Saturday, May 11, 2013
A study from Norway sheds a little light on what kind of person is buying electric cars, and how they drive.
Friday, April 05, 2013
Nearly five months after opening, the operators of the 495 Express Lanes are struggling to attract motorists to their congestion-free toll road in a region mired in some of the worst traffic congestion in the country.
Transurban, the construction conglomerate that put up $1.5 billion to build the 14-mile, EZ Pass-only corridor on the Beltway between the I-95 interchange and Dulles Toll Road, will let motorists use the highway free this weekend in a bid to win more converts.
“It takes a lot of time for drivers in the area to adapt to new driving behaviors. A lot of us are kind of stuck on autopilot on our commutes. That trend might continue for a while, too,” said Transurban spokesman Michael McGurk.
Light use of HOT lanes raises questions
McGurk says some drivers are confused about the new highway’s many entry and exit points. Opening the Express Lanes for free rides this weekend will let motorists familiarize themselves with the road, he said.
After opening in mid-November, the 495 Express Lanes lost money during its first six weeks in business. Operating costs exceeded toll revenues, but Transurban was not expecting to turn an immediate profit. In the long term, however, company officials have conceded they are not guaranteed to make money on their investment. Transurban’s next quarterly report is due at the end of April.
To opponents of the project, five months of relatively light traffic on Virginia’s new $2 billion road is enough to draw judgments. Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) has not recovered since the recession knocked millions out of work and more commuters are seeking alternatives to the automobile, according to Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.
“They miscalculated peoples' time value of money. They overestimated the potential demand for this road,” said Schwartz, who said the light use of the 495 Express Lanes should serve as a warning.
“We should not have rushed into signing a deal for hot lanes for the 95 corridor, and we certainly shouldn’t rush into any deal on I-66,” he said.
Transurban is counseling patience.
“We’re still in a ramp-up period. You’ve probably heard us say that since the beginning, too, but with a facility like this it’s a minimum six months to two years until the region falls into a regular pattern on how they’re going to use this facility,” McGurk said.
In its first six weeks of operations toll revenues climbed on the 495 Express Lanes from daily averages of $12,000 in the first week to $24,000 in the week prior to Christmas. Traffic in the same period increased from an average of 15,000 daily trips to 24,000, according to company records. Despite the increases, operating expenses still outstripped revenues.
It is possible that traffic is not bad enough outside of the morning and afternoon rush hours to push motorists over to the EZ Pass lanes on 495.
“It may also show that it takes only a minor intervention to remove enough cars from the main lanes to let them flow better,” said Schwartz, who said the 14-mile corridor is simply pushing the bottleneck further up the road.
Even Transurban’s McGurk says many customers who have been surveyed complain that once they reach the Express Lanes’ northern terminus at Rt. 267 (Dulles Toll Road), the same terrible traffic awaits them approaching the American Legion Bridge.
Express Lanes a litmus test for larger issues
The success or failure of the 495 Express Lanes will raise one of the region’s most pressing questions as it looks to a future of job and population growth: how best to move people and goods efficiently. Skeptics of highway expansions, even new facilities that charge tolls as a form of congestion pricing, say expanding transit is cheaper and more effective.
“An approach that gives people more options and reduces driving demand through transit and transit-oriented development may be the better long-term solution. But we’ve never had these DOTs give us a fair comparison between a transit-oriented investment future for our region and one where they create this massive network of HOT lanes,” said Schartz, who said a 2010 study by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments pegged the cost of a tolled network of 1,650-lane miles of regional highways at $50 billion.
Transportation experts say a form of congestion pricing, either tolled lanes or a vehicle miles traveled tax, may be part of a regional solution to congestion. The public, however, needs to be explained why.
“As long as the majority of system remains non-tolled and congested then you are not going to solve the problem,” said Joshua Schank, the president of the Eno Center for Transportation, a D.C.-based think tank.
“Highways in this region are drastically underpriced. People are not paying enough to maintain them and they certainly are not paying enough to pay for the cost of congestion. The American people have been sold a bill of goods because they have been told that roads are free. Roads cost money,” he added.
The 495 Express Lanes are dynamically-priced, meaning the tolls increase with demand for the lanes. The average toll per trip in the highway’s first six weeks of operations was $1.07, according to Transurban records. As motorists enter the lanes they see signs displaying how much it will cost to travel to certain exits, but no travel time estimates are displayed. “It is important to be very clear to drivers about the benefit of taking those new lanes, and I am not sure that has happened so far,” said Schank, who said it is too early to conclude if the Express Lanes are working as designed.
“It’s hard to know if it works by looking whether the lanes are making money. I don’t know if that is the right metric. It’s the right metric for Transurban, but it’s not necessarily the right metric from a public sector perspective,” he said. “The real metric is to what extent does it improve economic development and regional accessibility, and that’s a much harder analysis that takes some real research and time.”
Thursday, April 04, 2013
Virginia lawmakers approved bipartisan legislation that makes texting while driving a primary offense, and significantly raises the fines.
State legislators passed amendments to the bill that were proposed by Gov. Bob McDonnell, including one increasing the fine for texting while driving from $20 to $125 dollars for a first offense and $250 dollars for every subsequent violation.
That's less than the original legislation, which pegged those fines twice as high.
Delegate Rich Anderson (R-Prince William Co.) says it puts texting on the same level as other impaired forms of driving.
"That aligns driving while intoxicated and driving while texting pretty closely," says Anderson.
Sen. George Barker (D-Alexandria) says he has been trying to get a bill passed on this topic for a number of years, after students from Centreville High School brought the issue to his attention.
"I’m very pleased, because this is an extraordinarily dangerous activity," Barker says. "The accident rate is 23 times the rate for people that are texting compared to people that aren’t, which is a phenomenal differential. It clearly will save lives."
Del. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) says the law addresses more than just texting at the wheel.
"You can be convicted not only if you are texting, but also if you are reading a text message, if you are sending an email or if you are reading an email," Surovell says.
The bill does not address other potential distractions, like voice-controlled messaging. There also remains some ambiguity about other activites not expressly banned in the legislation, like the use of GPS on a smartphone.
"Depending on how things work, there may need to be tweaks in the future," Barker says. "I think what we’ve done is adopted a very clear policy here, and if we need to fix the language to clarify that, we can obviously do that in the future."
The amended bill now heads to the governor's desk for his signature. He is expected to sign it.
Tuesday, April 02, 2013
Meanwhile, legislators in Richmond -- and push for legislation making texting while driving a primary offense in Virginia.
"I think we're getting to the point where people are starting to understand and recognize that, but I'm not sure people are quite aware of how dangerous it is,” says Debbie Pickford, chair of the board of Drive Smart Virginia.
Just how dangerous? Texting while driving increases your risk of a crash by 23 times, according to a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. Eighty percent of all crashes and 65 percent of all near crashes involve driver inattention within three seconds before the accident. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who has been known to honk at drivers he sees talking on cell phones, has called distracted driving "an epidemic on America's roadways."
Despite these findings, Pickford says, it has been difficult convincing teenagers as well as adults to drop their gadgets and keep both eyes on the road. “The problem is getting worse,” she says. Her group is encouraging drivers to sign a pledge in which they publicly commit to eschewing cell phones while driving.
According to a report by the Governors Highway Safety Association, teen driver deaths went up in the first six months of 2012 compared to the same period the prior year, and Pickford says a big reason is driver distractions like smart phones.
“We’re a multitasking society. We’re a busy society,” Pickford says. “I think multitasking has become a way of life, so people are just trying to get things done when they are in their cars and there is a lot more you can do now on a smartphone.”
Distracted Driving Awareness Month was once just one week, and advocates plans to extend their activities well past April into the “dangerous months” for teenagers when proms and graduation parties increase the potential for risky road behaviors.
Ultimately, safety advocates would like society to view distracted driving the same way it now sees drunk driving, but Pickford concedes that will take many years.
“It took a while for society to get to the fact that drinking and driving is really very dangerous, so I think it will take a few years to build this campaign and make people aware,” she says. “It doesn’t happen over night and it’s why we have gone from a week to a month. We are hosting a distracted driving summit in September in Richmond.”
Advocates are also looking to Richmond lawmakers for help. This week state legislators are expected to approve legislation that would make texting while driving a primary offense.
“Right now a policeman can pull someone over if they see something else going on in the car. They cannot pull them over if they see you texting while driving,” Pickford says.
Drive Smart Virginia says youth education starts in the car with parents. Children as young as five begin to pick up their parents’ driving behaviors, so she is urging parents to set good examples and refrain from using hand-held cell phones at the wheel.
Friday, March 29, 2013
(Nancy Marshall-Genzer -- Marketplace) So, you’re at Walmart, getting ready to pay. The cashier says, 'Wait! You can get a few bucks off if you deliver some stuff your neighbor ordered.'
Walmart is definitely thinking outside the big box on this one. Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics, says Walmart may be thinking customer couriers would be faster than Amazon, which Walmart sees as enemy number one -- for good reason.
“The whole retail industry is shifting toward mobile and online purchases and probably felt like they’ve gotten a late start to it,” Perkins says.
So they have to get creative. Walmart and other big-box stores have also experimented with matching Amazon’s prices. Other retailers are offering free apps that tell them when you’re in their store. They can track your progress through the aisles and text you with special offers.
“Let’s say you’re in a grocery store and you’re in the ice cream aisle," explains Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at the NPD Group. "They can tell you that Haagen-Dazs ice cream is on sale today.”
Other retailers are closing brick-and-mortar stores and customizing the ones they keep. Alden Lury, a retail strategist at Kurt Salmon, says for example, a Target in a city might not stock bargain sizes.
“You might not find the 12-pack of Bounty," he says. "You might find the six pack of Bounty. It might be hard to get on the subway with a 12-pack of Bounty.”
Lury says if retailers can get to know their customers that well, and tailor themselves to what savvy shoppers want, they might just have a chance against Amazon.
Friday, March 29, 2013
These photos are beautiful. They're also sad, and hopeful, and quaint.
In the 1970s the EPA commissioned photographers to roam the country and document daily life in places like coal mines, riverbanks, cities, and even an early clean tech conference in a motel parking lot. The images were meant to be a baseline to measure change in the years to come, but there was no funding to go back to the original places.
The Documerica project photos are up on Flickr now (hat tip to FastCoExist for posting some of these gems). It's an overwhelming album of nostalgia for everyday life, but also, devastatingly depressing to see how dirty and toxic so many inhabited places could be in the 1970s ... and how little has changed in some places today.
What makes the project so powerful though, is how beautiful the photography is, even of the mundane moments, or tragic scenarios like kids playing in a river next to a power plant.
Strum through the albums yourself and share your favorites with us on our Facebook page and we'll add more pics to this post later on.
In the albums, there are also early editions of clean technology, like Frank Lodge's photos from the first First Symposium on Low Pollution Power Systems held at what seems to be a motel parking lot.
Thursday, March 28, 2013
(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) On colorful maps spread out over long tables the planned path of the Purple Line, a 16-mile light rail extension to the D.C. area Metro system, was shown to residents and business owners at a ‘neighborhood work group’ meeting Wednesday night. But the maps reveal, progress to some, means bankruptcy fears to others.
While the maps conjure images of what might be if the $2.2 billion rail system supported by transit advocates and real estate developers ever gets built, to some the plans are the harbinger of personal hardship.
“I’m not happy at all,” said Dario Orellana, the owner of a Tex-Mex restaurant in busy Silver Spring. “We’ve been there for 14 years and moving is going to be really hard on us.”
Orellana is one of about a dozen businesses on 16th Street that would be displaced by the Purple Line’s proposed route through Silver Spring, Maryland. Officials from the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) explained that the planned right-of-way will also absorb part of business-friendly Bonifant Street, making it a one-way street with parallel parking on one side.
“We have to take up a good part of the street, roughly 25 to 30 feet of it, for the Purple Line to come along here,” said Michael Madden, the MTA’s Purple Line project manager. “We work very hard to minimize those impacts.”
Orellana’s lawyer said no matter how much money the state provides his client in compensation for moving his restaurant, he and other entrepreneurs displaced by the Purple Line will struggle to attract the same clientele to new locations.
“I am looking at the map right now and a number of these businesses will probably have to go somewhere. They are right there in the way of the line,” said attorney Dmitri Chernov.
No one will have to move their businesses anywhere if state lawmakers currently in session in Annapolis fail to approve additional funding to replenish Maryland’s transportation trust fund.
“This is the make or break year, so we know that we need additional revenue, the state needs additional revenue in the trust fund to actual build the Purple Line,” said Madden. “So far we are optimistic, based on the discussions going on, that will happen.”
Madden said the MTA is also preparing to negotiate a permanent federal funding agreement because the Purple Line has been accepted into the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program.
“We have planned and designed the project so that it meets all the federal requirements,” Madden said.
A federal grant would provide matching dollars splitting the bill with the state on a 50/50 basis each year of construction, which Madden hopes will begin in 2015 and wrap up in 2020.
“We would not start the project until we know we would have the assurance of sufficient funding to complete the project,” he said.
The Purple Line may be years from carrying its first passengers but the state is close to completing both its preliminary engineering and environmental impact statement, which are due this fall.
The 16-mile light rail system would be powered by overhead cables between Bethesda in Montgomery County to New Carrollton in Prince George’s County, connecting to WMATA’s Red Line’s east and west branches and crossing over Connecticut Avenue. Rider estimates are 74,000 per day by 2040, Madden said.
Some residents at Wednesday night’s meeting – after taking in the MTA’s pretty topographical maps – focused on what they viewed will be the Purple Line’s negative effects on downtown Silver Spring.
“It’s going to take away parking on one side of the street and on Saturdays and Sundays around here on Bonifant Street everything is packed solid,” said Bob Colvin, the president of a local civic association.
Colvin was not impressed with the rail system’s potential to reduce car dependency, thus mitigating the loss of road. “I think people are still going to drive. They are going to come from afar and I’m sure this Purple Line is not going to cover all venues from wherever these people come from.”
Follow Martin Di Caro on Twitter @MartinDiCaro
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
The new tunnels at Devil’s Slide on the northern California coast are finally open to drivers. This marks the first time cars have driven through a brand-new California highway tunnel in almost 50 years. The Devil’s Slide tunnels, officially named the Tom Lantos Tunnels, have been under construction since 2007 but have been a source of controversy since the 1970s.
When Highway 1 was built along the California Coast in the 1930s, it included a 1.2 mile stretch of road on an extremely unstable piece of hillside between San Francisco and Half Moon Bay called Devil’s Slide. During especially rainy winters, the ground would give way, causing the road to break and forcing drivers into a 45 mile detour. In 1995, the road was closed for 158 days.
Since the 1960s, California’s Department of Transportation, or Caltrans, had been looking for an alternative route. Caltrans proposed a highway bypass that would cut through the coastal hills. Locals and environmental activists were vehemently against the bypass, which would have been a larger freeway and split Montara State Park. The groups successfully used the National Environmental Policy Act and the California Coastal Act to postpone construction of the bypass through the 1970s and 80s. At the same time, the groups fought for a tunnel as the solution to the Devil’s Slide.
Caltrans had originally said that a tunnel would be too costly, but an independent study in 1996 showed that the tunnel was “reasonable and feasible.” In November of 1996, 74 percent of the voters of San Mateo County approved an initiative that stated a tunnel was the only permissible repair alternative to Devil’s Slide.
Construction began in 2007. The tunnels are over three-quarters of a mile long, with a total of 32 ventilation fans. The project’s cost of $439 million was fully funded with Federal Emergency Relief money, secured by U.S. Representative Tom Lantos, the tunnel’s namesake.
In a press release, Brian Kelly, the acting secretary of California’s Business, Transportation and Housing Agency, praised Caltrans and the other groups that worked to make the tunnels a reality.
“Ingenuity, will, and perseverance combined to get this project done. The new tunnels are state of the art structures that blend well into the beautiful, natural surroundings on this stretch of Highway 1,” he said. “Thanks to the work of the men and women who dedicated themselves to completing this project, motorists and emergency responders will have a safer journey from this day forward.”
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
(Michael Pope -- WAMU) Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has offered a compromise on his transportation funding plan in response to a legal objection by the state's attorney general. Virginia needs new and additional revenue for upkeep it's network of highways (about 58,000-miles worth) and mass transit systems. As cars get more fuel efficient, gas tax revenues are falling in many states.
McDonnel has already signed a bill that replaces the state's 17.5 cents-per-gallon retail gasoline tax with a 3.5 percent wholesale tax on gasoline and a 6 percent levy on diesel fuel. That won't change. The portion of the plan under scrutiny involves sales tax.
Virginia attorney General Ken Cuccinelli had raised concerns about a provision that would have levied higher taxes on some more densely populated areas, including Northern Virginia.
The bill members of the General Assembly sent to the Governor's Mansion had a long list of localities from Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads that would have been subject to a higher sales tax rate. The two-tier tax system was intended to raise money for road building, but Cuccinelli said it may have been unconstitutional.
Now the governor has a fix: ditch the parts about the two urban areas and extend the taxing authority to the entire state. McDonnell is sending an amendment back to the General Assembly that would create regional taxing authority to all 21 of the commonwealth's regional planning districts — two of which are Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.
That means the other 19 districts could create taxing authorities for transportation dollars if they wanted to, but they don't have to.
The governor's amendments also cut the controversial $100 fee on hybrid cars to $64 a year, cut taxes paid on hotel stays, and reduced the titling tax on vehicle purchases.
McDonnell's 52 amendments will be considered by the General Assembly in a veto session April 3rd.
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) While the District of Columbia grapples with proposed changes to its parking and zoning policies, last updated in 1958, nearby Arlington County, Virginia seems to have triumphed in its effort to minimize traffic congestion. Commuters are shifting from cars to transit and bikes.
What's more, traffic volume has decreased on several major arterial roads in the county over the last two decades despite significant job and population growth, according to data compiled by researchers at Mobility Lab, a project of Arlington County Commuter Services.
Multifaceted effort to curb car-dependence
Researchers and transportation officials credit three initiatives for making the county less car-dependent: offering multiple alternatives to the automobile in the form of rail, bus, bicycling, and walking; following smart land use policies that encourage densely built, mixed-use development; and relentlessly marketing those transportation alternatives through programs that include five ‘commuter stores’ throughout the county where transit tickets, bus maps, and other information are available.
“Those three combined have brought down the percentage of people driving alone and increased the amount of transit and carpooling,” said Howard Jennings, Mobility Lab’s director of research and development.
Jennings’ research team estimates alternatives to driving alone take nearly 45,000 car trips off the county’s roads every weekday. Among those shifting modes from the automobile, 69 percent use transit, 14 percent carpool, 10 percent walk, four percent telework and three percent bike.
“Reducing traffic on key routes does make it easier for those who really need to drive. Not everybody can take an alternative,” Jennings said.
Arlington’s success in reducing car dependency is more remarkable considering it has happened as the region’s population and employment base has grown.
Since 1996 Arlington has added more than 6 million square feet of office space, a million square feet of retail, nearly 11,000 housing units and 1,100 hotel rooms in the Rosslyn-Ballston Metro corridor. Yet traffic counts have dropped major roads: on Lee Highway (-10%), Washington Boulevard (-14%), Clarendon Boulevard (-6%), Wilson Boulevard (-25%), and Glebe Road (-6%), according to county figures. Traffic counts have increased on Arlington Boulevard (11%) and George Mason Drive (14%).
“Arlington zoning hasn’t changed a great deal over the last 15 years or so. It’s been much more of a result of the services and the programs and the transportation options than it has been the zoning,” said Jennings.
Arlington serving as a regional model
Across the Potomac, the D.C. Office of Planning is considering the controversial proposal of eliminating mandatory parking space minimums in new development in transit-rich corridors and in downtown Washington to reduce traffic congestion. In Arlington, transportation officials say parking minimums have not been a focus.
“When developers come to Arlington we are finding they are building the right amount of parking,” said Chris Hamilton, the bureau chief at Arlington County Commuter Services. “Developers know they need a certain amount of parking for their tenants, but they don’t want to build too much because that’s a waste.”
Hamilton says parking is available at relatively cheap rates in the Rosslyn-Ballston Metro corridor because demand for spots has been held down by a shift to transit.
“In Arlington there are these great options. People can get here by bus, by rail, by Capital Bikeshare, and walking, and most people do that. That’s why Arlington is doing so well,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton credited a partnership with the county’s 700 employers for keeping their workers, 80 percent of whom live outside the county, from driving to work by themselves.
“Arlington Transportation Partners gives every one of those employers assistance in setting up commute benefit programs, parking programs, carpool programs, and bike incentives. Sixty-five percent of those 700 employers provide a transit benefit. That’s the highest in the region,” Hamilton said.
“There’s been a compact with the citizens since the 1960s and when Metro came to Arlington that when all the high-density development would occur in the rail corridors, we would protect the single family neighborhoods that hugged the rail corridors,” he added.
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
(Paul Eisenstein, The Detroit Bureau) The New York International Auto Show is the last of the big U.S. car shows before the industry takes a summer break and it takes on more significance than it has in years with at least two dozen new cars, trucks and crossovers scheduled to make their debut at the Jacob Javits convention center in the coming days.
Automakers are hoping that the timing of this year’s New York Auto Show coincides with the continuing revival of the U.S. automotive market. Sales surged at a double-digit pace last year and are echoing that growth so far in 2013. By some of the more optimistic forecasts, the market could jump from 14.5 million to as much as 15.5 million this year – though that is still below the record numbers of early in the new millennium, when Americans bought as many as 17 million new vehicles in a single year.
Industry analysts suggest that major car shows can deliver a surge of new momentum to the market, especially in the surrounding community – and metro New York is already one of the biggest automotive markets in the country.
The flood of new models rolling into Jacob Javits reflects, to some degree, the delays forced by the industry’s worst downturn since the Great Recession of the 1930s. Many makers had to postpone or slow the pace of development due to budget cuts. Others simply slowed things down to wait out a market revival rather than launch critical offerings at a time when consumers might not be interested.
The Chevrolet Corvette unleashed at the Detroit Auto Show in January was a good example, the launch of the seventh-generation 2014 “C7” Stingray delayed by two years due to the maker’s bankruptcy.
According to the automotive data tracking service R.L. Polk, there will be 141 product launches this year, a 57 percent increase from 2012. (For more details on specific models, see full post here.)
Luxury brands dominate this year’s show, in fact, accounting for at least half of the debuts planned, depending on which brands you include. That’s no surprise considering the wealth of the NY region – it is, for example, the single-largest metro market for the new Range Rover model. Cadillac clearly is hoping to gain traction in the traditionally import-oriented Big Apple, a key reason for launching the new model in the city.
For those on a budget, there are some more affordable new products on display, including the Kia Koup and the update for the Scion tC sports coupe. There are also some significant new family models, including the next-generation Toyota Highlander and Honda Odyssey minivan.
Reflecting recent trends, the NYIAS has slightly more new passenger cars than utility vehicles to tantalize potential buyers with. Sedans, coupes and even sports cars have been regaining some of their own momentum as fuel prices head upward.
That’s not to say the American fascination with utes is dead. They remain a major factor in U.S. sales – or at least more car-like crossovers do. The number of traditional, truck-based offerings is steadily dwindling. Both the new Nissan Pathfinder and that Range Rover Sport, for example, have migrated to car-based “architectures” in their latest incarnations, as has the new Jeep Cherokee.
That old nameplate is making its return after a long absence from the market, the 2014 Cherokee replacing the aged and slow-selling Jeep Liberty. Its distinctive design could make it one of the more controversial models at the New York Auto Show this year, even Jeep officials acknowledge.
While the SUV arm of Chrysler contends that the new Cherokee will retain its off-road capabilities, they also promote the fact that it will deliver significantly improved mileage. And while the 2013 NYIAS isn’t the greenest of auto shows, the environment is nonetheless an important topic for carmakers and car buyers alike.
There will be a handful of new battery-based models making their debut, starting with hybrid versions of two Nissan models, the recently redesigned Pathfinder and the QX60 from the maker’s Infiniti brand. Subaru, meanwhile, will unwrap its first-ever gas-electric model, the XV Crosstrek Hybrid. And Mercedes-Benz will roll out the first pure battery-electric vehicle, or BEV, targeted at the U.S. market. The Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive, in fact, will be the only version of that small people-mover sold in the States.
Automakers are already teasing their NY introductions, even releasing images and details on a few models, like the 2014 Buick LaCrosse. There’ll be an assortment of sneak previews for the media on Tuesday evening and then the doors open on Wednesday morning at the Javits.
The public will have to wait a few days but close to a million potential buyers could stream into a city better known for mass transit in the weeks ahead to check out the auto industry’s latest offerings.
A longer version of this post originally appeared on The Detroit Bureau.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
The nation’s infrastructure received a D+, a slight improvement from the D issued in 2009, in an infrastructure report card released by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), a group whose members stand to benefit from increased spending on the construction of roads, bridges, levees and dams.
The report grades infrastructure in sixteen sectors and prescribes a funding level necessary to bring each up to a B grade. That will require spending $454 billion annually over the next eight years, according to the group’s figures. However, the society estimates only $253 billion annually is currently earmarked for infrastructure repair and improvements, leaving a yearly funding gap of $200 billion.
At a news conference at the Earth Conservation Corps Pump House in southeast Washington – with a view of the structurally obsolete Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge spanning the Anacostia River – advocates of infrastructure spending sought to convey their message in easy to understand terms, acknowledging that ordinary citizens often do not see the costs associated with outdated infrastructure.
“The real goal is that Americans would have this conversation about infrastructure at their kitchen table,” said ASCE president Greg DiLoreto. “They’d sit down and they’d say, you know what? I was driving home last night, hit a pothole, and I ruined the front end of our car. What can be done about that?”
Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, the co-founder of the bipartisan group Building America’s Future, said more Americans are beginning to realize that infrastructure is not free and does not last forever. Still, there is a large difference between what a group of civil engineers believes should be spent and what Congress and state and local governments are willing to spend.
“Members of both parties feel this way, predominately Republicans, that we can’t spend money on anything. That’s wrong,” Rendell says. “We’ve got to get away from this idea that investing in infrastructure is wasteful spending. There are some projects that are bad and we should ask for stricter accountability and transparency, but we’ve got to invest in growth.”
The sector with the highest grade (B-) is solid waste. Inland waterways and levees both received the lowest grade, D-. Grades were poor to mediocre in transportation sectors: aviation (D), bridges (C+), rail (C+), roads (D), and transit (D).
“First we have to repair the quality of the roads,” Rendell said. “But then we have to expand. We have to do additional ramps. We have to widen lanes. A good hunk of the money should be spent on mass transit. There’s got to be a balance.”
The report card breaks down infrastructure state by state. In Washington, D.C., for example, 99 percent of roads are rated poor or mediocre. The report card says driving on roads in need of repair costs District of Columbia motorists $311 million a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs – $833 per motorist.
Winning the public’s support to raise revenues for infrastructure spending will depend on convincing the public they have to pay more, whether its taxes or user fees, according to Emil Frankel, a visiting scholar at the D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center and former Assistant Secretary of Transportation under the George W. Bush Administration.
"The challenge is being able to make the case about specific facilities that people know and understand, and what the implications would be if they have to close that facility,” said Frankel, who said the ASCE’s figures are sound, even if they are unrealistic in terms of what governments are willing to spend.
“We’re not going to raise that money. People acknowledge we have to invest more but there’s disagreement about how much we need to invest. Whatever funds are available we have to make better choices, prioritize and target,” Frankel said.
Monday, March 18, 2013
Traffic fatalities rose 12 percent in 2012 in New York City, driven by a 46 percent jump in the number of motor vehicle occupants who were killed in crashes. Speeding, the city says, was the top contributing factor. Pedestrians and cyclist fatalities remained at or near historic lows.
The number of cyclists who were killed dropped 18 percent compared to 2011 (from 22 to 18) while the number of pedestrians struck and killed rose by 5 percent in 2012 (from 141 to 148) according to figures released by the NYC Department of Transportation.
In total 274 people died in traffic collisions, 108 of them in vehicles (including on motorcycles) and 166 of them while walking or riding a bike. The DOT had previously cited 237 as the number of fatalities for 2011 but amended that to 245 in today's release.
The DOT calculates "speeding was the greatest single factor in traffic deaths, contributing to 81 fatal traffic crashes—about 30 percent of all traffic fatalities." Fatal hit-and-runs are also on the rise, the DOT said. Other contributing factors were "disregard of red lights or stop signs, driver inattention and/or alcohol."
“One thousand New Yorkers are alive today who would not be if we simply sustained the city’s fatality rate just one decade ago,” said Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. She stressed efforts the city is making to reduce speeding near schools (see graphic below) and long term positive safety trends.
New York remains safe by national standards. Traffic fatalities remain near all time lows following an aggressive program installing about 200 safety improvements in the past five years including street and intersection redesigns, protected bike lanes, slow zones and special attention to schools. NYC traffic fatality rates are less than one third of the national average on a per capita basis, and about half the rates of many other big cities.
To address the dangers of speeding, Mayor Mike Bloomberg and several members of the City Council want to install speed cameras. Last week the City Council called on state legislators -- whose approval is needed -- to permit the city to install cameras.
The NYPD supported the idea in a statement along with the official release of the 2012 fatality numbers. “Just as red light cameras reduced infractions at intersections where they were installed, we anticipate that speed cameras will result in greater compliance with posted speed limits,” said Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly.
The Police union, however, has come out against the speed cameras, telling the NY Daily News, "What we need are the actual police officers on the street ... Cops on the street are what slows people down.”
Last month, Kelly announced a considerable expansion of NYPD staffing its Collision Investigation Squad (formerly the Accident Investigation Squad) as part of a wider effort to focus more on preventing and investigating traffic collisions, which kill almost as many New Yorkers as gun homicides.
The NYPD issued one million moving violations last year, 71,000 of them for speeding, a figure advocates say is not enough. (By comparison, about 51,000 tickets went to cyclists in 2011. To see the latest breakdown of what summonses were issued by the NYPD, see this chart from January ). Police point out issuing speeding summonses requires special equipment, while other tickets can be written by every officer on the street. That could be why the NYPD supports speed cameras.
If today's announcement is any indication, the initial focus of speed cameras, if approved, could be around schools.
Speeding is alarmingly common near schools. The DOT measured the percentage of vehicles that were speeding when passing NYC schools. Outside three schools, 100 percent of the cars were speeding: P.S. 60 Alice Austen in Staten Island, P.S. 233 Langston Hughes in Brooklyn and P.S. 54 Hillside in Queens.
At the High School for Law Enforcement and Public Safety, 75 percent of cars were going above the legal limit. In all, the DOT released a list of 100 schools where 75 percent or more of vehicles were speeding. Cameras, the city says, can help.
"The streets around our city’s schools are the real speed traps, and we can’t play it safe when it comes to doing everything we can to protect New Yorkers on our streets—and especially seniors and school kids,” said Sadik-Khan.
The DOT also pointed out, no pedestrians were killed in crashes with cyclists.
Monday, March 18, 2013
(Paul Eisenstein -- The Detroit Bureau) Following up on a pledge made during his State of the Union address to “shift our cars and trucks off oil for good,” President Barack Obama is seeking Congressional approval for a $2 billion energy trust fund to support the development of advanced vehicle technologies.
The White House hopes to sidestep the ongoing federal budget debate by promising the requested funding “would be set aside from royalty revenues generated by oil and gas development in federal waters of the Outer Continental Shelf.” That could be a salve to those who have demanded the White House continue to expand oil and gas drilling. There are already some signs of support from Republicans.
An earlier Obama Administration program focusing on battery propulsion was effectively shut down by Republican opponents after some high-profile problems.
[RELATED:Audi Transforming Wind Power into e-Gas]
In the State of the Union address the president said, "I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an energy security trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good."
On Friday the president said, "The only way to really break this cycle of spiking gas prices — is to shift our cars entirely, our cars and trucks off oil."
During the first Obama Administration, much of the emphasis was put on batteries and electric propulsion. Even funds already allocated to hydrogen fuel cell research was shifted away. In recent months, the Department of Energy has been expanding its focus and while batteries and battery cars would still be a central part of the trust, the program would also push for development of biofuels and compressed natural gas. CNG has been gaining momentum in recent months due to the wide availability of the fuel as a result of the so-called “fracking” boom.
The broader focus of the new trust fund appears to recognize that demand for battery-based vehicles, whether conventional hybrids, plug-ins or pure battery-electric vehicles, is growing much more slowly than proponents had anticipated.
The administration came into office calling for a $25 billion fund to support clean, high-mileage technologies with low-interest loans. After an initial spate of projects, some quickly souring, the spigot was closed and there have been no new loans made in over two years. Some existing loans, such as one for $529 million to Fisker Automotive, were halted mid-stream. That has put Fisker in a critical situation, the company expected to be sold or fail if it can’t arrange more cash. Others hoping for federal aid, such as California-based Next Auto, folded entirely.
Automakers continue to press for assistance in efforts to reduce emissions and meet higher mileage standards – the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, mandate rising to 54.5 mpg in 2025. Most manufacturers believe they cannot get to that figure without the use of battery power and other breakthroughs the new Energy Security Trust will target.
“The Energy Security Trust builds on this historic progress, continuing to increase momentum towards to a cleaner, more efficient fleet that is good for consumers, increases energy independence, and cuts carbon pollution,” said the White House.
Despite ongoing partisan bickering that has so far failed to resolve the so-called “sequestration” issue, the energy trust concept has been drawing a wide range of support. It is “an idea I may agree with,” Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the ranking GOP member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said after the president’s State of the Union address.
A version of this post originally appeared on the Detroit Bureau.
Monday, March 18, 2013
(Ariana Prothero, WLRN -- Miami, Fla.) Florida is one of just six states without any ban on texting and driving, even though experts say it makes you 23 times more likely to get into a crash. One Florida dad has made it his mission to get a texting ban passed.
Steve Augello lives in Spring Hill, Florida, just outside of Tampa. Like a lot of parents, he always made his 17-year-old daughter, Alessandra, check-in with him when she was out. Augello also had a rule.
“You weren’t allowed to have that cell phone out while you’re driving,” Augello remembers telling Alessandra. “I even tested her a few times I called her when she was driving and it always went right through to the recorder.”
On November 10th, 2008, Alessandra called her dad around 7 p.m. telling him she was about to head home from rehearsal for a school play. That was the last time they would speak. As Alessandra was driving home, 19-year-old Alyssa Dyer suddenly veered across the center line hitting Alessandra head-on and killing them both. Florida Highway Patrol records show a text message went through to Dyer’s boyfriend shortly after the accident.
When Augello got Alessandra’s belongings back later that night, he found her cell phone zipped up in her purse, just like he always told her to do.
Augello has been telling this story a lot lately because he’s trying to persuade lawmakers in Tallahassee to pass a ban on texting while driving.
That is exactly what Republican Senator Nancy Detert fromVenice is trying to do. This is the fourth year in a row Detert has filed a bill that would make texting and driving a secondary offense. In the past, the legislation had trouble gaining traction but this year both the Senate and House versions are snowballing through their respective committees.
“We don't even need a study,” said Detert. “Everybody who drives the highway on a daily basis sees this everyday of their life and it's outrageously dangerous and needs to be stopped.”
More than a third of drivers reported reading a text or email while driving in a 2012 survey by AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
In Florida, over 4,500 accidents last year were attributed to drivers being distracted by their cell phones or other electronic communication devices. Of those crashes, 255 were directly linked to texting. But, those numbers don’t paint a full picture. State law enforcement officials say the issue is under reported and there’s no way to count near misses.
As part of a recent pilot study, researchers at a driving simulation lab at Florida International University asked people to compose text messages while in the driving simulators. Denis McCarthy, who helps run the lab, says participants often weren’t even aware that they were making mistakes.
“It’s the way we’re hardwired,” explained McCarthy. “Humans can do one task really well, but studies have shown when we divide our attention between two tasks, we don’t do either well.”
McCarthy says the research clearly shows that texting and driving causes accidents.
But, where the research is less clear is whether bans on texting and taking on cell phones actually work. Studies investigating that link in other states have turned up mixed results. Some found an increase in overall crash claims after laws were passed. Other studies reported a drop in crashes specifically linked to texting or a decrease in the number of people using their phones while driving where the laws were strictly enforced.
However, people who want a texting ban say that the point is to change the driving culture. Democratic State Senator Maria Sachs supports Senator Detert’s bill. Sachs says when her kids text and drive, she threatens to take off her seat belt.
“And they’re very concerned about seat belts,” said Sachs. “See, this is interesting. They grew up with having to put on a seat belt on, I didn’t. But they would never get in a car without putting a seat belt on. We need to make the same education with distracted driving.”
A growing number of people do see it as an issue. AAA reports that nearly 90 percent of survey respondents said they believe other drivers using cell phones are a threat to their personal safety.
Last year the The Miami Herald, the Tampa Bay Times and Bay News 9 polled 800 registered Florida voters. Of those, 71 percent said they wanted a ban on texting while driving.
Friday, March 15, 2013
Our friends at Freakonomics Radio take on the perennial puzzle of automotive life: where to put your car when it's not moving. The average car spends about 95 percent of its life stationary. Give a listen.
From the Freakonomics blog:
The episode begins with Stephen Dubner talking to parking guru Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at UCLA and author of the landmark book The High Cost of Free Parking. In a famous Times op-ed, Shoup argued that as much as one-third of urban congestion is caused by people cruising for curb parking. But, as Shoup tells Dubner, there ain’t no such thing as a free parking spot:
SHOUP: Everybody likes free parking, including me, probably you. But just because the driver doesn’t pay for it doesn’t mean that the cost goes away. If you don’t pay for parking your car, somebody else has to pay for it. And that somebody is everybody. We pay for free parking in the prices of the goods we buy at places where the parking is free. And we pay for parking as residents when we get free parking with our housing. We pay for it as taxpayers. Increasingly, I think we’re paying for it in terms of the environmental harm that it causes.
Shoup’s recommendations have inspired a series of reforms across the country, most notably an ongoing experiment in San Francisco called SFPark. The project essentially establishes a dynamic market for street parking by measuring average occupancy on each block and then setting prices according to demand.
While the experiment is exciting for transportation scholars, it has attracted some criticism. Furthermore, one of Shoup’s former students has uncovered a snag that could undermine the project – or any attempt to manage parking more efficiently. Michael Manville, a city planning professor at Cornell, and co-author Jonathan Williams found that in Los Angeles, “at any given time almost 40 percent of vehicles parked at meters are both not paying and not breaking any laws” (paper here, and a Shoup op-ed here). How can that be? Very often, those cars display a handicapped placard that allows for free, unlimited parking. So you’ll hear about “placard abuse” and what’s being done to stop it.
There aren’t yet enough data from SFPark to know whether the experiment helps with congestion, pollution, and accident risk, but Shoup is hopeful:
SHOUP: If it works, it will make San Francisco an even better place to live and do business and visit. It will just be yet another feather in the cap of San Francisco. And if it doesn’t work, they can blame it all on a professor from Los Angeles.
You’ll also hear from MIT professor Eran Ben-Joseph, whose book ReThinking a Lot: The Design and Culture of Parking offers solutions to improve the prototypical parking lot. He gives us a sense of how many surface parking spaces there are in the U.S. (close to 800 million) and points out that in some cities, parking lots cover a full third of the land area downtown.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
The World Health Organization says 1.24 million people die each year as a result of traffic crashes, which are the leading cause of death for people between 15 and 29.
The Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013, released Thursday, also estimates crashes injure between 20 and 50 million people each year.
Worldwide, the report says pedestrians and cyclists constitute 27% of all road deaths. But "in some countries this figure is higher than 75%, demonstrating decades of neglect of the needs of these road users in current transport policies, in favour of motorized transport."
(The above video, which has hair-raising footage of schoolchildren crossing roads in developing countries, provides ample visual evidence of this.)
There's also a strong link between income and road deaths. While wealthier countries have made progress, the toll is rising elsewhere. "91% of the world's fatalities on the roads occur in low-income and middle-income countries, even though these countries have approximately half of the world's vehicles."
(Read TN's report on the link between income and pedestrian fatalities in Newark, NJ)
Africa has the highest death rate per 100,000 residents — 24.1, compared with 16.1 in North and South America. The European Region has the highest inequalities in road trafﬁc fatality rates, with low-income countries having rates nearly three times higher than high-income countries (18.6 per 100 000 population compared to 6.3 per 100 000). The Western Paciﬁc and South East Asia regions have the highest proportion of motorcyclist deaths.
The report says the first step to reducing traffic mortality is a group of laws aimed at drinking and driving, speeding, and failing to use motorcycle helmets, seat-belts, and child restraints. Currently, only 28 percent of countries -- covering 7 percent of the world's population -- have laws addressing all of these factors.
Other steps are making road infrastructure safer, ensuring vehicles meet international crash testing standards, and improving post-crash care.
The report was funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable arm of Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City.
Read the entire report below.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
With Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina chosen as the new Pope, to be known as Francis I, the remaining papal question is: how will he get around?
A Jesuit, the 76-year-old has already promised a humble papacy. He's known for living out that philosophy as Cardinal, giving up his limousine in favor of riding public transportation. (Anyone with a photo of Cardinal Bergoglio on an Argentine bus, please send it to us ASAP!) He also cooks his own meals.
Will Francis I keep his farecard in his new robes or will the title of Pope require him to roll around in a Popemobile like his predecessors? We're looking into exactly how often Francis I used transit (and did he ride the bike share in Buenos Aires? He is 76, but hey, maybe). We'll keep you posted.
We are also watching what will come of the grand glass globe Popemobiles of Popes past?
Here are some recent Poped-out rides pictured below. (Earlier Papal wagons varied a bit more in design. A temporary 1965 Lincoln Continental Popemobile bore a regal black with a sunroof-like standing spot, rather than the domes pictured below. The Lincoln sold at auction in 2011 for $220,000.)
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Speed camera legislation has languished in Albany for years, due in part to the steadfast opposition of Rochester democrat David Gantt, who chairs the Assembly's transportation committee. Most recently, in 2012, the state legislature failed to bring a speed camera bill to the floor for a vote, earning the ire of New York's mayor.
But advocates say it looks like there's more hope this time around: the Assembly bill has over 30 co-sponsors, it's got strong support in the City Council -- which council speaker (and mayoral candidate) Christine Quinn says stands ready to deliver a home rule message to Albany -- and, perhaps most tellingly, the state assembly has included the pilot program in its 2013-2014 budget proposal.
"Speeding is, tragically, the number-one cause of fatal crashes in New York City," said Quinn. "This is a really significant problem. Anywhere in America, but (especially) in the biggest most congested city in the world, where we have such a pedestrian city -- to lack this type of enforcement...puts people at risk."
"We just need these cameras to help keep New Yorkers safe," she said.
According to city data, in 2011 70 deaths and 4,700 injuries were attributable to speed-related crashes. The New York City Department of Transportation has not released 2012 data yet.
Quinn was joined at a City Hall press conference by fellow council members James Vacca, Jimmy Van Bramer, Steve Levin and Gale Brewer.
The bill is co-sponsored by Assemblywoman Deborah Glick. Under the terms of the legislation, up to 40 speed cameras would be placed at high-risk intersections in New York for a five-year pilot program. Council members said the cameras would not photograph drivers, fines would not exceed $100, and insurance companies would not be notified of violations.
Those provisions may be necessary to sweeten the deal for opponents who say speed cameras are privacy-invading revenue generators. Because for New York City to get the cameras, the capital has to sign off -- and so far it hasn't proven eager to do so.
"This is a classic example where we are in the hands of Albany," said Jimmy Vacca. "I wish this was something we could do at a city level. If we could, we would." He added: "This is not something I view as a revenue-raiser. This is something I view as a lifesaver."
(Side note: New York City does have red light traffic cameras, although they are currently being litigated.)
The bill could also be riding a tide of renewed energy to combat traffic deaths. Recently, the New York Police Department announced it was reforming how it investigates traffic crashes -- which it now refers to as collisions, not accidents. NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly told a City Council budget hearing Tuesday that the department will add up to 10 new investigators to its collision squad. "One of the challenges we had in setting up this squad is handling the number of accidents that can be handled by the number of people that we have," said Kelly.
That squad currently has 19 investigators.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
(Washington, D.C. - WAMU) Downsizing parking is necessary to reduce car dependency in D.C., says one real estate expert.
Chris Leinberger, a George Washington University professor and advocate of new urbanism, says D.C. planners’ proposal to eliminate mandatory parking space minimums at new development in transit-rich corridors or downtown D.C. is forward-thinking.
“We don’t want to be in a position where we are still making buggy whips when in fact the market has moved on,” Leinberger said. “Bike lanes and pedestrian activity is a sign of civilization."
Since TN first reported on the proposed zoning change, some motorists have expressed frustration with the possibility it may be more difficult to park in certain neighborhoods. As new development – residential, retail, and office – attracts more residents, shoppers and workers, some motorists believe parking spaces may be tough to find if developers opt not to build underground garages beneath their buildings.
One reason D.C. planners believe new parking structures will not be needed is the growth of car sharing services, like Car2Go, that make car ownership unnecessary.
Car2Go, which charges users $.38 per minute, is marking its first anniversary in Washington this month. The company says it has 19,000 registered customers in Washington who have taken 350,000 collective trips in the past year.
Leinberger says car sharing services reflect D.C.'s transition to a walkable urban environment that provides options like bike sharing, too.
“If you were to say, certainly ten years ago, but even five years ago that we would have in this city and fifty percent of folks go to work without a car and that forty percent of the households do not have a car, they would have had you committed,” Leinberger said.
Less emphasis on parking spaces also makes fiscal sense, he added.
“We are massively subsidizing the car, massively. All these parking spaces… here in downtown D.C., every one of these parking spaces is worth between $50,000 and $70,000. And we are charging as if they’re worth $10,000,” he said.
What motorists pay to park, either on the street with a residential pass or inside an underground garage, doesn’t come close to the expense of constructing and maintaining the parking spaces.
In his view, motorists will adjust to whatever zoning changes are approved, no matter how unreasonable they may now seem. Alternatives to driving and parking – Metro rail and bus, car sharing, bicycling – are gaining steam.
“If the car drivers are saying, give me everything that I want before you peel my fingers off of the steering wheel, you are not going to get it. You couldn’t build the interstate highway system in a year. It’s going to take time,” Leinberger said.