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World Series Win Sparks Vandalism in San Francisco

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A man vandalizes a SF city bus after the Giants won the World Series. Photo credit Susana Bates, special to the San Francisco Chronicle

Although it pales in comparison to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Sunday night’s sweep of the World Series by the San Francisco Giants left a human-powered path of flipped cars, trash fires, and vandalized and burned city buses in Bay Area streets.

Fans celebrating the Giants’ win set a MUNI bus on fire in San Francisco early Monday morning. The driver and eight passengers escaped unharmed from the bus, which had just undergone $300,000 worth of repairs.

Sunday night marked the second time in three years that the Giants have won the World Series.

San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr told the San Francisco Chronicle that the victory is not a license for destruction. “Two world championships in three years is worthy of celebration,” Suhr said. “But then at some point in time, after the original understandable celebration comes the almost mystifying belief that some people can just come and trash San Francisco.”

A photograph of a Giants’ fan smashing the front window of a bus began circulating on Facebook yesterday with this caption: “SHARE THIS PHOTO: Please help the SFPD locate this jerk that used the Giants celebration as a reason to destroy things and endanger people. This isn't what San Francisco is about. Be smart and safe and kind when you celebrate.”

In all, 36 people were arrested in connection with widespread vandalism and fires. No word on whether the man in the photograph was among those arrested.

A victory parade for the Giants is planned for 11am tomorrow in San Francisco.

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Transportation Nation

My Wednesday #Commutefail

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

No fares = back door boarding -- IF you could get on (photo by Kate Hinds)

I left my Upper West Side apartment at 9:53 this morning, aiming for an M7 or M11 bus -- only to see a packed M11 pulling out of the bus stop on Columbus Avenue and 80th Street, leaving a trail of would-be passengers in its crowded wake.

The Columbus Avenue bus was my stand-in for the C train, which I normally take down to Spring Street. I had adjusted my expectations about my Wednesday commute, but even in the new reality of post-Sandy transportation it was grueling.

I had ridden my bike the 80+ blocks to work on Tuesday, which I often do -- but the return trip home, in the dark, with no streetlights, was harrowing. So I was glad to see the return of some transit.

But by 10:12 a group of us were still waiting for a downtown bus we could actually get on. I was busy both talking to people and eavesdropping (overheard at the bus stop: one man complained to his friend that he was sorry he sold his car; his friend said to him "man, you don't want to own a car in New York -- it's too expensive!")

A couple of crosstown M79s went by, comparatively empty. The crosstown bus line -- often used by people getting to subway lines on either side of Central Park -- was nowhere near as popular as the uptown/downtown ones.

 

New Yorkers who wanted to go downtown could only gawk in envy at the relatively empty M79s (photo by Kate Hinds)

"The crosstown was terrific," said woman I spoke to. Sue Breger was going from her home on East End Avenue to her office at Primary Stages, on 38th and 8th. She was one of the few sanguine commuters I spoke to. "I think we've been through worse, and I love this city," she said.

By 10:20, two M7s had come and gone, too full to pack on to. A few minutes later, two M11s followed, so crowded that people were riding in the door wells. By 10:38, I was debating the merits of bailing on Columbus with another woman, only to be told by a third person that the lines -- and gridlock -- on Broadway were no better. I considered the M10 on Central Park West and discarded it, for the simple reason that I rarely see it running on a good day.

Meanwhile, I waited. I felt like a desert island castaway, ceaselessly tracking the horizon for rescue. "I think I see an M7! I think it has room! Oh, never mind, it's too crowded."

At 11:05, I was able to push my way onto an M11.

Welcome to your Wednesday morning, post-Sandy commute (photo by Kate Hinds)

But did I mention what Columbus Avenue looked like?

Sure, you can get on a bus, but will it actually move in this traffic? (Photo of Columbus Avenue by Kate Hinds)

Twenty-three minutes later, I had only gone 15 blocks. Which was a walk in the park compared to a man whose personal space I was invading. Newman (as he identified himself) had been on the M11 for two hours, after boarding at 125th Street. "My shift started at 10," he said. "It's terrible." He was trying to get to his job at B&H photo on 34th Street. "I don't know why, but they're open," he said. "But that's business."

At that point, I overheard a woman talking to a friend on her cellphone. "I want to go to Dubai or Monaco," she said wistfully. "Places you go to by helicopter or Maserati."

Our unMaserati-like pace gave me plenty of time to meditate on what was slowing progress: hyper-crowded roads hampered by the dangling crane at 57th Street, which had caused street closures. Another complicating factor: Columbus Avenue turns into Ninth Avenue, which runs into...the Lincoln Tunnel, the only avenue of egress to New Jersey on Wednesday morning. And there was undoubtedly a ripple effect caused by the power outages south of 26th Street on the West Side.

By 11:40 a.m., I was only on 57th Street, and had gotten the word from my editor to return home. I made it back to my apartment, on foot, in under 30 minutes.

 

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Transportation Nation

NY MTA: Schedule for Service Restorations By Midday, Real Time Bus Info Available

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Grand Central Station Wednesday Morning: Photo: Adam Lisberg/MTA

The MTA says it will provide a schedule for service restorations by midday today.

(Check our Transit Tracker regularly for any updates)

In a statement, MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph J. Lhota said he'd be able to discuss a timetable for service restorations by "midday" Wednesday.

Real time locations for all buses in Staten Island and the Bronx, and others in Brooklyn and Manhattan are available now, here .

Current bus information is here.

“The extent of Hurricane Sandy's devastation became clear today, and its impact on the MTA system is severe. The New York City subway’s South Ferry station was flooded up to the ceiling. The Long Island Rail Road confronted 11 electrical substations in a row with no power. Metro-North Railroad crews found a boat across their tracks in Ossining. Each tube of the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel is filled with 43 million gallons of water.

“These are just a few of the many unprecedented challenges the MTA is facing as it tries to restore service. Our employees have been assessing the damage all day and will continue to work through the night. In many places, they have been able to begin the process of recovery by pumping water and clearing tracks. New York City buses went back on the road for limited service, and will be almost at normal strength by morning.

“Still, our dedicated employees are beginning to make progress. By midday, we will be able to discuss a timetable for service restorations.”

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Transportation Nation

(UPDATED) NY MTA: Some, Not All Buses Back, No Timetable for Subways

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

10:11am: A beheaded subway entrance. (photo by Jim O'Grady)

UPDATE: Tuesday 4:50 PM: The MTA's Charles Seaton says not all bus routes will be running Wednesday morning, that limited routes will be running. Those will be announced later Tuesday evening.

UPDATE Tuesday 11:50 AM: The latest on MTA and NYC transpo is always at our Transit Tracker.

Some bus service will begin at 5 p.m. on a Sunday schedule.

There is no timetable yet for subway service resumption. Governor Andrew Cuomo and MTA Chairman Joe Lhota said in a joint press conference Tuesday morning they hope to have full bus service restored Wednesday morning. No fares will be charged through Wednesday.

Portions of subway service will return in pieces as it is able. Buses will be used to connect fractured sections.

Flooding could keep east river crossings shut for some time. The Clark, Steinway, Rutgers and Strawberry Street tubes under the East River are all flooded. Lhota said pumps are clearing the Joralemon Street tube and will have it dry in a few hours.

No buses or trains were damaged because of effective shut down preparations. Assessment of the extent of the damage on the tracks "will take a little bit more time than we thought," Lhota said.

Lhotoa said flooding at the South Street subway station was "literally up to the ceiling."

Pumping is underway in the Battery Tunnel.

Metro-North has no power from 59th Street to Croton.

 

POSTED Tuesday 9:05 AM: MTA chair Joe Lhota spoke to WNYC's Soterios Johnson Monday morning about the extent of the damage to the subway system. Listen to the interview below, and read the partial transcript of his remarks.

Lhota said he knew last night there was a problem. "Last night I was downtown and it was pretty obvious...I saw the water surge coming up, realizing that the systems were going to be affected. Our electrical systems, our alarm systems, tell us when there's water down there. They basically shut off. It's an automatic system...they would only shut off if there was water down there."

Johnson asked Lhota just how bad the flooding was. "The assessment is ongoing. Dawn is just cracking right now," Lhota said, adding that the sunlight would help with the assessment process, "which is going to be ongoing. We'll report back to New Yorkers later in the day as to what we have assessed, and determine how long it's going to take to get the system back up and running. One thing I do want everyone to focus on is the fact of how dynamic and how robust the New York City subway system is." And New Yorkers need to understand: "We're going to be flexible, we're going to try to be creative. Those systems that can be up and running, those portions of the system that can be up and running -- I want them up and running as quickly as possible. Then use our bus service and our buses -- re-route them in such a way that they supplement and complement each other. And that's what I mean by creativity: if there's a portion of  the system that's going to take longer to repair, that doesn't mean the whole system is down...we're New Yorkers, we adapt very very well."

Johnson asked if salt water had flooded the subways. "I can't imagine that it's fresh water, it's going to be at best brackish, but for the most part it's salt," Lhota said. "Water and electricity never mix properly, but when you add salt to it, once the water is gone, the salt leaves a film...the way electronics work on the subway system is two pieces of metal running together conducting electricity. And it there's anything in between those two pieces of metal -- like film left over from salt -- that needs to be cleaned off because the connections need to be clear and straightforward for us to manage the process of making the subway system safe."

Johnson asked Lhota what his worst-case scenario for restoration of subway service. "I literally can't answer that until later today," Lhota said. "his happened overnight, it's been ongoing, the assessment's been ongoing, and we've called...all of our workers backs." "Are we talking days or weeks?" asked Johnson. "It's unfair to me -- I'm going to  try to get this up and running as quickly as I possibly can," said Lhota. "I really don't want to be tied down to answering that question the way you've asked it because it'll be something that will linger out there...it would be a scientific wild guess on my part to answer it that way and I just need to get better information and then determine it."

As to when the bridges and tunnels will be open: "I literally just sent a text message to Pat Foye, the head of the Port Authority," said Lhota. "He and I need to figure out how to open up the bridges, how to open up the tunnels. The wind has calmed down significantly...the tunnels, if they're dry, the assessment can be relatively straightforward. [But] the bridges, given the extent of the wind, we're going to need a couple hours having the engineers assess that there's no damage to any of the bridges. We experienced at the Triborough - RFK bridge wind gusts over 100 miles an hour last night. That's extraordinary. We've got to make sure that the integrity of the bridge is there. I'm confident that it is, but out of an abundance of caution we're going to need at least two hours for our engineers to go through and assess to make sure that the bridges are safe. I think they're safe -- in fact I'm almost positive they're safe -- but out of an abundance of caution, we will do the work we need to do."

Johnson asked about the Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road commuter rail lines. "First off," said Lhota, "we're trying to count the number of trees that are downed on Metro North and it's going to be in the hundreds...we're going up in a helicopter today to assess the entire system from the air to determine where we have our problems. The Long Island Rail Road experienced an enormous amount of flooding all through the South Shore, the Babylon branch all the way out to ...Montauk. We're assessing that right now and will determine how far we can go." He continued: "I am very worried about power....the power is a problem. It's an electric subway system for the most part. Some of our commuter rail system is electric as well, some it's diesel, or a combination...we need electricity to run. So this power problem in the tri-state area is significant for getting us up and running on the commuter rail front...the power on Metro North is down from 59th Street in Manhattan all the way up to Croton-Harmon on the Hudson line, all the way up to New Haven, Connecticut on the New Haven line. We have no power on the system at this time."

In terms of the actual conditions of the rails: "We're going to have to evaluate it," Lhota said. "We're going to have to walk ths system to determine the extent of it and we're also going to have to cut up all the trees that are in the way and get them out of the way."

With reporting by Alex Goldmark

 

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Transportation Nation

PHOTOS: Sandy Halts Transportation, Floods Roads

Monday, October 29, 2012

We'll be updating this throughout the storm. Send your photos to transponation@gmail.com or @transportnation.  'Cause we'd like to share them.

The entrance to the downtown 1 train at Broadway and 79th Street (photo by Kate Hinds)

Bike delivery workers still on the job as of 3:30 pm on Amsterdam Avenue (photo by Kate Hinds)

Bicycling in a hurricane on Columbus Avenue (photo by Kate Hinds)

from @DriversWantedNY: "NYC: subway is closed,airport is closed,but TAXIS r open.Raza working since 4am & now taking a $1bus home."

Photo from @DavidKesting

A tree fell on NYC Council member Brad Lander's Brooklyn home. (via @BradLander at 5:43pm)

From the NY MTA: Metro-North Railroad runs patrol trains to survey its tracks during and after storms. As Hurricane Sandy approached, this train struck a tree across the tracks and was briefly halted. (photo courtesy of MTA Metro-North Railroad)

Hatches are battened down at the South Street Seaport. Monday afternoon. (Photo by Alex Goldmark)

from NY Governor Cuomo's twitter account at 4:46pm: severe conditions at Rockaway, waves slamming into the bay wall.

 

Large floating debris and white caps under the base of the Brooklyn Bridge, Monday afternoon. (Photo by Alex Goldmark)

 

Rising water at Harlem River Park (photo by @HessMatthias)

Clinton Hill Rooftop overlooking The Brooklyn Navy Yard. (Photo by Jamie Boud)

 

The Hudson River at 3:30pm Monday (photo by Kate Hinds)

Entrance to the Holland Tunnel, 2:30 pm (photo by Richard Yeh)

The Croton River Bridge at about 1:15pm. It carries Metro-North Railroad's Hudson Line over the Croton River. Water has risen up to the level of the bridge. (Photo courtesy of MTA Metro-North Railroad / Robert Stinson)

The Island Park LIRR station tracks already largely under water as of 1pm Monday (photo by Alfonso Castillo via flickr)

Battery Park, 12:22pm Monday (photo by Jim O'Grady)

The flooded FDR Drive at noon Monday (photo by Caitlyn Kim)

Another view of flooding on the FDR Drive (photo by Caitlyn Kim)

Wait -- is that an MTA bus?? Never mind, it's for the police. (Photo by Caitlyn Kim)

Atlantic City (photo via @Mouselink)

A runway at JFK Airport in Queens, with water encroaching (photo courtesy of Port Authority of New York and New Jersey)

The view from Battery Park at 11:40am Monday: Statue of Liberty, rising waters (photo by Jim O'Grady)

The Broad Street subway station in lower Manhattan, sealed up (photo by Jim O'Grady)

Transit officers Romaniello and Wright in front of a sandbagged subway station (photo by Jim O'Grady)

The PATH station at the World Trade Center. The whole system is shut down. (Photo by Jim O'Grady)

(photo by Jim O'Grady)

An inflatable 'bladder" at the entrance to an office building (photo by Jim O'Grady)

Sandbags in front of the New York Stock Exchange (photo by Jim O'Grady)

More sandbags outside the Stock Exchange (photo by Jim O'Grady)

The Williamsburg Bridge on Monday morning -- light traffic, some bikes (photo by Jim O'Grady)

Sign taped to an M79 bus on Sunday (photo by Kate Hinds)

The Bronx Bees hives were getting ready for the storm on Sunday (photo via @BronxBees)

Manhattan's 79th Street Boat Basin, Sunday afternoon (photo by Kate Hinds)

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Transportation Nation

NY MTA Chief Talks Fare Hikes & Why President Reagan Was A Hero Of Mass Transit

Thursday, October 25, 2012

NY MTA Chairman Joe Lhota. (photo by Stephen Nessen / WNYC)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Joe Lhota, chairman of the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority, was a guest on The Brian Lehrer Show Thursday, where he predictably resisted prompts to choose between two proposed flavors of subway and bus fare hikes: raising the base fare or the cost of unlimited cards.

"Reporters all want me to say what I want to do one way or the other," he said. "Here's what I want to do: I want to listen to the public." Eight public hearings on the fare and toll hikes will begin on November 7 in Long Island. Lhota said he'll participate in some of the hearings "until the wee hours of the morning," if necessary, to make sure every question has been answered.

(Go here for dates, times and directions to the hearings.)

Less predictably, Lhota held up President Ronald Reagan as an object lesson for Congressional Republicans who would cut mass transit funding. "We cannot be a car-only society," Lhota said, claiming that Reagan, too, "had that vision."

He then praised Reagan for dedicating six cents from an increase to the federal gas tax to mass transit.

"When I go to Washington and I talk to the folks in the majority in the House--and I have to deal with all of the Republicans, as well as the young Republicans who are part of The Tea Party movement--I'm constantly reminding them that the best and biggest supporter of mass transit in the 20th Century was Ronald Reagan," Lhota said.

Lhota also talked about Hurricane Sandy, which is expected to hit New York City on Monday. He said he'd already taken two conference calls to discuss preparations like "sandbags and getting buses to higher ground." But he didn't think he would have to shut down New York's subway and bus system, an unprecedented move that the authority took last year in advance of Hurricane Irene.

Listen to the entire interview:

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Transportation Nation

NYC DOT Study: Street Redesign Good for the Economy

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Union Square's pedestrian plaza (photo by Kate Hinds)

New York City's Department of Transportation says redesigned streets have been very, very good to small businesses.

A new report says that retail sales are up along city streets that have bike paths, pedestrian plazas, slow zones, or select bus service.

In some cases, the increase is dramatic: on Brooklyn's Pearl Street, where the DOT maintains retail sales have increased by 172 percent since a parking triangle was turned into a pedestrian plaza.

In Measuring the Street, the DOT lays out metrics for evaluating street redesign projects. These include benchmarks like injuries, traffic speed and volume. And now it includes retail sales data along redesigned routes.

The report casts the city's street redesign in a favorable light just as hundreds of planners descend on the city for the Designing Cities conference, happening this week at New York University.

"For the first time, we have years of retail sales that were reported to the Department of Finance, and we were able to look at that data and apply it directly to the SBS corridors, the bike lane projects, etc.," said DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.

Sadik-Khan ticked off a list of streets that she said economically benefited from being overhauled.

"On Fordham Road [in the Bronx], we saw the growth in the retail sales by local businesses -- and these are not chain stores -- grow 71 percent following the introduction of the SBS route there in 2008, which is three times the borough-wide growth rate."

The report says that along Ninth Avenue, retail sales are up 49 percent -- sixteen times the borough growth rate -- three years after that street's protected bike lane went in. Manhattan's Union Square, which was revamped in 2010, reports a lower commercial vacancy rate.

Sadik-Khan said the reason for increased sales is straightforward: if you build it, the people will come.

And presumably those people have wallets.

"We've seen anywhere between a 10 to 15 percent increase in ridership on all the SBS bus routes," Sadik-Khan said, "amid a citywide decline of 5 percent on bus routes."  She said more riders along a route means more people getting on and off the bus, which means more foot traffic.

The DOT looked at sales tax records reported to the city's Department of Finance. The data excludes large chain stores and non-retail businesses.

 

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Smart Phone Thefts on the Rise on Mass Transit

Monday, October 22, 2012

(Photo CC by Flickr user real.tingley)

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) When you sit on the bus or stand on a train platform nonchalantly holding your smart phone inches from your eyes, you are an easy target. Thefts of mobile devices are soaring in major cities across the country with many of the robberies occurring in mass transit systems.

In the District of Columbia, Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier estimates 60-70 percent of robberies are cell phone related. Thieves often leave the victims’ wallet or other valuables while demanding – or snatching – a smart phone, said Lanier in an interview with WAMU. Exact robbery statistics are not available but Lanier said they are in the process of being compiled.

In the Metro system, roughly half of robberies involve high-end mobile devices including smart phones and tablets, said WMATA Deputy Chief Ronald Pavlik.

“We’re reminding our customers to be aware of their surroundings,” Pavlik said. “Try not to use it in plain view. Don’t sit near the train doors. A lot of the robberies occur near the train doors. The thief times it perfectly as the doors are opening and closing.”

Anyone who owns a smartphone understands why they are targeted by thieves. Stolen devices can be resold for hundreds of dollars and they store loads of personal information ripe for identity crimes.

“It’s my lifeline, all my numbers, everything,” said Andrea Caulfield as she rode a Green line train Monday afternoon. “I do have it passcode protected. When I take it out I just take it for granted that it’s still going to be there when I put it away.”

In the first nine months of 2012 Metro police reported 314 thefts of mobile devices, a slight increase from the same period last year. Fifty-five additional “thefts” resulted in arrests as a result of WMATA’s “crime suppression teams” that consist of undercover officers holding smartphones acting as decoys in troublesome areas.

More promising is an FCC initiative that takes effect October 31. Smartphone owners will be able to register their devices in a database that police will use to identify and disable it if it’s stolen, rendering it useless for resale on the black market. Both the MPD and WMATA police are partners in the FCC initiative.

Owners will need basic information about their phones to register, according to Deputy Chief Pavlik. “They’ll have to know their own phone number, the serial number, date of purchase, things of that nature,” he said. The database, compiled by wireless carriers, is supported by the wireless advocacy group CTIA (Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association), based in Washington, D.C.

CTIA vice president Christopher Guttman-McCabe calls the database a “key component” of an effort to dry up the black market for stolen phones. He said police chiefs, carriers, and the FCC approached his organization seeking a solution to the rise in cell phone-related robberies.

“The goal is to find a way to take a device and make it valueless after it’s lost or stolen,” he said. “We are also starting a concerted effort to try to get consumers to use PINs or passwords to lock the phone if it gets lost or stolen.”

The Associated Press reported the problem is growing in other major cities, too. In San Francisco nearly half of all robberies involve cell phones. In New York City the figure is forty percent.

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Transportation Nation

Transpo Travelog: Trains, Planes, Taxis, Buses, Subways, and a Little Light Rail

Friday, October 19, 2012

Last week, my time was bookended by two weekend conferences. The first was in the Chicago suburbs, the second in Baltimore.

I live in Oakland, California, and the prospect of flying back and forth to California in between conferences seemed both ridiculous and exhausting. So instead, I decided to stay east, visiting friends in New York City and Poughkeepsie for a few days before heading on to Baltimore.

This made for a logistically complex week of getting around. All in all, door-to-door, I used 15 discrete transportation systems to shuttle between five different cities. It sounds like a giant hassle -- but as a transportation reporter, it was great. I loved every minute of it.

I started my journey on a 4:30am BART train ($2.25) to the Oakland Coliseum. It was one of the first trains of the day—BART doesn’t run overnight, much to the chagrin of many Bay Area residents. It also doesn’t yet run all the way to the Oakland Airport (that’s coming soon). So from the Coliseum station, I transferred to a BART airport shuttle bus ($3 in exact change). The process is a little murky unless you’re a local, and I ended up explaining how it worked to several bleary eyed travelers. I even gave one guy a dollar bill just so he could board the bus before it left.

Even at the crack of dawn, the security line at the airport snaked through all the pylons and into baggage claim. I made it through with just enough time to make my flight to Chicago. Got a window seat (my favorite), and watched the sun rise over the beautiful bridges of the Bay before we burst above the cloud layer.

Once in Chicago, I met up with some fellow conference attendees and we split a cab to the distant suburb where the conference was being held ($22 each + tip). On the fare sign in the back of the cab we noticed a special charge—a $50 “vomit clean-up fee.” Must be rough driving a cab in Chicago.

In Chicago, taxicab puking has a price. (Photo by Julie Caine)

Several days later, it was time to head on to NYC. This time, I caught a ride to the airport in a Town Car driven by a guy with a long ponytail named Kenny ($50 cash + tip). He called me a couple hours before he picked me up just to say hi. We had a little time before my flight, and I hadn’t really seen anything at all in Chicago, so he drove me through some of the neighborhoods where he grew up, past his high school and family church, and then cruised along Lakeshore Drive, while he told me about the water pumping stations out in the lake and gave change to every single stoplight panhandler we encountered. “There but for the grace of God,” said he.

The flight from Chicago to LaGuardia was uneventful (dimmed lights and a hushed cabin) -- as was my late-night cab ride to Brooklyn ($35 + tip).

The next day I took the F train into Manhattan ($2.25) and strolled the beautiful High Line for the first time. In the afternoon, I went to Grand Central Terminal, where I took the audio tour of the station ($7— and by the way, radio producers, we could make that tour so much better!) and got a great shoeshine ($7+tip) before boarding the 4:45 Metro-North train to Poughkeepsie ($36 RT).  Traveling alongside the Hudson, looking at fiery red maples and crumbling architecture, I noticed that many of the conductors and passengers were on a first name basis.

Listen: Metro-North conductor

After a night and day in Poughkeepsie, I headed back to the city -- this time to Penn Station, where I was due to catch an Amtrak train to Baltimore ($70). I loved Penn Station. I arrived in the morning to a cacophony of newspaper vendors calling and singing to us as we streamed into the station. “Good morning, everybody! Get your AM New York right here. Read all about it. Buenos días, mami. AM New York!” (Editor's note: Penn Station doesn't usually inspire such affection -- but some people can find the hidden pockets of grace there.)

Penn Station (photo by Julie Caine)

Listen: audio from Penn Station

Grabbed my one and only cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee (one cream, two sugars), and hopped on board the train to Charm City. Out the windows, I watched the compressed East Coast fly by—Manhattan, Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore. Next stop Washington DC.

Took a cab from Baltimore’s Penn Station to my hotel ($14 + tip), and was immediately swept off my feet by the nicest cab driver ever, who told me about growing up in a freezing cold basement and never wanting to get out from under the covers in the morning to go to school.  Note: no vomit fees in Baltimore.

(photo by Julie Caine)

A couple days later, and it was time for more travel. Took the Baltimore Light Rail ($1.60) to the airport for my flight home to Oakland, where my kind next-door neighbor picked me up in his car and drove me home (free). As cliché as it sounds, my week really was all about the journey.

 

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Maryland Expanding Audio Recording On Buses Over Privacy Objections

Friday, October 19, 2012

Half the MTA Maryland fleet of buses will be equipped with audio recording equipment by the end of the year. (MTA photo)

(Elliott Francis and Marti Johnson - Washington, D.C., WAMU) The Maryland Transit Administration is recording conversations between bus drivers and passengers, which is prompting critics to peg the audio recordings as violations of privacy.

The MTA began recording audio on 10 buses in Baltimore this week, with plans to expand to half the fleet by next summer. The agency runs local buses in the Baltimore-Washington area with commuter routes serving outlying communities. The buses are already equipped with video cameras that sport microphones — they just have to be switched on.

The state attorney general's office says the addition of audio doesn't violate Maryland's wiretapping law, but attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union say bus riders shouldn't have to sacrifice their privacy rights.

The audio recordings are an attempt to increase commuter safety, says MTA information officer Terry Owens.

"We were convinced that this additional tool would help us better safeguard our system, so we have this system in place on ten of our buses, testing the technology to make sure it's effective," he says.

There are signs on the buses letting riders know they're being recorded. But the American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney David Rocah says recording the conversations violates riders privacy rights.

"I don't think public transit riders should have to give their legitimate expectation of privacy and their ability to have a private conversation as a condition of riding a bus," Rocah says.

MTA says the state attorney general's office says that there is no legal expectation of privacy on public buses, but some state legislators are ready to take up the issue in the next general Assembly, the ACLU says. State Sen. Brian Frosh says the General Assembly will most likely set standards for oversight and accountability.

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Transportation Nation

Virginia's 495 Express Lanes Unveil News Ops Center

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The operators of Virginia’s I-495 Express Lanes unveiled the highway’s incident command center on Wednesday where traffic monitors will watch the flow of vehicles on a widescreen monitor displaying a dozen camera angles. The new lanes are expected to open by the end of fall.

The center will operate 24/7 with staffers monitoring traffic volume in order to compute toll rates. The new roadway – connecting the Dulles Toll Road to the I-395/I-95/Springfield interchange 14 miles to the south – will charge drivers dynamic tolls, meaning the price will change depending on traffic volume. The more traffic, the higher the toll.

The express lanes’ private sector operator, Transurban, is required to keep traffic moving at least 45 m.p.h., so if traffic slows due to heavy volume tolls, will be significantly increased to deter further drivers. Transurban invested $1.5 billion into the lanes as part of a public-private partnership with Virginia, and will receive toll revenues for the next 75 years.

“Three times per mile we will have detector stations that will give our control center here information regarding what is the volume of traffic and what is the speed of traffic,” said Transurban operations manager Rob Kerns. “Our dynamic pricing is scheduled to update every fifteen minutes.”

Transurban has not released precise toll rates because of the dynamic nature of the pricing system. Moreover, once the highway opens, staffers will need some time to determine what rates work best.

Simulation of Express Lanes signage (image courtesy of Transurban)

“The tolls are set minute to minute based on what's actually happening out there. We won't know until the road opens how drivers are reacting to different toll prices,” said Jennifer Aument, a project spokeswoman.

The average toll will be between $3 and $6 during busy periods, said Aument, who said the Express Lanes are designed for use a couple times a week when drivers need a dependable ride. The new lanes will run parallel to 495’s regular travel lanes that are often clogged bumper-to-bumper.

Aument is encouraging drivers to familiarize themselves with the coming changes to the Beltway at 495ExpressLanes.com and to sign up for an E-ZPass as soon as possible.  Only E-ZPass will be accepted in the new lanes, with HOV-3, buses, and motorcycles riding free. However, carpoolers will still need to obtain an E-ZPass Flex transponder.

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Transportation Nation

Washington, D.C. Region's Economic Future Tied to Cars -- Or Is It?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

(photo by Elvert Barnes via flickr)

For the thousands of commuters who spend too much of their lives sitting in traffic on the Washington area’s hopelessly congested roads, the future may not look much better than the present. Despite some large investments in mass transit projects, like the Silver Line rail link to Dulles Airport, about three-fourths of all economic activity – from shopping to commuting to work – will be the result of automobile trips in 2040, virtually unchanged from present day, according to a report by the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis.

In 2007, 74 percent of gross regional product (GRP) – a measure of all income -- was the result of car travel. By 2040 it will be 73 percent, according to the study’s authors, who forecast total GRP by that year to potentially amount to $1.8 trillion, up from the current $429 billion. The projections are based on where the study places the region’s major job centers: in the outer suburbs, implying that a regime of road building will be necessary to accommodate the region’s growth.  The study was prepared for the 2030 Group, a group of real estate developers.

The study is flawed, according to mass transit advocates.

“I think it is out of sync with changing demographics and the huge market demand to live not just in the city but to live in neighborhoods that are walkable and near transit,” says Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which advocates transit-oriented development. “This is a report that seems to, through some magic they have applied, allocate significant portions of regional growth to outer suburban job centers.  They are arguing for more highway investment over transit investment in the region.”

The study designates the Tysons Corner-Dulles corridor as the most prominent “activity center” that will see significant changes in transportation use thanks to the arrival of the Silver Line, but the overall forecast allows for minor shifts in mode changes, including bicycling/walking.  Schwartz says the forecast overlooks surging demand for living in urban, walkable places.

“We are changing our land uses and have shown that compact, walkable neighborhoods with transit generate far fewer car trips and shorter car travel distances,” he says. “A younger generation is driving less, living in cities and an older generation of downsizing empty nesters and retirees will not be driving as much. They are out of touch with the trends. They are trying to justify more outer suburban growth,” referring to suburban real estate developers in the 2030 Group.

Whatever transportation infrastructure will be necessary for the expected population and job growth, current levels of government investment are grossly inadequate, according to Bob Chase, the president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, a group that supports highway construction.

“What the study shows is that most of the economic activity centers are heavily dependent upon a good road network, but roads also move buses.  It’s not just about cars,” Chase said.  “We’re not going to have the transportation network to support that type of economy. If we don’t invest more in transportation, we’re not likely to have the economic future that most people would want.”

One possible source of funds would be an increased state and/or federal gas tax, something few politicians are willing to publicly endorse. The current federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon has not been increased since 1993.

“The cost of construction and the cost of maintenance have gone up. The cost of just petroleum products that go into asphalt has gone up 350% in the last ten years,” Chase says.  “If you want to have a strong economy, if you want to have jobs for your kids, you need to make a greater investment in transportation, and the failure to do so is going to cost every person far more in terms of lost wages, lost opportunities, and a deteriorated quality of life, than paying a few more pennies on the gas tax.”

Chase says Virginia and Maryland could also raise sales taxes or create surcharges on income taxes to pay for infrastructure investment.

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Transportation Nation

NYC to Speed Travel to LaGuardia by Bus -- But did the Mayor know?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

(Photo CC by Flickr user Stephen Rees)

Here's a little insight into how New York City Hall works....

A press release went out from the mayor's office Thursday morning in which Mayor Bloomberg announced faster bus service to LaGuardia Airport beginning next year.

The bus is a so-called "select bus," now up and running in several New York boroughs.  The buses have their own lanes, off-board payment, signal priority at red lights, and other enhancements to give passengers a speedier ride.

Bloomberg has pioneered their use -- called "Bus Rapid Transit" in places like Bogota, Colombia, where the buses have their own, physically segregated lanes -- in New York City.

The Mayor was quoted prominently in the press release, saying that the new "select bus service" lines, would cut travel time, and help both airport workers and flyers.

But when Bloomberg gave a news conference later in the day, and a reporter asked him to comment about the plan, he had a hard time answering the question.

"I love select buses. I didn't know there was one. I'll have them talk to you. It's a great idea. But I just don't know - Is there an issue with it?," the Mayor said.

The reporter told him his office put out a news release about it.

"Good," Bloomberg continued. "I was on a plane, so I didn't read it. Okay. Love to help you but I can't read everything."

A spokesman for the mayor said the release was issued because the select bus service plan was mentioned Wednesday evening at a community event. He said the mayor was aware of the bus plan, but not that a press release was going out about it.

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Transportation Nation

NJ Gov Christie: Workers Shouldn't Ride Free on NJ Transit

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (Governor's Office/Tim Larsen)

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was asked Tuesday about his support of a plan to eliminate the free ride benefit for NJ Transit employees. Here's his response.

"All these different kinds of perks that are given to employees just aren't justifiable to the general public. You know we had to raise fares on NJ Transit. We had to raise fares because their fare box had been ignored by the previous administration for their entire time here. YOu know? And artificially used federal stimulus money to keep fares stable. When we came in, NJ Transit was in really bad shape.  So what did we do? We made the hard choice, we bit the bullet, we raised fares. I don't think it's justifiable for me to ask a working man or woman in New Jersey to pay these higher fares and then have employees of NJ Transit get it for free. So there's really nothing more complicated behind it than that."

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Transportation Nation

Virginia County Wants To Re-Envision Roads For City Rising West of Washington

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Tysons Corner (photo via wikimedia commons)

With four new Metrorail stations coming to Tysons Corner next year -- as well as a 40-year plan to to bring high-rise condos and gleaming corporate offices to the area -- local lawmakers are considering rethinking the road network.

The Fairfax County (Virginia) Board of Supervisors dug into a report Tuesday from Planning Commission member Walter Alcorn that includes about $1 billion in taxes on current and future developers to cover the costs of infrastructure for cars, buses, bicycles, and pedestrians.

“Right now Tysons has a super grid of very, very large blocks which are not walkable,” Alcorn said in an interview with Transportation Nation.  The county's plan states the "vehicle-based road network will need to transition into a multi-modal transportation system that provides transportation choices to residents, employees and visitors." That means, in part, building smaller, more walkable blocks.

County officials say they want the population of Tysons Corner to increase fivefold by 2050. Currently, the community has 20,000 residents.

The infrastructure redevelopment cost is $2.3 billion, and to pay for it, the planning commission wants to levy new taxes on developers and increase existing property taxes. However, tapping general fund revenues, issuing bonds, and adding a commercial and industrial tax are also under consideration.

“The actual street in front of the development that’s being constructed should be paid for by that developer. However, larger transportation projects that have a major benefit inside and outside of Tysons probably should be paid for by the public sector,” said Sharon Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

“These are extrapolations,” said Bulova, referring to the revenue figures. “We’re looking ahead to an extent we’ve never done before to look at what it is going to take to support the new development.”

And Alcorn says it's worth it. “The point of all these improvements is not to facilitate traffic through Tysons or across Tysons, but frankly to help Tysons become more of a walkable, transit oriented community,” he said. “It’s a grid of streets. It’s also new connections from surrounding roads into Tysons, for example, new connections from the Dulles Toll Road, and improved connection to the Beltway.”

The board will take up the proposal next at its scheduled meeting later this month.
See Fairfax County's "Transforming Tysons" slideshow:

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Transportation Nation

NY MTA Budget, Once Critical, Is Reviving Thanks To Rider $

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

The burden of the NY MTA's financial recovery has largely fallen on riders. (Sculpture by Tom Otterness in a subway station stairwell. Photo by wallyg / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Fiscally speaking, the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority has emerged from intensive care. That's in the judgment of NY State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who says the patient has recovered with the help of a potent medicine: a series of fare and toll increases, with more to come.

The report, issued Tuesday evening, notes that the NY MTA plans to raise fares and tolls by 14 percent between now and 2015--three times faster than the expected inflation rate. If approved, the fares and tolls will have risen 35 percent since 2007.

The MTA imposed a 7.5 percent hike in December 2010. The hike came with drastic service cuts, some of which have been restored. But overall, riders in New York City and its suburbs have been making do with less service and regularly rising prices.

Another financial bright spot for the NY MTA is the nearly 242,000 jobs added by the 12 counties served by the agency. That has boosted the use of mass transit. And revenue has been rising from the NY MTA's dedicated taxes, particularly those from real estate transactions, which are projected to grow at an average annual rate of five percent.

DiNapoli also credits the authority with cost-cutting measures expected to generate annual recurring savings of $1.1 billion by 2016.

Despite the relatively rosy prognosis, the patient could yet land back in the hospital. The first and foremost threat to the NY MTA's financial health is the specter of a repeal on constitutional grounds of the payroll mobility tax, which provides $1.8 billion a year.

The authority is also counting on reaching a deal with its unions that allows for no pay raises over three years--or raises offset by rule changes and productivity gains. That's no sure thing. Nor is the $20 billion needed for the authority's 2015-2019 capital program, the source of which has yet to be identified.

NY MTA Chairman Joseph  Lhota said he was pleased with the report. “I appreciate Comptroller DiNapoli’s thoughtful and thorough analysis of our financial plan," Lhota said in an email." His report recognizes the significant financial challenges the MTA faces in the near term, the aggressive steps we have taken to meet them, and our ongoing efforts to address longer-term challenges, including identifying funding sources for our 2015-2019 Capital Program.”

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19,000 Seats + Almost No Parking = More Foot Than Car Traffic at Barclays Arena

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Uptopian rendering of Barclays Center Arena in Brooklyn.

(New York, NY - WNYC) Jay-Z has been playing sold-out concerts at the 19,000-seat Barclays Center Arena in Brooklyn and, so far, the biggest traffic problem has been caused by crowds of people coming up from the Atlantic Avenue subway stop and streaming across the street to the arena before the shows. So few people are driving, the scant official parking spaces aren't even filling up.

That's according to Sam Schwartz, who was hired by Barclay's  Center management to come up with a traffic plan for the area during arena events. Neighbors had feared traffic bedlam because the center sits at a complicated intersection of three major thoroughfares notorious for its danger to pedestrians, and that's before the sports and entertainment complex came to town.

But now walkers are winning. "As the herd of pedestrians comes out, we shut down Atlantic Avenue for cars and get the people across the street for about ten minutes and then we let the cars flow," Schwartz said. "It hasn't backed up traffic much."

Schwartz says more than half of all concert-goers so far have come and gone by subway. Besides surges in turnstile use at the Atlantic Avenue stop, riders have also been using subway stops a short stroll from arena: the Fulton Street stop of the G, the Lafayette Avenue stop of the C, and the Bergen Street stop of the 2 and 3.

Others have walked, and about 1,200 people have taken Long Island Railroad trains.

Relatively few fans seem to be driving, judging by the lack of gridlock and the fact that the arena's surface parking lot, with its 541 spaces, has been half empty. Schwartz added that, as of now, not many drivers have been patronizing a group of satellite lots up to a mile from the arena that offer half-price parking and free shuttle buses.

The prospect of drivers circulating en masse through the nearby tree-lined streets looking for free street parking has also failed to materialize. "I've heard no complaints about parking," said Robert Perris, district manager of New York Community Board 2, which includes the area around the Barclays Center Arena.

In hearings and planning meetings leading up to the opening of the arena, residents have been vocal about calling for a parking permit program to keep fans who arrive by car from parking on their streets. The NYC Department of Transportation has so far declined to institute such a program.

Perris said he joined other city officials in inspecting the scene on opening night last Friday. "Traffic was heavy but moving in a well-managed way," he said. "There were police officers or traffic engineers at all major intersections, and pedestrian managers at the crosswalks, both sides. People were going where they were told."

Perris said traffic flow in the streets around the arena, which was heavy before the Barclays Center opened, might be benefiting from the small army of police and traffic managers. "My question is whether we’re always going to have the same level of resources as we had on night one," he said.

Despite the traffic plan's initial success, officials caution that results are preliminary. Brooklyn Nets games may draw greater numbers of fans who arrive by car. And planners will be watching to see how Barbra Streisand's fans choose to travel to Barclays Center Arena for her sold-out show on October 13.

The arena is accessible from 11 subway lines and commuter rail.

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Transportation Nation

Tonight: Will Perfect Traffic Storm Around Barclays Arena Paralyze Brownstone Brooklyn?

Friday, September 28, 2012

(Photo by Jim O'Grady.)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Here's what will be converging tonight on the area around the new Barclays Center Arena in Brooklyn: rush hour crowds pouring onto and out of nine subway lines that sit beneath the intersection of three major thoroughfares; 19,000 ticket holders on their way to a sold-out Jay-Z concert; massive thunderstorms.

And another sign of a looming traffic-pocalyse: the guy hired to devise a traffic plan for the arena has issued a Gridlock Alert for the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues, right where the Barclays Center sits. Traffic engineer Sam Schwartz, known as Gridlock Sam, says ticket holders headed to the 8 o'clock concert will swell the area's normally heavy rush hour.

The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority is adding extra subway service on the Q and 4 lines in the form of “gap trains,” or trains held in reserve to respond to a surge of customers. And double the number of late-night Long Island Railroad trains will run after the show. These “game trains” will arrive every 15 minutes and hold about 1,000 passengers each.

City planners have been trying for months to discourage driving to Prospect Heights, Park Slope and Fort Greene--brownstone neighborhoods with tree-lined streets that surround the Barclays Center arena. They've taken steps like reducing the arena's parking spots from 1,000 to 541. They've also launched a pro-transit publicity blitz that got The Harlem Globetrotters, who'll be playing a game at The Barclays Center on October 7, to ride the rails with reporters.

(Photo courtesy of the NY MTA)

"I'm Big Easy of the world famous Harlem Globetrotters," said Big Easy two weeks ago, while standing on a train platform at a transit hub in Queens that city-bound riders of the Long Island Railroad use to switch to the subway. "We’re going to take a train to the Barclays Center."  And then he did. The trip took 20 minutes, which was faster than driving, with or without a Gridlock Alert.

But planners know not everyone will heed the call to take transit to Brooklyn Nets games and concerts by Barbra Streisand and Rush. That's why they hired Schwartz to come up with a plan that would, in his words, "intercept drivers before they approach the arena."

Schwartz is setting up half-priced lots with free shuttle buses up to a mile from the arena. Fans can also pay to reserve a parking spot online, which is supposed to cut down on drivers circling around in search of parking. And Nets tickets will feature mass transit directions but nothing about how to drive to the stadium or park a car. There will, however, be plenty of parking right at the arena's entrance ... for 400 bicycles.

Still, it's not hard to find doubters of the plan. Neighborhood resident Gib Veconi came to the center's symbolic ribbon-cutting last week in part to protest what he sees as a looming traffic disaster.  "If you're coming to park here, you can try to get into one of the 500 spaces down on the other block there for the arena," he said. "But if you can't, you're going to circle these streets looking for a free place to park--streets that are already jammed."

Will the near-nightly migration of tens of thousands of people to and from the Barclays Center Arena turn out to manageable or chaotic? Tonight is the first test.

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Transportation Nation

This Election Season, Americans Pony Up for Public Transpo

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Operators of Los Angles' new Expo light rail line enjoy the new gig, April 2012. (Photo courtesy of LA Metro Transportation Library and Archive)

(This article by Greg Hanscom originally appeared in Grist.org)

Infrastructure issues may have turned partisan these past four years while bridges crumble, waiting for repair, but transit-advocates have hope: This election may bring in big bucks for buses and subways, direct from voters.

More than a dozen transit-related initiatives will appear on local ballots in November, including a mammoth funding plan in Los Angeles. Elsewhere, a measure in Orange County, N.C., would add a half cent to the sales tax to fund transit. A third measure, in Memphis, Tenn., would increase the cost of a gallon of gas by a penny, raising an estimated $3 to $6 million each year for the Memphis Area Transit Authority.

The big kahuna of proposals is in Los Angeles, where four years ago voters approved Measure R, a sales tax increase that is expected to raise $40 billion over 30 years for transit, highway, and bus projects. Measure J, which will appear on the ballot this year, would extend the transportation tax another 30 years.

The city's transit system is still wanting for cash. Even as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has vocally championed new light rail lines and bike lanes, L.A. County’s Metro has slashed bus service to some of the city’s most down-and-out neighborhoods.

Atlanta faced a similar crossroads, and a similar vote in July that would have raised $8 billion for rail and other transportation projects. It went down in flames.

Atlanta’s transit agency has been cutting bus service due to budget shortfalls. But unlike in L.A., light rail hasn’t fared much better.

However, Atlanta seems to be an exception to the rule. Transit funding is winning wide approval in other cities around the country this year, as in recent years — and will likely see a few more big wins on ballot budget initiatives in November, including in L.A. If all goes as expected, Angelenos will get the world-class transit system that Mayor Villaraigosa dreams about — and sooner than you might think.

“The overwhelming majority of measures are successful,” says Jason Jordan, director of the Center for Transportation Excellence, a D.C.-based nonprofit that tracks transit-related ballot initiatives. “We were expecting to see approval rates decline back in ’08, with the economic downturn. But rates have actually been improving year over year.”

According to the center’s tally, transit is batting almost 90 percent at the ballot box nationally this year. Voters in Baton Rouge, La., approved a property tax measure in April that will more than double the annual budget for the local bus service. In May, residents of Parkersburg, W.Va., voted to extend a property tax that funds the local transit service. And Michiganders renewed a slew of taxes to fund transit in August.

“It used to be that you might go to the ballot in order to raise matching funds for federal dollars,” Jordan says. “Now, places have to make themselves competitive for federal funds by showing they’ve got skin in the game.”

Putting a long-term transit tax in place would allow L.A.’s Metro to borrow the money now and pay it off over the coming decades (there’s a good explanation here), meaning that Angelenos could be living in traintopia in the not too distant future. Under California law, the measure will require a supermajority of at least two-thirds support to pass, but that didn’t stop Measure R from passing in 2008.

So what happened in Atlanta — and could the same forces take down transit initiatives elsewhere? Here it is, mapped:

(Image: Atlanta Business Journal, via Grist)

Pretty clear, right? More than two-thirds of voters in the urban core supported the measure. But the further you went from the city center, the more the opposition won over. By the time you got to the suburbs, people it was a landslide of opposition.

Jordan says that in many ways, Atlanta’s initiative was destined to fail, both because of historic forces at work in the region, (listen to TN's documentary about Race and Mass Transit for the story of Atlanta's transit history) and because the state legislature imposed restrictions on the measure that made it unwieldy. The vote also coincided with the state primaries, in which the most contested races were among Republicans in the exurbs — not people who are inclined to tax themselves for better trains and buses.

For evidence that transit votes don’t always devolve into a simple city-vs.-suburb showdown, Jordan points to St. Louis, where a ballot initiative failed in 2008, but passed on a second attempt, two years later. Here are the maps:

(Images by the Center for Transportation Excellence via Grist)

Looks neat, but to me, the message remains the same: Folks in the ‘burbs don’t care much for  transit initiatives. The difference in the second St. Louis election was that fewer of them turned out to vote — and a strong grassroots campaign succeeded in getting pro-transit folks to support the measure. In campaign parlance, the initiative’s backers got their supporters out “without mobilizing their opponents.”

In L.A., where transit is winning my supermajorities, the story seems to be different. Mayor Villaraigosa has a long way to go in his effort to build a truly functional and just public transportation system for his city, but he has succeeded in creating a plan that a broad swath of society can get behind, one likely to pass the test of election day.

Greg Hanscom is a senior editor at Grist. He tweets about cities, bikes, transportation, policy, and sustainability at @ghanscom.

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Bus to Stoplight, "Obey!" NYC Gets Traffic Signal Priority

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

(Photo CC by Flickr user Stephen Rees)

Traffic lights will yield to buses in New York City -- at least on a stretch of Manhattan's East Side.

It's a small but significant step that could further speed travel times for the city's Select Bus Service. SBS routes have dedicated lanes, express stops, and passengers pay before they boards. Now New York's SBS is rolling out signal priority: stop lights that can sense when a bus is approaching -- and stay green to let it pass.

“Traffic Signal Prioritization is a vital piece in making bus travel more attractive,” said New York City Transit President Thomas F. Prendergast in a statement.

An initial run of 60 buses on Manhattan's heavily traveled M15 route will be outfitted with the technology to communicate with streetlights along First and Second Avenues. Manhattan's signal priority, which has been tested on an SBS bus route in the Bronx, will begin in November. The MTA says another 200 buses could join the program if it proves successful.

The cost of upgrading the 60 buses will cost $480,000.

SBS is a form of Bus Rapid Transit, a popular form of mass transit in other countries, often as a cheaper substitute for a subway system. Traditional BRT systems use lanes that are physically separate from other traffic. But in New York, the lanes multitask -- cars can use the lanes to make turns, and taxis can drop off passengers in the SBS lanes.

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