Four fifths of the pedestrian plazas where automobiles used to travel down the Great White Way...are now painted in shades of blue - to reflect the NASA heat map of the area. Slide show here -- the last block gets painted next week -- Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation.
With all the talk about wasteful earmarks, it might come as a surprise that some $6 billion has been left unspent -- disappeamarks, as it's called. PBS's Blueprint America reports that Atlanta residents say they could really use the money to make safer pedestrian crossings.
With all the news of the newNYC MTA fare hike proposals, it's hard to remember last year's effort to bail out the MTA. Richard Ravitch (now the Lt. Governor) had been commissioned by New York Governor David Paterson to develop a plan to bail out the MTA. That proposal included two main sections -- a 0.34 percent tax on employers in the suburban counties surrounding New York, or about $200 per employee making $60,000 a year, and bridge tolls on some East River bridges. For reasons understood fully only by Robert Moses, some New York City bridges across that river are free, others, owned by the MTA, are tolled.
The bridge toll proposal went nowhere. But the tax was passed, and New Yorkers who make even the tiniest amount of freelance income get an unpleasant quarterly reminder from the New York tax department that their MTA mobility tax is due. Not that most New Yorker' love the MTA as it is.
Now a Westchester County newspaper, The Times Herald-Record has asked two of the candidates for governor what they think of that tax (Hat tip: Tri-State Transportation Campaign's Mobilizing the Region blog). Republican Rick Lazio, a former Congressman says, flatly, he's against the tax. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the Democrat says:
(Washington, DC -- Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) Senate Democrats have released a scaled-back energy bill that cracks down on BP and other oil drillers but avoids hoped-for debate over controlling carbon emissions across the economy.
The bill includes several new incentives and investments for cleaner-energy vehicles. That includes rebate programs and loan guarantees designed to encourage companies to convert their trucking fleets to natural gas-burning vehicles. It would also spend millions to encourage the installation of natural gas pumping stations to service those fleet
Plug-in hybrids and electric cars also get a nod, to the tune of about $5 billion. The package of incentives and grants for plug-in hybrids and high-capacity battery development reported here several weeks ago have made it into the bill, according the Senate Democratic aides. The package includes the development of at least a dozen demonstration communities where car-charging infrastructure would be piloted. It also contains a taxpayer-funded $10 million prize for the first firm to develop a battery capable of driving a car 500 miles on a single charge.
WASHINGTON (AP) - A breakdown of safety management throughout the D.C.-area transit system preceded the Metrorail crash last summer that killed nine people, a federal official said Tuesday.
Investigators have said since weeks after the crash that a signaling system's failure to detect a stopped train was the likely cause of the crash. On Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board chairwoman said the board's investigation has revealed that safety problems in the system went much further.
"Metro was on a collision course long before this accident," Chairwoman Deborah A.P. Hersman said in her opening statements at a meeting on the June 2009 crash. "As our report shows, this was not the first time Metro's safety system was compromised."
Previous accidents, some of which killed employees, foreshadowed the deadly crash.
"Because the necessary preventive measures were not taken, the only question was when would Metro have another accident - and of what magnitude," Hersman said.
(Washington, DC -- Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) When it comes to stamping out distracted driving, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has already been to the mountaintop once. Now he's ready to go a second time.
The Department of Transportation plans to hold a second distracted driving "summit" in to be held in Washington, DC, in September. LaHood has made driving-while-texting and other forms of distracted driving a public priority at DOT.
The federal government has little direct influence over driving laws, since they're mostly reserved for the states. But LaHood saw to it that texting while driving was banned in the federally-regulated commercial trucking industry. LaHood also credits his first distracted driving summit as main force behind a growing number of state and local laws cracking down on texting and the other forms of distracted driving. Topics at the summit will include research, technology, policy, public outreach, and best practices in enforcement, according to a DOT release.
Earlier this month LaHood publicly shamed a pair of Washington, DC PR and lobbying firms.
WAMU's David Schultz spoke with Bill Vantuono, a transportation industry analyst and editor-in-chief of the trade magazine Railway Age. Vantuono says Metro is not legally obligated to follow any recommendations in the NTSB's reports. Listen here.
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) The one-day "fun passes" were there at the beginning. Instead of the single-fare ride of $1.50, the "fun cards" cost $4, and were available only in tourist locations. But an outcry ensued, and the fun-cards were sold everywhere, along with the popular $63-a-month unlimited cards, (now $87, soon to approach $100). Those cards, as Second Avenue Sagas and others have pointed out, revolutionized transit.
Used to be we put a token in the turnstile everytime we wanted to ride (there were no transfers from bus to subway, or vice-versa.) Then came the metrocard, just a fancy blue-and-yellow piece of plastic which did the same thing, essentially, as the token, but didn't feel as good in your hand. The MTA resisted offering unlimited rides cards, saying they would be too costly. But shamed by Jim Dwyer, then at the New York Daily News, who exposed the MTA's secret surplus, and Gene Russianoff, then, as now, at the Straphangers Campaign, the MTA (pushed by Republican Governor George Pataki, getting ready to seek re-election) caved, and offered unlimited ride cards.
As it happened, ridership boomed. The MTA did well. Subway trains were on the upswing, Crime went down, stations got spiffy new makeovers. But government funding was drying up, congestion pricing tanked, bridge tolls didn't pass muster with the legislature, the real estate market collapsed. Borrowing that had masked government cuts spurred a big rise in debt service. Transit funding in New York City, and everywhere, entered a long, dark, endless tunnel.
The MTA faced an $800 million deficit, more than the budgets of most U.S. transit systems.
This week, it was leaked that the MTA will likely limit it's unlimited ride cards to 90 rides a month, when it unveils it's fare hike plans Wednesday. Also gone, as WNYC's Matthew Schuerman reports, the one day unlimited ride pass, now $7.
At the MTA, the fun is over.
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) With some fanfare, Ford CEO Alan Mulally traveled to New York City’s Rockefeller Center to unveil a new a more fuel efficient version of its popular Explorer SUV in 2011. The Explorer was the top selling vehicle in the US for much of the 1990’s. But fuel efficiency, it turns out, can be a relative term, and the new, fuel-efficient Ford is well below the Obama Administration's standards for light trucks to achieve 2016.
Bridge goes under a bridge. (Willis Avenue, under the Manhattan)
(Stephen Nessen, WNYC) To make everything less disruptive, the New York City DOT says, it had a new Willis Avenue Bridge built upstate, floated it down the Hudson, and had it make a brief stay in Bayonne, NJ, before floating it up the East River this morning. Rubbernecking abounded. See the slide show, here.
"As a man who has spent well over half of his life in a wheelchair with a permanent spinal cord injury, I can say that my feelings about this landmark law have generally been negative" writes Takeaway host John Hockenberry in that program's blog. But on the 20th anniversary of the measure designed to make transit, public accommodations, and buildings more accessible, Hockenberry decides to come to the celebration anyway.
"So call me a grump. Call me late to the party. I have to say that after 2 decades, it’s 'Happy Birthday, ADA,' from this beneficiary. There’s a long way to go, but in my rear view mirror I can see how far we’ve come.
Full blog entry here.
Takeaway segment here.
(Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) Now that carbon caps or any other direct curbs on greenhouse gases appear dead in the Senate, at least for now, it seems like a good time to ask: How did one of President Barack Obama's key domestic initiatives fall apart?
The political press is rife with stories looking at the demise of a global warming policy as part of an energy bill slated to hit the Senate floor this week. But for the Senate the bottom line seems to be this: You just don't try to pass big, controversial, economy-changing legislation so close to an election. Not if you're serious about passing it, that is.
(There are dissenters to this view. On WNYC's Brian Lehrer show July 23, New York Congressman Anthony Weiner argued pretty strongly that Senator Reid was cowardly not to try-- and that a public debate might have helped Reid accrue a few more votes.)
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said it plainly last week. He just didn't have the 60 votes needed to pass an energy bill that included a cap-and-trade system for limiting carbon emissions. That stayed true even when Democrats tried to take the edge off by narrowing the plan to apply to utilities alone, an idea many of the utilities themselves supported. Why not?
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Brooklyn and Queens Congressman Anthony Weiner says he doubts climate change legislation will be passed in this Congress. His remarks on the Brian Lehrer show come on the heels of Senator Harry Reid's announcement that the U.S. Senate won't take up legislation that would put a price on carbon emissions anytime soon.
Last summer, the House, after much sturm-and-drang, narrowly passed sweeping climate change legislation to limit CO2 emissions. But the Senate bill has gotten narrower and narrower, until Reid announced a very limited set of reforms yesterday.
Weiner's told WNYC's Brian Lehrer show that he's skeptical that Democrats will be able to get energy legislation passed before the mid term elections.
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) And that's an improvement. In a report released to Congress today, the GAO says "one in four bridges in the United States is either structurally deficient and in need of repair, or functionally obsolete and is not adequate for today's traffic." Turns out that's better than it was twelve years ago, but the GAO is decrying the lack of comprehensive information on state and local bridge spending. The GAO says that makes it impossible to measure whether federal bridge spending is effective, and whether localities are using federal funds to supplant spending they would have made anyway.
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) When, in 2007, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg first signed on to the idea of congestion pricing -- charging private motorists to drive in parts of Manhattan during peak periods -- he took on one of the biggest battles of his administration. Congestion pricing was widely derided by drivers, never gained traction in the legislature and was killed in Albany.
But every idea has its time. In New York and San Francisco, the idea of congestion pricing is getting bandied about again. San Francisco County Transportation Authority holds hearings about that city's plan starting next week. And in New York, Stephen Goldsmith, Bloomberg's new Deputy Mayor for Operations and the former Mayor of Indianapolis, gave one of the administration's biggest pushes for the idea in years, in an interview with NY1 television. (The discussion starts about 9 minutes in).
"It's not just the revenue from congestion pricing that makes it so exciting," Goldsmith told Inside City Hall host Elizabeth Kaledin. "You've got a limited number of transportation mechanisms and different ways to get around ... And congestion pricing causes people to think differently about how they consume those roads and consume those bridges and so it's a very important signal to the populace."
Full transcript here:
(Matthew Schuerman, WNYC) In Boston, your Android phone can tell you, in San Francisco, you can check your wrist watch. Now New York, which has not been nearly as advanced in installing GPS-tracking devices on its buses, is dipping its toe in the waters.
New York's MTA is putting in the devices as part of a pilot program to test smart cards -- computer-chip embedded fare cards à la London's Oyster card. Because those cards need a modem, the buses' whereabouts are tracked -- and that information can be disseminated to riders.
The smart card pilot launched in June on eight Manhattan and Bronx bus lines. Riders tap their fare cards instead of swiping them. Later this year, the MTA will begin taking the data from one of those routes and send it back to riders that request it, via text messages or the web browser on their cell phones.
“If we are successful in implementing this program we will drastically reduce the cost and time needed to track our 6000-bus fleet,” MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said.
(Jackie Yamanaka, Yellowstone Public Radio) Where you stand depends on where you sit. And so Republican Senator John Barrasso says he's concerned with the share urban projects will get in the next federal transportation bill -- even though the state has long benefited from federal highway formulas per Wyomingite.
The White House's "Sustainable Communities" initiative has caught Barrasso's eye, and his ire. Barrasso says the affordable housing and transit program favors larger metropolitan regions areas over places like his spread-out home state. "People in rural communities are paying for the big cities' mass transit, instead of just for our roads," he tells Yellowstone Public Radio.
The story, here. Transcript after the jump.
But as Pro Publica and others have reported, Wyoming was given $1,519 per capita in Stimulus funding, and historically has done well in federal highway funding, because formulas favor "states with lots of roads and few people."
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) UPDATED New York City's Taxi and Limousine Commission has licensed five commuter van operators to pick up riders along bus routes that were discontinued June 27th, when New York's transit system made its most extensive service cuts since the days depicted in the movie "Taxi Driver."
The use of so-called dollar vans has been called "a cowards way out" by the Transport Workers Union. Former Chicago Transit Authority Chief and current interim President of City College Robert "Buzz" Paaswell says the transit cuts are a "tragedy of the first order," and shakes his head that the city has come to rely on dollar vans as a means of transit.
But for riders in Eastern Queens who have few subway options, and those in Brownstone and other areas of Brooklyn that otherwise have no transit connectivity, the vans are bound to provide some relief. Riders can board at designated stops, disembark anywhere, and can't use metrocards. The TLC says it is unsure how many riders a day will use the service, though it says anywhere from 650 to 2100 riders a day used the old bus routes.
The routes covered include the former B23, B71, B39, Q74, and Q79. Here's the press release:
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Speaking at a ribbon cutting for an electric vehicle battery plant in Holland, MI, today, President Barack Obama said a major barriers to entry for EV consumers -- battery costs -- are about to drop.
From his remarks:
"For example, the workers at this plant, already slated to produce batteries for the new Chevy Volt, learned the other day that they will also be supplying batteries for the new electric Ford Focus as soon as this operation gears up. That means that by 2012, the batteries will be manufactured in Holland, Michigan, instead of South Korea. So when you buy one of these vehicles, the battery could be stamped “Made in America” – just like the car.
And here’s another benefit. Because of advances in the manufacture of these batteries, their costs are expected to come down by nearly 70 percent in the next few years, which will make electric and hybrid cars and trucks more affordable for more Americans. And that, too, will mean more jobs – not to mention less dependence on oil."
Here's the White House Report on EV Batteries and the Recovery Act.