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D.C. Considering Lifting Mandatory Parking Minimums

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

(photo by vpickering via flickr)

The District of Columbia’s Office of Planning is considering a proposal to potentially squeeze the supply of available parking spaces in some neighborhoods as new development attracts more residents and jobs. If successful, it will mark the first major change to the city's zoning code since it was first adopted in 1958.

It's part of a growing city attempt to reduce congestion by offering its residents alternatives to the automobile – from bikes to buses to making walking more attractive.

Planning officials may submit to the zoning commission this spring a proposal to eliminate the mandatory parking space minimums required in new development in transit-rich corridors and in downtown Washington.  The idea squares with the vision of making the district less car-dependent and would let developers decide how many parking spaces are necessary based on market demand.  However, opponents say the plan denies the reality that roughly 70 percent of Washington-area commuters drive and removing off-street parking requirements in apartment and office buildings would force motorists to circle city blocks looking for scarce spaces.

“This is a very dangerous proposal.  We think it threatens the future of Washington, D.C.,” says Lon Anderson, the chief spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, which represents motorists and advocates road construction as a solution for traffic congestion.

A city where a car isn’t a necessity

Thirty-nine percent of D.C. households are car-free. In some neighborhoods with access to public transit, more than 80 percent of households are car-free.  Some recent developments wound up building too much parking to adhere to the mandatory minimums, including the D.C. USA shopping center in Columbia Heights, which is right next to a Metro station and busy bus corridor.

“The parking garage there is probably as twice as big as it needs to be, and the second level is basically not used so the city has had to scramble to find another use for it,” says Cheryl Cort, the policy director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth and advocate of the zoning change.

“Rather than having the government tell the private sector how many parking spaces to build, we think it’s better for the developer to figure out how it best wants to market those units," Cort added.

Developers favor eliminating the mandatory parking minimums because the construction of parking garages, especially underground, is enormously expensive.  Each underground space adds $40,000 to $70,000 to a project’s cost, according to Harriet Tregoning, the director of D.C.’s Office of Planning, who is working on the overhaul of D.C.’s zoning code. The code was last updated in 1958 when planners assumed the automobile would remain the mainstay of individual transportation.

“No matter how much mandatory parking we require in new buildings, if the landlord is going to charge you $200 per month to park in the building and the city is going to let you park on the street for $35 per year, you may very well decide… to park on the street,” Tregoning says. “Many developers are finding they have parking that they can’t get rid of, that they don’t know what to do with.  That’s really a stranded asset.”

Parking-free building coming to Tenleytown

On the corner of Wisconsin Avenue NW and Brandywine Street NW stands what used to be a billiards hall. The property, just a block from the Tenleytown Metro station, has been an eyesore for years. Douglas Development is expected to redevelop the site this year, turning it into a mixed-use retail and residential space with 40 apartment units and no on-site parking.

“When the Zoning Commission looked at this site and DDOT did some analysis, they found a lot of availability of both on-street parking and off-street parking.  There are actually hundreds of parking spaces around this Metro station that go dark at night,” says Cheryl Cort, whose group contends the construction of parking spaces drives up housing costs an average 12.5 percent per unit. If developers can't find a market for those parking spaces, they pass the costs onto tenants.

Douglas Development, which declined to comment on this story, received an exemption from the zoning commission to avoid the parking minimum at the Tenleytown property. Situated close to Metro and planning to market the apartments to car-free residents, the developers escaped having to build 20 spaces under the current regulations in the zone (C-2-A).

Douglas’s plan may look sensible given the conditions in the neighborhood, but AAA’s Anderson says it will cause problems.

“Are you going to have any visitors who might drive there to visit you?  How about your mom and dad, are they going to be coming in? Do they live locally or are they going to be driving in? If so, where are they going to park?” says Anderson, who says the past three years have seen 16,000 new car registrations in Washington.

Fewer cars in D.C.’s future?

In its fight against the parking policy change, AAA is being joined by community activists who claim their neighborhoods will be clogged by drivers looking for parking. Sue Hemberger, a 28-year district resident who does not own a car, says Tregoning’s proposal is too harsh. In her view, district officials are making car ownership a hassle.

“What I see us doing in the name of transit-oriented development is pushing people who won’t forgo car ownership off the edge of the transit grid,” Hemberger says. “I’m worried about the future of certain neighborhoods and I’m worried about the future of downtown.”

Anderson says D.C. is waging a “war on cars,” but Tregoning says changes to zoning regulations are not designed to make motorists’ lives miserable.  On the contrary, the planning director anticipates the number of drivers in the district will grow but they will have enough options to do away with car ownership, like the car sharing services of Zipcar and Car2Go.

“How does your walking, biking, or taking transit affect his ability to drive, accept to make it easier?” Tregoning says in response to Anderson. “The national average household spends 19 percent of income on transportation. In the district, in areas well-served by transit, our number is more like 9 percent of household income. So we happen to think lots of choices are a good thing.”

In 2012 the city of Portland, Oregon, commissioned a study to look at the relationship between car ownership and new development, after apartment construction with little to no on-site parking in the city’s inner neighborhoods raised concerns about the potential for on-street parking congestion.

The study found “that 64 percent of residents are getting to work via a non-single-occupant vehicle. Almost a third (28 percent) of those surveyed belong to car-free households; however, cars are still the preferred mode of travel for many of the survey respondents.”

About two-thirds of the vehicle owners surveyed in Portland’s inner neighborhoods “park on the street without a permit and have to walk less than two minutes to reach their place of residence, and they spend only five minutes or less searching for a parking spot,” the study found.

To Hemberger, the Portland study’s key finding is that people don't give up car ownership just because they commute to work via public transit.  In a city like Washington, Hemberger says, there will not be enough street spot to accommodate new, car-owning residents.

Decision could come this spring

The Office of Planning will submit the proposed removal of parking minimums to the Zoning Commission later this month or early April, where it will go through the public process again before a final decision is made.

“We are a really unique city because we have an amazing number of transportation choices. Our citizens end up paying a lot less for transportation than the rest of the region,” Tregoning says. “I don’t understand why that would be considered a war on cars to try to give people choices, the very choices that actually take automobiles off the road to make it easier to park, to make it easier to drive with less congestion.”

Follow @MartinDiCaro on Twitter.

 

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Transportation Nation

Census: New York, Maryland, and New Jersey Have Most Long-Distance Commuters

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

(New York, NY -- John Keefe, WNYC) Do you travel at least 90 minutes and 50 miles to work every day? The U.S. Census Bureau calls you a "mega-commuter" — and you're not alone.

According to the census, workers who live in New York state show the highest rate of long commutes at 16.2 percent, followed by Maryland and New Jersey at 14.8 percent and 14.6 percent, respectively.

Based on the 2006-2010 American Community Survey, 586,805 full-time workers are mega commuters -- one in 122 of full-time workers. Mega commuters were more likely to be male, older, married, make a higher salary, and have a spouse who does not work. Of the total mega commutes, 75.4 percent were male and 24.6 percent women.

About 2 percent of workers in the New York Metro Area are mega-commuters, according to American Community Survey figures released Tuesday.

TN has reported on this trend, which is as shown in the rise of people who fly to work.

The routes into Manhattan have some of the highest number of mega-commuters in the country. The flow into the city from Suffolk County, New York, and Fairfield County, Connecticut, are near the top of that list, behind two counties outside of Los Angeles.

Also in the top-ten for number of mega-commuters: Those who commute to New York from Pennsylvania's Monroe County — a 91-mile trip that takes about 2 hours each way.

Read more about mega-commuters at the census bureau website.

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Transportation Nation

NY MTA Says Charging $1 For A New Metrocard Is Not, As One Rider Claims, "Ridiculous!"

Monday, March 04, 2013

Replacing a beat-up Metrocard (left) with a new one (right) now costs a dollar.

(New York, NY - WNYC) This weekend, New York subway and bus riders were hit with their fourth fare hike in five years. That money is collected with every swipe of a Metrocard--a piece of technology that was introduced 20 years ago and becomes more obsolete by the day. Despite the card's slow slide into obsolescence, riders must now pay a dollar surcharge if they lose or discard their card.

That has some straphangers, like Rich and Jean Wasicki, grumbling. Every six weeks, the couple come to New York from Buffalo to visit their son, a student at Fordham University. Each time, they buy a Metrocard and, after using it, throw the card away. When Rick Wasicki was informed that the practice will now cost him a dollar per card, he blurted, "Ridiculous! Absolutely ridiculous."

Wasicki said it's a lot to ask a Buffalo guy to keep track of his New York City Metrocard. But the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority says it costs $10 million a year to produce those cards. Plus, there's the extra cost to cleaning up cards that riders toss on the ground.

Jean Wasicki countered that the NY MTA profits from some of those discarded cards. "Half the time we put dollars, as out-of-towners, on that card that we ultimately don't end up using," she said. "And so those are dollars that the MTA has in its pocket."

Riders do leave about 50 million unredeemed dollars on Metrocards each year. But the NY MTA says that's not extra revenue. It costs the authority the same amount of money to run subway trains on a schedule, whether Wasicki uses all the value on her Metrocard or not.

Naomi Rosenberg commutes by the 1 train to her job at a non-profit serving the homeless. She wondered why New York can't get rid of the Metrocard for something more convenient, like the Transit Card used in Chicago, where her mom lives.

"My mom has a plastic credit card. It's basically connected to her credit card, her transit card," Rosenberg said.

Her mom's transit card draws money directly from her bank account, and refills automatically. "You don't have to keep track of old cards. It's not paper, it's plastic," she added.

The New York plan was to swap out its Metrocard last year for a bank card with a computer chip that would let riders pay their fare. But not enough banks signed up, and the program was scrapped.

The NY MTA is now building its own transit card. The new technology must be ready by 2019, which is around the time the Metrocard turnstiles and vending machines are expected to wear out. In the meantime, the authority expects to collect $20 million a year from the new Metrocard replacement fee, a dollar at a time.

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Transportation Nation

Harlem Has History of Child Pedestrian Danger

Monday, March 04, 2013

Most children who have died in traffic in Manhattan since 2009 have been hit within seven blocks of PS 155 (Photo by Alex Goldmark)

Listen:

As we reported last week, six-year old Amar Diarassoubba was killed while crossing a Harlem street last week. The emotional case has thrust the dreary issue of pedestrian safety into the spotlight, and what that reveals is a poor record of traffic crashes involving kids for East Harlem and a lack of fresh data to measure progress.

According to police, Amar was walking with his nine-year old brother. A crossing guard was supposed to be at the intersection on First Avenue and 117th Street, but wasn’t. And, of course, the truck was supposed to yield but didn’t. The rear wheels of the tractor trailer ran Amar down as he was in the crosswalk. His brother stood watching. All of it was just half block from Amar’s school.
PS 155 sits at the center of something of a hot spot for kids in traffic crashes according to two different studies.

The group Transportation Alternatives looked at all crashes involving kids from 1995-2009. In East Harlem, children made up 43 percent of traffic injuries. A much higher proportion (15 percent) than just a few blocks south on the same avenues on the Upper East Side which has the same percentage of children in the population according to the study.

“This is not a force of nature that we do not have control over, this is something we can fix,” said Juan Martinez of Transportation Alternatives.

In the second study, The Tri State Transportation Campaign tracked all traffic deaths from 2009 to 2011 in the New York region. The group found that in Manhattan, five kids under 15 years old died in traffic. But there was a cluster. Three of them were within just seven blocks of PS 155. (See map here).

Parents at PS 155 say the area is hazardous as trucks are constantly roaring by to and from the nearby shopping mall and the RFK (formerly Triborough) Bridge.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg and his Department of Transportation say they’re aware of the problem, and working on it. “We try to have traffic lights, we try to have red light cameras, which the state won’t let us have. We deploy our police officers when they’re not doing other things.”

Seth Solomonow of the Department of Transportation said in an email, “From last year’s safety redesign of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard to school safety projects to simplifying the entrance to Harlem River Park, Harlem has seen some of the most extensive and innovative safety changes ever brought to New York City’s streets."  Solomonow said prior to this recent incident, just one child pedestrian had died in Manhattan since 2011.

First Avenue is slated for a redesign to add pedestrian plazas and a bike lane.

Both the Mayor and Department of Transportation like to point out that in 2011, the city had the lowest number of traffic fatalities on record. That year, the Mayor announced the tallies even before he pushed the button for the New Year's Eve ball drop. But preliminary data for 2012 show a rise in traffic deaths, and the city has yet to release the final numbers to the dismay of city council members like the east side’s Jessica Lappin. She’s been calling for detailed reports for over a month

“They’re supposed to be providing this information. We’ve been asking for it for months. And they still haven’t provided it. That’s why we had a press conference back in January. And they promised us we would have it in weeks. Well it’s been a month plus and we still don’t have the data.”

Since January, Transportation Nation has repeatedly asked the Department of Transportation for the number of children killed or injured in traffic in New York City to no avail. The only available data on 2012, or that includes the locations of crashes, is an NYPD preliminary data based on initial accident reports. Those figures show that fatalities might be on the rise over 2011, but they are un-audited.

Police say the investigation into the Diarrassouba crash continues, including into the whereabouts of the crossing guard. No charges have been filed and no arrests have been made.

 

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Transportation Nation

SF Program Free Muni for Youth Gives 40,000 Students a Free Ride

Monday, March 04, 2013

Students celebrate the start of Free Muni for Youth (photo by Isabel Angell)

Starting this month, some kids in San Francisco can ride the bus for free. The new program, called Free Muni for Youth, aims to make life a little easier for the city’s low- and moderate-income families. The city estimates that 40,000 young people qualify for the program.

"It started in a small room, just a couple pieces of pizza and people are like, we should make free Muni for young people,” said Nick Persky. He’s a 17 year-old junior at Lick-Wilmerding High School and the vice chair of the San Francisco Youth Commission, a group of 17 young people who advise the mayor on youth issues. Persky wasn’t around when the idea for free Muni for young people first came about–he said it dates back about a decade–but he’s proud see it put into action.

“We thought it was never possible, but as evidenced by today, it is something that is possible,” he said. “It’s pretty special to be a person in high school, to be a person who is unable to vote, to be able to see what young people can do to bring policy change in our local government.”

Part of the reason kids need a free ride is that years of budget cuts have all but eliminated yellow bus service in San Francisco. For a lot of students, that means Muni is the only way for them to get to school. Paul Monge-Rodriguez, a legislative aide for the San Francisco Youth Commission, said people shouldn’t think of it as a handout.

“It’s almost like a reallocation, still investing in the same types of services, but just through a different source of funding,” he explained.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board of directors approved a pilot program almost a year ago, but the plan was contingent upon a $4 million grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the regional transit board. In July, the MTC denied the grant. But in the fall, a new grant surfaced and SFMTA director Ed Reiskin recommended that $1.6 million of it be used to fund a 16-month trial.

Last week, the diverse coalition that made Free Muni for Youth a reality held a press conference to celebrate its official launch. Everyone involved, from young people, to city Supervisor David Campos, to Reiskin, was quick to praise the others for their continued cooperation.

Reiskin told the students, “You guys are the ones that made this happen,” noting that this was the best grassroots initiative he had ever seen.

Still, Reiskin said funding the program was a difficult decision, because Muni’s infrastructure has a lot of existing problems and it needs all the money it can get. But ultimately, he sided with the young people of the city.

“The system has a lot of needs,” he said. “But the community has needs too.”

It was an emotional day for many of the people involved. Claudia Gonzalez, a mother of two from Potrero Hill, spoke through an interpreter about her experience.

“It was a very stressful process,” she said. “I remember going to these meetings and I felt very betrayed by the MTA board because we would go in front of them and tell them about how difficult it was for us, and they would look away and they wouldn’t answer us, they wouldn’t give us a straight answer, and that was a very, very arduous process for us.”

Gonzalez said she owes a big thanks to POWER, an advocacy group that played an important role in organizing the campaign for Free Youth for Muni. Now, her two kids (age 11 and 13), will get a free ride to school.

Throughout the day, though, everyone agreed the majority of the praise should go to the youth who organized  and fought on their own behalf for the right to free public transportation. At the press conference, SF Unified School District Superintendent Richard A. Carranza summed up a popular sentiment about the students’ instrumental role.

“The grown ups are in awe of how well organized and articulate our youth are,” he said to a cheering crowd of students and onlookers. Looking out at students, he announced, “I’ll see you on Muni!”

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Transportation Nation

NY MTA Raises Fares For Fourth Time In Five Years -- What You Need to Know

Friday, March 01, 2013

New York area transit riders will now pay more.

(New York, NY - WNYC) It happens at the stroke of midnight on Saturday: fares go up for riders of subways, buses and express buses in and around New York City, and for drivers who use the NY Metropolitan Authority's eight bridges and tunnels. Fares also jumped for riders of the authority's commuter trains.

It's the fourth time in five years that the MTA has raised fares. The base fare will rise from $2.25 to $2.50, and the pay-per-ride bonus drops from 7 to 5 percent, but kicks in after five dollars instead of the previous ten dollars.

The weekly unlimited ride card goes from $29 to $30, and a monthly pass jumps from $104 to $112.

Riders will also be charged a dollar fee to replace a Metrocard, except if it's damaged or expired. Metrocards can now be refilled again and again with time, dollar value, or both. That means riders can add days to an unlimited card and use the cash on that card to connect to an express bus, the PATH Train or the AirTrain, something that was not possible before.

Long Island Rail Road and MetroNorth riders are also feeling the pinch. The NY MTA says most ticket prices are going up about 8 or 9 percent.

Carol Kharivala, of New Hyde Park, said she only travels to Manhattan once or twice a month. Her senior round-trip ticket went from $10 to $11. Kharivala, who is retired, said the increase won't effect her travel plans, but that the hikes are likely more difficult for daily commuters.

"It does make it more difficult for people that are working because the money they put in the bank is not earning very high interest, and their salaries are not going up, either," she said.

Daily commuter Anthony Fama, also from New Hyde Park, agreed. His monthly fare jumped about $20. "I saw the rate went, if I remember the numbers correctly, from $223 to $242, which is, I guess a little bit more than 8 percent," he said. "Last time I checked, cost of living increase was a lot less than that."

Fama also thinks the hikes are unfair for commuters who don't have any other options. "To take multiple subways or buses, express buses, wouldn't make sense for somebody who puts in more than an eight hour day," he said.

The fare hikes have some commuters thinking about other options.

Chris Barbaria commutes from Atlantic Terminal, Brooklyn, to a carpentry job in Babylon, on Long Island, once a week. He said he's now considering biking the distance, even though the ride would take more than two hours.

"I carry tools and stuff, so it's a long haul, it's about 40 miles out there," he said. "I would certainly ride out, it's just going to add to my commute." Barbaria also said he's surprised by the cost of monthly tickets.

"When I was a kid I used to go to school in the city, and my round-trip monthly was $74 from Lynbrook," he said. "I understand now it's over $250 from Lynbrook, which is insane to me."

--with Annmarie Fertoli

 

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Transportation Nation

Christie Gets to Whiz Thru the Lincoln Tunnel. And He Wants You to Know It.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Governor Christie gets to speed through traffic, and he wants you to know.  Earlier this week, Christie's press office sent out a clip of the Governor, joking with second graders.  Kind of the warm and accessible and funny image Christie's team likes to project.

Speaking Wednesday at a meeting in Montville,  an 8-year old named Audrey asked the Governor what his favorite thing to do is.  There's a "fun" answer to that, Christie said, and it's "going to New York City."  (There's a serious answer to, having to do with making people's lives better.  But back to our story.)

How do you get to NYC? the Governor asked Audrey.

The reply: "Usually I drive to the train station and then we use the train to get to the city."  But not Christie.  "Some people," he said, "in fact a lot of people -- don't take the train. When you're governor, they close the Lincoln Tunnel for you. And you get to drive right through! No traffic! It's the best!"

Wait a minute. The Lincoln Tunnel gets closed when the governor drives through it?

We at TN wondered about that practice, so we asked around.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns and operates the tunnel, would not answer questions about whether this is common practice for the governor -- or anyone else. Neither would they say how often they close the tunnels for this reason. "For the record," said a spokesman, "the Port Authority does not comment on security issues."

Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Governor Christie, said his office wouldn’t discuss security protocols that are determined by the Port Authority and the governor's executive protection unit.

But two sources familiar with the Port Authority cast doubt on that. "It would take an hour, at least, to close the tunnel," said one source.  "They probably just create some room for him to whisk through. "I’ve never heard of the Port Authority closing the Lincoln Tunnel for a governor before,” said another source.

This was echoed by Veronica Vanterpool, the head of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “I’ve never heard of the Lincoln Tunnel being closed for a governor," she said. "In fact, I can’t remember it being closed for anything other than a calamity.”

Vanterpool's group, and others, are still steaming about Christie's decision a few years back to halt construction of the ARC transit tunnel under the Hudson River.    That would have mean, planners have said, less traffic for everyone in the Lincoln Tunnel.

 

Transcript:

Christie:  Here's my favorite thing about being governor, on the fun side. Going to New York City. Let me tell you. Have you ever gone to New York City?

Audrey:  Yeah.

Governor: Okay. How did you get there?

Audrey:  Usually I drive to the train station and then we use the train to get to the city.

Governor:  Okay. Some people -- in fact a lot of people -- don't take the train. And a lot of people drive. And maybe when you're on the train and you see the people in all the traffic, trying to get to the Lincoln Tunnel? When you're governor, they close the Lincoln Tunnel for you. And you get to drive right through! No traffic! It's the best! I love going to New York now! I used to hate it because I'd sit in the traffic! Now, no traffic! I love it! That's the most fun thing, on the fun side, about being governor, is going to New York City. In fact, Mary Pat, who -- you know there's lots of things about this job that she doesn't like -- we were going into New York about three weeks ago, and they stopped the traffic. And you go all these odd ways and you go the wrong way on a one-way, it's just great. And all of a sudden there it is, there's the tube and it's completely open and you're flying through. She looked at me and she goes "this never gets old." It might be the major reason she wants me to get re-elected. I'm not sure.

 

 

 

 

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Transportation Nation

City of Alexandria Joins Homeowner Battle Against Location of I-95 Ramp

Friday, March 01, 2013

Outside the Overlook community in Alexandria (photo by Martin Di Caro)

(Washington, D.C. - WAMU) For the first time since they began fighting the construction of a highway ramp near their homes, a coalition of eight homeowners’ groups in Fairfax County and Alexandria are getting some official help in their battle with the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Alexandria city leaders are pledging to lobby state transportation officials to reconsider the placement next to the homeowners’ properties of the planned northern terminus of the future I-95 Express Lanes, 30 miles of high-occupancy toll lanes extending from the Edsall Road area in Fairfax County to Garrisonville Road in Stafford County. The $1 billion public-private project is scheduled for completion in December 2014.

Before winning the public support of Alexandria city hall, the group Concerned Residents of Landmark had been rebuffed by public officials in their bid to convince VDOT to stop construction.

One of the group’s leaders, Mary Hasty, whose home in Alexandria’s Overlook community will stand just 75 feet from the completed exit ramp, says time is running out.

“We’re racing against the clock, yes. And my understanding is that VDOT has accelerated the building project of the ramp because they want it to be done so the opposition will stop,” Hasty said.

VDOT will begin pile driving at the site next week, a significant step in the building process, but Hasty remains steadfast.

“Even if they’ve driven the piles, when the public health issue comes to light, they can stop,” she said.

Alexandria Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg says the city has a responsibility to represent its constituents.

“Science is convincing, and they had an outside firm that’s very prestigious do this research and it is very convincing,” Silberberg said. “We are certainly going to make the case from an environmental and health perspective.”

Concerned Residents of Landmark spent more than $70,000 to hire the national law firm of Shrader & Associates to perform a traffic and environmental analysis of the project. Their study found backed up traffic on the exit ramp will spew a cloud of pollution in excess of federal safety standards, the group said.

“My biggest concern with VDOT is that they failed to fulfill their requirements under NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act,” said Hasty, who said VDOT did not perform localized studies of pollution impacts on her community.

VDOT officials dispute the homeowners’ accusations.

“Our studies were approved back in the end of 2011 which met all federal and regulatory requirements and that is why we are proceeding with construction today,” said John Lynch, VDOT’s Northern Virginia megaprojects director.  “Their study used a different modeling technique and so we are trying to see why there is a big difference in the outcome of the two models.”

The Shrader study says 80,000 people in Fairfax County and Alexandria will be affected by pollution from vehicles exiting I-95, especially from particulate matter equivalent to what was spewed by the coal-fired GenOn electric plant that was closed down last year after a long battle with Alexandria.

“This is a health issue.  It’s incumbent on our elected officials to carry this message to Richmond,” said Herb Treger, the vice president of the board of directors of Watergate at Landmark, a community of 4,000 residents that joined Hasty’s coalition. “It’s a government project. Government projects can always be stopped. I worked for the government for 40 years.  I know they can be halted until the proper studies are done,” he added.

In order to determine if the project’s environmental impacts met federal safety standards, VDOT studied the location with the most traffic volume in the project corridor, the Springfield interchange, Lynch said.  That “worst case scenario” conformed to federal standards clearing the way for construction throughout the corridor, Lynch said.

“For the localized ‘hotspot’ analysis there are guidelines from the EPA to choose different locations for your project and typically you choose the worst place,” Lynch said. “It’s a qualitative analysis.  If you do it at the worst case scenario then you assume that it is fine everywhere else.”

VDOT has no plans to stop construction.

“We have no intention of going away,” Treger said.

Follow @MartinDiCaro on Twitter.

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Transportation Nation

Anatomy of a Water Main Break

Thursday, February 28, 2013

A water main break rages under the South Millvale Bridge in Bloomfield in January. (Photo courtesy of PWSA)

(Larkin Page-Jacobs, Pittsburgh, WESA) You know it's winter in Pittsburgh when your car is getting beat up by pot-holes, the streets are chalky with salt, and water main breaks proliferate. But what exactly is going on below the pavement?

Clogged pipes, flooded basements and sheets of ice on roadways are some of the visible signs of water main breaks. But many leaks and breaks go undetected -- including sewer line breaks which filter through the soil and along side the pipes for months or years.

At least a quarter of Pittsburgh’s water is lost annually -- much of it to cracked pipes -- but it is the big breaks, the show stoppers, that make it into the news. Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority spokeswoman Melissa Rubin said there are times you can see the water shooting into the air.

“Unfortunately people aren’t typically aware of their infrastructure, they go in, turn on the faucet and there’s water...flush the toilet and that’s great. [But no] thoughts [are] ever put into it until you see water shooting in the air. And oh my gosh you can’t take a shower,” said Rubin.

Miles of Pipes, Countless Breaks

Pittsburgh has 1,200 miles of pipes, many of them around a century old. When they are replaced, the moldering cast iron pipes are changed out for ductile iron pipes for water and PVC for sewers. But Rubin says it is rare that they replace an entire street’s worth of infrastructure because pipes and paving are expensive and the work is disruptive. Instead the process is often piecemeal with pipes being patched or repaired with clamps multiple times before they are finally replaced.

Rubin explained there are two types of breaks: “splits where there’ s a hairline fracture on the side of the pipe, and there’s complete blow outs where it cracks in half.”

Breaks have many culprits. The freezing and thawing cycle of the ground shifts the soil which pushes against the pipes. The make-up of the soil plays a part too – whether it is clay, rocky, or acidic - they all pose problems for long buried pipes. Then there is the engineering standard by which the pipes were placed in their earthen bedding in the first place. Additionally, many of the pipes are tenuously thin from decades of degradation as water wears down the metal. Carnegie Mellon University Professor of Civil Engineering Dave Dzombak said this is common problem in city’s with old infrastructure.

“All metals except for gold and silver corrode when in contact with water," he said, "and that’s a process we call oxidation – long-term contact with water.”

Complicating Factors

Dzombak explained humans also have a hand in certain water main breaks. He points out that breaks frequently occur in clusters which are caused by the very people who are trying to fix the original break.

“There’s a pressure distribution and it’s variable across the system. And if we are fixing one pipe, and we have to close off part of the system, it changes the pressure in other parts of the system and weak spots will fail when we do that. Parts of the system will see somewhat higher pressures, and just enough to take a weak-walled pipe and have it fail. So it’s frustrating – we get one break and fix that and boom, boom, boom around that we start getting other breaks,” said Dzombak.

Yet another complicating factor to repairing water main breaks is the maze of subterranean lines that keep the city humming. The PWSA's Melissa Rubin says the presence of other utilities sharing trenches with the water and sewer pipes is some times indicated by industrial graffiti marking the pavement.

“You see the green arrows and the red, the yellow and the blue. The blue is the water line, green is sewer, red is cable, and yellow is gas – so they all come out and mark so that you’re not damaging other infrastructure in the process of your repair.”

In January a major water main break under Ft. Pitt Boulevard could not be repaired until a nearby gas leak was fixed first.

But short of water pouring onto streets and sudden drops in water pressure, it can be tough for utilities to know when and where a break has occurred. Professor Dzombak technology will meet that need eventually.

“Better monitoring out in the distribution network, better monitoring for pressure, for flows, for quality of water. New technologies are being developed for monitoring that are less expensive. And we’re going to see more and more of that in the years ahead.”

Until then, the city will continue to be on guard for winter’s inevitable disruptions both from the sky and from under the ground.

Follow Larkin on Twitter at @wesalarkin

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A Year After the Trayvon Martin Shooting, Florida City Examines Urban Design

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Trayvon Martin memorial in Goldsboro, Sanford (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Last year the shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin thrust Sanford to the center of international attention -- and spurred a conversation about how urban design and public space shape civic behavior.

Now, Sanford is searching for a new vision for its future. The city has established Imagine Sanford, a project aimed at creating a solid identity for the city -- and a plan for how to get there. The 13-member steering committee is made up of community leaders who meet monthly while the plan is being formulated.

Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett says although the project started in January 2012,  since Trayvon Martin's death the pressure has been on to get the project moving.

Mayor Jeff Triplett on the Jumbotron (right) at a 2012 rally for Trayvon Martin

Although Sanford has an enviable downtown, he says, more needs to be done to link up the distinct areas of the city, including the historic African American neighborhood of Goldsboro.

"We haven't really done a very good job of making Goldsboro part of the city, so to speak," he says.

"You've got historic Goldsboro Boulevard- we want to take that and do the beautification on through 13th [street] which ties that in to [US Highway] 17-92 and what's happening on the east side of town too."

Some of the other proposals for the city include welcome signs and a system of hiking and cycling trails through Sanford and around Lake Monroe.

Triplett says he wants to make sure the trail system connects to the SunRail commuter train station.

"Some people say we're disadvantaged because of the placement of our SunRail [but] we're kind of blessed in a way because we've got a blank slate out there."

Triplett says the vacant land around the station will allow for new development linked to the rail- including  shops and apartments.

"We've got a great opportunity over the next ten years- we've just got to make sure we do it right the first time."

Listen to a an interview with Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett here.

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Fung Wah Halts Popular Long Distance Bus Service

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A screen shot of Fung Wah's website on Wednesday, February 27

One day after the federal government ordered Fung Wah's entire bus fleet off the road, the company has been barred from operating out of Boston's South Station.  And on Wednesday, the company said it would suspend service.

This ends -- if only temporarily -- Fung Wah's discount service between New York and Boston.

The company used rental buses to operate service between the two cities on Tuesday, but on Wednesday it put up notice on its web site saying it is suspending service until it can inspect and repair its fleet (see above.)

The federal government's order affected the 28 buses owned and operated by Fung Wah. Massachusetts has issued a blanket order that applies to all buses operated by Fung Wah, including vehicles it rents or leases.

“Due to the safety issues involved in the suspension of your company’s right to operate a passenger bus service for a substantial portion of your bus fleet, the MBTA insists that your company immediately cease all passenger bus operation from SSBT until further notice,” reads a letter delivered yesterday by attorneys for Newmark Knight & Frank Global Management Services, the MBTA's managing agent for the South Station Bus Terminal.

“In the interest of safety the MBTA cannot allow buses which have been suspended from operation, or any other buses which are not properly licensed and inspected to operate from SSBT.”

(Read the letter here. And read the U.S. DOT's order here.)

 

 

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VIDEO: Light Sculpture to Brighten the Bay Bridge

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

(Cy Musiker - San Francisco, KQED) The San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge is having its moment.

The new eastern span opens in the fall. And on March 5, artist Leo Villareal will unveil the Bay Lights, a massive light sculpture he's designed for the suspension section connecting Treasure Island to San Francisco.

Working with CalTrans crews, Villareal has hung 25,000 LED lights on the cables on the north side of the bridge.

The project will cost about $8 million, all of it raised by private donations. And Villareal said it will pay off by attracting $97 million in economic activity to San Francisco.

"Really?" I asked. "People are going to fly here to see it?"

"Yes," he said. "Public art is a powerful magnet. Many people are drawn to this."

We were sitting on the Embarcadero, just north of the Bay Bridge. Bells were sounding behind us in the clock tower of the Ferry Building. But Villareal was focused on the sweeping view he had to the south, of the suspension span and the patterns forming in the lights he’s hung.

"For me its all about discovery," he said. "Figuring out what it can do. I don’t know in advance. There’s a lot of chance and randomness in my process, so I’m here to make discoveries."

In his lap Villareal held a remote desktop connected to a computer in the bridge's central anchorage, with which he was orchestrating the lights as he practiced for the show's opening night.

"This is a program that we wrote," he said. "It's called Particle Universe. And we can change their mass, the velocity, gravity. All these things we find in nature. As an artist, I use all these equations and rules as material, really just play with them. I'm just sitting here waiting for something exciting or compelling to happen. When it does I capture that moment, and that becomes part of the mix."

Artist Leo Villareal controls the Bay Lights with his laptop. (Cy Musiker/KQED)

Artist Leo Villareal controls the Bay Lights with his laptop. (Cy Musiker/KQED)

As Villareal spoke, he made the lights seem to fall from the tops of the cables to the bottom. Then a shadow moved across the lights from Treasure Island toward the city, and back again, and then the lights rippled, as though reflecting the waves on the bay below.

"You would think you wouldn't be able to improvise with software," said Villareal. "But I've found ways on involving chance and working intuitively with software. You can spend more time with this that a sign in Las Vegas or Time Square that does one thing for one minute and then repeats over and over again. The other thing that's important for viewers is that they don't feel anxiety that they missed something. At any point that you're ready to jump in, there it is."

I asked Villareal now that he’s spent so much time with the Bay Bridge, the commuter workhorse of the Bay Area, what he makes of its personality. It’s a question he struggled to answer.

"You don’t want to mess with it," he said. "You know I feel a lot of respect for it. I want to add something and augment what's here. These are the icons of the Bay Area, the bridges. I think there's also an honesty and integrity to the piece. That's very similar to what the bridge is like. I've done a couple of cable walks and gone to the top of the bridge and was amazed at how efficient it all is."

Villareal is a regular at the annual Burning Man festival in Nevada, and he says he wants people to gather on the Embarcadero to see the lights, the same way people gather around campfires out on the desert.

It seemed to be working that night as passersby gathered nearby, pointing up to the bridge.

"It looks kind of like some kind of star constellation to me," said Amy Gallie, one of the onlookers. "It becomes ethereal instead of something which is so prosaic that we're used to looking at."

 

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Fung Wah's Bus Fleet Ordered Off the Road

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Permitted? It's complicated.

The entire passenger fleet of Chinatown bus company Fung Wah has been ordered off the road for an immediate safety inspection.

This news comes a day after the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities found cracks in many bus frames and asked the federal government to declare the company an "imminent safety hazard."

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Fung Wah - which operates between New York and Boston for about $15 each way -- must cease transporting passengers on its 28 vehicles, which must be immediately taken off the road for inspection.

But, says a DOT spokesman, "the company, if it chooses, has the prerogative to rent or lease other vehicles; the company is not shut down."

A phone call to Fung Wah's New York offices earlier Tuesday afternoon would seem to bear this out, as the woman who answered the phone said the company was still operating buses between New York and Boston every hour.

From the DOT:

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has ordered Fung Wah Bus Transportation, Inc., to immediately cease passenger service and provide its entire fleet of 28 motorcoaches for thorough and detailed safety inspections by qualified inspectors. Going forward, FMCSA will continue to work closely with its state law enforcement partners in Massachusetts and New York to ensure the safety of the traveling public.

FMCSA’s safety investigators are continuing their examination of Fung Wah’s operations, including examining the safety records of its vehicles, drivers and other company safety performance requirements prescribed by federal regulations, and may consider additional actions against the company if warranted.

Beau Duffy, a spokesman for the New York State Department of Transportation, said in an email: "We are working with our partners at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the state of Massachusetts to ensure Fung Wah’s buses are not put back in service until they are inspected and any deficiencies are corrected."

 

 

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Florida's SunRail Is On Pace to Launch in 2014, Gets Another $87 Million in Fed Funds

Friday, February 22, 2013

Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff at Friday's SunRail announcement (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Another infusion of federal cash is keeping central Florida's SunRail project on track to open in 2014.

Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff, speaking on behalf of transportation secretary Ray LaHood, paid a visit to a Florida Hospital in Orlando, where one of the stops for the 61 mile long SunRail line  is being built.  Rogoff was joined by local leaders, state department of transportation officials and Florida lawmakers including U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown.

Rogoff announced the federal government would make $87.3  million available in funding for SunRail, bringing the FTA's investment to date in the Central Florida commuter rail line to $148 million. The Federal government has agreed to pay $178.6 million overall in New Start funds towards construction of the 32-mile long first phase of the line, about half the capital cost.

"We make incremental payments based on the progress of the project," Rogoff said. "They're making great progress, they're ready to spend that money, they're ready to keep these people on the job."

Rogoff highlighted the rail line as a jobs engine, which has already employed 800 people to work in construction.

"But what we're really excited about is all the additional jobs that are coming in from the economic development along the line," he added.

The Florida hospital station is at the heart of a 176 acre "health village" where the hospital is developing medical research offices, apartments and shops.

SunRail officials say there are more than two dozen retail, office, government and residential development projects associated with stations along the rail line, representing $1.6 billion in investment.

"We are here to celebrate the continuing completion of a transportation system for the metro Orlando area that is putting us into the 21st Century," said Senator Bill Nelson (left) "The only thing lacking is the high speed rail which we had $2.5 billion dollars on the table of the federal share," he added. (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Rogoff also talked about the need for additional spending on roads and other infrastructure in Florida-- particularly to fix up hundreds of bridges, highlighting president Obama's call for a $50 Billion infrastructure plan. "If that $50 billion dollars goes through, you're going to see more investment around here, not just on this type of  rail project but on highway and sea port projects that will keep the economy of Florida going."

Asked whether sunshine state might see federal funds in the future for high speed rail, Rogoff said "that is going to depend a lot I believe on the leadership of Florida."

Florida's Governor Rick Scott famously turned down federal money for a high-speed rail line from Orlando to Tampa in 2011.

Meanwhile, SunRail officials say the first phase of the commuter rail line, a 32 mile long stretch from DeBary to Sand Lake Road, will open in 2014.

 

 

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Gov Cuomo Shows No Urgency In Appointing Next Chair Of NY MTA

Friday, February 22, 2013

The front runner in the search for the NY MTA's next chairperson.

(New York, NY - WNYC) Two months have passed since now-mayoral candidate Joe Lhota resigned as chairman and CEO of the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority. So what do we know about his replacement, the man or woman who will face a raft of problems, once that person is chosen by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to lead the nation's largest transit agency?

"Nothing, nada, zip, zero," said Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign. "I haven't heard."

Other transportation advocates say the same. At one time, those advocates would have known by now what was happening. That time was September 2011, two months after Lhota's predecessor, Jay Walder, resigned from the NY MTA's top spot. A search committee made up of advocates and governmental veterans was, by the end of those two months, wrapping up interviews for Walder's replacement. The committee recommended Lhota, whom Cuomo named head of the NY MTA in October of 2011. Three months later, the state senate confirmed him in the post.

A mere year later, Lhota was gone--convinced by Republican power brokers to run for mayor, a decision made easier by the high profile he gained from directing the authority's largely sure-footed handling of storm Sandy.

But this time around, there is little urgency in the search for his replacement. The governor has not courted fanfare in announcing the formation of a search committee, as he did before. Instead, a Cuomo official blamed distractions from Sandy and an Albany budget fight for the fact that "there will be no announcement soon" about a new transit chief. Cuomo spokesman Matt Wing would only add that, "The administration continues to actively search for a new chairman."

Former mayoral candidate Freddy Ferrer, who joined the NY MTA board eight months ago, is serving in a caretaker role as interim chairman and CEO. Ferrer has said repeatedly that he has no interest in making his role permanent.

Acting executive director Tom Prendergast, who normally runs the subways and buses, now has the firmest grasp of anyone on day-to-day operations. Some transportation advocates are floating his name as their choice for the next chairman. Mitchell Moss, NYU professor of urban policy and planning, theorized that Prendergast's prowess at keeping the authority running, particularly Prendergast's skillful navigation of a recent snowstorm, is easing the pressure on Cuomo to promptly name a new NY MTA chairman. "Tom is a seasoned professional who is doing such a good job that there may not be the urgency to fill the position," Moss said.

But the NY MTA faces crucial post-Sandy choices about repairing and hardening the transit system, especially as the authority starts to spend nearly $5 billion in federal aid. Joe Lhota vigorously lobbied his fellow Republicans for Sandy aid; without a permanent chair, the NY MTA has lost at least some of that clout.

The void at the top is also felt in the stalled negotiations between the NY MTA and its largest union, TWU Local 100, which has been without a contract for 13 months. The two sides haven't spoken in nearly four months, an unusually long hiatus for a union negotiation.

An apparent moment to make progress  presented itself in mid-December, when the day-to-day emergency of Sandy had subsided and freshly re-elected union president John Samuelsen was freed from campaigning. Instead, Joe Lhota "dropped the bomb," in the words of union spokesman Jim Gannon, by announcing his resignation.

Lhota was then asked at his final board meeting whether his abrupt departure would stall the authority's talks with Samuelsen, with whom Lhota had gone out of his way to cultivate a productive relationship. Lhota downplayed the problem. "There have been talks and there will continue to be talks," he said. Since then, he's been wrong on the second point.

The talks matter because a balanced budget for the authority rests in part on getting the union to agree to either three years of flat pay or pay increases offset by rules concessions that bring increased productivity. Without those three "net-zeroes," the NY MTA's chronically fragile finances would become even more problematic, with cuts in service a possibility. Either way, that's a headache for the next chairperson to sort out, whenever that person arrives.

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To Continue Plowing or Throw in the Towel: That is Connecticut's Question

Thursday, February 21, 2013

(Neena Satija - CT Mirror) When the city threatened to tow all the cars on my street after the blizzard, I went into full-on panic mode. I paid a guy with a snow plow thirty bucks to dig out my car. And there was such a huge mound of snow between my roommate’s car and the road, that we actually drove it onto the sidewalk to get it off the street. And then the city never delivered. We live in the East Rock neighborhood of New Haven — and we’re not alone. All over the city, mounds of snow have reduced side streets from two lanes to one. Driving through them on Wednesday was a constant cat-and-mouse game with cars approaching from the opposite direction.  Check out this guy, who has just parallel-parked between two mounds of snow.

(All photos by Dru Nadler)

Chris Betances lives in the Beaver Hills neighborhood. Like me, he spent considerable time and effort digging out his car. Then the city never plowed the street. He nearly got towed earlier, forced to park in an illegal spot.

“Good thing I was actually walking out to my car,” he said. “And there was a tow truck literally right next to my car … I was like, there’s no way you’re towing my car right now. Where else am I going to park, you know?”

What I liked about my job today was that I could whine to the mayor of New Haven, John DeStefano, about this, and ask what gives. It’s a math problem and an energy problem, is basically what I was told.

“You know what? At some point, we do stop plowing, and we do stop removing snow,” he said. The storm has already cost the city more than $2 million; on Monday, with schools ready to be back in session, he decided enough was enough. “We’ve been essentially done except for emergency and safety issues for two days now.” It took as many as 30 payloaders — a few from the city and from the National Guard, but mostly contractors — to remove as much snow as the city did. A lot of it went here, to this public lot reserved for that purpose:

In Bridgeport, snow is even more of a political issue. Some residents are calling for Mayor Bill Finch to resign, and a Facebook page created this week to that effect has more than 120 “likes.” They say the city took too long to dig them out immediately after the storm, and now, they’re dealing with 20-foot-high mountains of snow piled at many intersections by plows. Imagine turning into an intersection and staring this guy in the face, for instance:

Clearly, the city can’t be finished removing snow with payloaders and dump trucks. And it isn’t, emergency director Scott Appleby tells me. He thinks it’ll take at least a couple more weeks to get rid of these dangerous mountains at intersections all over the city. He also vehemently defends Bridgeport’s response to the storm — originally, forecasters said the city would “only” (ha!) get 18 inches of snow.

Bridgeport actually got more than 31-38 inches. But no one realized that, apparently, until around 10:30 p.m. Friday night, the night the storm hit. That’s when, as Appleby puts it, “the system stalled.” Plow and truck drivers had already been pulling 12-hour shifts to deal with the amount of snow. And the people due for a second shift couldn’t get to work.

Appleby said the city learned many important lessons from the storm: Communicate better, with residents as well as weather forecasters. Institute parking bans and emergency declarations farther in advance, even if it may seem a little premature.

Cut down on contracting, by far the biggest expense, if at all possible – maybe even by using volunteers or other agencies. Maybe earlier parking bans would have prevented bizarre and hilarious scenes like this one:

New Haven’s mayor DeStefano was less forthcoming with “lessons learned” that can help during another snow emergency.

“I think there are things you can learn, but the things you learn may have nothing to do with the storm you next experience,” he said.

Or, the money to implement lessons may not be there. The city could try to lock in contractors in advance at a fixed price to save money – but that usually requires paying something upfront before a storm is even forecasted. Bringing in more equipment and staff means hiring more supervisors – which the city can’t afford. More outside contractors or National Guard members only go so far when they’re not familiar with New Haven’s streets in an emergency.

Maybe the most important thing we need to do, DeStefano told me, is temper our expectations. OK, fine. I don’t expect to find a legal parking spot on my street anytime soon. So I’m parking in the “no standing anytime” zone. And if I get a ticket, someone’s going to pay. Also, I’m going to walk on the street in situations like this, so I don’t get trapped on the sidewalk again:

Follow Neena Satija on Twitter.

 

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Looming Fiscal Cliff For Seattle Transit

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Waiting to board Seattle's #7 bus (photo by Oran Viriyincy via flickr)

(Derek Wang - Seattle, KUOW) Bus service in King County could get some good news this week. Washington state lawmakers are expected to introduce a plan that could prevent a looming fiscal crisis. But first, it has to clear some hurdles.

One of the most heavily used bus routes in King County is bus route 7. Officials say as many as 12,000 people ride the number 7 bus every day. Resident Steven Anderson relies on it and hasn’t owned a car in years. He said the number 7 can be really packed during rush hour.

“It will be to the point where it will even pass you because it’s too full,” he said. “So it won’t even pick you up, so you have to wait for the next one or the one after that.”

Crowded buses are a problem that could have been worse if the Washington state Legislature hadn’t stepped in. About two years ago, King County Metro was faced with making massive cuts that would have affected most riders. But those major reductions never happened. Metro cut some costs, trimmed some schedules and ended the downtown Ride Free Zone. It also won new funding authority from the state Legislature and started charging a $20 vehicle license fee for bus service.

The problem is that the $20 fee is due to expire next year.

Transportation advocates are sounding alarm bells. “We’re about a year or so away from a major fiscal cliff for King County Metro,” said Rob Johnson, executive director of Transportation Choices Coalition. He said other transit systems are facing similar challenges, especially in Pierce and Snohomish Counties.  “In Snohomish County, Community Transit has already eliminated all of its Sunday service and significantly reduced service from 2008," Johnson said. "We’re really struggling as a region to keep buses on the streets.”

Transit agencies are in a tough bind because of funding problems. The systems are largely paid for by sales taxes. But when the recession hit, people started spending less -- and funding for transit plummeted.

Last year, King County asked the Legislature for a permanent funding solution, one that would not expire. But that effort failed after King County and its suburban cities couldn’t agree on how to split the new revenue.

This year the issue is before lawmakers again, and some officials are optimistic that they can work out a deal. Democratic Representative Judy Clibborn chairs the House Transportation Committee and is leading this year’s effort in Olympia. She said unlike last year, this year’s proposal is connected to a larger plan for all of Washington, not just for King County, and is expected to cover buses and road improvements.

“This is a whole new ballgame,” Clibborn said. “Last year there was no statewide package on the table. There was nothing that was moving forward for helping cities and counties with transit and ferries and this year there is.”

For the legislation to pass, it will need a lot of support. Two-thirds of the Legislature will need to vote for it in order for it to take effect. But it could still go before voters. And it would be a tough sell to people like SeaTac resident Steve Donah. Donah said state lawmakers are wrong to propose new taxes or fees.

“They need to use the money that they have better. They’re not putting that money in where it needs to go,” he said. “I’ve been in this state for 25 years now, moved from California up here, and I’m seeing more potholes than I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Donah’s sentiments could be a signal of things to come. The last roads and transit package put before Puget Sound voters failed in 2007.

Follow Derek Wang on Twitter here. And listen to the radio version of this story here.

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Making Orlando's Streets Safer for Pedestrians

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pedestrians fare better crossing low-speed streets like this one in Thornton Park, Orlando. But high-speed, multi-lane roads are more of a challenge. (Photo by Matthew Peddie)

For years, Orlando has ranked among the most dangerous metro areas for pedestrians in the nation, with roughly two injuries per day and one fatality a week. Now a coalition of pedestrian advocates, law enforcement, local government and health agencies is trying to change that, with a program called Best Foot Forward. And eight months after the program launched, there are some signs of improvement.

Transportation experts say there are three steps needed to make the roads safer for pedestrians: education, enforcement and engineering. Orlando is trying all three, but it still has a long way to go to change the culture for people on foot.

“It’s pretty abominable,” says Bill Carpenter, a volunteer collecting data for the Best Foot Forward Program. He says pedestrians haven’t had much of a voice in Central Florida until now.

Carpenter is monitoring how drivers behave at crosswalks. A pickup truck approaches the intersection of Rollins street and Camden road in Winter Park. Carpenter steps cautiously into the road stretching out one hand to point down at the crosswalk. The driver doesn’t stop.

Bill Carpenter has been monitoring "voluntary yield rates" for drivers at Orlando crosswalks (photo by Matthew Peddie)

“Motorists reactions run the gamut," says Carpenter. "There’s some that begrudgingly stop, then others that wave back at you and say thanks for waiting there for me and go on.”

This dangerous dance is repeated daily all over the city by other pedestrians.

In East Orlando, a restaurant worker  called Tony makes his way to a bus stop on South Semoran Boulevard, near Curry Ford Road.

“This intersection here, it’s crazy," says Tony. He says drivers aren't courteous. "No. They’d rather run you over.”

Badly injured pedestrians go to the Orlando Regional Medical Center, which is part of the Best Foot Forward Coalition. Last year doctors at the center treated over 400 patients who’d been hit by cars.

But there are signs the education campaign is starting to have an effect, says project manager Brad Kuhn.

“On those roads at 35 miles an hour and less, we’ve been able to take the yield rate from about one in eleven to approaching one in three.”

That means at some of the 18 crosswalks being monitored in Orlando and Orange county, more drivers are yielding now for pedestrians than they were six months ago.

Kuhn’s organization, Bike Walk Central Florida, has reached out to 88,000 households to promote pedestrian safety, and 11 Orange County elementary schools are teaching a pedestrian safety syllabus. But, says Kuhn, high-speed roads are still a problem.

“By the time you see the pedestrian, you’re already past them," he says, "which is unfortunate, because on a 40-mile-an-hour road, your chance of survival if you get hit is 15 per cent.”

Enforcement is used to back up the education campaign. Last year police and sheriff’s officers handed out more than 1,200 tickets and arrested 20 drivers for failing to yield at crosswalks.

Orlando Police sergeant Jerry Goglas says some drivers try to blame the pedestrian. “They say: “did you see the pedestrian jaywalking, why is the pedestrian in the road?” Some of them are not understanding once a pedestrian is in a marked crosswalk the driver has to yield.”

Transportation for America's map showing pedestrian fatalities around Orlando 2000-2009. (Image from the 2011 report 'Dangerous by Design')

Best Foot Forward is trying out low-cost engineering like signs and road markings-- but the coalition is also interested in something called the Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon.

It’s a small box mounted on a pole at a crosswalk. When activated, a bright LED light flashes towards the eyes of approaching drivers, signaling them to stop. In St. Petersburg, on the other side of the state, these beacons have helped cut the pedestrian accident rate in half over the last ten years.

Pedestrian advocate Bill Carpenter thinks these beacons could help in Orlando, but he says changing drivers attitudes is a long term project. “I’d hate to venture a guess, but it’s going to take longer than six or 12 months. It’s going to take a lot.”

The Florida Department of Transportation is also engaged around the state trying to make the roads safer and it’s rolling out a pedestrian awareness campaign focusing on ten counties with high pedestrian crash rates.  In the meantime, Best Foot Forward hopes its early success will eventually translate into fewer pedestrians winding up in hospital.

Listen to an audio version of this story here. And follow Matthew Peddie on Twitter here.


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SF Mayor Pledges to Fix Muni

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A crowded Muni bus (photo CC by Flickr user Art Siegel)

When he came into office last year, San Francisco mayor Ed Lee said fixing Muni wasn’t a priority for him.

But in his 2013 State of the City address, Mayor Lee devoted almost ten minutes of his speech to the often-reviled public transit system.

Muni’s cars and buses are often overcrowded, sometimes to the point where they can’t stop to take on new passengers. And about 40 percent of Muni vehicles run late, according to an independent analysis by the Bay Citizen published last June. It’s a system so hated by some riders, it even provokes poetry (read “Ode to (Not Muni) Transit" from Muni Diaries). Lee said he sympathized with a ridership plagued by overcrowded chronically late buses, and he promised that changes to Muni are coming soon.

“I know it’s frustrating to push your way onto an overcrowded train or watch an overloaded bus go by,” said Lee. “And I understand the anxiety that comes with being late to work, late to pick up your kids or late to school because you were on time, but your bus wasn’t. I am very pleased to report that positive changes are underway, and with the full support and leadership of the MTA Board of Directors, the nation’s seventh largest public transit agency is once again focused on operations and investing in infrastructure, in maintenance and in safety.”

He concluded by unveiling the “San Francisco Transportation 2030 Task Force,” a group designed to tackle the city’s transportation problems.

But San Franciscans won’t have to wait for the task force to report back to learn what some of these changes are going to be. In 2008, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) started a project called the Transit Effective Program. Known as the TEP, the project began a as a comprehensive effort to overhaul the Muni system. It’s focused on two major issues: making changes that minimize delays on the Rapid Service lines and restructuring regular bus routes to reduce crowding and tardiness.

So far, the TEP has proposed some major changes to Muni. Of Muni’s 79 lines, 32 will have changes to their routes and 40 will have changes to their stop frequency. Six lines will have entirely new routes and three will be eliminated. Designed around the city’s changing commute patterns and congested areas, the SFMTA hopes that these changes will streamline the system and increase Muni’s reliability.

The TEP also proposes some changes to Muni’s Rapid Network corridors. The Rapid Network is a group of 12 exceptionally busy lines that officials have identified as routes they’d like to make faster and more frequent. These are so-called “engineering changes,” or improvements that physically change the structure of certain intersections and transit stops. Think adding “Muni-only” traffic lanes, building new boarding islands, and replacing stop signs with traffic lights.

There are already a couple of TEP pilot projects going on right now. One is taking place along a three-block stretch of Church Street, a busy road in the city’s center. SFMTA has made one of the lanes “transit-only,” meaning only  buses and taxis can use it. It lets Muni bypass the usual traffic and should reduce delays, according to the SFMTA engineers.

Currently, the SFMTA’s Planning Department is busy making sure the rest of the TEP proposals meet California’s environmental standards. The final draft of the Environmental Impact Report is expected in about a year. After that, the SFMTA will implement as many proposals as they can get funding for.

Now riders will just have to wait and see whether these changes are really going to be effective.

Follow Isabell Angell on Twitter: @IsabeltheAngell

 

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Transportation Nation

Steel Gates, Raised Roadbeds & Dunes: NYC Transpo After Sandy

Friday, February 15, 2013

Sandy flooded the Battery Park Underpass with 15 million gallons of water.

(New York, NY - WYNC) Now that post-Sandy repairs to New York's transportation infrastructure are in full swing, attention is shifting toward hardening the city's bridges, tunnels and roads against future storm surges.

U.S Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood came to Manhattan to hand over $250 million to reimburse the city Department of Transportation for repairs it's making to its storm-damaged facilities. LaHood also said $5 billion is on the way to make those same facilities resilient in the face of future storms.

It's unclear how much of that money could come to New York City. But U.S. Senator Charles Schumer gave examples of how it could be spent locally.

"Once they repair the inside of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, they can put, if they choose, steel gates, to prevent another flood," he said. He also talked about raising coastal roads and building dunes to shelter highways from the ocean.

New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who joined LaHood and Schumer, said Sandy caused the city "$900 million worth of  damage to city roads, bridges, our ferry system, signals, signs--an extraordinary amount of damage."

By way of example, she said The Battery Park Underpass at the tip of Lower Manhattan was filled with 15 million gallons of water (see photo). When it comes to reducing that kind of vulnerability to storm damage, Sadik-Khan said her department "has a long way to go."

Schumer praised LaHood for delivering the $250 million in repair money less than a month after it's authorization by Congress, which he called "a world record" in the realm of post-disaster relief. He explained that the funds will be used in part to reimburse the city for repairs it has already undertaken.

"The mayor couldn't sit there and wait and say, 'We'll fix the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel when the federal money comes,'" he said. "The city had to lay out enormous sums of money."

Some of the money has been spent on repairing the vents and electrical system of the Battery Park Underpass , fixing flood-damaged parts of the Staten Island Ferry terminals, shoring up bridges, and replacing highway lights and guardrails.

Sadik-Khan said the mayor's office will release a report in May about how to harden the city's infrastructure against future storms, including roads and bridges .

 

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