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Transportation Nation

It's Official. Obama Announces 54.5 MPG Fuel Efficiency Standards

Friday, July 29, 2011

We knew this was coming, but here's the official announcement just out from the DOT on President Obama's new tougher Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standards.

Full report coming soon.

Press Release from the DOT:

President Obama Announces Historic 54.5 mpg Fuel Efficiency Standard
Consumers will save $1.7 trillion at the pump, $8K per vehicle by 2025

WASHINGTON, DC – President Obama today announced a historic agreement with twelve major automakers to pursue the next phase in the Administration’s national vehicle program, increasing fuel economy to 54.5 miles per gallon for cars and light-duty trucks by Model Year 2025. The President was joined by GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Hyundai, BMW, Volvo, Mazda, Mitsubishi and Jaguar – which together account for over 90% of all vehicles sold in the United States – as well as the United Auto Workers (UAW), and the State of California, who were integral to developing this agreement.

“This agreement on fuel standards represents the most important step we’ve ever taken as a nation to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said President Obama. “Many of these companies were part of an agreement we reached two years ago to raise the fuel efficiency of their cars over the next five years. By 2025, the average fuel economy of their vehicles will nearly double to almost 55 miles per gallon.”

Building on the Obama administration’s agreement for Model Years 2012-2016 vehicles, which will raise fuel efficiency to 35.5 mpg and begin saving families money at the pump this year, the next round of standards will require performance equivalent to 54.5 mpg by 2025.

These programs combined with the model year 2011 light truck standard represent the first meaningful update to fuel efficiency standards in three decades and span Model Years 2011 to 2025. Together, they will save American families $1.7 trillion dollars at the pump, and by 2025 result in an average fuel savings of over $8,000 per vehicle. Additionally, these programs will dramatically cut oil consumption, saving a total of 12 billion barrels of oil, and by 2025 reduce oil consumption by more than 4 million barrels of oil a day – more than America currently imports from the Persian Gulf, Venezuela, and Russia combined.

The standards also curb carbon pollution, cutting more than 6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas over the life of the program – equivalent to an entire year’s worth of carbon dioxide emissions from the United States. The oil savings, consumer, and environmental benefits of this comprehensive program are detailed in a new report, Driving Efficiency:  Cutting Costs for Families at the Pump and Slashing Dependence on Oil, which the Administration released today.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) have worked closely with auto manufacturers, the state of California, environmental groups, and other stakeholders for several months to ensure these standards are achievable, cost-effective and preserve consumer choice.  The program would increase the stringency of standards for passenger cars by an average of five percent each year. The stringency of standards for pick-ups and other light-duty trucks would increase an average of 3.5 percent annually for the first five model years and an average of five percent annually for the last four model years of the program, to account for the unique challenges associated with this class of vehicles.

“This is another important step toward saving money for drivers, breaking our dependence on imported oil and cleaning up the air we breathe,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “American consumers are calling for cleaner cars that won’t pollute their air or break their budgets at the gas pump, and our innovative American automakers are responding with plans for some of the most fuel efficient vehicles in our history.”

“These standards will help spur economic growth and job creation, protect the environment, and strengthen our national security by reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Working together, we are setting the stage for a new generation of clean vehicles.”


A national policy on fuel economy standards and greenhouse gas emissions provides regulatory certainty and flexibility that reduces the cost of compliance for auto manufacturers while addressing oil consumption and harmful air pollution. Consumers will continue to have access to a diverse fleet and can purchase the vehicle that best suits their needs.

EPA and NHTSA are developing a joint proposed rulemaking, which will include full details on the proposed program and supporting analyses, including the costs and benefits of the proposal and its effects on the economy, auto manufacturers, and consumers. After the proposed rules are published in the Federal Register, there will be an opportunity for public comment and public hearings. The agencies plan to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking by the end of September 2011. California plans on adopting its proposed rule in the same time frame as the federal proposal.

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Transportation Nation

New York Expected To Select Bike Share Vendor By Next Month

Monday, July 11, 2011

Bikeshare users in Washington, DC (Photo: Tara Bahrampour)

New York's bike share program is expected to advance this summer when the city announces its selection of a vendor to run New York's proposed 10,000-bike system. Sources say that the city is in the final stages of the selection program. An announcement could come as soon as this month.

The DOT won't comment, other than to refer reporters to its website, which projects the announcement will come in the summer of 2011.

The full program is slated to be up and running in the spring of 2012. Officials have said a pilot program to test the bikes could be in place as early as this fall.

Under the proposed bike share program, first reported by Transportation Nation last November,  those paying annual or daily membership fees could pick up a bike in one of any number of locations, and drop it off at any other station. City officials expect the system will augment the city's subway system, which is particularly poor at serving riders on the far west and far east sides of Manhattan. Bike share will also allow riders traveling from east to west, who are now constrained to walk or use snail-like crosstown buses, to scoot across town.

New York's is projected to be North America's largest system. The second largest will be Montreal's, with 5,000 bikes, and then Mexico City's, which is looking to expand its 1,300-bike system to nearly 4,000.  Washington, DC, Denver, and Minneapolis all have active bike shares, as do European cities including London, Paris, and Barcelona.

Bike shares have not been without problems. Early systems, like Paris's, were plagued with theft and vandalism, though operators say updated GPS technology has greatly reduced bike losses.

And government officials from cities with established bike shares, like Angel Lopez Rodriguez, Director of Mobility for Barcelona, acknowledge they underestimated the logistical challenges of making sure bikes are evenly distributed around the city.  Lopez Rodriguez says that bike share stations in the hills tend to empty quickly, while those in the flatter, downhill part of Barcelona fill up so users can't find a place to dock their bikes.

But Lopez Rodriguez says he considers his program a success because it's hiking the number of Barcelona residents who regularly bike to 20 percent.

Some bikeshares, like Washington, DC's, offer riders rewards points for returning bikes to the station they checked them out from.

A much-bruited about article in the NY Times also raised questions about the financing of New York's system. But bike-share analysts say New York's system won't be like Paris's or Barcelona's, which are funded by advertising companies, or even like Montreal's, which closes up for the winter.

Instead, they point to Washington, DC's Capital Bikeshare, which has been endorsed by the US Secretary of Transportation, is largely funded through federal clean-air grants, and has some 15,000 members and more than 50,000 casual users.   Alison Cohen, President of Alta Bicycle Share, which operates the DC systems, says the usage levels are surpassing expectations.

The DC program required an upfront investment of $6 million, with 80 percent of that coming from the federal government.

New York has pledged not to use any taxpayer funding for its program. The city's transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, has argued that New York's density and flatness will ensure the financial success of its bike share program.


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Transportation Nation

Senator: I'll Go After All Energy Tax Breaks

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

(Todd Zwillich -- Washington, D.C) As Congress rummages for every dollar it can find to throw toward the national debt, one Republican senator says he knows where he can find billions: energy tax breaks.

Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, the number-three Republican in the Senate, says he's cooking up a plan to cancel most if not all tax breaks enjoyed by the energy sector. Instead Alexander would spend the money on clean energy R+D and lowering the deficit.

This comes a day after Alexander and 33 other Republicans backed a proposal to eliminate $6 billion in taxpayer subsidies enjoyed by the ethanol industry. That vote was seen in Washington as a strong signal that Republicans are ready to put once-sacred tax breaks on the table in an effort to strike a debt deal with Democrats.

"I and my staff are looking at all energy tax breaks," Alexander told reporters on Capitol Hill Wednesday. "I expect that before long I'll have legislation that will look at all tax breaks," he said.

Such a bill would almost certainly become part of a broader debate over reducing the national debt or another fight over tax code reform expected later this year.

Either way, the success of Alexander's effort could mean a fundamental reordering--or in some cases elimination--of billions in tax breaks helping the energy sector.

Alexander said he'll try to eliminate all or most long-standing energy tax breaks and instead put some of the money toward "a Manhattan project for clean energy research." A lot of the burden would fall squarely on utilities and power generation companies. But ethanol, natural gas, and oil and gas tax credits opposed by most Democrats would also presumably be included. Democrats are already vowing to include a repeal of oil company tax credits in any deal with Republicans over the debt.

Alexander is a supporter of electric cars, however, and he said Wednesday he'd favor some "jump start" tax incentives for electric cars and the development of a 500-mile battery. The idea, he said, is to give a boost to burgeoning clean energy technology then cast it to the mercy of the free market.

"I don't think electric cars deserve any sort of government support after four, five years. If they can't survive in the marketplace then they ought to be, y'know, thrown in the junk pile," Alexander said.

Right now consumers can cash in on a $7,500 credit for buying a plug-in electric car. There's also a $1,000 federal residential charging credit for plug-in car owners.

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Transportation Nation

Electric Bus Maker Gets Funding Boost from GM, Kleiner Perkins

Monday, June 13, 2011

A young electric bus maker got a boost Monday from GM, Kleiner Perkins and other funders, rescuing it from potential collapse, and speeding up the deployment of electric buses in at least three cities.

Proterra announced $30 million in funding after a rough spot with a key investor was snagged in a ponzi scheme (Proterra was uninvolved). Jeff Granato, president of Proterratells Transportation Nation, "this gets us caught up with all our suppliers" Adding, "if Proterra didn't make it past this time, it would have been a big setback to the industry."

While there is active competition in the electric car market, there aren't any other electric bus manufacturers delivering vehicles to municipal transit agencies right now, and Proterra is barely getting started themselves. That's not for lack of need or opportunity. Buses are just about the worst category of polluter per passenger mile. And regulations are rolling out that will incentivize adoption pretty soon. California is requiring 15 percent of buses purchased by municipal agencies  to be zero-emissions vehicles starting by 2012. Proterra’s EcoRide BE-35 bus is currently the only one that meets the regulatory requirements.

Right now, the only city where Proterra's all electric buses are on the road is Pomona California where they make an 8 mile loop on Route 291. The buses can recharge in less than ten minutes at a layover spot where the buses have to wait for 15 minutes to stay on schedule anyway. The city's transit agency paid $5.6 million for three buses and two chargers.

Granato says, "the primary customer for us will be public transit agencies." He's signed preliminary deals with San Antonio and Tallahassee to get pilot routes in place by the end of the year like the one on Pomona.

The nature of public transit may actually help make electric vehicles more affordable. "You can very specifically put the capacity of energy on board that the route demands," Granato says, explaining that agencies can avoid paying for extra battery power on routes that have longer or more frequent layovers suitable for charging. That means the price can come down once there is enough data to make more precise calculations on energy use. "That's the wonderful thing about public transit. The routes are very predictable. You've got the ability to ... spec the system to the exact needs of the route and the schedule," he says.

The buses could run for up to four hours without a charge, and the charge could be timed to overlap with required break times for drivers.

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Transportation Nation

NYC Mayor Bloomberg Touts Bus Rapid Transit, Sort Of

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Mayor Bloomberg Speaking at City Climate Change Summit in Sao Paolo

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Speaking from the C-40 conference on cities and climate change from Sao Paolo on The Takeaway this morning, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg  seemed to endorse the idea of more Bus Rapid Transit in New York.  It's the first time I've heard him tout BRT on a national media program.

I say sort of, because Mayor Bloomberg didn't quite say BRT, though he seemed to be reaching for those words.   You'll just have to listen. ( About 4:40 in)

Here's what he did say:

"We focus on mass transit. Other cities focus on more roads, we’re not going to have more roads in New York City. We can have better mass transit and a lot of these things, buses, much more rapid trans—buses, rapid -- buses that don’t sepnd as much time at lights and that reduce the time of getting on and off."

In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg's DOT has presided over the launch of there are two s0-called "Select Bus" routes, one in the Bronx, and one in Manhattan.  The buses have some BRT-like features (like off-board payment and red-light signal priority) thought according to ITDP, New York's select buses aren't exactly BRT.

Bloomberg also noted on The Takeaway that just 20 percent of New York's pollution comes from transportation and about 80 percent from buildings, the reverse of most other cities, since New Yorker's live so densely and rely on transit far more than in any other city in the U.S.


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Transportation Nation

Audio: Ilya Marritz's Take On Christie Greenhouse Gas Decision

Friday, May 27, 2011

Want to understand why NJ Governor Chris Christie exited the 10-state cap and trade program? Listen here:

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Transportation Nation

Christie Pulls Plug on Greenhouse Gas Initiative For NJ

Thursday, May 26, 2011

(New York, NY -- Ilya Marritz, WNYC) UPDATED WITH VIDEO New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is withdrawing New Jersey from a greenhouse gas emissions reduction program by the end of the year.

The cap-and-trade program — the Northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative — requires power plants in 10 northeast states to buy emissions credits for every ton of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.

In recent months, Christie cast doubt on the science of global warming, and eliminated the state's Office of Climate Change.

"The whole system is not working as it was intended to work," Christie said. "It is a failure."

But State Senate President Steve Sweeney said the program "has wide-spread support and its principles are largely endorsed by the people of New Jersey. Removing New Jersey from RGGI can only cause harm to our state’s environment."

The New Jersey Sierra Club called the move "an environmental disaster."

Proceeds from the program have been used to fund energy efficiency and environmental programs. Last year, Christie raided the fund to help balance the state's budget.

Here's the video from Christie's office -- note the headline, "NJ's Future is Green," is Christie's office's own spin on the announcement.

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Transportation Nation

New Fuel Economy Stickers Could Change Buying Habits

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

(New York, NY- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) The EPA says it will require car makers to put labels on new vehicles showing consumers how much they'll spend in a year on fuel. And how much they'll pollute.

The new labels reflect federal fuel standards passed last year that require better gas mileage in cars and trucks. Part of what the labels will show is how much money a buyer will save in fuel costs over five years compared to an average car under the old fuel standard--and how much more money they'll save if the car is electric.

The labels will also rate a vehicle on a one-to-ten scale for smog and greenhouse emissions. Student Rob Renz stopped by an EPA news conference in Lower Manhattan to inspect one of the new labels.

"I'm into cars," he said. "But I like to know a lot before I buy anything. I'd like to know each and every detail of what I'm about to buy."

He said liked what he saw. Use of the labels by car makers is voluntary until 2013, when they become mandatory.

The Departments of Energy and Transportation decided not to include a letter grade for fuel efficiency on the stickers, a proposal for which, some environmental groups had advocated. Read the full DOT announcement highlighting all the changes here.

And for a visual, you can see the sticker online here. There's a slightly different design depending on whether the car is gas powered, plug-in hybrid, or electric.

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Public Transportation is Good For You: Study

Thursday, May 19, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) If New Yorkers took fuller advantage of the city's public transit system, bike lanes, and sidewalks, they'd be healthier. That's the message behind a report released today by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Health Benefits of Active Transportation in New York City states that "one in eight deaths annually among New Yorkers aged 30 and over could be prevented with more physical activity." While the report covers the personal health benefits of "active transportation" (defined as "self-propelled" methods like walking, bicycling, jogging, and in-line skating), it also underscores the importance of public transportation. Some highlights:

  • On average, people who walk or bike to work get more than an hour of active transportation time daily.
  • New Yorkers who walk or bike to work get more than 40 minutes more combined transportation and recreation physical activity per day than those who use a personal car or taxi.
  • New Yorkers who take public transportation for most of their commute get almost half an hour more daily combined transportation and recreation physical activity than those who use a personal car or taxi.

Thomas Farley, the commissioner of the city's Department of Health, said how you commute can make a big difference. "If you simply walk to work, run errands 20 to 30 minutes a day," he said, "you can reduce your diabetes risk by 30%, and reduce your risk of premature death by 20%."

You can read the report highlights here (pdf), or see the full report below.

Pr 009- 11 Active Transportation

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Transportation Nation

SF Will Charge Your Electric Car, for Free Until 2013

Monday, May 09, 2011

(San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced today that the city plans to encourage electric vehicle ownership – and calm "range anxiety" – by installing free charging stations in 19 city-owned garages and several other locations around the city, ranging from SFO airport to neighborhood branch libraries. The juice will flow freely until 2013, when the city will likely begin to price it. Full press release from the Mayor's office below.

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Montgomery County, Maryland, Gets Closer to Having a True BRT System

Thursday, May 05, 2011

(Montgomery County, MD -- Matt Bush, WAMU)  Council members in Montgomery County, Md., received an update on plans to build Bus Rapid Transit lines in the county this week. The price tag for the plan is high, but at least one County Council member says it must be built because Montgomery County is losing the transit battle with its neighbors.

Bus Rapid Transit: 'Not Your Father's Bus' On Randolph Road, the Bus Rapid Transit route would go from the White Flint Metrorail station to the Glenmont Metrorail station. Courtesy of: Matt Bush View more images from this gallery.

The proposed bus lines aren't the traditional routes you see now. They would be rapid buses that would use county roads but have their own lanes, so stopping because of traffic would be minimal.

And the buses look different too. They're low to the ground, resembling something that looks more like a rail car, according to Michael Flood, with the consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff.

"It's not your father's bus. It's not the bus many of us have known. It's a sleek vehicle," he says.

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Transportation Nation

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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Transportation Nation

Prefeito de Nova Iorque, Michael Bloomberg, visita São Paulo

Thursday, April 14, 2011

O Prefeito Do Nova Iorque, Michael Bloomberg, em Hong Kong

(New York, NY -- Gisele Regatao, WNYC & Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) For all our readers in Brazil – obrigada.  This one’s for you.

O prefeito de Nova Iorque, Michael Bloomberg, estará em São Paulo no mês que vem para uma conferência internacional sobre cidades e mudança climática. Bloomberg, que é o líder do C-40, um grupo das maiores cidades do mundo trabalhando em questões de mudança climática, diz que está ansioso para colaborar com o prefeito de São Paulo, Gilberto Kassab.

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“Nós todos reconhecemos que as cidades – aonde, pela primeira vez na história, mais da metade da população do mundo vive e que respondem por mais de 70 porcento da emissão de gases que provocam o efeito estufa – são as responsáveis pelo futuro da humanidade”, disse Bloomberg numa conferência em Hong Kong no começo do ano. O prefeito de Nova Iorque estava então falando para uma platéia de muitos dos prefeitos que estarão em São Paulo para a reunião do C-40.

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Transportation Nation

Bill Clinton: China is "Doing Great" on High-Speed Rail [UPDATED]

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

(File Photo CC by World Economic Forum)

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) President Clinton was in New York City today to join NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg in announcing the merger of  C40 cities, a global coalition of world capitals led by the Mayor to head off Global Warming and the Clinton Climate Initiative.

At the announcement at Gracie Mansion, President Clinton gave high marks to China's high-speed rail progress. "Just as our Congress is defunding rapid rail, they have tested a train that runs 306 m.p.h almost 100 m.p.h. faster than the fastest Japanese and German trains. I would give them a good grade on that. They are doing great."

Listen to Bill Clinton on China's high-speed rail.

Clinton also spoke about green jobs among other environmental topics, WNYC's Bob Hennelly asked the President, "In this last budget deal to keep the government open, one of the things that took s terrible hit was both the EPA and the kind of green jobs you talk about. How can we overcome the kinds of setbacks and develop this long term view?"

Listen to Bill Clinton on green energy and jobs:


One of the real challenges that the President faces in negotiating with the Republicans--and it’s a similar to what I faced in 1995--was captured in the Wisconsin debate. That is, there’s a difference between finding the most effective way to reduce the deficit and the debt and using that to further some ideological goal.

Now, a lot of people in the new majority don’t believe in climate change and don’t believe in green energy. In the tax compromise at the end of the year, the only bad thing about it was they got rid of that payment which was the equivalent of a 30 percent per employee tax credit for green manufacturing jobs.

But, you know, neither the mayor nor I can have an enormous amount of influence on that. I hope that there will be some thought given to that. All this business about they have to subsidize green energy. That’s just, more than others, not true.

Coal doesn’t pay for the air pollution, external costs that they make. We give…  the administration is supporting, and the Republicans voted for subsidizing nuclear giving them big low interest loan.

And in 2005, the Congress recognizing that no insurance company would write insurance on a nuclear power plant, basically said the federal government would do it. How much bigger subsidy can you get?

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Transportation Nation

BLOOMBERG: Ped Plazas Reduce Air Pollution by 40 to 60 Percent

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

This in from NYC Mayor's Office:


PlaNYC Report Shows Reduction in Harmful Pollutants that Can Irritate Lungs, Worsen Asthma, Emphysema, and Increase Risk of Premature Death

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley, Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and the Mayor’s Sustainability Director David Bragdon today released the results of the most recent Health Department air quality study which shows the impact of traffic on neighborhood air pollution across New York City.  The report documents an immediate and substantial air quality improvement in Times Square after the creation of a pedestrian plaza. The data are contained in the latest report from the New York City Community Air Survey (NYCCAS), a comprehensive survey of street-level air quality in the five boroughs created as part of PlaNYC. A quarter-million pedestrians enter Times Square each day and have the potential to benefit from the cleaner air. After the pedestrian plaza was created, concentrations of traffic-related pollutants were substantially lower than measurements from the year before and were less than in other midtown locations.

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New York State Continuing to Issue Thousands of Parking Placards

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Subaru in Lower Manhattan parking in a no parking zone displays placard that says "this vehicle is on official police business." Photo: Andrea Bernstein

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration is continuing to issue some 3500 parking placards to state legislators and state government employees. Those placards permit the bearer to park in most areas in New York City where others could not.  Many of the permits say “this vehicle is on official police business,” even though they are frequently carried by officials with no law enforcement responsibilities.

The practice is not new – it’s so accepted that spokespeople for the Governor, Assembly Speaker, and Senate Majority Leader could not immediately say how the placards are distributed, who gets them, or why.   But, according to Queens State Senator Tony Avella, who cut up his placard and then issued a press release about it, “it’s the kind of business-as-usual we promised to reform.”

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Governor Andrew Cuomo was swept in last November -- a Democrat winning in a pro-Republican year around the country -- on a platform of bringing a new era of ethical responsibility to Albany, a notoriously dysfunctional state government.    To the relief of many New Yorkers, he said he would "end business as usual."

Avella said he would not use his placard because, as a State Senator, he should experience New York the way his constituents do “and that includes looking for parking.”  Avella also said “I’m not on official police business, nor is any politician who gets one of these on official police business.”

Other elected officials have said in the past that having the placards enables them to attend several community events in a day, and that driving around looking for parking would mean they couldn’t serve their constituents as effectively.

Despite repeated inquiries over the course of a week, Governor Cuomo’s spokesperson, Joshua Vlasto, did not explain why the placards refer to “official police business,” even though that is not the case.

Some years ago, Mayor Michael Bloomberg faced a controversy when it was revealed that there were some 140,000 placards in use by city employees.  Those placards also used to refer to “official police business.”  But the Mayor promised to reduce city placards by half, and changed the language for non-law enforcement officers to “this vehicle is on official city business.”

The placards were a potential embarrassment because nothing irks a New York City resident more than the whiff of a city official getting a privilege he or she does not.  But also, making it easier for city employees to park is an inducement to drive to work at a time when Mayor Bloomberg is encouraging people to drive less and take mass transit more.   Other mayors around the country have also been  eliminating employee parking privileges for that reason, notably former Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco, who took away the right of city employees to park free at meters.

When asked if Governor Cuomo would look at changing practices involving the state permits, Vlasto said in an email, “we are reviewing the matter.”

Right now, some 6000 placards are distributed by the state, according to the David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the Office of Court Administration, which oversees the production of the placards.  Some 3500 go to New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.  Those placards say “State of New York Executive Branch.”  A spokesman for that Division, Dennis Michalski, could not immediately say on Friday how the recipients of those 3500 placards are chosen.

In addition, Bookstaver said, some 2500 placards are distributed to the New York State Judiciary – and some of those – about a hundred, go to the New York State Department of Environmental Protection, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and the Waterfront Commission. Those entities do have law enforcement responsibilities.

Senator Tony Avella's placard, cut down the middle

Senator Avella was unsure how he was chosen to receive one.  He said his placard was delivered to his Albany office, and that his understanding was that all State Senators received them.  A spokesman for Republican Senate Majority Leader, Dean Skelos, whose party regained power after two years on the outs, Scott Rief,  said placards had been distributed previously by majority leaders as a perk, but he said that practice had ended.  The Governor’s office did not offer clarification on how the placards are distributed.

The pro-transit advocacy group, Transportation Alternatives, has been working for many years to shine on light on the practice, which it says encourages the use of personal vehicles over other forms of transportation, a practice they say is environmentally harmful.    TA’s Noah Budnick said “this is one of those things that recipients don’t question, because things have always been done this way.  But widespread distribution of placards for people who don’t need them has got to stop.”

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Planes Carry Exodus from Japan to JFK Airport

Friday, March 18, 2011

Passengers arriving at JFK Airport Friday on Japan Airlines Flight 006 from Tokyo.

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Travelers from Japan trickled into New York City airports this week in the wake of the devastating earthquake, tsunami and worsening conditions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. At JFK Airport, each arrived with a story.

Stephen Ossorio, 21, landed from Tokyo Friday morning — one week after the devastating 9.0 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Originally from Brooklyn, Ossorio was studying business at Temple University in Tokyo for the past two years. He said he enjoyed his life in Japan, but the more he heard conflicting reports from Japanese authorities about spread of radiation from the plant, the less he trusted them. Full story over at

As the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant remains dangerously unstable, the growing exodus of foreigners from Japan has begun arriving at JFK Airport, each with a story. Stephen Ossorio, 21, arrived at JFK airport from Tokyo this morning--one week after that devastating 9.0 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Originally from Brookyn, Ossorio has been studying business at Temple University in Tokyo for the past two years. He said he enjoyed his life in Japan to the same degree that he normally loathes flying--a lot. He'd had no plans to leave that country any time soon.

But the more he heard conflicting reports from Japanese authorities about spread of radiation from the plant, the less he trusted them.

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Transportation Nation

Federal Judge Won't Hear Appeal on Green Taxis

Monday, February 28, 2011

(New York -- WNYC Newsroom) The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by New York City officials who want to force cabs to purchase more fuel-efficient cars.

The suit was brought by the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade in 2007, when the city first announced plans to require cabs get at least 30 miles per gallon by 2009. Spokesman Michael Woloz said the victory is bittersweet.  "It's very unfortunate because everybody — the city and the industry — could have used that four years to really get a more fuel-efficient fleet on the streets already," he said.

Woloz said that time could have been spent negotiating for a more reasonable time table to phase in fuel-efficient cabs.

Taxi and Limousine commissioner David Yassky said in a statement that the city would seek other ways to improve the city's air. He said some fleet owners have seen the "clear logic" of using greener cabs, and have voluntarily put 4,300 hybrids in service. Yassky will be on WNYC around 4:40 p.m. to discuss the decision today.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city will try to lobby federal officials, and that Monday's decision won't put a cramp in the city's greening plan. Federal judges said it is up to federal agencies and not local officials to regulate fuel economy and emission standards.

With the Associated Press

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Transportation Nation

Congestion Pricing Effort is Underway in New York

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  A private, non-profit group has been organizing to bring congestion pricing to New York City.  Environmentalist Alex Matthiessen, the former Hudson Riverkeeper and a former Clinton administration aide, has founded the Sustainable Transportation Campaign, a group devoted to seeking a regular, recurring funding stream for mass transit in the New York City region.  For the past six months, Mattheissen has been quietly meeting with potential supporters.  Still, there is no formal budget, list of supporters, or definite state proposal on congestion pricing.

The last time New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg pushed congestion pricing, it foundered in the state legislature.  A plan once championed by the socialist former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, as a way to transfer wealth from well-to-do to not-so-wealthy transit riders, became seen as billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg's scheme to keep middle-class workers out of Manhattan once it jumped across the pond.

Now, Mattheissen is spearheading a non-governmental approach. Supporters of congestion pricing hope that can separate the issue from Mayor Bloomberg's political fortunes.

Still, Bloomberg doesn't seem quite willing to stay above the fray. At a press conference today, he joked with reporters, "My God! How did they think of that?" before adding: "If they're working on it, I happen to think it makes some sense, but I'm going to stay out of it.  We've done everything we can. We had an idea. We did all the work to implement it and explain it to people.  But unfortunately it was like jumping 95 % across the Grand Canyon -- it didn't work."

Other groups who have supported congestion pricing in the past say they are still behind the concept, but are waiting to see a specific proposal from Mattheissen. Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, said she believes relieving congestion is a key priority for business in New York, but said there's no proposal to support. The Working Families Party said they also were waiting for a specific plan, but they hadn't signed off on anything.

Governor Cuomo expressed skepticism during the campaign about congestion pricing. Speaking in Poughkeepsie last week, he said a payroll tax passed last year to fund the MTA was "erroneous" and he was open to a "better way" to fund the MTA -- but he didn't say what that would be.

Manhattan State Senator Daniel Squadron supports the idea of congestion pricing and is floating the idea in Albany, though neither legislative leader has come out in favor of it.

More TN coverage:

NY Candidate Cuomo: Congestion Pricing "Moot";

NY Third Party Candidate Charles Barron Opposes Congestion Pricing;

NY's New Deputy Mayor Likes BRT and Congestion Charging--But Does He Like Bike Lanes?

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Transportation Nation

Obama: One Million Electric Vehicles by 2015

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

From the speech: "At the California Institute of Technology, they’re developing a way to turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars. At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, they’re using supercomputers to get a lot more power out of our nuclear facilities.  With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

"We need to get behind this innovation. And to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s."

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