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Real Estate Tip: Buy Near Transit

Monday, March 25, 2013

Transit-oriented development project in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo CC by Flickr user Steven Vance)

Homes close to good transit options made for better real estate investments during the recession, according to a new study from the American Public Transportation Association.

APTA looked at housing market data from Phoenix, Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Chicago from 2006 to 2011, and compared homes close to transit with homes for the metro region overall. The study found residential property values located near transit performed 41 percent better. Heavy rail, bus rapid transit, and light rail, with more frequent service and transfer options, helped real estate prices even more than commuter rail more typically found in suburbs, according to the study.

Areas with no transit options fared the worst in terms of home value.

Residents close to transit sheds -- areas that are a half-mile away from a transit stop or closer -- also had better access to jobs and incurred less transportation costs. In Chicago, residents close to the city's transit system spent $300 less on transportation per month than the regional average.

Percent change in average residential sales prices relative to the region, 2006-11

Transit is not the sole factor of course, but allowing residents wider access to local amenities has made it a real estate catalyst. Alex Boylan, a Minneapolis-based realtor, says he's noticed that properties close to the light rail or major bus routes don't stay on the market as long. "Now more people are more about community, wanting to live closer to work, and using the transportation that's provided around them," he said. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, the study showed that home prices fell everywhere from 2006 to 2011, but homes next to the Hiawatha light rail line better maintained their values by 62 percent when compared to the entire Twin Cities.

Areas with accessible transit tend to have more nearby amenities, and therefore better walkability scores, something Boylan says homebuyers have been paying much closer attention to in the last few years.

Related: What Makes A City Walkable

The years covered in the APTA study were bad years for the housing market, but now that the market's improving, Darnell Grisby, APTA director of policy and research, says the desire for a city lifestyle will only continue to grow. “The millennial generation that seeks more transit-oriented lifestyles and empty nesters that will be seeking to downsize their homes while living near amenities will ensure that this trend continues,” he says.

Related: Will SunRail change Central Florida's driving habits?

The study showed that The Loop in Chicago performed more than 75 percent better than the region as a whole, where retirees and young professionals are fueling one of the most dramatic downtown housing booms in the country -- though the 2010 Census showed that middle class families were still flocking to the city's suburbs.

The study corresponds with other cultural shifts. Other data shows millennials are less car-centric than their parents. A recent Zipcar survey said Americans in the 18-34 age group consider their computers and mobile phones more important in their daily lives than cars, and fewer young people are trying to get driver’s licenses.

"People are voting with their feet," says Sara Wiskerchen, a spokesperson for the National Association of Realtors, a group that partnered with APTA for the study. The real estate industry group has become a booster for transit-oriented development. Wiskerchen says NAR plans to take the study to Congress to push for more public transportation and smart growth initiatives in American cities. "Consumers are looking for, and choosing, neighborhoods that they're able to find more walkable features, that have lower transportation costs, and really just looking at communities in a smart way," says Wiskerchen.

Related: DC a pioneer in walkable, transit-friendly neighborhoods

 

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Transportation Nation

After Poisoning And Whacking Doesn't Work, NYC Transit Tries Birth Control On Rats

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A "smoothie" like this will contain rat birth control. (photo by Mary Harris)

(Mary Harris, WNYC) If you're scared of New York City subway rats, hanging out with Paul Jones is a bad idea. He's the man who manages the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority's trash rooms, and he knows where the rats are hiding. He even knows their favorite foods.

"They want the good stuff: the Red Bull, the lattes. They love lattes!" Jones said.

Jones has watched the NY MTA try various tactics to rid itself of rodents. They've hired exterminators. They're putting trash in mint-flavored bags, which are supposed to repel pests. They've even reinforced trash room doors to make it harder for rats to make it to the buffet table.

Now they're trying a new approach. The National Institutes of Health has just given Loretta Mayer, and her company, Senestech, a $1.1 million grant to tempt rats into consuming birth control.

Mayer's product, which is still in development, works in the lab by speeding up menopause in the female rat. She's quick to add that it doesn't affect human fertility because the compound is rapidly metabolized.  "It’s just like if you take an aspirin for a headache it'll numb your headache, but if you give an aspirin to your cat it would kill it," she said.

Senestech researchers (photo by Mary Harris/WNYC)

At the moment, she's trying to find the ideal flavor to appeal to the New York subway rat's palate. In Asia, she's flavored her bait with roasted coconut, dried fish, and beer. Here, she's  considering lacing the bait with pepperoni oil. It will be mixed into a bright pink smoothie--not solid food--because underground rats can find food easily but are constantly searching for liquid.

Mayer isn't the only scientist chronicling the lives of New York's rats. At Columbia University, Professor Ian Lipkin has been sending teams of researchers into the subways to collect rodent samples. He's trying to discover what kind of germs they're carrying.

"They’re little Typhoid Marys running around excreting all kinds  of things that are problematic for humans," Lipkin explained.

Lipkin then puts the risk into perspective: he said he worries more about shaking hands with someone with a bad cough than he does about crossing paths with a subway rat. But he wants to know what the rats are carrying.

"We have every year a whole host of diseases that occur in people--encephalitis, meningitis, respiratory diseases, diarrheal diseases--that are largely unexplained. And one potential mechanism by which people become infected is through exposure, directly or indirectly, to infectious agents that would be carried by rodents," Lipkin said. "We need to know what kind of bugs these animals carry so we can respond more effectively to them."

Back underground, Mayer's research team is gathering results from the initial taste tests. They're encouraged: the rats seem to be enjoying their smoothies.

But Paul Jones has seen exterminators come and go. And even the bluntest of weapons has failed to drive the rats off. He keeps blunt objects in the trash rooms so he can lay a good whack on the aggressive rats.

Paul Jones holds the keys to all of New York City's trash rooms. And he knows where all the rat nests are. (Photo by Mary Harris/WNC)

"We've hit them with shovels and pitchforks - they just flip over and run off. And they don't go away," he says with a sigh. "They're very hard to die."

To comment on this story, check out TN's Facebook page.

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D.C. Taxis to Take Credit Cards June 1

Thursday, March 21, 2013

(photo by Rebecca Sheir)

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) If the effort to modernize D.C.’s taxicab fleet has moved at a snail’s pace, the snail crawled another couple inches on Wednesday.

Officials revised a proposal to install credit card payment machines in all cabs this summer at a special meeting of the D.C. Taxicab Commission. Barring any further setbacks, commission chairman Ron Linton expects the amenity that has been the norm in other major cities to start appearing in D.C. June 1.

“I thought originally by last November we would have had credit card machines in every taxicab. The big disappointment was losing the contract we had,” Linton said in an interview with WAMU 88.5.

In November the District's Contract Appeals Board overruled a contract awarded to Verifone Systems to install the credit card machines, setting the District's modernization plan back several months.

The new proposal protects cabbies by increasing customers’ fares $.50 to cover the costs associated with installing and maintaining credit card payment technology.

The base fare will increase from $3.00 to $3.25; the driver will keep that extra quarter. A proposed per-ride surcharge was decreased from $.50 to $.25, a fee that will be collected by the District. Drivers will be allowed to charge an extra dollar per ride if more than one passenger climbs into the cab. About 20 percent of all rides currently involve more than one passenger, Linton said.

”Numbers two, three, four, doesn’t make any difference how many you got, you only get one additional dollar for any additional passengers,” said Linton, who said the District will allow drivers to choose from one of nine possible payment processing vendors.

While most District residents have called for credit card payment options in taxis, some cabbies have resisted them.

“Because of the fee,” explained cabbie Solomon Nessibu as he took a break in Tenleytown. “The credit card company charges you and you have to pay for the machine, pay for repair, extra receipt. It's cost-related. Other than that it's no problem.”

If the taxicab commission’s new proposal clears the final regulatory hurdles, Chairman Linton expects every cab in the district to have credit card payment machines by the end of August.

Related:

  • Smartphone App Offers What DC Cabs Can’t Yet — Ability to Take Credit Cards (link)
  • Proposal Would Put Smart Meters In D.C. Cabs By End Of Year (link)

Follow Martin Di Caro on Twitter.

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Transportation Nation

Infrastructure report card says $3.6 trillion needed by 2020

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Former Pa. Governor Ed Rendell (Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in backdrop)

Former Pa. Governor Ed Rendell (Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in backdrop)

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.

Virginia’s infrastructure graded at D+ and Maryland received a C+.

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.

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Following Public Pressure, Metro Will Add More Bus Service to DC's Busiest Corridor

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Commuters at 16th and U Streets NW

Commuters at 16th and U Streets NW

Additional morning rush hour service is coming to Metro’s busiest bus corridor in Washington after the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission took commuters’ complaints to the transit authority.

The S bus line on 16th Street NW, a historic gateway into downtown D.C., is struggling to meet ridership demand. Buses are often packed before reaching the southern stretch of the route and cannot squeeze additional passengers aboard, leaving rush hour commuters waiting in long lines at bus stops in Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, and near Dupont Circle. Some commuters eventually give up and hop in taxis.

“I went out to the bus stops and I saw taxicabs pull up to the long lines, seeing a business opportunity and offering to take them downtown, because the buses weren’t working for our city,” says Kishan Putta, a commissioner on the Dupont Circle ANC.

Putta tried to solicit commuters’ concerns on Facebook and Twitter but drew his largest response the old fashioned way: he put up posters at bus stops asking commuters to contact him.

“We took those stories and those complaints to Metro and they agreed to meet us,” in January, Putta says. “They had to admit in public this is a big problem.”

Putta provided the following example of a typical commuter complaint about crowding on the S line.

“I actively chose to walk 45 minutes to work during every day this week rather than take the bus despite the temperatures in the teens and howling winds,” the commuter’s complaint said. “On the one day when I decided it would be better for my health and well-being to take the bus I waited at the bus stop for 20 minutes.”

“Just this week it has taken me 45-50 minutes to get from 16th & V to 14th & I, and anywhere from 4 to 6 buses have passed the stop each morning because they are too crowded to accept any more passengers,” another complaint said.

Metro has been aware of S line bus crowding for years but its efforts haven’t kept up with growing ridership. In 2009 the S9, which makes limited stops on 16th Street NW, was added during morning and evening rush hours to alleviate crowding.

“Bus ridership remains strong especially with all the new residents moving into the district,” says Metro spokesman Dan Stessel. “There are new residential units along this corridor and so we want to make sure we are providing service for the folks who want it.”

Stessel says Metro has yet to decide on a name for the new S service, but says it will begin on Monday, March 25. An additional bus will arrive at 16th Street and Harvard NW every 12 minutes from 7:30 to 9:15 weekday mornings. A total of nine additional trips will go down 16th Street, then left on I St to 14th Street. Then the buses will head back to Columbia Road NW. The extra capacity will carry between 400 and 500 commuters on a busy morning.

“This issue didn’t just crop up two months ago. We’ve been working on the S line and broader issues related to the S line for more than a year now,” Stessel says. “That said, the relationship we’ve had over the last two months with the ANC has been nothing but constructive.”

“I will take my hat off to Metro,” says Putta. “They were responsive. We worked together on coming up with possible options.”

Still no answer to 16th Street traffic

Putta concedes that while the additional morning rush hour bus service will help move commuters south on 16th Street, the district faces a bigger task in mitigating the corridor’s notorious traffic congestion.

“As with a lot of these long-term solutions, you would need to do a transition so that you would hopefully get less people driving. And of course, the physical limitations of the road are definitely an issue,” says Putta, referring to the possibility of creating a bus-only lane on 16th Street during rush hour.

Metro’s Stessel says the transit authority is working on a solution.

“It’s an ongoing dialogue that we have not only with DDOT but with all of the jurisdictions,” Stessel says. “A major milestone will be achieved about a year from now when we launch what is true BRT (bus rapid transit) in the region for the first time. That will be on the Virginia side of the river in partnership with Alexandria and Arlington.”

The Route 1 Transitway will run buses every six minutes in dedicated lanes from Braddock Road in Arlington north to Crystal City.

“We hope that will spark other jurisdictions to consider, if not true BRT, perhaps traffic signal prioritization or more bus lanes,” says Stessel. “From a public policy perspective, if you have a vehicle that has 50 people in it, that really should get priority over a car that has one person in it.”

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Freakonomics Radio: Parking Is Hell

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.

(You can subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript below; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

 

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.

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U.N.: Over 1 Million Die In Traffic Crashes Each Year - and Many Are in Poor Countries

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)

from the "Global Status Report on Road Safety"

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.

Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013

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Object Lesson: How Sequestration Could Affect Small Airports

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Chocks Away- business jet traffic at Kissimmee Gateway Airport could suffer if the control tower closes (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Budget cuts brought about by sequestration could force the closure of more than 100 air traffic control facilities  -- including control towers at smaller airports across the US.

Kissimmee Gateway Airport, which is just outside of Orlando, is on the list of towers which could be shut down April 7th. City leaders say that would put the brakes on one of the main economic drivers in the area.

“It’s an economic engine, not only necessarily because of what happens on the field, but also what happens adjacent to it," says Mayor Jim Swan. He says the economic impact of the airport is estimated around $100 million a year. Swan says losing the tower will make it  tough to market a $3.2 million dollar business airpark  which is being built with state and local funds.

A large part of the airport’s traffic includes business jets bringing people to functions at nearby Disney World and conventions on Orlando's International Drive.

Last year the airport saw 129,000 departures and landings from a mix of business jets, and propeller planes. Aviation director Terry Lloyd says losing the control tower- which is operated under a contract with the Federal Aviation Administration- could decrease flights to under 100,000 a year.

"I think it's something that we have a lot of dread [about], and there are a lot of unknowns," he says.

He says having a tower to help manage traffic makes Kissimmee a more attractive destination for business jets.

"The corporate traffic- that's kind of on the top of their checklist, if there's an airport with a tower, that's where they go," he says. "And then if there's not a tower they make a decision- is it important enough for us to go in there, and a lot of it's driven by the aircraft insurance companies."

Aircraft operators also have fuel agreements at airports - like Kissimmee- that guarantee the price of aviation fuel if they land there.  Lloyd says those agreements could also be jeopardized by the loss of the tower.

Other airport users say they're concerned about safety. John Calla, vice president of operations for Italico Aviation--  a company that plans to import and assemble light sport aircraft at Kissimmee -- says he's worried about the mix of traffic if there's no tower. "You see the jets that take off here and the speed they operate," says Calla. "You get a smaller aircraft that's used to flying about 60 miles per hour, integrating with something of that size, and you could get some conflicts.

Calla says the tower is important to separate and sequence the arrival and departure of planes. "They know the speed of the aircraft and they know how much to sequence it so traffic flow is not impaired. It also improves the safety as well."

Florida Congressman Alan Grayson has written to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and the FAA urging them to consider the impact of closing the tower.

 

 

 

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The Golden Gate Bridge Says Goodbye to Toll-Takers

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

(photo courtesy of Dawnette Reed)

(Danielle Vernon - San Francisco, KQED) Dawnette Reed started working at the Golden Gate Bridge gift shop one summer when she was 17. Now, at 43, she's a toll collector, and loves it. She’s even got her favorite lanes, Number 1 and 2.

But by the morning commute on Wednesday, March 27, Reed and the other eight full-time toll-takers and 29 part-time workers will be out of a job when the bridge goes to all-electronic tolling. The Golden Gate Highway and Transportation District estimates the change will save $16 million during the first eight years. And, they expect traffic to move much faster.

But for Reed, the change is like losing a loved one.

"We've grown to become a family at the bridge. And we loved coming to work. We won't actually believe it until we see it, " Reed says. "There's so many reasons customers still need us there for."

Drivers ask toll collectors for help during health emergencies, like heart attacks or diabetic shock. Toll plaza personnel routinely report accidents and drunk drivers, and they give directions to the many out-of-towners who get lost.

Golden Gate spokeswoman Mary Currie says the bridge district will run patrols to help motorists. And, she says, in an emergency, drivers can always call 911.

"It's not going to be a duty that is theirs and that is going to be missing," Currie says. "We do that on a regular basis."

Most toll collectors already have other jobs lined up within the bridge district, and a handful have retired. But quitting work isn’t an option for Reed, and she’s not interested in taking another district job. "I have the years, but I don't have the age, so I can't retire yet," Reed says. "The bridge has offered us positions, mostly they're pushing us to be bus drivers for Golden Gate Bridge. That's not what I want to do. A lot of people say, just go do it, just go do it. Well, every job is not for everyone."

Not everyone is sad to see the toll drivers go though. Brian Kelly, from Napa, says it's just progress.

"I don’t think that’s a reason to stay away from technology, and I think it saves assets," Kelly said.

Since electronic tolling with FasTrak was added to the Golden Gate Bridge in July 2000, wait times during the morning commute dropped from as long as 20 minutes to under a minute, according to the district.

Starting on March 27, motorists will have three ways to pay for the bridge: FasTrack, a license plate account, or through a one-time payment system. Drivers can open a License Plate Account that charges a registered credit card every time the car crosses the bridge. Otherwise motorists can make a one-time payment up to 30 days before or up to 48 hours after crossing the bridge online, by phone or eventually at "cash payment locations."

Listen to the audio version of this story here.

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Video Tribute to Fung Wah: "I'll Think of You Always with Nostalgia and Fear"

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Was your heartbeat racing, as fast as your wheels?/ When you flipped over on the Mass Pike, like a clown on a peel (...of a banana)

It was just such fears that led the federal government to shutter Chinatown bus operator Fung Wah earlier this month.

Now, Marc Phillipe Eskenazi has composed a mournful musical tribute to the end of $15 bus service between New York and Boston.

The song, a parody of Bob Dylan's "Farewell Angelina," is filled with gems like:

I'll think of you always with nostalgia and fear / Ian Grossman from the Department of Transportation wants to watch you disappear

But in the back alleys of my mind you've never been so dear / farewell, Fung Wah, your engines may be crazy, but they still got me here.

(via The New Yorker.)

 

 

 

 

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How A Fake Train Station Could Improve Public Transportation In Miami

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

(Arianna Prothero, WLRNOver the weekend, public transit advocates in Miami built a temporary train station along an imaginary transit line. They called it the Purple Line, sticking with the theme of Miami’s other two commuter rail lines, the Orange and the Green. Organizers of the project say this mock train station is going to help improve public transit in the city.

One of the goals of the Purple Line project is to highlight Miami’s lack of real train stations by building a fake one along some unused train tracks between to two popular neighborhoods, Midtown and the Design District.

For people in Miami, a city whose commuter rail system lags behind many other major metropolitan areas, it may be a little difficult to imagine a train station with bustling crowds, vendors and live music. The event was intended to help residents imagine such a place.

Florida Atlantic University graduate student Marta Viciedo is one of the people who came up with the idea. Viciedo says the point of the project is this: people won't advocate for more public transportation if they don't even know what they're missing out on.

"It's a demonstration project,” explained Viciedo. “(to show) what the convenience of getting off of a train right there and walking over to Midtown or the Design District would be like."

The Purple Line stop was strategically set up next to the Florida East Coast railway tracks, which are currently unused -- although there will soon be freight trains on the tracks heading to the Port of Miami. Transportation officials and advocates have been talking about the possibility of getting a commuter line on those tracks for years. It’s an idea that may soon become a reality with a project called All Aboard Florida which has plans in the works to start a passenger rail service between Miami and Orlando in 2014.

Scott Guilbert visited the Purple Line on Saturday with his wife and three kids. Guilbert hates traffic so his whole family rode over to the event on bicycles. He says public transit in South Florida has an image problem. “I think people attribute public transportation to something like, for poor people or people who have to do it.”

Changing that perception was the other goal of the Purple Line project. Viciedo, who is studying urban and regional planning, hopes visitors to the pop-up train station walked away with the idea that train stations can be neat places. The Purple Line station also had art vendors, live music and a farmers market.

“The idea is that it’s a place. If you think of Grand Central, you can say it’s a place. You would even say, ‘hey, meet me at Grand Central,’” explained Viciedo. “Smaller subway stations in cities like New York or different places, they’ll have activity at least very close to them. So even if it’s not right in the train station, the train stations act as magnets for economic activity.”

 

Arianna Prothero is a reporter with WLRN - Miami Herald News in South Florida. You can find more of WLRN's transportation reporting at wlrn.org.
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Car Sharing, Transit and Bike Access Could Render D.C.'s Parking Minimums Moot

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A parking garage in Georgetown (photo by AlbinoFlea via flickr)

(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.

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Transportation Nation

Post-Sandy Repairs To NYC Subway Will Cause Years Of Disruption

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tracks coated with the residue of saltwater flooding (photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Expect delays. That's the message from the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority as it readies to spend $2 billion in federal relief aid to make repairs to the subway after Sandy.

Flooding from the storm coated thousands of electrical components in parts of the system with corrosive salt water. The MTA says riders can expect more frequent interruptions of service as those switches, signals, and other parts are replaced.

Immediately after Sandy, the MTA scrambled to get the subway up and running, sometimes with components that were damaged by flooding but hastily cleaned and pressed back into service. Much of that equipment is functioning with a shortened life span, and will be replaced.

That means a lot of repair work will be happening in the subways over roughly the next two years. MTA executive director Tom Prendergast says the work will cause more line shutdowns, called "outages."

"The problem we're going to have is how do we do that and keep the system running?" he told members of the transit committee at MTA headquarters in Midtown Manhattan on Monday. "We don't want to foolishly spend money; we want to effectively spend that money in a very short period of time. So there are going to be greater outages."

Except for the still-shuttered South Ferry terminal and severed A train link to The Rockaways, the subway was almost entirely back up and running within a month after the late October storm. But Sandy's invisible fingers, in the form of corrosion, can still play havoc with trains.

MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said, "The subways have recorded more than 100 signal failures related to Sandy since service was restored after the storm, plus problems with switches, power cables and other infrastructure. Most of those failures happened in yards, but some were on mainline tracks and led to at least short service disruptions."

Twice last week, signals on the R train failed and briefly disrupted rush hour service. The problem was traced to components degraded by salt water caused by flooding in the Montague Avenue tunnel, which connects Brooklyn to Manhattan beneath New York harbor.

The MTA is in line to receive $8.8 billion in federal Sandy relief aid, which is to be split about evenly between repairs and hardening the system against future storms. Projects funded by the first $2 billion must be completed within two years after their start date. That will cause a flurry of repairs in large swaths of the subway--mostly in Lower Manhattan, the East River tubes, and lines serving waterfront areas of Brooklyn.

The MTA already shuts down or diverts train traffic from parts of the system on nights and weekends to upgrade tracks, signals and switches, and otherwise keep the subway in "a state of good repair." Add to that the new Fastrack program that closes sections of lines overnight for several days in a row, allowing work gangs to fix tracks and clean stations without having to frequently step aside for passing trains. And now comes even more disruptions in the form of post-Sandy repair and mitigation.

There's no word yet on when work will commence or on what lines the extra outages will occur, but straphangers would do well to start bracing themselves. Sandy wounded the subway to a greater extent than the eye can see, and it will take years--and extra breaks in service--to return the system to its pre-storm state.

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Transportation Nation

AUDIO: With the A Train Gone, Traveling to the Rockaways Becomes Much Harder

Monday, March 11, 2013

View from the A Train window as it crosses Jamaica Bay. (Photo by roboppy)

(New York, WNYC) Before Sandy, every A train trip between the Rockaway peninsula and the rest of New York City began and ended with a crossing of Jamaica Bay. The train moved along a piece of land so thin that, from inside the train, it appears to skim atop the water.  But for months, that 3.6 mile railroad bridge has been out, doubling commutes for Rockaways residents and further adding to the sense of deprivation brought on by Sandy.

On October 29, Sandy's storm surge overwhelmed that thread of connection. When the waters receded, the A train's foundation was gone, removing a major transit link from the peninsula's 130,000 residents.

One of those residents is senior producer of The Takeaway, Jen Poyant.  She moved to the Rockaways a few years ago for a relatively affordable beach home -- far from Manhattan, but still, a direct shot on the A train.  Water filled Poyant's basement, and came within a foot of flooding her first floor.  For a month, she and her family couldn't return home.  When she finally got back, she was overjoyed, but the daily trip to work can feel overwhelming -- like a little bit of work squeezed between commutes.

The direct train ride has become an odyssey from a slow-moving crowded bus to the train miles into the mainland.  Sometimes, fellow commuters told Poyant, it takes all night to get home from Manhattan.

The MTA says its aware of the frustrating commute, but can't promise relief until summer.

MTA executive director Tom Prendergast described the result to New York's City Council: "An entire bridge and critical subway line serving the Rockaways was destroyed."

With the A train out, the MTA put subway cars on a truck, drove them to the peninsula and lifted them by crane onto tracks that serve six stops at the end of the line. The H train now runs for free from mid-peninsula at Beach 90th Street to the eastern end of the Rockaways. Bus service has also been increased.

But these are temporary measures. The list of needed repairs to the A train is extensive, and the going is slow. "We had to build out the shoulders on the east and west sides of the track, where you saw the washouts occur," Prendergast said. "We've had to replace damaged and missing third rail protection boards and insulators. We've had to replace signal power and communications equipment, which is ongoing." And damage to the Broad Channel subway station has not yet been fully repaired.

The MTA has patched and reinforced the land bridge where Sandy took large bites from it. But crews are still laboriously laying track and rebuilding the signal system from scratch — both on the railbed crossing Jamaica Bay and on the west end of the peninsula.

In the meantime, the MTA says it'll keep increasing service on the Q53 line, using old buses that have been held back from retirement. Those buses are jammed with riders every weekday rush hour as they make their way over the Cross Bay Bridge. More buses are coming in April.

The A train is expected back no earlier than late June.

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Transportation Nation

Toll Lanes Touted as Congestion Fix for Central Florida's I-4

Friday, March 08, 2013

Artist's impression of the I-4 Ultimate project through Orlando (Image courtesy of Florida Department of Transportation)

"We love Orlando, we love Mickey Mouse, we love Walt Disney, Universal, the Church Street Facilities, that great mall -- Millenia Mall, but dadgum that I-4, that's a headache," Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad told journalists in Orlando this week.

"We're going to fix that headache."

The Florida DOT is moving ahead with plans for the I-4 Ultimate project- a $2.1 billion dollar fix for I-4. The state's prescription includes adding toll lanes to a 21-mile stretch of the interstate running through the heart of Orlando. The department aims to begin construction in 2015 and complete it by 202o.

Prasad said four so-called "managed lanes" would be added to the interstate, leaving six lanes toll free. Tolls would be higher during heavy congestion periods and lower when traffic is light.

“We use tolls to only keep a certain number of people in the managed lanes so we can keep them going at 50 miles an hour," he said. "Say if I-4's ‘general purpose’ lanes – the toll-free lanes – are congested and you only charge a quarter, everybody’s going to be on it, and now you got another two lanes of gridlock. So what you do is you use tolls as a way to manage capacity coming in to the express lane.”

Prasad conceded there is a downside to building the extra lanes.

"There's going to be inconvenience- you're talking about $2 billion worth of work in a very constrained corridor- albeit a long corridor- getting done over five years. It's a lot of work."

However, Prasad said a similar $1.3 billion expansion project is successfully underway on South Florida's I-595. He said travel times along that stretch of road-- roughly 10 miles -- have only increased by an average of five minutes because of construction.

The state is putting up about half the $2.1 billion dollar cost of the I-4 Ultimate project and courting private investment to foot the remainder of the bill. Under a public-private partnership agreement with the state, private firms would also maintain and operate the toll lanes for a fixed length of time.

Prasad said the public private partnership allows Florida to take advantage of low interest rates and construction costs.

"What the state gets is delivering a project 20 years in advance," he said.

"If we were to do this project on a regular pay-go mechanism, we would be building it for the next 20 or 25 years and chasing congestion like we always do."

Gregg Logan, a managing director at the real estate advisory firm RCLCO's Orlando office, says the I-4 upgrade will help the local economy.

"You don’t want businesses that are here already and thinking about expanding saying, 'Gee, do I want to stay here and deal with this gridlock'- or companies that might be thinking about coming and bringing jobs. We want them to be looking at [Orlando] as a good place to invest because we have our act together."

And he says Florida has to look for new ways to fund infrastructure - with a combination of local government funding, private investment and user fees- because federal government dollars are limited.

"Like it or not that seems to be a collective decision we’ve made as a society for that’s how we’re going to fund infrastructure," says Logan, who adds he's worried the US is falling behind other countries in transportation infrastructure.

"When you look around the world right now and you look at where big rail projects and transit projects are being done, you find that’s in China Brazil, the Middle East," says Logan.

"We’ve sort of forgotten that part of what has made us great and enabled us to have the growing economy we have is that we made these investments in infrastructure. Now we’ve taken that for granted."

The Florida DOT is promoting I-4's managed toll lanes as one part of a multi-modal transport system that could also include bus rapid transit to complement Central Florida's SunRail commuter train. SunRail is slated to begin service in 2014, while private rail companies are also talking about an Orlando to Miami service and a maglev rail linking Orlando International Airport with the Orange County Convention Center.

Eric Dumbaugh, the director of Florida Atlantic University's School of Urban and Regional Planning, supports the addition of managed lanes to I-4. The challenge for Florida, he says, is to develop viable alternatives to driving.

"Our transit system is inadequate in all of our metropolitan areas: it doesn’t take us where we need to go, our development doesn’t link up to it as well as it should, so we’re trapped in our cars."

But Dumbaugh says he's optimistic about Florida's ability to develop a truly comprehensive transportation system, because a new generation is now demanding alternatives to the car.

"You survey millennials- they don’t want to drive," says Dumbaugh, who highlights the efforts of a group of Florida Atlantic University students to set up a transit themed installation in Miami this weekend.

 

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Transportation Nation

NYC Taxi E-Hail Program Delayed

Thursday, March 07, 2013

(photo by bluepix52 via flickr)

A pilot program allowing New Yorkers to hail taxis via smartphone will not begin Friday after all.

On Thursday afternoon, New York State Supreme Court Justice Carol Huff issued a temporary restraining order, blocking the city from implementing its e-hail app program while she considers the case. She is expected to make a decision on March 19.

Livery car companies sued the city last month, saying the e-hail program violated the law. They got a boost Wednesday when two New York City council members filed amicus briefs in support of the suit.

A representative for two of the groups suing the city -- the Black Car Assistance Corporation and the Livery Roundtable -- issued a statement saying the groups were "relieved," adding: "This is the first step in sending a clear message that no one is above the law. We now look forward to presenting our case in court."

NYC Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky said in a statement that "passengers can wait ten days to enjoy the latest technology.” Michael Woloz of the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, a coalition of fleet owners siding with the city, said e-hail technology will "potentially make hailing yellow taxis more modern and more efficient." He also dismissed the livery car companies' argument as "pure nonsense."

Updated 8:28pm

For more, read this.



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Transportation Nation

Old Diesel Equipment Still Spewing Soot Into Pittsburgh's Air

Thursday, March 07, 2013

(photo by Emily DeMarco/Public Source)

(Emily DeMarco, PublicSource) Morry Feldman downs two horse pills with breakfast. Then, he uses four different sprays. Two puffs into the mouth. Two into the nose. Repeat at dinner.

Feldman, 59, has severe asthma and allergies. And Pittsburgh is among the worst places he could live or work because of the region’s poor air quality.

“If I miss a dose, I start to get sick,” said Feldman, a senior account executive at WQED Multimedia.

Morry Feldman, who has severe asthma and allergies, and people like him are among the most vulnerable to 'dirty diesel' emissions. (Photo by Emily DeMarco/PublicSource)

Feldman is one of nearly 97,000 adults in Allegheny County with asthma.

The county received F’s in the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2012 study.

Among the reasons cited by experts for the region’s poor air quality: diesel fumes.

The Pittsburgh City Council passed a local law in 2011 requiring construction companies to retrofit equipment that runs on diesel fuel in order to reduce emissions. But, to date, no dozers, diggers or dump trucks have had to comply.

Called the Clean Air Act of 2010, the local law focused on construction sites that received public dollars. If the development’s budget was larger than $2.5 million and it received at least $250,000 in public subsidies, it would have to retrofit a percentage of its diesel equipment.

Regulations for the ordinance haven’t been finalized, making it unenforceable.

Supporters of the ordinance have cried foul.

“If we truly want to be the most livable city, we have to contend with our air pollution,” said Rachel Filippini, the executive director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution, known as GASP. “And one way to do that is to clean up construction vehicles.”

GASP was part of a coalition of health, environmental, faith, industry, and labor organizations that helped to draft the legislation.

Small, but deadly

The Environmental Protection Agency has set standards for new diesel engines, but it’s the old engines that produce what’s known as ‘dirty diesel’ fumes. A typical diesel engine has a life span of 20 to 30 years.

It is widely accepted that dirty diesel exhaust contains tiny particles of soot, also known as black carbon. And that the smallest of these particles can go straight into the bloodstream and are linked to cancer, asthma and stroke.

In addition, the diesel exhaust contains nitrogen oxides, which, when released into the atmosphere on hot days, create ozone, a powerful irritant that can cause chemical burns in the lungs.

Children, the elderly, and people with chronic lung and heart conditions are among the most vulnerable to dirty diesel’s impact. And the workers who operate diesel equipment are the first to breathe the harmful emissions.

An operator uses an excavator to move debris on the Bakery Square 2.0 construction site. Equipment operators are among the first to breathe diesel emissions. (Photo by Emily DeMarco/PublicSource)

The city council passed the local legislation requiring developers to curb diesel emissions, in part, because Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods are densely packed, with schools and playgrounds often near construction sites.

If the legislation had been in effect, one construction site that would need to comply would be Bakery Square 2.0, a development on Penn Ave. that broke ground in January 2013. The $100-million project is the sister site to Bakery Square 1.0, home to Google’s Pittsburgh offices, high-end shops and a hotel.

Demolition of Bakery Square 2.0's existing structures is underway. Flags wave in the wind on top of Bakery Square 1.0. (Photo by Emily DeMarco/PublicSource)

With the help of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and the Urban Redevelopment Authority, according to a press release from the mayor’s office, the development was awarded about $2 million in federal funds. The development was recently awarded $4 million from the administration of Gov. Tom Corbett.

The Bakery Square 2.0 construction site borders Mellon Park and The Ellis School, an all-girls academy. Diesel equipment demolishes a vacant building close to the park and school. (Photo by Emily DeMarco/PublicSource)

The girls at the Ellis School who have asthma could be directly affected by the diesel emissions while Bakery Square 2.0 construction is underway, said Dr. Fernando Holguin, the assistant director at the University of Pittsburgh’s Asthma Institute.

“Maybe some children will wheeze a little more...and some kids may end up in hospital,” Dr. Holguin said.

Representatives from the project’s development company, Walnut Capital, did not return phone calls or emails requesting comment. A representative from The Ellis School said she didn't know enough about the ordinance to comment.

Just a piece of paper

‘Clean construction’ laws have sprouted across the country. Pittsburgh’s was modeled after New York City’s version, called Local Law 77.

New York’s version passed in 2003 and took about a year to implement. It also required convincing industry officials that the retrofits wouldn’t cause warranties to be voided or engines to explode, said Gerry Kelpin of that city’s Department of Environmental Protection.

Kelpin’s team is in charge of enforcing the law.

City leadership, including The New York City Council and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, strongly supported the law, Kelpin said.

Pittsburgh City Councilman Bill Peduto, who was the main sponsor of the ordinance, gave a copy of New York City’s regulations to Pittsburgh’s Law Department.

Meetings concerning the regulations to implement the ordinance have been going on for more than a year, according to Peduto’s office.

However, the regulations have not been finalized, said Daniel Regan, Pittsburgh’s solicitor.

Regan said they are waiting to hear from Peduto’s office. Peduto is running for mayor to replace Ravenstahl.

“We weren’t involved, nor were we asked to be involved, in drafting the legislation,” Regan said, adding they they thought it was important for the sponsors to review it.

When PublicSource asked about the implementation of the ordinance at a public event, Ravenstahl declined to comment.

Doug Anderson, the deputy city controller whose inspectors will be in charge of enforcing the retrofitting requirements, said his inspectors haven’t been trained.

Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, co-sponsor of the ordinance, said she hopes the regulations are written as soon as possible.

“Until it’s implemented, it’s just words on a page,” said Rudiak, who is running for re-election.

Rudiak said she has a list of ordinances that council passed that haven’t been implemented by this administration.

“At the end of the day, I want to make sure the public is aware of what’s really going on out there, and they can be the judge of how they feel about it,” she said.

According to Pittsburgh’s City Code, any ordinance that isn’t vetoed by the mayor, automatically becomes law; the Clean Air Act of 2010 was signed by Ravenstahl.

But in order for the law to be enforceable, rules need to be drafted.

The dirty diesel regulations have been in the works for more than a year.

“That’s a long time,” said Denise Rousseau, a professor of public policy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College.

Rousseau, who was speaking about the role of elected leaders in implementing laws and not about any specific instance, suggested that the reasons for the delay might include an administrative backlog, logistical problems coming up with enforceable rules or pressure from an external source.

An undue burden?

Construction industry representatives, who were at the table during the drafting of the law, warned that retrofitting requirements might block small construction companies from doing business in Pittsburgh.

The Heinz Endowments, whose Breathe Project works with government and industry for cleaner air, contributed to an existing Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) fund to help small contractors retrofit their equipment. (The Heinz Endowments also supports PublicSource.)

“It was a way to help small contractors to still be competitive under a new requirement,” said Caren Glotfelty, senior director of The Heinz Endowments’ Environment Program.

A new piece of diesel equipment is a huge investment for companies, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Besides buying new equipment, companies can replace the engine, swap parts in the engine, or attach a filter to retrofit. Each option must be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Not all machines have solutions,” said Jason Koss.

Koss is the director of industry relations for the Constructors Association of Western Pennsylvania. About 15 members of the trade association have already retrofitted their equipment using money from the ACHD, he said.

Koss said there are always costs associated with new regulations.

Supporters of the law said opportunities to make the air cleaner are being lost.

And for people like Feldman, the costs of the region’s poor air quality are tangible.

Feldman, one of Dr. Holguin’s patients, developed asthma and allergies during his early 50s. But he hasn’t has an asthma attack for about four years because he regularly takes his medication.

The meds cost about $150 a month, even with health insurance through WQED. (The public broadcasting network is a news partner of PublicSource.)

Morry Feldman takes a cocktail of medications each day that allow him to live and work in a region with poor air quality. (Photo by Emily DeMarco/PublicSource)

Filippini, of GASP, said that doing nothing about the diesel air pollution may seem like the cheaper and easier thing to do, but the health and environmental costs are great. Children miss school because of asthma attacks; parents miss work to stay home with sick children. There are also more emergency room visits, and higher insurance premiums.

Pittsburgh has come a long way from its ‘smoky city’ image, Filippini said, adding that this law is a tangible step the city can take to clean up regional air pollution.

“It is a way that they can be a leader,” she said.

Reach Emily DeMarco at 412-315-0262 or edemarco@publicsource.org.

Correction: This story originally said that Councilman Bill Peduto is running for mayor against Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. Ravenstahl is not running for another term.

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Transportation Nation

Sequestration Means Less $$$ To Harden Northeast Transit Against Future Storms

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

One of eleven major NY subway tunnels flooded by Sandy. (photo by MTA New York City Transit / Leonard Wiggins)

(New York, NY - WNYC) New York area transit has received a double setback, both having to do with Storm Sandy and what's needed to recover from it: money.

Thanks to the sequester, the U.S. Department of Transportation will be disbursing five percent less in Sandy disaster relief to transit systems damaged by the storm. That means 545 million fewer dollars for the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority; the PATH Train, which connects northern New Jersey to Lower Manhattan; and transit agencies in six northeastern states battered by the storm.

The NY MTA officially learned of the funding reduction in a letter sent Tuesday from the president of the Federal Transit Administration to the authority's acting executive director, Tom Prendergast.

"Dear Tom," the letter began. "I have regrettable news..."

The letter went on to say that "due to inaction by Congress" -- meaning the failed federal budget talks -- there would be less money to recover from Sandy, "the single greatest transit disaster in the history of our nation."

Millions Less For Mitigation

The cut won't be felt right away because the first $2 billion in aid, out of nearly $10.4 billion, is in the pipeline. The NY MTA's first grant was $200 million "for repair and restoration of the East River tunnels; the South Ferry/Whitehall station; the Rockaway line; rail yards, maintenance shops, and other facilities; and heavy rail cars."

The PATH Train, which is operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, received $142 million "to set up alternative commuter service; repair electric substations and signal infrastructure; replace and repair rolling stock; and repair maintenance facilities."

Future grants were supposed to be used, in part, to protect transportation assets and systems from future disasters. But the letter goes on to say that the cut will curtail those efforts: "FTA will now be required to reduce these investments by the full $545 million mandated by the sequester."

The feds say that the reduced pile of Sandy recovery money means priority will given to reimbursing transit agencies for "activities like the dewatering of tunnels [see photo above], the re-establishment of rail service ... and the replacement of destroyed buses."

Also Affected: A Troubled Megaproject

A spokesman for the NY MTA said the reduction in funds won't affect progress on mega-projects like the Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access, which will bring the Long Island Rail Road into Grand Central Terminal.

"East Side Access and Second Avenue Subway will keep rolling along," the spokesperson said.

But at what cost? In the case of East Side Access, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli gave a detailed answer on Wednesday, which constitutes transit setback number two. He said in a report that the cost of the project had nearly doubled from an original estimate of $4.3 billion to the current price tag of $8.25 billion. The completion date has also been pushed back ten years to 2019.

These semi-appalling facts are generally known. Less well known is the report's conclusion that the NY MTA's current estimates for the East Side Access timetable and final price tag "do not take into account the impact of Superstorm Sandy."

The storm did little to no damage to the project's eight miles of tunnels. But DiNapoli said it diverted NY MTA resources, which resulted in a construction delay at a key railyard in Queens, costing $20 million. The comptroller added, "Within the next three months, the MTA expects to determine whether the delay will have an impact on the overall project schedule."

In other words, there's a chance that East Side Access could be more than ten years late. A spokesman for the NY MTA declined to comment.

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Transportation Nation

California is Least Improved in Highway Conditions

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The I-880 freeway in Oakland, Calif. (photo by Julie Caine)

California has the worst track record in improving its highways, while spending twice the national average per mile.

That's according to a new study by the Reason Foundation. The libertarian think tank studied improvements to the nation’s highway infrastructure over a 20-year span, contrasted with money spent per mile. They looked into seven categories that represent the state of the highway system: fatalities, deficient bridges, percent of urban and rural interstate highways in poor pavement condition, percent of urban highways that are congested, percent of rural primary roads in poor pavement condition, and the number of rural primary roads flagged as too narrow. The study noted how much each state improved –or worsened– in each category between 1989 and 2008. It turns out that overall, most of the country has made big improvements in highway conditions over the last 20 years.

Lead author Dave Hartgen says he’s not ignoring the problems with the national highway infrastructure, which he admits are plenty. (In its last report card for the nation’s infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the country a “D.”) But he says the results prove the United States highway system isn’t “crumbling.”

“The overall condition of the state-controlled road system is getting better and you can actually make the case that it has never been in better shape,” he said in a press release. “The key going forward is to target spending where it will do the most good.”

While the study shows the country is improving, California noticeably lags behind. California was the only state that improved in just two categories: fatalities and deficient bridges. In contrast, 37 states improved in five out of the seven categories and 11 improved in all seven. California fared particularly badly in urban congestion and urban interstate road conditions. The state has two of the most congested metro areas in the country– the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles. And the condition of its California’s urban Interstate roads, like the Bay Area’s hated I-880, have declined by more than 20 percent since 1989. Only Hawaii is worse. Over the twenty years covered by the study, the state spent $5.84 million per mile of highway– more than twice the national average of $2.85 million per mile.

But there is a silver lining: California has reduced its fatality rate by 1.1 fatalities per 100 million miles of highway. That’s the 13th best improvement in the country.

To learn more, check out the full study here.

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Transportation Nation

Beyond the School Bus: How Children Around the World Get to School

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

For thousands of children worldwide, the toughest part of getting an education is getting to school.

Walking to school in Calcutta  (photo by Alfred Yaghobzadeh/SIPA)

A new exhibit now on display at the United Nations chronicles those sojourns.  Journeys to School follows the routes of children in 13 different countries take as they walk, ride donkeys, snowmobile, ride the subway, and even canoe to school. Many of them must navigate dangerous roadways -- an issue that was thrown into sharp relief in New York City last week, where a 6-year old boy was struck by a truck just blocks from his school.  All the photos underscore the link between transportation and education. Getting to school in a safe -- not to mention timely -- fashion is as important as the condition of the classroom.

(Photo by Kate Hinds)

Children going to school via somlot, a motorcycle rickshaw in Mae Sot, Thailand. The driver is also the children's teacher. "If I can't get the kids only 50% would attend class," he said. (Photo by Nicolas Axelrod/SIPA)

According to UN statistics, 1,000 people under the age of 25 are killed in traffic crashes each day.

Six-year-old Elizabeth Atenio walks two hours every day to attend classes at the Kibera School for Girls in Nairobi. (Photo by Nichole Sobecki/SIPA)

While much of the exhibit was devoted to countries in the developing world, some children are in major cities -- including New York.

14-year-old Far Rockaway resident Santiago Munoz, who commutes over two hours each way to school in the Bronx (photo by Kate Hinds)

Santiago Munoz lives in Far Rockaway, Queens -- a New York City neighborhood devastated by Sandy. Before the storm, Santiago's commute to the Bronx High School of Science was already daunting.

"I used to walk six blocks to the nearest A train station," he said, "and from there I would ride it for around, I would say 50 minutes, then transfer to the 4 train for 40 minutes." Tack on a ten minute walk from the station to the school, and his commute -- on an average day -- was one hour and 40 minutes.

But then Sandy washed out a key segment of the A train, and he now takes two buses to get to the subway. "And now it takes me two hours and a half to get to Bronx Science." He says he uses his commute time to do homework or catch up on sleep.

Munoz said the exhibit gave him perspective. While he acknowledges his commute appears tough to the average New Yorker, "compared to these kids -- not at all. They're very inspiring."

Ruth McDowall, standing in front of her photographs of schoolchildren in Nigeria (photo by Kate Hinds)

Photographer Ruth McDowall talked about the average school day for children of the nomadic Fulani minority in Kulumin Jeji, Nigeria.  "They have to wake up at 5:00 in the morning," said McDowall, "to do chores like collecting firewood, getting water -- sometimes it can take an hour or more in dry season." The kids start walking to school by 6:30 am. "They get to school by eight, do about three hours of school, and then do another hour and a half walk home." Because the walk is long and hot, many children become dehydrated on the way to school, where they often find it difficult to concentrate. When they get back home, the rest of the day is devoted to herding responsibilities.

(photo by Kate Hinds)

 

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (photo by Kate Hinds)

The exhibit is on display in the United Nations Visitors Center until April 26, 2013.  It's organized by UNESCO, public transportation company Veolia Transdev and photo agency SIPA Press.

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