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Alex Goldmark

Alex Goldmark appears in the following:

Legal Challenge for Taxi Hail Apps with NYC Yellow Cabs

Friday, February 15, 2013

Listen to a conversation about why NYC Taxi innovations so often result in litigation.

The latest effort to reform and remake New York City's taxi industry has met a similar roadblock as previous efforts: a lawsuit.  Livery cab drivers have filed suit to block a rule change that was set to go into effect Friday permitting yellow cabs to accept passengers through smartphone apps.

But city officials say they're reviewing apps as planned and hope to have the system up and running soon.

In New York, yellow cabs have the right to pick up passengers who hail them on the street, but can't be dispatched by phone. Livery cabs are a different category of taxi that can only pick up passengers who call ahead to pre-arrange a pick up.

Taxi apps like Uber, HailO, FlyWheel and ZabKab allow passengers to see where they are on a map and where nearby cabs are, then with a few taps on a touchscreen, hail a cab to come pick them up. 

If the city's 13,237 yellow cabs are allowed to pre-arrange pickups through apps like that, it amounts to a violation of Taxi and Limousine Commission regulations that distinguish yellow medallion cabs from livery cabs, the lawsuit filed Thursday alleges. (Lawsuit is here)

The spokesperson said the apps could go live after March 1 when a contract expires with the companies that provide the in-cab credit card processing and other technology--a suite of services known in the taxi industry as TPEP for Taxicab Passenger Enhancements Project. The TPEP contract would prohibit payment through a third parties, like the smartphone apps. That contract was set to expire today, but has been extended to March 1.

The TLC says four smartphone app companies have already submitted apps for approval and are being reviewed for features like integration with the meter and usability by drivers so they aren't dangerously distracted by their phones while on the road.

So called e-hail apps can make finding a cab easier and driving one more profitable, according to Anil Yazici, a Research Associate at the University Transportation Research Center. "This will bring some efficiency to the search process," he says. 

Yellow cabs in New York spend 40 percent of their time empty looking for fares, especially during off-hours and outside the city center. Yazici says apps "won't eliminate empty trips, that's for sure. But surely it will reduce the empty percentages."

It could also reduce business to livery cabs. In the past just about every change in taxi rules that could cut into the business of one category of cab has resulted in court battles. Earlier this year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan was blocked to add a new category of outer borough "green" cabs that would have a meter and be allowed to pick up street hails outside Manhattan's central business district. (Ruling) Another plan to convert all yellow cabs to a single new car model known as the Taxi of Tomorrow is also facing a court challenge.

The latest legal challenge against yellow cab e-hail apps goes to court on February 28th.

NYC yellow cabs are a $2.5 billion industry and carry over 500,000 passengers a day. 

 

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Watch Outraged Infrastructure Humor, Daily Show Style

Friday, February 15, 2013

Of the many options for political humor served up earlier this week in the State of the Union speech, the Daily Show's Jon Stewart chose infrastructure. Yup, bridges. With his usual  exuberant brand of comic outrage he even went so far as suggesting President Obama should have made infrastructure the top issue in the State of the Union speech.

You can start the video two minutes in for the best part.

Stewart zeroes in on one line in particular, the one where the president mentions "70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country."
As we've reported before, as many as one in nine bridges are structurally deficient -- which doesn't mean about to collapse -- and 210 million vehicles pass over those bridges every day.
But Stewart is not happy.

Stewart: "Shouldn't you have led the speech with that one?" Stewart implores. "I mean, c'mon, shouldn't you have just opened with that one. Or broken into whatever programming was scheduled the night you found that BLEEP out?!?!"

He goes on to suggest what the speech might have been like if Obama had focused entirely on crumbling bridges, and even gives a special, ignoble mention of the Tappan Zee, which we've covered extensively.

According to a TN analysis before the previous SOTU, bridges and infrastructure were pretty  common words mentioned by Obama in public speeches.

 

 

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NYC Mayor Wants 10,000 New Electric Vehicle Charging Spaces

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Rapid charging station - gives full charge in around 30 minutes

A rapid charging station that gives a full charge in around 30 minutes to electric vehicles.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to add 10,000 public parking spots for electric vehicles over the next seven years.

According to prepared remarks for his 12th and final State of the City address Thursday, the Mayor says:

“This year we’ll pilot curbside vehicle chargers that will allow drivers to fill up their battery in as little as 30 minutes. We’ll work with the City Council to amend the Building Code so that up to 20 percent of all new public parking spaces will be wired and ready for electric vehicles."

The proposal would require that a fifth of new parking spaces to be charging stations for electric vehicles.  Zoning laws in New York require the construction of new parking spaces along with new building construction, usually in the form of parking garages under or next to the building. According to the mayor's office, about 10,000 new parking spaces are added each year in this way.

The City currently has 100 public charging stations and 120 for the city's own fleet of EVs. Thirty more government stations would be added under this proposal.

Building public charging stations however is no easy task. As experience in other cities has shown, building codes, utility cooperation and construction permitting can all slow or impede installation of EV charging stations on public streets.

Private companies began installing public charging stations in New York City in 2010. According to a New York state initiative last year, there were about 400 charging stations set to be live by April 2013. San Francisco city government offered free charging in about 20 public garages at one point. Houston has built, or plans to build about 50 charging stations.

Under the mayor's NYC proposal the city would also initiate testing of curbside charging with two  chargers that can fill batteries in as little as 30 minutes, rather than the standard eight hours. One would be in Seward Park, a middle class apartment development and park on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

The second station will be just for electric taxis, located at the ConEdison Building. This year six all-electric Nissan Leaf taxis will join the more than 13,000 yellow cabs already on the road. The winning model for the Taxi of Tomorrow, also by Nissan, is designed to enable retrofitting run as an electric vehicle if testing shows that's workable and preferable.

The mayor is also expected to announce that the city will add 50 new battery electric cars to New York's municipal fleet, which already includes 458 plug-in electric cars, the third largest EV fleet in the country after the federal government and General Electric.

According to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles: as of December 2012, there are 2,069 electric vehicles registered in the five boroughs of New York CIty. The breakdown by county: 10 in Richmond (Staten Island); 80 in Queens; 753 in New York (Manhattan); 413 in Kings (Brooklyn) and 813 in the Bronx.

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Snow Plow Tracking Site Too Popular for Its Own Good

Monday, February 11, 2013

Snow plows in the Boston area, February 9, 2013. (Photo by John Byrum)

Snow was still dumping down on Boston Friday evening when the city had to pull down its public website for tracking snow plows. Within a couple of hours of snowfall the site had over a million requests from users. Boston's total population is 625,000.

"[The site] couldn't handle all the traffic," said John Gulfoil, spokesman for Mayor Thomas Menino. "It was hurting our efforts to actually track our own plows," he said.

The city had built the GPS-enabled tracking website so the public could watch along in real time as plows made their way around the city street by sodden street. 

After the blizzard of 2010, New York City was trapped in piles of snow. Cars, buses, even ambulances were abandoned in streets that went unplowed for days.  stranded on unplowed streets and citizens crying foul that they couldn't tell when and where the cleanup was coming. In the aftermath, NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg said, "there was a discrepancy between information coming into and out of City Hall and what people were actually experiencing on the streets." He vowed to track each plow using GPS in the future. (More on that below.)

The blizzard this past weekend that hit Boston hardest, brought with nearly three feet of snow and the first real test (that we are aware of) of a GPS-managed snow plow fleet in a major snowstorm.

Boston has had a private GPS tracking system in place for smaller storms since. This was the first time the public was able to watch the plows move in real-time along with city officials.

The catch is that the same GPS system that populated the dots on the public website map also powered the Department of Public Works operational maps at its command center. The flood of interest from the public was clogging the servers and preventing plow fleet managers from doing their jobs. 

The Department of Public Works mustered private contractors to join the city fleet in removing more than three feet of snow from city streets. The GPS tracking system has been in place for years and helps hold the drivers accountable because managers can see where they are. "They can't hide," as Gulfoil puts it. “Hopefully next time there’s a major storm we’ll have all the bugs worked out,” Gulfoil said.

New York City had a similar website in place, though with much less snow to contend with -- and citizens out sledding and such in higher numbers -- the PlowNYC website proved less popular and less problematic. Keith Mellis of the NYC Department of Sanitation didn't have traffic numbers immediately available. "We had no interruption," he said. "It works." 

You can see where plows went in NYC hour by hour on this visualization of the PlowNYC data extrapolated by plow-watcher Derek Watkins.

 

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Audio Postcard: Digging Out of the Blizzard, Dodging Icicles

Monday, February 11, 2013

(Photo by Neena Satija)

New England is still digging out of a blizzard that dumped over three feet of snow in many places. We could show you lots of pictures or looping short videos of treacherous transportation, but as we are a public radio reporting project here at Transportation Nation, we offer instead the sounds of the great blizzard dig-out of 2013.

Listen as Neena Satija of WNPR in Connecticut trudges and tries to make it out of her house to her car and negotiates the dangers of icicles and snow blowers

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Here's How to Track Snow Plows Block by Block, in NYC and Boston

Friday, February 08, 2013

Both New York City and Boston have enabled GPS tracking of snow plows as they clear streets.

In New York, the city is managing expectations ahead of the blizzard hitting the Northeast Friday evening with a detailed plan showing which streets will get plowed first.

Once plows and salt spreaders hit the NYC streets, residents can follow their progress at the PlowNYC website.

In Boston, where subways shut down at 3:30 p.m. and vehicles are banned from roadways after 4 p.m. by order of Governor Deval Patrick, plows can be tracked here.

Neither city is actively plowing yet--according to the maps. This storm may prove to be a first major test of how useful citizens find this kind of real time location information, and how accurate it will be.

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Massachusetts Bans Cars Statewide During Blizzard, Boston Shuts Subways

Friday, February 08, 2013

Vehicle travel is banned in the entire state of Massachusetts beginning at 4 p.m. in response to blizzard conditions. Boston subway service will be suspended at 3:30 p.m. Logan international airport will try to remain open.

WBUR reports that Governor Deval Patrick said the ban was in response to "extremely dangerous conditions," with the potential for two to three inches of snowfall per hour.

WBUR explains:

The ban, which will be in effect until further notice, covers all motor vehicle traffic across the state, with some exceptions for both public and private sector employees. Patrick said drivers seen on roadways after 4 p.m. could face up to a year in prison or a $500 fine, but conceded the penalties are unlikely.

In a 1978 blizzard in the Boston area, motorists were stranded on area roads, abandoned their cars, and some were struck by other vehicles while walking.

For the latest on NYC area transportation updates, check our Transit Tracker.

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Ed Koch, Staunch Supporter of Transit, Inadvertent Boon for Biking, Dies at 88

Friday, February 01, 2013

Ed Koch reclines in the office of his campaign manager in September 1977-as seen in "Koch". (Courtesy of the film.)

Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch died on the 100th birthday of Grand Central Terminal. That's a poetic coincidence, but not a random one. Koch played a crucial role in ensuring America's cathedral to public transportation lived to see its centennial celebration, fiercely advocating for its preservation first as a Congressman and then as mayor. (Here's the Grand Central Terminal preservation story told with charming archival audio).

That's just one of many of Koch's  staunch stances during his three terms from 1978 - 1989 that has transit advocates heaping praise in memory of the bellicose mayor who helped pull New York  out of dark times.

In fact, many of his most controversial moments have to do with transportation, including famously walking across the Brooklyn Bridge in protest of the 1980 transit workers' strike. 

Though, his biggest impact on transportation may have been through a project that never was. Early in Koch's tenure, NY Governor Hugh Carey pushed for a highway megaproject known as "Westway" to put the West Side Highway underground, a plan the federal government would only fund if the mayor also signed off on it.

Koch refused until Carey promised the state would subsidize the NYC subway enough to avoid any fare increase for four years. The governor kept his word for two years, then reneged. But Koch -- with his subway loyalties -- had the last laugh.

In 1985, a legal challenge and Congressional opposition doomed the Westway project. Koch and then-governor Mario Cuomo chose not to fight to resurrect Westway and instead scrambled to "trade-in" the federal funds to be reallocated to transit, yielding more than $1 billion for subways and buses according to Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign. (See video of Koch discussing Westway below.)

The NYC Straphanger's Campaign also said in a statement of condolence to Koch's family that the former mayor inherited a subway system with ridership at the lowest level since 1917. Yet when he left office, the system was on the rise. 

"Mayors have limited powers to affect subway and bus service, which is run by a State public authority. Mayor Koch used his to the fullest, employing his bully pulpit to drag public promises out of transit executives before the glare of cameras, such as improved announcements and a crackdown on subway graffiti. Under pressure from Mayor Koch, the MTA completely eliminated graffiti on subway cars in 1989, during Mayor Koch's last term in office. In the mid-1980's, Mayor Koch doubled the City's commitment to the MTA's vital five-year rebuilding program."

Inadvertently, Koch gave a boost the the NY cycling community as well: by trying to ban bikes from Midtown in 1987. What was meant as a crackdown on weaving bicycle messengers transformed hordes of casual riders into activists, or at least supporters of advocacy groups like Transportation Alternatives, which saw membership sign-ups increase ten fold. The bike ban was eventually voided over a legal technicality, but the organized bike lobby remains strong to this day. 

Koch's memory has been firmly fastened to transportation with the most sturdy and standard of civic tributes: the Queensboro Bridge has been renamed the Edward Koch Queensboro Bridge. "There are other bridges that are much more beautiful like the George Washington or the Verrazano but this more suits my personality," he told WNYC, "because it's a workhorse bridge. I mean, it's always busy, it ain't beautiful, but it is durable."

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DC Bike Share Visualizer Shows How Neighborhoods Use CaBi Differently

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Washington, D.C.'s Capital Bikeshare released its latest batch of customer trip data -- and the fine folks at Mobility Lab turned it into an interactive map. What's interesting about this visualizer is that it sorts trips by neighborhood cluster.

Instead of seeing all the trips everywhere -- which is beautiful --  you can see how a given station connects to the areas around it. The more rides between two stations, the thicker the red line. Click on most downtown stations and it looks like a starburst of rides.

Trips on the National Mall tend to stay on the National Mall or head over the Jefferson Memorial.

Bike Share trips on the National Mall, Washington D.C. 4th Quarter, 2012.

Mobility Lab has also set the map so you see the direction of trips, including "unbalancedness" between stations. That's when trips tend to be in one direction more than another. It's not so surprising that more people ride downhill on Connecticut Avenue from the Van Ness station to Dupont Circle. But it is interesting to see how many more people ditch the heavy bike share bikes at the bottom and return by some other, presumably less tiring, means. Of the 203 trips between those two stations in the 4th quarter of 2012, 82 percent of them were downhill.

(Read TN's article on how DC rebalances bike share stations here.)

Trips from Van Ness bike share station in 4th quarter 2012

Michael Schade over at Mobility Lab has pulled out a few more interesting data points. Alexandria, Virginia, joined CaBi last year. Most of those bike share trips appear to be heading to or from the two Metro stations.  So Schade concludes bike share in Alexandria is being used to solve a last-mile transit problem.

See his full analyses and more maps here.

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NJ Rail Services Return Days Shy of Sandy's Three Month Anniversary

Monday, January 28, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamescastle/4451647796/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Historic Hoboken Terminal, pictured before Sandy. (Photo CC by Flickr user JamesCastle)

Two more links in the New Jersey commuter rail network will return to pre-Sandy levels today.

Hoboken terminal station will reopen and PATH service will run on pre-Sandy overnight levels with the restoration of Newark-World Trade Center service. The dual announcements from Northern New Jersey's two commuter rail agencies come after criticism of the slow pace of service restoration and just days before the three month anniversary of Sandy, which poured 10 million gallons of water into PATH train tunnels, and washed out dozens of miles of NJ Transit track among other damage.

 

Hoboken Terminal

NJ Transit trains have been running from Hoboken, but the station building has been closed, leaving passengers to wait in the cold without access to bathrooms. NJ Transit Executive Director James Weinstein is marking the occasion by greeting passengers at the Historic Hoboken Terminal, pictured here before and after the storm. "The waiting room, which is opening a day earlier than expected, will provide a heated shelter and temporary seating for customers as the agency continues with remediation work to address storm-related flood damage," an official statement says. 

The Hoboken Terminal had reopened in mid-November only to be shuttered less than a month later when mold was discovered. State Senator Paul Sarlo had been threatening to hold hearings on the delay last week.

 

PATH

Hoboken is served by both NJ Transit commuter rail and PATH. PATH tunnels under the Hudson to lower Manhattan were particularly hard hit. It took seven weeks to restore PATH service to Hoboken at all, and one line from the city is still out. Round the clock service has been offered since earlier in the month on some lines while repairs on others continued. 

Starting tonight, the agency announced, the route connecting Newark and World Trade Center will run 24-hours.

The statement reads:

"Service on the Newark-WTC line had only been running weekdays between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. since service resumed on the line after the storm. Return of the Newark-WTC PATH line overnight on weekdays, in addition to the ongoing overnight service from Journal Square to 33rd Street via Hoboken, means PATH’s overnight schedule during the week has returned to pre-Sandy status.

"Exchange Place and World Trade Center Stations remain closed weekends from 10 p.m. Fridays through 5 a.m. Mondays during the month of February to allow crews uninterrupted time to complete necessary repairs.

Crews continue to work around-the-clock to return weekday Hoboken to World Trade Center service and weekend service between Newark and the World Trade Center. Those are the final segments of service yet to be restored."

 

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Bus Rapid Transit Looks Set for Growth in Oregon

Monday, January 28, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/springfieldhomer/5840474433/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Hayden Bridge Station on Eugene, Oregon's EMX bus rapid transit system.  (Photo CC by Flickr user Slideshow Bruce)

Portland has been a national leader in building light rail, but the transit-friendly city is considering buses as the next round of expansion. Portland is seriously considering bus rapid transit for two high-capacity transit corridors it is planning to expand. Nearby, Eugene is adding to its existing BRT lines, rankling some in the community.

OPB has a pair of stories laying out the potential boom in BRT building. Rob Manning reports on Portland where the decision seems to be coming down to light rail vs bus rapid transit:

There are two high priority corridors in Portland’s long-term transit plan. BRT is on the table, for discussion, in both of them...

Elissa Gertler, a deputy director at the Metro regional government, and the supervisor of the two corridor planning efforts, says there’s one big reason that interest in bus rapid transit may be overtaking light rail: "First and foremost, light rail is expensive. A big capital investment costs a lot of money, and partnership with the federal government in how to fund that has diminished over time, as we’ve expanded our system in this region.”

Bus rapid transit, as pictured above, is a cheaper alternative to light rail lines. Buses are given a dedicated lane to ensure traffic-free travel. Passengers pay before boarding -- similar to subway use -- to speed loading and unloading times. The scheme has proved effective and popular in cities from Curitiba, to Mexico City, to Cleveland.

As has happened in other cities, BRT's flexibility can lead to partial implementation with a kind of BRT-lite.  Something that is an option on the table in Portland. Again from Manning's report:

Transit consultant Jarret Walker says the ideal is to run the bus like a light rail train. Easier said than done in the two corridors Portland is studying.

"You have stretches there, where there’s just so much width," Walker says. "There’s only so much space in the road. And in those places, it doesn’t really matter if you’re building light rail or Bus Rapid Transit, the real question will be: Where do you find a path?"

Standing at 82nd Avenue and Division, Metro’s Elissa Gertler says planners are starting with a focus on where people are traveling. This Division corridor includes multiple college campuses. She says administrators see a value in getting their students out of their cars.

"We have heard them say, 'We don’t want to be a sea of parking lots, we don’t want to have to just building parking. We want to invest in educational space, and serving our students,' ” Gertler says.

Oregon knows how to do bus rapid transit as well as any state in the country. According to rankings by BRT proponents at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, the Eugene BRT system is the second best in the nation, after Cleveland's. Both cities received a "bronze" rating by ITDP compared to "gold" in Bogota and Guangzhou.

The EmX buses in Lane County around Eugene carry 10,000 riders each weekday through dedicated lanes or with "signal priority," traffic lights that change to green when the buses approach.

A new 4.4 mile proposed extension is drawing opposition, according to this report from OPB's Amanda Peacher.

Kilcoin says the EmX extension will help connect West Eugene residents to downtown, and will improve traffic congestion. The project would widen the road in some places. LTD is also planning a number of other improvements, like two pedestrian bridges, new sidewalks, and an additional bike lane. That's in part why the price tag is so high-- all this is estimated to cost $95.6 million.

And that's the main complaint from groups like Our Money, Our Transit. Along 11th Avenue, opponents of the extension have lined the road with signs that read "No Build" with a picture of the big green bus crossed out.

"It's a really poor use of public funds." Roy Benson owns the Tire Factory, an automotive store along the planned route. As a business owner, he doesn't see any benefits of the new line. "I'll probably never have anybody come here on the bus, and then buy four tires and get back on the bus to go home," Benson says.

Peacher cites other opposition, as well as support from transit riders as is to be expected.The plan is going forward, currently in the design phase with a completion date of 2017 if all goes according to plan.

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Video Mapping Bike Paths of the World: See What a Ride Looks Like from Handle Bar POV

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Cyclodeo view of Eindhoven, Netherlands

Another cycling innovation is making its way from the Netherlands to this side of the Atlantic. Cyclodeo is a bike-focused mapping website that pairs videos of bike lanes with Google maps.

The screen grab above shows the view for the small city of Eindhoven in southern Netherlands. A smattering of bike path still photos are strewn about the map of the city. Click on one of the tiles to see what it is like -- from the perspective of a cyclist -- to ride in a number of the city's calm, well-paved bike paths.

What's impressive, and most potentially useful about Cyclodeo, is that each section of the video is geocoded to match the map. That red line is a bike path. Click anywhere on the line to see the frame of the video that corresponds to what that exact part of the path looks like. The site also calculates the distance of that ride and the average speed. It adds up to a pretty solid picture of what a bike trip will be like, all available before you leave the house.

"In the very near future close to 100 km of videotaped cycling rides from Copenhagen will be released," Cyclodeo founder Samir Bendida says. He tells TN the company's bike path mapping is expanding to other cities soon after. "This will allow comparison of cycling infrastructure from different cities which could hopefully inspire city planners to improve their own network for cyclists."

There is already a NYC map posted with a few sample test rides that hint at this use.

Some streets just aren't pleasant rides in Manhattan. Seeing which ones have better bike lanes might help guide a route, or let a cyclist know the safest way home.

Google Street view is certainly a more comprehensive tool with endless panoramas of static images, but as the short sample NYC rides show, a nice urban bike ride is not just about what stripes line the road, but how the lane is respected by cars. A video in this case really is worth a 1,000 pictures when it comes to conveying what it's like to ride on a given street.

Pairing video to a map is a clever use of a new technology even if the sheer immensity of videotaping every bike path in a major city seems prohibitive and potentially an obstacle to turning these sample maps into fully populated cycling tools.

In the meantime though, fans of urban cycling might just enjoy seeing what a ride is like in other cities. Here's Copenhagen during rush hour -- set to opera for some reason -- hectic, safe, and because of the soundtrack, a tad heroic.

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To Avoid "Confusing" Drivers, MTA Turns Off SBS Bus Lights

Friday, January 18, 2013

(Photo CC by Flickr user Stephen Rees)

New York City's newest express buses were designed to be easy to spot from a distance with two flashing blue lights in the marquis. But, Friday afternoon, the MTA said it was turning off the blinking deep blue indicator lights to avoid any chance that drivers might confuse the Select Bus Service buses for oncoming an emergency vehicle when viewed in a rear view mirror.

City Council Member Vincent Ignizio of Staten Island lobbied the MTA for the change. "We have trained the public that when they see blue flashing lights to get out of the way and all emergency vehicles to get to said emergency," he said. "Buses are not emergency vehicles." Drivers in his district told him they felt like they were being pulled over by police only to find it was a bus approaching.

Removing confusion for drivers however, might shift confusion to bus passengers. It could also deal a set back to NYC's plan to spread a new and improved brand of express bus service known elsewhere as bus rapid transit. To move buses faster under this scheme, buses are given dedicated lanes and passengers pay before they board using vending machines at bus stops.

The MTA Announcement:

Reacting to specific concerns, MTA New York City Transit has agreed to turn off the flashing blue lights that have served to alert riders to the arrival of Select Bus Service buses (SBS) since the speedier service was introduced.  This measure is being taken to eliminate the possibility of confusing the vehicles with volunteer emergency vehicles, which are entitled by law to use the blue lights.  We are currently in the process of developing an alternate means of identifying SBS buses.

"Those lights distinguish the Select Bus from the local bus," a spokesperson at Institute for Transportation and Development Policy explained in defense of the lights. ITDP advises cities  -- including New York City --  on building and designing bus rapid transit systems. “We expect that if those lights go off, passengers will be confused about which kind of bus is approaching, which is important, because there are two different fare systems,” the spokesperson said. Passengers need to know if they should pay at the vending machine before the bus arrives, or they risk missing it. NYC passengers pay for local buses on board.

Rather than a deciding between two types of confusion, the MTA's choice to darken the blinking blue bus lights seems to have been more of a legal one, as Ignizio describes it. NY state traffic law states that colored flashing blue lights are reserved for emergency vehicles, specifically volunteer firefighters.

Ignizio made the legal case to the MTA after personally finding the lights confusing and putting the question to his Staten Island constituents. More than 100 people on Facebook agreed with him, he said.

Ignizio met with then-MTA head Joe Lhota, now a mayoral candidate, and made the case for turning off the lights. Ignizio says, Lhota said he would do something about the lights. And now the MTA has.

The bus rapid transit experts at ITDP say other cities use different ways to distinguish an express bus from a local. Some cities paint buses different colors, for instance. The MTA is considering what indicator will replace the flashing blue lights.

When asked how many complaints the MTA received from confused motorists about the lights, a spokesman said, "one." In 2008 (the year the service was launched). In the Bronx.

 

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"It's Like Costco": Why Calif. High-Speed Rail is Teaming Up with Amtrak

Friday, January 18, 2013

Rendering of an Amtrak NextGen high-speed rail train

Amtrak and the California High Speed Rail Authority are teaming up to bulk buy rail cars for high-speed rail. "It's like Costco," Jeff Morales, CEO of the California High Speed Rail Authority tells KPCC, "you get better prices."

Morales was visiting Washington, D.C. to get an early start making nice with a new key player in the world of rail megaprojects, Republican Congressman Jeff Denham of California, freshly appointed as chair of the House Railroads Sub-Committee. Denham is a known critic of the California high-speed rail project to connect Los Angeles with San Francisco for a cost of $68.4 billion. According to the Fresno Bee, Denham's home town paper, the congressman was originally in favor of the Calif. high-speed rail plan, but has come to be skeptical about revenue and ridership projections.

So one way to for CaHSRA to show it is serious about cost containment is to trot out innovative new savings ideas, like bulk purchasing rail cars. KPCC:

Morales also announced California is partnering with Amtrak to shop for locomotives and passenger cars - what railroad types call "train sets." These "train sets" will be a complete set of cars, and the high-speed version will have the power to run the train embedded in each car.

The type of train California and Amtrak are shopping for will be able to run on the curvy Acela routes in the Northeast and the faster, straighter California line.

This move looks like a smart move for both Amtrak and CaHSRA, assuming there is such a car that can work well on both routes. Amtrak says it only needs trains that reach 150 m.p.h. though the national rail network has explored a top speed of 165 m.p.h along the Northeast Corridor, running test trains in September that many rail fans captured on video. CaHSR trains go much faster: 220 m.p.h.

Amtrak said in a release:

"Due to the consistently strong and record setting NEC ridership over the past 10 years, Amtrak needs new and additional HSR equipment. The Amtrak plan envisions an initial acquisition of up to 12 new HSR train sets to supplement current Acela Express service and add seating capacity in the near term. Then, Amtrak would look to replace the 20 current Acela train sets in the early 2020s. California plans a first order of 27 HSR train sets.

(...)

"In addition, the preferred train set has Electric Multiple Unit (EMU) power distribution among all cars, operates bi-directionally with a cab car on each end that allows for passenger occupancy and has a seating capacity of 400 to 600 passengers.  CHSRA is seeking a HSR train set able to operate up to 220 mph and has Electric Multiple Unit (EMU) power distribution among all cars, operates bi-directionally with a cab on each end that allows for passenger occupancy that has a seating capacity of 450 to 500 passengers per 656 feet train set."

All that is to say, they're in the market for a specific kind of train, but one that could serve them both just fine based on what each agency needs. We'll keep an eye on the Costco approach to high-speed train procurement and watch how much, if at all, partnership moves like this one can sway cost skeptics like Denham.

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Meet a Student Super Commuter on the Bus for a Better Life

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Bus one of four to get to school. (Photo by Melissa Bailey / New Haven Independent with permission)

As New Yorkers are considering the importance of school buses with a looming strike set for Wednesday, consider the case of Nikita and her mom, Nilda Paris of New Haven Connecticut.

The mother-daughter duo travels together at least four hours a day on public transit round trip—all in search of a better education and a sense of opportunity they don’t see close to home.

Nikita, who’s 14, gets up at 4:30 a.m. with her mom in their apartment in Bridgeport’s East End. New Haven magnet schools accept kids from Bridgeport, but don’t offer bus service. Paris and Nikita don’t have a car. And the trains don’t run early enough to deliver her for the 7:30 a.m. start of school. So they hop on a series of buses, beginning at 5:30 a.m., to get to school on time.

Melissa Bailey of the New Haven Independent spent a day following Nikita and her mom  -- and taking some great photos -- to see what this student super commute is like. If you want to understand what a multi-transfer transit commute of this sort is like, read the full story. It unfolds as a touching vignette about the search of opportunity, and a bit reminiscent of our past story on the importance of a car -- sometimes -- in economic mobility.

It won't spoil the story to say, Nikita and her mother are cheerful about the trek.

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TN MOVING STORIES: LaHood Speculation, Muni Overtime, Mass Tax

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Top Stories on TN:

Detroit Auto Show: Big Sales, New Models, Fuel Efficiency. (Link)
NY’s Airports So Old, Millionaire Is Putting Up Private Fortune to Lobby for Renovations. (Link)
NYC will get these wayfinding maps: (Link) 

Scroll down for a 2 minute time lapse of the construction of the SF Bay Bridge's East Span.

Mass. Gov. Devall Patrick has launched a campaign to raise taxes to pay for $10 billion in infrastructure needs. (Boston Globe)

Business is booming at Texas ports. So TxDOT is trying to figure out how to upgrade the state’s infrastructure. (KUHF)

After much legal and political fuss, in D.C., Uber launched it's Taxi service in the capital. (Uber)

D.C.'s Metro wants to give $3 to riders who switch to Smartcards, but most people are saying, 'no thanks.' (WAMU)

Ray LaHood will step down “in the next few months” according to an anonymous “top top Obama source.” U.S. DOT would not confirm this. (Chicago Sun Times)

Obama's foreign policy includes  ... walkable communities. Hmm. (Foreign Policy free w/signup)

The Kumbh Mela is kicking off in India and it might be the largest human gathering in history with an expected 30 million people. What can it teach us about cities? (Atlantic Cities)

Toyota reclaims the title of world's biggest automaker. (Guardian)

Transportation Nation is a reader-supported public radio reporting project. Make a donation here.

SF Muni employees have earned nearly double their salary due to overtime ... because budget cuts prevent hiring. Not a model of efficiency. (SF Gate)

BART Ridership is up 6% this year. Great news for BART ... except ... officials only budgeted for 1.8%. BART says it needs 225 new trains. (SF Gate)

The most expensive item at the Detroit Auto Show isn’t a car, or a vehicle at all. It’s the glittering prize for an auto race. (WDET)

NYC’s yellow school bus drivers are going on strike. It’s a fight over how to get special needs kids to school. (SchoolBook)

You will be able to watch Lance Armstrong confess to doping – or dodge Oprah’s questions for 90 minutes – streaming online, not just on the OWN cable network. (OWN)

NYC transport workers are readying for contract renegotiations. One tactic is to subtly imply – using a big poster – that motormen might slow down trains “for safety.” (Daily News, 2nd Ave Sagas

Your #Longread of the day: why big cities are so much more dangerous than small ones: lead (incl from gasoline).  (Mother Jones via Planetizen)

It took three years to build the East span of the SF Bay Bridge. Here's what it looked like condensed to two minutes. (via Atlantic Cities)

 

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NY's Airports So Old, Millionaire Is Putting Up Private Fortune to Lobby for Renovations

Monday, January 14, 2013

LaGuardia Airport (photo by Alex Goldmark)

Real Estate mogul Joe Sitt knows how to court the jet set. He's the head of Thor Equities, one of the city's biggest landlords for high end retail and offices. And as he sees it, New York's aging airports are holding the region back. "The experience [in our airports] is pitiful," Sitt said.

And he's putting up $1 million of his personal money to change it.

His campaign to overhaul New York area airports launched last week isn't an expensive personal quest for a better travel experience. It's an unusual lobbying campaign in the public (and also self) interest.

A 2011 report by the Regional Plan Association found that NY area airports need to expand and upgrade air traffic technology if they are to keep up with forecasts of air travel growth. Average flight delays at NY area airports are already twice the national average. A 2008 study (pdf) by the Partnership of New York City estimated that if New York's airports aren't modernized, it could cost $79 billion in losses to the regional economy between 2008 and 2025.

"What's one of our business fears? Businesses moving out of the city," said Sitt, the landlord of about 40 buildings, many in tourist hot spots like 5th Ave and Meatpacking. "I love New York City. It is creative. Every tech company should want to be here. But from an infrastructure, transportation, airport [perspective], no offense, versus San Francisco, we fail. They put us to shame out there."

His group the Global Gateway Alliance will lobby all levels of government to invest more in infrastructure for air travel.  "I think government needs some prodding. This needed somebody to carry the torch," Sitt said.

It's not the first time business leaders and planners have called for investment -- the RPA launched the Better Airports Alliance in 2011 -- but Sitt's $1 million of seed money makes the new effort more serious from the start. "It's really the first time we've had a comprehensive, well funded effort to focus on the great need for airport improvement," said Kathy Wylde of the Partnership for New York City, who has joined the board of the Global Gateway Alliance. Lobbying, she said will pressure all levels of government and could include public messages like TV commercials.

The agency that runs NY airports concedes upgrades are needed.  “We recognize that some of our facilities are aging and in need of capital infrastructure investment to ensure the continued economic growth of the region," said Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye. "The Port Authority and our airline partners invested over $1 billion in 2012 on infrastructure projects at our region’s airports, which includes construction of high speed exit taxiways, terminal improvements, and runway rehabilitation. Additionally, the Port Authority is in the process of establishing a public/private partnership to invest $3.6 billion on a new Central Terminal Building at La Guardia.”

 

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TN MOVING STORIES: Boeing 787 Review, Tesla Broke?, Senate Change

Monday, January 14, 2013

Top stories on TN:
"Don't talk about bike lanes at dinner parties," says Christine Quinn, NYC's City Council Speaker and the leading Mayoral candidate. (Link)
NYC will add a new citywide system of wayfinding maps for pedestrians. We have pics. (Link)
D.C. Planners: Regional Job Growth Should Focus On ‘Activity Centers’ (Link)
The NYS2100 Full Report is released on rebuilding NYC post-Sandy. Transpo recommendations: Start an Infrastructure Bank, Build BRT, and More Transit. (Link)
Thirty Years Later, is Connecticut Ready to Reinstate Tolls? (Link)
D.C. Metro Releases 2014 Budget; No Fare Hikes – But No 8-Car Trains, Either (Link)

Imagining a single subway line on it's own may not make for a useful map, but it does work well as minimalist art. Graphic by Adam Lynch. Details below.

The FAA made the "unprecedented" announcement it would do a full review of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.  (Marketplace)
The review is likely to focus most closely on the power system. (Bloomberg)
Either way, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says he'd feel safe flying on a Dreamliner. (The Hill)

If LaHood does jet off on a 787, it will be in his current job for a little while longer. Despite some expectation that he might step down, the Secretary is posting messages to Congress on his blog about all the work to do this year, implying he's not quitting. (Fast Lane)

United Airlines is getting sued for allegedly using fancy bookkeeping to avoid paying a local gas tax that funds transit in Chicago. (Crains)

Massachusetts is considering taxing parting lots to pay for transit. (Streetsblog)

The chair of the Senate's transportation committee, Jay Rockefeller, is not running for re-election. Who will take his place? (The Hill)

Transportation Nation is a reader-supported public radio reporting project. Make a donation here.

San Francisco's transpo chief says, 'tear down this freeway.' (Streetsblog)

NJ Transit is running full schedules on all rail routes for the first time since Sandy. (NJ Transit and CBS)

While the NTSB investigates a ferry crash in NYC, (WNYC) Norway launches its first all-electric ferry. (GizMag)

Electric sports car maker, Tesla is rumored to be dangerously low on cash. (Gas2)

@TransportNation #IRL: We'll be at the Transportation Research Board conference in DC this week where thousands of transpo and infrastructure researchers share their studies. Tweet at us to say hi or tell us about new research we just shouldn't miss. (After party invites also welcome)

Leaf owners are not happy with Nissan's response to battery problems. (AutoBlogGreen)

One man doesn't think corporations should count as people under the law, so he tried to drive in a carpool lane with a corporation. (AutoBlog)

Pictured above, one of a set of minimalist subway line posters, which unlike most transit maps, does not geographically distort the route. Looks more natural this way, no? Almost like a river. (Kickstarter via Explore / Brainpickings)

Bells aren't cutting it for cycle safety on busy streets, so bike horns are booming. This one is 112 decibels. What? (FastCoExist)

And yes, we know, the 2013 No Pants Subway Ride was this past weekend. You're welcome. We opted not to post the photos this time. But they're up. (Improv Everywhere)

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NYC to Add Citywide 'Wayfinding' Maps to Encourage Walking, Business

Monday, January 14, 2013

(Image courtesy of NYC DOT)

Even with smartphone maps, a waffle iron street grid and numbered streets in most of Manhattan, too many pedestrians are getting lost in New York City according to the NYC Department of Transportation. The solution, or part of it, will begin rolling out in March: maps. Lots of them. Designed just for pedestrians to be placed on sidewalks and eventually on bike share stations all around the five boroughs.

"We have a great system of signage for cars, but we don't have a good system of signage for people," said Jeanette Sadik-Khan, NYC's Transportation Commissioner. (Earlier this week she unveiled newly designed, and less cluttered, parking signs). Starting in March, New York City will install 150 'wayfinding' signs on sidewalks in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens as part of a citywide system that will roll out in phases at a cost of $6 million, most of it borne by the federal government, the rest by local business improvement districts.*

A sample of what NYC's new wayfinding maps will look like. Courtesy NYC DOT.

The sidewalk signage will show pedestrians where they are and which way they are facing -- a study last year found that many New Yorkers couldn't point to north when asked. Transit, local attractions, and businesses are placed on a large map of the local street grid with  circles indicating where you can reach with a five minute walk, and how long it will take to get to other attractions. Like countdown clocks in subways, knowing the time and effort involved in a trip can make it more appealing. The signs, the DOT hopes, will encourage more walking.

"We're very excited about it and think it will be a big boon, not only for visitors ... but also for business." A slowly ambling customer visiting a new neighborhood, or a new route, is much more likely to check out a new shop than a driver is to stop, park, and peek in.

"New York is a perfect place to have a wayfinding system because nearly one third of all trips are made by foot," Sadik-Khan said. A little encouragement to walk could be a tipping point to leave the car at home, she says, pointing out that a quarter of all car trips in NYC are less than a mile, a distance people could walk.

The signs will roll out in Chinatown, Midtown Manhattan, Long Island City, Prospect Heights and Crown Heights. "These are heavily foot trafficked areas," she says. "The lessons that we learn there... will help us as we build a bigger system citywide."

When bike share stations are installed in May, they will include these maps. That would add several hundred more pedestrian maps in many new neighborhoods.

Here's a full length sample:

Sample design of NYC's wayfinding maps. Courtesy NYC DOT.

 

*An earlier version of this post stated that the majority of the cost of the project would be borne by business improvement districts.

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NYS2100 Full Report: Start an Infrastructure Bank, Build BRT, and More Transit

Friday, January 11, 2013

Establish an infrastructure bank, expanded rail access, build a bus rapid transit system, and redesign the electric grid. Those are some of the suggestions in the NYS2100 commission's full report on preparing New York state to withstand the next 100 year storm released Friday afternoon.

The commission was convened to suggest a plan for making New York state more resilient in the face increasingly severe weather and future storms like Sandy, which knocked most of New York City's transportation out of service for days. Several transit routes are still not back to normal two months later.

The full report is below. We've pulled out the bits from the executive summary most related to transportation and infrastructure.

Governor Andrew Cuomo's State of the State agenda also included much of these kinds of proposals. We posted that earlier in the week here, and reported on the bus rapid transit proposal specifically if you want more detail on that.

 

From the NYS2100 official report:


 

Develop a risk assessment of the State’s transportation infrastructure
Identify those assets that are vulnerable to extreme weather events, storm surge, sea level rise and seismic events, and to prioritize future investment through the use of a lifeline network that defines
critical facilities, corridors, systems, or routes that must remain functional during a crisis or be restored most rapidly.
Strengthen existing transportation networks
Improve the State’s existing infrastructure with an emphasis on key bridges, roads, tunnels, transit, rail, airports, marine facilities, and transportation communication infrastructure. Focus on improved repair, as well as protecting against multiple hazards including flooding, seismic impact and extreme weather.
• Protect transit systems and tunnels against severe flooding
• Invest in upgrades to bridges, tunnels, roads, transit and
railroads for all hazards
• Strengthen vulnerable highway and rail bridges
• Protect waterway movements
• Safeguard airport operations
Strategically expand transportation networks in order to create redundancies
Make the system more flexible and adaptive. Encourage alternate modes of transportation.
• Modernize signal and communications systems
• Build a bus rapid transit network
• Expand rail access to/from Manhattan
• Create new trans-Hudson tunnel connection
• Expand rail Access to/from Manhattan with Metro-North Penn Station access
• Expand capacity on the LIRR’s Main Line
• Develop alternative modes of transportation Build for a resilient future with enhanced guidelines,
standards, policies, and procedures
Change the way we plan, design, build, manage, maintain and pay for our transportation network in light of increased occurrences of severe events.
• Review design guidelines
• Improve long-term planning and fund allocation
• Improve interagency and interstate planning
• Seek expedited environmental review and permitting on major mitigation investments

 

 

 

Strengthen critical energy infrastructure

Securing critical infrastructure should be a primary focus. Strategies of protection, include among other things, selective undergrounding of electric lines, elevating susceptible infrastructure such as substations, securing locations of future power plants, hardening key fuel distribution terminals, and reexamination of critical

component locations to identify those most prone to damage by shocks or stresses. Creating a long-term capital stock of critical equipment throughout the region provides an efficient system of distribution to streamline the delivery and recovery processes.

• Facilitate process of securing critical systems
• Protect and selectively underground key electrical transmission and distribution lines
• Strengthen marine terminals and relocate key fuel-related infrastructure to higher elevations
• Reinforce pipelines and electrical supply to critical fuel infrastructure
• Waterproof and improve pump-out ability of steam tunnels
• Create a long-term capital stock of critical utility equipment

Accelerate the modernization of the electrical system and improve flexibility
As utilities replace aging parts of the power system, the State should ensure new technologies are deployed. It is important to immediately invest in new construction, replacement, and upgrades to transition the grid to a flexible system that can respond to future technologies, support clean energy integration, and minimize outages during major storms and events. The grid for the 21st century should seamlessly incorporate distributed generation, microgrids, and plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs).

• Re-design electric grid to be more flexible, dynamic and
responsive
• Increase distributed generation statewide
• Make the grid electric vehicle ready
Design rate structures and create incentives to encourage distributed generation and smart grid investments
The State should implement new technologies and system
improvements to provide effective backup power, flexibility,
distributed generation, and solutions for “islanding” vulnerable
parts of the system. In addition to improving the resilience and
stability of energy, electricity, and fuel supply systems, these
solutions promote energy conservation, efficiency, and consumer
demand response.
Diversify fuel supply, reduce demand for energy, and create redundancies
Lowering GHG emissions in the power sector through the Regional
Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) will contribute to reducing
the impacts of climate change over the very long term. To build
on the success of RGGI, the State should encourage alternative
fuel sources such as biogas, liquefied natural gas (LNG), and
solar heating in transportation and other sectors. PEVs, energy
storage systems, and on-site fuel storage where feasible, should
also be used to provide new energy storage mechanisms. Incentive
programs to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy
deployment should be strengthened to increase the level of private
sector investment in this space.
• Facilitate greater investments in energy efficiency and
renewable energy
• Diversify fuels in the transportation sector
• Support alternative fuels across all sectors
• Lower the greenhouse gas emissions cap through RGGI

Develop long-term career training and a skilled energy workforce

The utility workforce is aging and tremendous expertise will be lost
in the next several years. Workforce development strategies should
ensure the availability of skilled professionals to maintain a state
of good repair, effectively prepare for and respond to emergencies,
and deploy and maintain advanced technologies.
• Create a workforce development center
• Expand career training and placement programs
• Build awareness of the need for skilled workers
• Coordinate workforce development among all stakeholders
within the energy sector

 

 

 

 

Establish an “Infrastructure Bank” to coordinate, allocate, and maximize investment

The Commission recommends the establishment of a new Infrastructure Bank with a broad mandate to coordinate financing
and directly finance the construction, rehabilitation, replacement, and expansion of infrastructure.
• Assist the State in making more efficient and effective use of public infrastructure funding
• Mobilize private sector

 

Full report here.

 

 

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