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Jim O'Grady

Jim O'Grady appears in the following:

In Wake of Deadly Bronx Crash, New Fed Rules For Long-Distance Buses

Thursday, May 05, 2011

WNYC

Nearly two months after 15 people were killed in a bus crash in the Bronx, federal regulators have announced new safety rules for long-distance buses that increase oversight on drivers and new bus companies.

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NYC Advocacy Group: Subways Are Dirtier. MTA Disagrees.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) New York's subway cars are getting dirtier, according to a transit riders advocacy group.

The latest Shmutz Survey conducted by the Straphangers Campaign found only 47 percent of subway cars were clean when researchers rode the trains over two months last fall compared with 51 percent the year before. (Schmutz is a Yiddish word for icky dirt and is part of the lingua franca in New York City.)

The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the subway, is fighting back much more aggressively than it has in previous years: it disputes the findings and questions the report's methodology.

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City's Subways Are Getting Filthier, Says Advocacy Group

Thursday, May 05, 2011

WNYC

The city's subway are getting dirtier, according to a straphangers' advocacy group.

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NYC Dept of Transportation Says Biking Is Up And Streets Are Safer

Monday, May 02, 2011

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Biking continues to go up in New York as driving and transit ridership stays nearly flat, according to a report being released today by the New York City Department of Transportation. The report found that bicycle commuting into Manhattan increased by 13 percent in 2010. During that same period, subway and bus ridership dropped by a little bit over 2 percent, while car traffic rose slightly.

Source: NYC Dept of Transportation

Source: NYC Dept of Transportation

The report, the department's third annual Sustainable Streets Index, showed other biking trends pointed upward. Commuting by bike in New York City is up 262% in the past ten years, and bicyclists now make up a third of the evening rush hour traffic along major bike routes in Brooklyn and Manhattan. On top of that, more than half a million adult New Yorkers ride bicycles at least several times a month.

The report comes after several other reports, including reports out of NYU and Rutgers, say cycling is only a small percentage of commuters. But the NYC DOT says that is based on older data gathered by the US census, and that census data is an inexact measure of bike commuting because it only measures "primary" methods of commutes.  The DOT says its methods are more accurate because they measure actual bicycle riders, consistent with national traffic management measures.

Department of Transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said a big part of that growth came from cyclists using bike lanes. "I think if you build it they will come," she said about lanes. "They'll come if you build a safe, effective network that connects neighborhoods where people want to bike."

Critics say bike lanes take up too much road space and makes it harder for cars to navigate the city. But the report says in addition to bike lanes, expect the installation of traffic-calming features like pedestrian malls, street-narrowing, and removing through-lanes for turning bays. Sadik-Kahn said all of those changes have reduced deaths and injuries from crashes.

Other findings:

Traffic speeds in Midtown Manhattan improved by six percent between the fall of 2008 and the fall of 2009, and then leveled off in 2010.

Ridership on crosstown buses dropped 5 percent--except on 34th Street, which has dedicated lanes and countdown clocks.

January is the fastest month for overall traffic speed in New York. December is the slowest.

After the city began a pilot program that allowed businesses to take late-hour and early morning deliveries, delivery companies saw vehicle travel times improve 130% compared to evening and midday travel speeds. Sadik-Khan said the program will be made permanent and expanded.

New parking meters in Park Slope that raise prices during times of high demand reduced parking duration by 20 percent, enabling more drivers to find metered spaces and reducing overall traffic volumes on the neighborhood's main commercial avenues.

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Horse Players Train To The Track Again In NY

Friday, April 29, 2011

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) As of today, thoroughbred racing fans in New York resumed riding the Long Island Railroad to Belmont Raceway, a storied track just east of the borough of Queens.

The New York MTA cut the service last year--except for one day in June--to help close a gap in its budget. That one day was the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Triple Crown, when tens of thousands flock to the track. Other than that, horse players were left to drive or take the bus.

But then the New York State Racing Association came into a windfall, which it is drawing on to pay for the restored train service.

The shift in the association's fortunes began when New York State shuttered its dozens of Off-Track Betting parlors in December. As a result, attendance at Aqueduct Racetrack, another local venue for thoroughbred racing, jumped by 50 percent — and the handle, or total amount bet on the races, was up 70 percent.

New York Racing Association spokesman Dan Silver said that has been good for the bottom line of his company, which gets 10 percent of all wagers made at the track — more than the 3 percent it was getting from bets made at Off-Track Betting.

Silver said he's expecting a similar surge in attendance at Belmont Raceway during the upcoming spring and summer season.

That's why the association stepped up last week and agreed to pay the $150,000 it will cost to restore Long Island Railroad service to the track. Silver said the investment is worth it to get more customers. Spectators who take the train to Belmont this weekend are getting free admission to the grandstand.

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Biking on the Rise in the City, DOT Says

Friday, April 29, 2011

WNYC

The number of those biking in the city is increasing while those taking mass transit or driving has nearly leveled off, a new report found.

The findings, part of the Sustainable Streets Index report by the city Department of Transportation, found bicycle commuting into Manhattan increased by 13 percent in 2010. During that same period, subway and bus ridership dropped by a little more than 2 percent, and car traffic rose slightly.

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Report Finds Over Half of NYC Parking Placards Surveyed Are Either Bogus or Used Improperly

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Despite the Bloomberg administration's 2008 crackdown on counterfeit and improperly used parking placards, a new report say the city's system of issuing and overseeing the permits "remains broken."

Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group, found 57 percent of placards examined on the dashboards of vehicles in five New York business districts were either legal placards used illegally, or outright fakes. The rate of bogus placards is 95 percent in the courthouse area of Lower Manhattan, the report says, where only 11 of 244 placards surveyed were being properly used.

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The report's authors claim one in four of the 1,450 permits examined was a fake. They go on to extrapolate from the city's current claim of 78,000 legal placards that anywhere from 10,000 to 25,000 fraudulent placards are now in use by drivers. To give scale to those numbers, there are 12,000 yellow cabs in New York. The report says placard abuse in the courthouse area has actually increased since the group last studied the issue in 2007.

In 2008, Mayor Bloomberg directed every city agency to reduce its parking placards by 20 percent. He also centralized the issuance of placards to the New York Police Department and Department of Transportation. The city's best guess at the time was there were 150,000 to 170,000 parking permits in use--and those were just the legal ones.

"Parking placards are a necessary tool for conducting City business, but we have no tolerance for their abuse, which contributes to congestion," said Mayor Bloomberg at the time. "We will give out placards only to those who need to use them to further the public interest."

Apparently, that is a goal only partly realized. Transportation Alternatives researchers, who canvassed five busy neighborhoods in January, say they found a stubborn pattern of abuse. Bogus placards included official-looking permits unrecognized by the city, photocopies of real permits, expired permits and personal effects used as permits: transit vests, patrol manuals and even a sheet of paper scrawled with the letters "NYPD." Drivers typically used the bogus placards to double-park or leave their vehicles on sidewalks or in bike or bus lanes.

The report says the entire placard system once again needs an overhaul: "Each step in the process—from creation of the permits, to distribution and enforcement—is fatally flawed, creating a system wrought with abuse and lacking effective oversight."

Mayoral spokesman Stu Loeser disagreed. He said the city has cut the number of placards in half and works hard at enforcement. "Working with the Internal Affairs Bureau, the NYPD regularly tows cars using placards inappropriately," he said in and email. "In terms of fake placards, they get ticketed."

And city officials added that since the NYPD established its special Internal Affairs Bureau Placard enforcement program in April 2008, it has issued 28,000 summonses, towed 6,000 vehicles, and arrested 32 people for unauthorized use or duplication of official placards.

Transportation Alternatives says the best way to insure proper use of the placards would be to stamp each one with a bar code that could be scanned by traffic enforcement agents.

Read TA's Parking Placard Report.

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More Than Half of City Parking Placards Are Bogus, Improperly Used: Report Claims

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

WNYC

A new report claims the city's system of cracking down on counterfeit and improperly used parking placards "remains broken."

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After OTB Closes, Fans Head to the Track

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

WNYC

The shuttering of New York State's Off-Track Betting parlors last year seemed to initially deal a blow to the thoroughbred racing industry — but their closing may now mean fans are off to the races instead.

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Amtrak: Our Discount Bus-Level Fares Have Nothing To Do With Discount Buses

Thursday, April 21, 2011

This pro-train ad is not meant to imply competition with other modes of long-distance travel.

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Amtrak is in the midst of a three-day sale for northeast corridor travel. No big deal, according to Amtrak spokesman Cliff Coles, who said the railroad has been holding such sales for a year now. But what caught our eye were the Chinatown Bus-like prices: $29 for Washington, D.C., or Baltimore to New York; $19 for Washington, D.C., to Richmond, Virginia . The fares are valid for travel from May 10 to May 26.

That raises the obvious question of whether Amtrak is responding to competitive pressure from inter-city buses, which a DePaul University study says grew by six percent nationwide in 2010. Perhaps now is the time for Amtrak to make a savvy push to snag customers rattled by a string of deadly crashes that raise safety concerns about curbside buses.

Officially, none of that has anything to do with the low fare offer. "I don’t know that there’s anyone we’re competing against," said Coles. He added that Amtrak ridership nationwide in the last six months was up by four percent--as in, one-third less than the growth of inter-city buses. Coles did not have numbers for the northeast corridor.

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We Can't Afford Streetcars in Red Hook, City Says

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

WNYC

The city Department of Transportation has made it official: putting streetcars in Red Hook, Brooklyn, would cost too much to justify small gains in ridership over the existing B61 bus.

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Even A Guy Who Writes About Road Repair Can Win A Pulitzer

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC). New York Times economics columnist David Leonhardt, an acquaintance, won a Pulitzer Prize yesterday for commentary. That's good for me because it's satisfying to see a guy whose work you admire--and to whom you once threw a touchdown pass in Prospect Park--rewarded with a prize everyone has heard of.

It's also good for the larger discussion about government's role in the economy, to which Leonhardt contributes with unusual integrity and clarity. For example, here is his recent blog post on the debate about how a Federal Highway Bank could help shift governments from building new roads, some of them unnecessary, to repairing existing ones.

It's a geeky topic, which is OK by Transportation Nation. Leonhardt handles it with typical aplomb.

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NYC DOT Poised to Nix Streetcar Plan in Brooklyn

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

An old New York streetcar at rest on the Red Hook waterfront. (Photo by nickherber / Flickr Creative Commons)

(New York, NY -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) The New York City Department of Transportation says it won't support a proposed light rail line in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn because it's not worth the cost.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg promised to pilot a streetcar line along the Brooklyn or Queens waterfront during his 2009 re-election campaign. One possible location was a Red Hook line connecting the transit-starved neighborhood to subways in Downtown Brooklyn and nearby Carroll Gardens.

But a summary of the NYC DOT's study says the line would cost $176 million to build, and nearly $7 million a year to keep going. It also argues streetcars would attract only 12 percent more riders than a local bus route already carries. That's because the study assumes that with Red Hook car ownership rates barely breaking 20 percent, most people take mass transit already.

Mayoral spokesman Stu Loeser said other plans for light rail have been put on hold because of expected cuts in federal and state transportation aid.

Residents in favor of a streetcar line say it would be more durable and reliable than the bus. The department's findings come from a summary given to neighborhood groups. The full report is due out on Wednesday.

Read more on the report here.

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Lost And Unused Metrocards Add Up To $52 Million A Year in NYC

Monday, April 18, 2011

(Photo by: Darny / Flickr creative commons)

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) New Yorkers, have you ever lost a metrocard for months at the bottom of your purse or in between the couch cushions? Or maybe you still have one that would be worth ten dollars if you hadn't let it expire? Well, add those to everyone else's lost or unused Metrocards over a year and the total comes to $52 million.

In practical terms, riders' absentmindedness helps the NYC MTA. Say your cousin from Louisville leaves town with a pay-per-ride card with eight dollars on it: that's a service purchased that the NYC MTA needn't provide. But that money--all $52 million--could potentially be cashed in by riders. So it sits on the NYC MTA's books as a liability.

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Lost And Unused Metrocards Add Up To $52 Million a Year

Monday, April 18, 2011

WNYC

The value of lost, expired or unused Metrocards over the course of a year adds up to a hefty $52 million. To encourage riders to keep better track of cards, the MTA will start charging a $1 Metrocard replacement fee later this year.

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Feds Say Tour Bus Was Speeding Before Fatal Bronx Crash

Friday, April 15, 2011

(New York, NY -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) A report by federal investigators says a tour bus that crashed on Interstate 95 in the Bronx last month was speeding at 78 miles per hour shortly before it struck a highway signpost, killing fifteen passengers. The bus was returning to New York on a pre-dawn trip from a Connecticut Casino.

Driver Ophadell Williams said the March 12 accident began when a tractor trailer truck cut him off and struck the bus. But investigators say they found no evidence of an impact between the bus and another vehicle. And sensors on the bus' engine show it was moving at top speed down a southbound lane of the Hutchinson River Parkway only 45 seconds before impact.

Listen to an interview on this with Transportation Nation's Alex Goldmark.

According to the report, the bus swerved to the right off the highway, crossed an eleven-foot wide shoulder and smashed into a three-foot-tall steel guardrail. The bus plowed through the guardrail for 480 feet as it toppled onto its side. The bus' windshield hit the post of a massive highway sign, which sheared the bus in two along the base of the passenger windows almost all the way to the rear. The bus came to rest on top of the crushed guardrail, its wheels in the air, facing the highway.

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Budget Bus in Fatal Bronx Crash Was Speeding, Feds Find

Friday, April 15, 2011

WNYC

The budget bus that crashed on I-95 in the Bronx killing 15 passengers last month was speeding at 78 miles per hour moments before the tragic accident, a report by federal investigators revealed.

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Pedestrian Countdown Clocks Placed At Dangerous NYC Intersections

Monday, April 11, 2011

New pedestrian countdown clock in Brooklyn.

(New York, NY -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Pedestrians have forty-three new countdown clocks at some of New York City 's most dangerous intersections to tell them how much time there is left to cross the street. When the LED crosswalk signals show a flashing red hand, they also start displaying the dwindling seconds left until vehicles regain the right of way and may zoom past again.

City officials held a press conference announcing the new lights at the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Fulton Street in Brooklyn, where six streets cross.

"Individuals should not have to take their life into their hands when they cross Flatbush Avenue," said City Councilwoman Letitia James, who represents the area. "These countdown clocks will go a long way in improving safety and reducing pedestrian fatalities and cyclist fatalities in the city of New York."

The current crop of clocks is installed at dangerous intersections on major thoroughfares like Queens Boulevard, the Grand Concourse in the Bronx and Hylan Boulevard in Staten Island. Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said at the press conference that a 2010 department study showed "major corridors are two-thirds more deadly for pedestrians” than smaller roads.

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Former National Safety Board Chief Rips Bus Industry

Monday, April 11, 2011

(New York, NY -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) When three inter-city buses crashed in the northeast last month, killing 17 people and injuring dozens of others, public officials and many in the booming industry itself said the time had come for reform. The debate is over what kind of regulations to impose on the sprawling industry, which makes 750 million passenger trips a year and accounts for more than 2,000 arrivals and departures every week in New York City.

Among those calling for stricter regulation is James Hall, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board from 1984 to 2001, who in an interview with Transportation Nation criticized long distance bus companies for placing profits over safety, and government for letting it happen.

“We haven’t seen a commitment by the industry or the government," Hall said. "They have treated the people who ride these buses as second-class citizens and given them second class safety.”

He said the 2009 crash of a commuter airline in Buffalo, which killed 50 people, led to tighter regulation of short-hop air carriers; but fatal bus accidents have left bus operators relatively untouched by stricter safety rules.

"I'd like to see the federal government take the responsibility for the safe transportation of citizens on motorcoaches just as seriously as they take the safe transportation of more affluent citizens on commercial aviation," he said.

Hall said he's familiar with the rise and fall of official ire in the months after deadly bus crashes. Federal lawmakers, who have authority over interstate travel, express grave concern. They sometimes even take the next step and author a serious set of recommendations, such as the U.S. Department of Transportation's 2009 Motor Coach Safety Action Plan.That report inspired The Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act, which would've mandated safety upgrades like seat belts, stronger windows and fire suppression equipment on long distance buses.

The American Bus Association, a trade group based in Washington, DC, largely opposed the measure. It estimated the cost of the regulations for new buses at as much as $89,000 per vehicle. A typical new motor coach costs about $500,000. The bill failed.

Association president Peter Pantuso said he supported training bus drivers to a national standard. But he's concerned that mandatory safety features could drive up fares. And low fares are what keep bus operators in business, especially in the burgeoning discount sector.

"The industry is really made up of a lot of very, very small mom and pop companies who operate very safely," he said. "And there are a lot of regulations already in place. It’s a matter of enforcement."

Hall was not satisfied with that sentiment. “I have yet to see the American Bus Association be aggressive on the subject of safety," he said. "They’re aggressive in regard to insuring the profits of their own membership but they need to be just as aggressive in policing their own industry.”

Congress is poised to weigh in with two separate bus safety bills, both of which call for training drivers to a national standard and conducting stricter checks on them. They differ as to how much safety equipment upgrades should be imposed.

And soon the NTSB will release the results of its investigation into the March 12 crash in the Bronx that killed 15 people. The NTSB will also be examining the effectiveness of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the agency charged with regulatory enforcement of the tour bus industry and which has been criticized for lax oversight.

Pantuso said his association is all for rigorous enforcement of existing rules on driver rest and fitness, and inspections of vehicles. But he's wary of over-regulation. He says despite recent crashes, taking a long-distance bus is one of the safest modes of travel in North America--and that should count for something.

Philip White is a bus driver who earns $320 for driving round-trip in two days from New York to Richmond, VA--a five and a half to seven hour trip each way, depending on traffic. He works for Apex Bus, a company based in Manhattan's Chinatown. He recently leaned on the steering wheel in his bus and considered what's at stake when it comes to bus safety.

“Everybody on this bus has a wife or husband and kids," he said. "Or a mother and father at least. It’s not a joke.”

Listen to WNYC FM this morning to hear Hall's remarks.

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Debate Over Budget Bus Regulation Continues in Wake of Tragic Crashes

Saturday, April 09, 2011

WNYC

In the wake of three recent budget bus crashes in the northeast — killing 17 and injuring dozens of others — officials are now wrangling over what kind of regulations to impose on the sprawling industry, which makes 750 million passenger trips a year and accounts for more than 2,000 arrivals and departures every week in New York City.

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