to boost your battery?  One company has developed what it says is "on-the-go EV charging." (Fast Company)

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Time is money in Bay Area HOT lanes

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

(San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) How much do you value your time? That’s the question drivers will have to ask themselves if they hit heavy traffic on I-680 next week: do they want to wait it out, for free, or zip into an open lane that might cost $6 or more to use? Beginning next Monday, a 14-mile stretch of I-680 between Sunol and Milpitas will have a new traffic lane that accepts both carpools (which ride free) and single drivers (who will have to pay).

The I-680 project is a pilot for what officials say will someday be an 800-mile network of high-occupancy/toll lanes (HOT lanes) around the Bay. The lanes are new to this area, but they’ve been around for years in several cities around the country; the first such lanes opened in 1995 down in Orange County. Though there’s some regional variation to how they work, HOT lanes are based on the idea that placing a value on the ability to avoid congestion lightens the traffic load for everybody. Those who are willing to pay, do, but enough people don’t that traffic in the lane always moves freely.

The pay-to-play structure means that the lanes are often derided as “Lexus Lanes” that make things a little cushier for the wealthy while unfairly penalizing the poor. Unfortunately, there’s not much empirical research on whether this is true, and what studies there have been show conflicting results.

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TX Lieutenant Gov: State DOT Needs to Fix Relationships -- and Roads

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

(Houston — Wendy Siegle, KUHF)  Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst was in Houston today to discuss the state of Texas transportation. He says the Texas Department of Transportation needs to make some serious changes if it wants to tackle the state's congestion problems.  While Dewhurst gave some praise to the Texas Department of Transportation, he also had some harsh words for the agency.  “I’ve never seen a state agency in my seven and half years as Lieutenant Governor that has such poor public relations with the legislature, and most Texans.”

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TN Moving Stories: Time is Money on one California Highway, and DC Metro's Show and Tell

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Virginia residents get their first look at the plans to build a new Metro line out to Dulles Airport. (WAMU) Meanwhile, Metro shows off how it plans to spend some of its $202 million in federal stimulus dollars: 48 new hybrid buses and expanding transit services for the disabled. (Washington Post)

But maybe DC transit should talk to Boston: the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's new hybrid buses haven't quelled riders' discontent with overall service. (Boston Globe)

The New York City MTA held its first public hearing about the upcoming fare hikes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, attendees seem to skew towards being...unsupportive. (WNYC)

Crowdsourcing roadkill: one university in California is trying to gauge the impact of vehicles on wildlife. (New York Times)

Time is money, especially on I-680: starting next week, California begins piloting a program that would allow drivers to pay to drive in a traffic-free lane. (KALW)

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NYC To Begin Hearings on Fare Hikes

Monday, September 13, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Seems like New Yorkers have hardly gotten over the jolt of dozens of bus line cuts, service reductions, and more crowded and dirtier trains, but here it is already. Tonight the NYC MTA begins hearings on a round of proposed fare hikes that would both raise and limit the use of "unlimited" cards and make other unsavory upward adjustments.

But a coalition of groups is trying to shift the focus from the MTA to the State Legislature.

"Unless the State Legislature makes funding the transit system a real priority," the groups (Straphangers, TriState Transportation Campaign, Transportation Alternatives, and the Pratt Center) say in a statement "subway and bus riders will continue to face a world of hurt – from soaring fares to cuts in service to more unreliable trains and buses to a crumbling system."

The groups also want MTA Chair Jay Walder to release the authority's underlying data on usage of the various MTA discounts -- a test for the historically secretive agency which has pledged a new era of transparency.

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Houston Voters Back Red Light Cameras

Monday, September 13, 2010

Red light cameras have emerged as a hot button issue this election season. The cameras -- posted at intersections and designed to enforce traffic laws -- perfectly embody this election season's tensions. Proponents say they encourage safer driving, saving lives. But opponents find them intrusive and feel enraged by the fees and fines a red light camera sets off.

In Ohio, Republican Matt Brakey has gained traction by protesting the cameras.

So it's interesting find that Houston -- where drivers have an average 40 mile-commute to work, the nation's longest -- actually likes red light cameras. A 11-News/KUHF survey finds by a 11-point margin -- with just four percent undecided, Houstonians from all walks of life -- Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal -- like red light cameras.

"This is a big departure from what we’ve seen in other parts of the country, particularly just up the road in College Station, where this went up in defeat,” Prof. Bob Stein, 11 News’ political analyst, tells the station's news team.

Why is that, Houstonians? (-Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)

Full story here.

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NJ Sierra Club Thrilled Over Hudson Tunnel Moratorium

Monday, September 13, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) This just in from the Sierra Club on the ARC Tunnel:

Stopping a Runaway Train

The Sierra Club is pleased that New Jersey Transit’s Access to the Region’s Core project (ARC) has been halted. This month long hold on the project is the right course of action. This multi-billion dollar tunnel is like a runaway train that’s on track to go at least a billion dollars over budget.

This time out should be used to allow the different agencies responsible for our transit needs to get together and come up with a comprehensive transportation plan for the region that will actually work. This is important because Amtrak has decided to build its own tunnel due to the fact that the ARC tunnel does not meet any of its needs. The New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund is broke and no money is available for cost overruns. That should be incentive for New Jersey Transit to work with Amtrak to fit the ARC Tunnel in with the Amtrak Capital Plan.

The Sierra Cub thanks the Christie Administration for temporarily stopping this project. We believe this break will allow us to look at the real costs of the project, fix it so it better meets the needs of the people, and save taxpayers money.

“This time out is important for the transportation needs of the region because we can come up with a comprehensive transportation plan that works and that will save the taxpayers of New Jersey money,” New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said.

In a phone conversation, Tittel tells me that his group is in favor of a transit tunnel, but feels the current plan to have the tunnel terminate a long block away from the Amtrak station is ill-advised, and that it will undermine NJ Transit's ability to lure more passengers or to run through trains from Long Island to New Jersey.

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a group generally in synch with the Sierra Club on environmental issues, says it's baffled by Tittel's opposition. "By getting more people out of their cars and into automobiles, this project will help the environment," spokeswoman Veronica Vanterpool says. "We wish they were for it."

The rest of the Sierra Club's release after the jump.

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New Tarmac Delay Rule May Be Working As Planned

Monday, September 13, 2010

(Washington, DC -- David Schultz, WAMU) Data released today by the U.S. Department of Transportation shows a new rule designed to prevent airlines from delaying their passengers on airport tarmacs may be working.

Only three flights in July of this year experienced a tarmac delay of three hours or more, the DOT says. That's compared with 161 flights with three hour tarmac delays in July of 2009.

DOT enacted its new tarmac delay rule in April. The rule was designed to combat the growing trend of passengers stranded on grounded planes for hours. Under the new rule, airlines are prohibited from keeping passengers on a grounded plane for more than three hours, unless there are mitigating safety or security factors.

Some airline industry analysts had worried this rule would prompt the airlines to simply cancel flights if they felt they couldn't make that three hour window. But, according to DOT data, that hasn't happened.

Large airline carriers only cancelled 1.4 percent of their domestic flights in July, the DOT says, only slightly up from the same time last year - and slightly down from the month before.

For more info, see this report.

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Why Was the Trans-Hudson River Tunnel Halted?

Monday, September 13, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) When the Newark Star Ledger reported yesterday that NJ Transit would be suspending activity on the so-called ARC tunnel (which stands for "access to the region's core") under the Hudson river, planners sat up in alarm.

The tunnel will allow NJ transit trains to effectively double their capacity into Manhattan, making transit an option for tens of thousands of NJ drivers, and bringing a steady stream of workers to midtown Manhattan ( Thirty Fourth Street and Sixth Avenue, to be precise). There, they'll be able to take the 34th Street bus rapid transit, planned for 2012, to gain access to a major new Manhattan development site, the Hudson Yards, on the far West Side.

The $8.7 billion project is funded half the the Port Authority, half by NJ Transit (which gets a dedicated stream of funding from Garden State Parkway Tolls), and is getting $1 billion in funding from the federal stimulus bill.

It's the largest single infrastructure recipient of stimulus funds under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, or ARRA, and is seen as crucial the the New York-New Jersey region's economic development.

But -- shock of shocks -- it may go over budget, and hence, as the Ledger reported it: " The month-long suspension of all new activity - imposed by NJ Transit Executive Director James Weinstein in the wake of concerns by the Federal Transit Administration - will be used to re-examine the budget numbers."

In the planning community today, there's an awful lot of head-scratching.  Did this really come from the FTA, and was the FTA legitimately concerned about costs?

If so, why? Other huge Manhattan infrastructure projects, like the Second Avenue Subway, have proceeded without full funding, the theory being that a significant infusion of funds to get a project going ends up drawing down more funds in future, by creating momentum around a project.

Does this signify that NJ Governor Chris Christie is backing away from ARC, or that he'd like to see the Garden State Parkway revenue go to other projects? Christie has been an opponent of raising the gas tax, and NJ's highway trust fund, like the federal government's is broke.

We're trying to sort this out...let us know what you're hearing.

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Moving Stories: Roads Deadlier than AIDS; 100 Tons of Diesel in the Nile; "stylish, female bikers"

Monday, September 13, 2010

More children killed on roads in poorest nations than by AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria (Guardian)

100 tons of diesel spill into Nile as barge sinks (CNN)

First hot lanes to open on I-680 in Bay Area (SF Chronicle)

"Stylish, female riders leading the charge" for biking in cities (Daily Beast)

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Montreal: City of the Future?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) I was in Montreal recently, on a family vacation. Upon arriving, I was immediately overwhelmed -- by the number of bikers. Everyone, it seemed, was riding -- families with children, young people, people in fancy suits, kids in school uniforms, hot rods in spandex. Cyclists on fancy machines with aerodynamics helmets, and hordes on the sturdy, gray-and-black Bixi bike share bikes. The two-way protected bike lanes which fill the town were full to the brim, especially around the evening commute, which is when I arrived.

Now, Montreal's outside life is a seasonal thing. The Bixi bikes are stored inside for the harsh winters, and traffic regs for bikes go out of effect November 16-March 31. But for the summers at least, Montreal seems to have achieved what many U.S. cities are after -- a division of the streets that discourages the use of personal automobiles, where cyclists are relatively safe and motorists aren't confused by looming, lawbreaking cyclists.

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Houston to Get Bike Share

Friday, September 10, 2010

(Houston -- Wendy Siegle, KUHF) The City of Houston will launch a bike share program "early next year" city Sustainability Director Laura Spanjian tells KUHF. The city was awarded $423,000 by the federal EPA to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. The city will also use the grant to increase its electric car infrastructure. The full story, here.

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The Near Death of Reagan National Airport After 9/11

Friday, September 10, 2010

(Washington, DC - David Schultz, WAMU News) This week on WAMU, we aired a story about the closure of Reagan National Airport after the 9/11 attacks.

Some background: all U.S. airports shut down the day of the attacks. All but one reopened a few days later. That one was Washington D.C.'s Reagan National, which stayed closed for three more weeks.

In the terrifying days and weeks following 9/11, it didn't require much of a leap to imagine Reagan National - located just a few miles from the Capitol and the White House - being used as a launching pad for terrorism. So the Bush Administration, acting at the behest of the Secret Service, shut it down indefinitely.

For the details on what happened next,

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Redskins in First Place, For Once

Friday, September 10, 2010

Fans of the Washington Redskins already know they're stuck with one of the worst teams in the NFL. But the worst traffic?  Afraid so, at least according to a report out by TomTom, a portable GPS and car navigation company.

The survey says that traffic on the roads around FedEx field, where the Redskins play in Landover, Md., slows down an average of 57% on game days compared to the rest of the week. That's the worst game-day congestion of anywhere in the National Football League. The next worst traffic is a 55% percent slowdown at the New England Patriots' Foxboro Stadium and the Buffalo Bills' Ralph Wilson Stadium.

USAToday first reported on the survey in its Huddle blog.  In case you're wondering, Superbowl champions the New Orleans Saints rank 12th worst in the traffic rankings with a an average 29% slowdown on game day. And the best in the league? Oakland, Calif., where traffic on game day is actually 10% faster than during the rest of the week. -- Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation

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