Alex Goldmark appears in the following:
Monday, October 25, 2010
The US Department of Transportation announced allocations for high-speed rail today. Florida is getting $800 million more for a plan to connect Tampa and Orlando. That leaves the project $360 million short of the needed $2.6 billion...but almost close enough to get started. The project has already received $1.25 billion in federal stimulus funds.
Up north on the east coast, AP is reporting Connecticut and Massachusetts are getting a combined $121 million from the federal government to launch high-speed rail across southern New England. The plan is intended to bring high-speed passenger rail service to New Haven, Hartford, and Springfield, Mass. within five years.
U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd's office has called this "a major federal investment." The money will go to refurbishing existing tracks, building a second one in parts and to upgrade and construct stations along the way.
Monday, October 25, 2010
One of our partners The Takeaway has opened a collaborative project to get people like you all across the country helping us really understand the American commute. You can send in snapshots and sounds of your daily routine.
Share the pictures and the sounds of your morning commute. Send us a photo, a video or audio of one thing that tells the story of your commute. It could be the train that always comes late. The people you see on the bus line. The spot where you always park your car.
The Takeaway will harvest your daily observations, insights and gripes and post the collection here for listeners to vote on their favorites. You can upload a photo or audio file here, or you can download The Takeaway iPhone app and use that.
What is the American commute? Tell us.
Friday, October 22, 2010
(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) The AP is reporting federal estimates for the ARC transit tunnel are considerably lower than those cited by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie when he pulled his support for the transit project citing cost concerns. According to AP reports, three government officials familiar with the transit project—the largest currently underway in the United States—confirm federal estimates for the tunnel are $9.77 billion, about $4 billion lower than the worst case scenario, $14 billion, cited by Governor Christie.
Just under $9 billion in funds are currently dedicated to the project including $3 billion from the federal government, $3 billion from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The State of New Jersey would be responsible for the rest, including any cost overruns, a liability that led Governor Christie to oppose the project. New York City and New York State are not paying any money for the tunnel.
Governor Christie pulled his support for the project two weeks ago, effectively canceling it. After meeting with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, he agreed to a two week reprieve, which ends on Friday. His office would not comment on the newly released figures cited by the AP.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) For the visual learners out there, Infrastructist came up with this infographic charting the growth in ridership—it has more than quadrupled since 1984. NJ Transit wants that green line above to keep getting fatter. But right now it can't. The agency says all the Hudson river crossings are currently at or near capacity already. The ARC tunnel would allow an additional 70,000 commuters to cross. Governor Chris Christie has said he's for the project, but that NJ can't afford it, particularly if there are cost overruns.
If you want moving visuals, here's the official NJ Transit promo video. (Still up, even though Gov. Christie says he's shutting the project down, pending the two-week review) It's a bit slow going at first, so fast forward to about 2:15 into the video to see renderings of the tunnel and new station (the computer generated commuters are a little creepy though, unless you're a fan of the video game the SIMS)
Monday, October 18, 2010
(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Buried deep within an excellent New York Times poll about the governor's race is a striking finding: 22% of New Yorkers would cut transportation to balance the budget. Given the choice of what to cut, transportation was the runaway choice over health care, and education.
This is the first time this question has been asked and there's a little unpacking to do here, so we called Marjorie Connelly, an Editor in the Survey Department of the New York Times.
"If you had to choose, which of the state funded services do you think should be cut, local education, higher education, health care, or transportation?"
There were no follow up questions, or specific definitions about what constitutes "transportation." So, Connelly posits that for this survey, of which this was just one tiny part, when respondents hear transportation they aren't thinking roads and bridges so much as commuter trains. "I think people are hearing public transit. They are probably thinking subways, and perhaps Metro-North type trains."
A few extra correlations run by the NYT support this. Connelly tells us they found that "the further you got away from New York City the more likely people were to pick transportation" as the area to cut. The less you use public transit the more you are likely to say cut it. That's logical.
Even in New York City, transportation was the plurality, but there's a gaping hole between New York City and upstate Downstate 38 percent chose transportation to cut, but upstate, far more people chose transportation to cut—58 percent of respondents.
No other factor seemed to predict who wants to cut transportation, not age, not race, not income, just location, a proxy for likelihood to use transit.
The answer might have changed if some sense of what the relative expenditures are for health care, education compared transportation. That would give a sense of which service is eating up most of the budget. If you are curious, New York State spends $4.3 billion on transportation compared to $14.2 billion on health, and $23.1 billion on local education not counting an additional $5.6 billion on higher education. That doesn't Medicaid spending.
In the same poll, 51 percent of respondents support reducing pension benefits for future state employees, and 35% think its a good idea to lay off 5% of state employees to balance the budget.
Other budget categories that were not asked about are human/social services, mental hygiene, public safety,and environment, categories with spending levels closer to transportation. It would be interesting to see how transportation stacks up against an expanded list.
Monday, October 18, 2010
Even in an anti-incumbent year, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), was considered one of the most invulnerable. The 11-term congressman won reelection in 2008 with 82% of the vote in his sprawling coastal Oregon district and was once heavily courted by Democrats to run for Senate. But now a recent GOP poll has DeFazio just 6 percentage points ahead of Republican Art Robinson. All the important caveats about the validity of one single poll — and a GOP internal one at that — of course apply here. But DeFazio chairs the House Highways and Transit subcommittee, so any prospect of his ouster does raise questions, especially about the prospects for the next national highway bill.
DeFazio has told constituents on the campaign trail that passing the $500 billion national highway authorization bill will be one of his top priorities should he be re-elected. The bill is in limbo now as lawmakers struggle to make up a $150 billion funding shortfall for the bill without taking the dreaded and politically suicidal step of raising the federal gas tax. DeFazio, who enjoys heavy support from transit unions, has made beefing up infrastructure and transit programs, including high-speed rail, a priority during his time at the head of the committee.
The Republican most likely to take over the Highways and Transit subcommittee in the event of a GOP House takeover is Rep. John "Jimmy" Duncan (R-Tenn.), an 11-term veteran who is nearly guaranteed re-election. Still, even in this fractious Congress, Duncan, a conservative, and DeFazio, a staunch progressive, are not as far apart as one would think on transportation policy.
Duncan has repeatedly called for a long-term reauthorization of the traditionally bi-artisan highway bill, which he helped craft along with DeFazio and other senior members of the House Transportation Committee. But Duncan has also joined calls for a ban on lawmakers' pet spending projects known as earmarks, which make up about one percent of total funding in any given highway bill. While that may not seem like much, it can easily decide the fate of that extra new lane on your local commercial road or the highway overpass your county council is trying to get built.
A broader question, beyond simply who heads up the Highways and Transit subcommittee, might be what a House GOP takeover means for big-picture federal spending. One of Republicans' biggest planks is reducing the government expenditure, especially on the domestic discretionary side. That could put GOP priorities and a well-funded highways bill at direct odds.
Republicans have already spent time attacking President Barack Obama's call for a $50 billion infrastructure spending package aimed at highways, rail lines, runways and air traffic control. The White House says it wants to try and pass the funding in the Lame Duck congressional session scheduled for the weeks after the midterm elections.
One poll isn't enough to suggest that DeFazio is really in danger of losing his seat. As surprising as those latest numbers are, poll aggregators like FiveThirtyEight still give DeFazio more than a 99% chance of reelection.
Monday, October 18, 2010
(Jerome Vaughn, WDET -- Detroit) General Motors is recalling more than 300-thousand vehicles, because of seat belt problems. The recall affects Chevrolet Impala sedans from the 2009 and the 2010 model years.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the front seat belt assembly may not have been properly anchored. The problem could prevent passengers from being secured by the seat belt during a crash, increasing the risk of injury.
GM says it has no reports of injuries or fatalities connected to the issue. Dealers will inspect both front seat belt assembles and make any necessary repairs at no cost to consumers. Affected owners will be notified by mail beginning later this month.
Friday, October 15, 2010
This position will contribute to Transportation Nation, so spread the word, or apply yourself.
WNYC News seeks Temporary Reporter to cover transportation, energy and the environment.
The WNYC newsroom is looking for an experienced reporter to cover transportation, energy and the environment from November 2010 to July 2011.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
(Washington, DC — Todd Zwillch, Transportation Nation) They say Social Security is the "third rail" of American politics. Nowhere is the metaphor more apt than in Florida.
But in the state's hotly-contested Senate race, actual rails are helping drive the debate as well.
Florida is on the receiving end of $1.25 billion in federal stimulus money targeted toward construction of high-speed rail service between Orlando and Tampa. But, now that government spending—and in particular the stimulus—are election issues, the fate of the project could hang in the balance.
During a three-way Senate debate last week, Republican candidate Marco Rubio said he opposes the project. Citing mounting deficits, he suggested he'd favor canceling the project, even though it would force Florida to forfeit the money already sent from Washington. If this sounds familiar, it should. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie shocked officials in his state, in New York, and in Washington, DC last week when he announced he'd kill his state's role in the ARC transit tunnel planned to run underneath the Hudson River to New York City.
In the Florida Senate race, Rubio is alone in his opposition to the high-speed rail project. Democratic candidate Rep. Kendrick Meek said he favors moving ahead with the rail plan. Independent Charlie Crist echoed a popular refrain, "jobs, jobs, jobs" when he said every $1 billion spent on the rail project would put 28,000 people to work.
Meek attacked Rubio, saying he was "willing to make sure people from Tampa to Orlando to Daytona to South Florida sit in traffic for the next 20 years," according to The Ledger of Lakeland, Fl.
Rubio now leads Christ by an average of at least 11 percentage points, with Meek trailing far in third place. Rubio is now considered the runaway favorite in the race, though that could change if rumors that Meek could pull out of the race turn out to be true. Such a move would surely give Crist a huge boost in the polls.
Rick Scott, the GOP candidate for governor in Florida, has also quesitoned the rail project. And Florida isn't alone. The New York Times reports that conservative candidates around the country are vowing to oppose continuing with rail projects stemming from an $8 billion slice of the Recovery Act.
Manhattan Select Bus Service's Launching Pains: Cranky Passengers, Cabs in the Bus Lane, Faster Ride
Thursday, October 14, 2010
(Alex Goldmark — Transportation Nation) Manhattan got its first taste of "bus rapid transit" this week. New York's MTA calls it Select Bus Service, and it is rolling up and down dedicated red lanes...well, mostly.
I rode the M15 SBS in afternoon traffic from one of the busiest stops at 14th street through Midtown and up into the more residential (and busier) Upper East Side until 68th street, talking to riders along the way. For most of the trip it was clear this is a bus line working out the kinks on a good idea. Riders were still learning how to use the new payment system, which is on the sidewalk, not on the bus. And, to put it kindly, drivers of other vehicles are still learning to stay out of the bus lanes.
In all it took me just about 30 minutes each direction, a little under that going northbound and a little over heading southbound.
(There's some dispute about whether New York's system can even be fairly called BRT, since it doesn't include several important features of the systems in Bogota and Guanzhou, China, like physically separated lanes and BRT "stations" similar to light rail stations.)
That's fast in comparison to last week's options. Two riders told me they are now getting to work in half the time—but transit riders are notoriously inaccurate when estimating travel times. Most riders, though, haven't yet timed out their trips. They were more confused with the new payment system and with a route that now skips stops that the old express or "limited" bus used to make.
All along the route, though, New York City Department of Transportation and transit employees were on hand to explain how the new vending machines work, and answer questions about the new route. And man, were they needed.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
(Jerome Vaugn, WDET - Detroit) General Motors’ employees will soon have a chance to purchase the company’s new stock. The Detroit automaker is working on details of its initial public offering of new, post bankruptcy stock.
GM has sent letters to its employees, retirees, and auto dealers allowing them to register for a chance to purchase the stock at its IPO price. The prospective stockholders must invest at least one thousand dollars to register for the purchase.
GM officials hope to raise enough money through the IPO – and later offerings – to repay about $43 billion in government loans. The U.S. government currently owns about 61 percent of General Motors.
The automaker filed for federal bankruptcy protection in June 2009, essentially wiping out the value of the company’s original stock and many workers' retirement savings as well.
The deadline for employees, retirees and dealers to register for the IPO is October 22nd. The IPO is expected to take place next month.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
(Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) Just one unlucky plane-load of passengers got stranded on the tarmac for more than three hours in August, according to government figures released Tuesday. It was a United Airlines flight leaving San Juan on August 5.
The Bureau of Transportation Statistics says the one three-hour-plus delay is down sharply from 66 in August, 2009. The Department of Transportation attributes the drop to new federal rules restricting the scenarios in which long tarmac delays are allowed. While the stoppages used to be be the bane of frustrated travelers nationwide, now they're only permitted in cases where air traffic control deems them necessary to protect safety or smooth airport operations.
DOT also says that airlines canceled 1% of all flights in August, 2010, the same percentage that canceled them a year ago.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a hopeful pilot program Tuesday to reduce the amount of cars, traffic and pollution caused by municipal employees. Three-hundred City workers will carshare 25 vehicles, mostly housed in downtown Manhattan.
According to a press release, the program will start as a one-year pilot in partnership with the private company Zipcar, but the city is already projecting cost savings four years out at more than $500,000 in reduced fuel, maintenance, and vehicle purchase costs.
There is solid precedent for that kind of thinking. Washington has a succesful program, as does Philadelphia. In fact, when Philadelphia started their program in 2004, the City was able to sell off 329 vehicles. In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg ordered City agencies last year to reduce non-emergency, light-duty vehicles by 10 percent, resulting in the sale of 750 vehicles already, 50 additional cars will be sold as part of the pilot program announced Tuesday.
The New York City program will also use a computer reservation system and restrict the amount of cars available during rush hours to prevent the shared vehicles from being used for, or clogging commutes. After hours, most of the 23 hybrid cars and 2 mid-sized vans, will be open for public reservation.
When Austin launched a similar program with 200 cars in May 2009, initial demand was triple expectations. That program also offered a feature that let city workers check out cars for personal use with a pay-by-the-minute rate to remove the incentive to bring your own car for personal transport and running errands. Oh, and Austin used a fleet Smart cars, easier parking that way, cute too.
Monday, October 11, 2010
(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) The NY Times cooked up this handy graphic. Look at how the only category where Americans significantly scaled back spending this year is transportation.
What's causing the disproportionate transportation belt-tightening then? Well it is not that gas prices are cheaper than 2009, as AAA's Daily Fuel Guage shows. In fact, gasoline prices have been on a steady increase since right about January 2009, according to the Department of Energy's Energy Information Association.
Maybe the answer is public transit. As Andrew Price at GOOD points out, public transportation ridership hit an all-time high in 2009. We'll have to wait for 2010 data to see if America hits a new transit high to confirm the theory, but it could just be easier to squelch that extra road trip, than it is not to ask the kids to go without new clothes or a doctor's visit.
Monday, October 11, 2010
(Todd Zwillich, Washington, D.C.) President Obama renewed his pitch for a transportation infrastructure overhaul on Monday, touting new spending as a way to create jobs.
Obama framed crumbling infrastructure as an election year issue, contrasting traditionally bipartisan support for transportation projects against the current polarized political climate.
"Our infrastructure is woefully inefficient and it is outdated," the president said in a statement in front of reporters in the White House Rose Garden. "This is a season for choices, and this is the choice." he said. (Video and transcript of his speech here.)
Obama reiterated his proposal to spend $50 billion to rebuild highways, railways, and airport infrastructure. The plan, originally unveiled on Labor Day, seeks to rebuild some 150,000 miles of highways and 4,000 miles of railroads. Airport runway expansions and updates to obsolete air traffic control systems are also included.
The spending would be in addition to the Recovery Act stimulus package, which, for lawmakers who voted for it, has become a political liability in the midterm elections. To counter those concerns the White House released a report along with the Treasury Department warning that the nation loses $80 billion annually in hampered productivity because of crumbling roads and bridges, traffic delays and closures.
"We're already paying for our failure to act," the president said.
In an effort to underscore the traditional bipartisan support for infrastructure projects, Obama appeared in the Rose Garden with former Secretaries of Transportation from both Democratic and Republican administrations. Ray LaHood, the current Transportation Secretary, said the administration plans to push Congress to act on the $50 billion proposal during the Lame Duck congressional session after the elections, then pursue a broader, 6-year highways bill in 2011.
That highway bill has been stalled as lawmakers hunt for a way to pay for new projects. The bill is currently at least $150 billion short in funding, and lawmakers are hesitant to tack the new spending onto the national debt, according to congressional aides. House members are waiting for the Senate to introduce a broader highway bill, though senators are having difficulty deciding on how to pay for the package.
One option is to increase the federal gas tax, which is traditionally used to fund highway projects. Most lawmakers have refused to consider a gas tax increase, both because of its political peril and also for fear of hampering businesses and households during bad economic times.
"I'm not going to stand here and list all the options. There are a lot of things being discussed," LaHood said when asked by reporters how the administration will want to pay for new highway projects. Asked by a reporter whether a gas tax increase is off the table, LaHood said, "I think you know the answer to that."
UPDATED: Video/Audio Remarks on Infrastructure from Obama, LaHood, Minetta, Skinner, Rendell, Villaraigosa
Monday, October 11, 2010
UPDATED here is additional audio from today's White House Infrastructure event:
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood calls for action.
Former Secretary of Transportation for George W. Bush, Norman Minetta calls Obama "the Infrastructure President" and lays out his brief arguments for support.
Former Transportation Secretary and Chief of Staff for President George H. W. Bush, Sam Skinner on on overcoming partisanship to invest in infrastructure.
Governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, makes the case for thinking long term. He says, “this country cannot stop investing.”
Mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa says we need to do this because we’re not keeping up, we’re doing 1/3 of what Europe is doing and "we’re not even in the same league as China.”
And here is President Obama's speech text from Whitehouse.gov.
Remarks by the President on Rebuilding America's Infrastructure. Rose Garden. 11:08 a.m.
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody. I just had a meeting with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, and governors like Ed Rendell, mayors like Antonio Villaraigosa, and economists and engineers from across the country to discuss one of America’s greatest challenges: our crumbling infrastructure and the urgent need to put Americans back to work upgrading it for the 21st century.
Monday, October 11, 2010
President Barack Obama is convening cabinet members, governors, mayors and other leaders to drum up support infrastructure spending. He's expected to make the case that his $50 billion transportation bill will create jobs as well as roads, rails and airports. Our man in Washington, Todd Zwillich, will be watching this and checking back with any developments.
Affordable, commercial space travel passed another toll yesterday. Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic completed a successful test flight Sunday. Branson called it the world's first manned commercial space flight, but were no passengers, just two pilots. There are already 370 customers on the waiting list paying a total of $50 million so far.
Two public transportation systems released figures that showed reductions or lack of growth in riders. San Fransisco's MTA estimates 10 million fewer riders than last year. In Dallas, DART held steady.
It won't help bring in riders in the short term, but London transit officials are initiating talks with counterparts in major cities around the world, including New York, to implement a single transit card that would work on all subway and bus systems. Great for travelers, and credit card companies, commuters won't get to weigh in until after 2012 at the earliest.
Fill more seats, fly fewer planes. That seems to be working as airlines are finding stability, and profits, without buying new planes. It is the first time since the 1970s that airlines have avoided buying new aircraft.
And finally, the Hoover Dam has a rival. The Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge, set to be dedicated next week, opened to cyclists over the weekend. It connects Arizona and Nevada with a 1,900 foot span across Black Canyon, 900 feet above the Colorado River just 1,500 feet downstream from its massive neighbor. Great views of the dam is the early word.
Friday, October 01, 2010
(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) New diesel fuel economy standards are expected to be finalized within a week and some in the diesel industry are taking the occasion to remind us about the other way to reduce pollution, making engine technology cleaner with clean diesel. The new regulations are expected to require diesel engines to increase miles per gallon performance primarily for light trucks and heavy-duty vehicles, but regulating that category is no easy task.
In Europe, 50% of the cars on the road are diesel according to the Diesel Technology Forum. Here in the U.S though, diesel vehicles make up just 3% of of our vehicles, accounting for 10% of our nation's oil consumption, and 20% of the transit-related pollution. That's an environmental opportunity when you think of what a few extra miles-per-gallon would do with a bus or truck that travels over a million miles during its lifetime.
Its a complicated matter though to set fuel efficiency standards for heavy duty vehicles, a category that covers tractor trailers as well as construction vehicles like dump trucks. The fuel is consumed in many different ways, it could be used making cross country highway trips or in operating equipment on the truck while stationary like a cement mixer. Some vehicles go 100,000 miles a year, others may not travel more than a few hundred, like a fire truck. Some argue per-mile efficiency may not be the best metric for reducing diesel consumption and pollution across the board. The NYT has a nice explanation of this and other regulatory puzzles that explain some of the delay in targeting this class of transit polluter.
Mileage standards are certainly one way to reduce diesel pollution, but technology is another. In anticipation of the new regulations, clean diesel advocates at the Diesel Technology Forum pointed out a 52% rise in clean diesel vehicle sales over a year ago. No one expects clean diesel to rival hybrids for the mantle of greener cars, but it may well be a growth market and an eco-opportunity.
One recent study by the National Academy of Sciences estimates that we can cut fuel consumption in heavy-duty vehicles almost in half with the combination of new technologies and diesel fuel economy standards. That's likely the kind of hopeful case for change the Obama administration will make when they release the official standards.
Thursday, September 30, 2010
(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) The Federal Highway Administration is telling New York to replace a quarter of a million street signs to conform to national standards. It all comes down to readability. The FHA argues that the additional milliseconds it takes to discern what a sign says, keeping eyes off the road, amount to a safety risk.
The current signs are in all caps (above), the new ones will introduce lowercase (below). They will also be in a specially designed font called Clearview.
The ruling actually came down in 2003 with a fifteen year deadline to New York and other communities around the country. It came to light today when the New York Daily News reported that the cost of the street sign copy edit will be $27.5 million. New York replaces 8,000 signs each year anyway for general wear and tear, so the gradual phase in of the $110 signs won't cause any major hassle to the city's Department of Transportation.
That's probably why NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg castigated a Daily News reporter at a press conference for asking a question on the topic, calling it "the most ridiculous question that I've been presented with in nine years."
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Amtrak released a plan for high speed rail travel along the North East corridor Tuesday. It's an aspirational vision designed to show Congress (and travelers) what's possible.
The vision: by 2040, up to four trains an hour would zip off in both directions from downtown stations, reaching top speeds of 220 mph. You'd be able to travel from Boston to Washington DC in three hours, half the time it takes now.
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari says, if implemented, this would change the way we use rail. Right now, “the thought of being able to travel from lets say Philadelphia to New York and get there in the same lunch hour is something that doesn’t happen right now.” Shooting for speed is about more than a cheese steak power lunch though. The faster the trains travel, the more people the same rail corridor can carry.