Streams

 

Cities Urban

Transportation Nation

Pulaski Skyway to Close for Two Years; No New Rail Tunnel on Horizon

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Pulaski Skyway (photo by Paul Lowry via flickr)

The Pulaski Skyway -- an 80-year old elevated highway that carries 67,000 cars a day in New Jersey -- will partially close for two years beginning in 2014.

The highway runs between Newark and Jersey City and serves as a major feeder for cars and buses accessing the Holland Tunnel into downtown Manhattan. It will shut down to traffic after the completion of the 2014 Super Bowl, being held in the nearby Meadowlands.

The NJ Department of Transportation says it needs that time to entirely replace the existing deck, upgrade ramps, paint and seismically retrofit the Pulaski, which is in "poor condition." The work will cost $1 billion.

While deck work is ongoing, northbound lanes will be closed entirely for two years. Two southbound travel lanes will remain open.

Speaking Thursday in Newark, the state's transportation commissioner, James Simpson, said the work amounts to "basically a new bridge in place." He acknowledged the disruption closing the roadway would cause, but said "we couldn't leave it in its existing state. The only decision was to reconstruct it in place."

The Pulaski is considered "functionally obsolete" because it no longer conforms to modern design standards, and in 2011 the Texas Transportation Institute rated it the sixth least reliable road in the country. (It also ranked #8 on Jalopnik's less scientific list of "the most terrifying roads in the world.") The state says the work will extend the life of the structure by at least 75 years.

The closure of the roadway will have a ripple effect. Drivers who head north to enter the city via the Lincoln Tunnel will find not only crowds, but delays from another massive rehabilitation project -- the Port Authority's ongoing upgrade of the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel known as the helix. Meanwhile, NJ Transit has reached maximum capacity and can't run additional trains into Penn Station. The PATH system is similarly burdened.

As Jeffrey Zupan, a senior fellow with the Regional Plan Association, puts it: "The automobile options are now worse for two years, and there's no relief in site from point of view of a new rail crossing."

Zupan is referring to the ARC project, an $8.7 billion trans-Hudson tunnel that, when completed, would have boosted rail capacity between New Jersey and New York. Construction on the new tunnel began in 2009 -- only to be cancelled in 2010 by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who said the state couldn't afford it.

Christie is using the money set aside for the ARC tunnel to shore up roads and bridges in the state -- among them, the Pulaski Skyway.

Preliminary work is underway on a study for the next iteration of a new rail tunnel -- this one known as Gateway -- but shovels are nowhere near ready to turn dirt.

"You've really created a perfect storm of transportation chaos -- you haven't created a new transit option and you've made driving options worse," says Zupan.

Another view of the Pulaski, spanning the Passaic & Hackensack Rivers in Jersey City (CC via wikimedia commons)

The Skyway is named for General Casimir Pulaski, a Polish-born hero of the Revolutionary War. It's on the National Register of Historic Places. And it was also referenced in Orson Welles' 1938 radio drama War of the Worlds. "The enemy now turns east," reads a line in the script, "crossing Passaic River into the Jersey marshes. Another straddles the Pulaski Skyway."

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

Houston to Expand Bike Share

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Houston B-Cycle (image courtesy of @houstonbcycle)

(Laurie Johnson - Houston, KUHF) Houston officials rolled out a small bike share program last May with three kiosks and 18 bikes downtown. In less than eight months of operation, 1,200 people joined and checked out bikes 2,000 times.

Now, the program is expanding: in March, the program will bulk up to 200 bikes at 24 kiosks.

Read the whole story at KUHF.

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

Clarifying Prices When You Hail a Cab with Uber, other Apps

Thursday, January 10, 2013

(San Francisco Bay Area) Back in December, KALW ran a story about Uber, the app that matches users to the closest town car or taxicab. Uber gets its money by charging its own rates for livery cabs, which can cost much more than a typical meter.

Listener Mark Gruberg called in to let the station know that they missed something: that regular cabs are using apps, without the extra cost.

MARK GRUBERG: "One significant thing that was left out is that the cab industry is using the same kind of app as Uber – services like Cabulous and Taxi Magic put you directly in touch with a driver from your cell phone, the driver picks you up and charges you a taxi rate, not an Uber rate, which is approximately 70 percent higher than taxis at best. Then because they use surge pricing, it could be astronomically higher at busy times."

KALW asked Isabel Angell, who reported the original story on Uber, if she had anything to share.

ISABEL ANGELL: "So here’s the deal with Cabulous. It’s now called Flywheel, and it works a lot like Uber. It’s the same idea of using an app to match the passenger to the closest cab. But here’s where it’s different: unlike Uber, Flywheel doesn’t mess with the meter. They just take 60 cents from the driver off each Flywheel-generated cab ride. You can pay the driver in the car or use the app, like Uber. A third of SF cabs use the app – that’s about 580 taxis. So right now, I have the app pulled up on my phone, and I can see all the cabs using Flywheel around San Francisco. Currently, they’re mostly centered around Downtown, the Mission, and the Marina, with one lonely cab in the Inner Sunset. So maybe I would have to trek back to the Outer Richmond to see if it really stands up to the test!"

Uber's "surge pricing" system means that when livery cabs are in high demand, the price of a livery cab spikes. This is designed to encourage more drivers to stay on shift when cabs are needed most, like in the rain or on holidays, according to Uber. In New York City for instance Uber issued a warning to the press and users  before New Years Eve that prices could be five times the rate of a normal Uber ride, which is already more expensive than a yellow cab ride. They even added a "surge sobriety test" that required users to confirm that they understood how much they were paying.

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

Some 24/7 PATH Train Service To Resume

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

(photo by Kate Hinds)

For the first time in the 70-plus days since Hurricane Sandy, some PATH lines are resuming partial around-the-clock operations.

Governors Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo say starting Wednesday, trains will run 24-7, from Newark to 33rd Street, via Hoboken.

PATH has operated on a 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. schedule – with the exception of New Year’s Eve – since the storm.  The system suffered catastrophic damage from an estimated 10 million gallons of water that flooded the tunnels.

PATH trains will still run from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the week on the Hoboken to 33rd Street, Journal Square to 33rd Street and Newark to World Trade Center lines.

Port Authority officials say it could be late February before they receive a shipment of replacement parts necessary to restoring service on the line between Hoboken and the World Trade Center, which is still not operational.

 

Read More

Comments [2]

Transportation Nation

Photos and Videos: Eye Candy Celebrating the London's Underground's 150 Anniversary

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

On January 9, 2013, the world's first underground journey took place in London.

A lithograph of Baker Street Station on Metropolitan Railway (Image courtesy of London Transport Museum)

According to the London Transport Museum:

The original Underground line was built and financed by the Metropolitan Railway, a private company which had been formed in 1854 to undertake the project to link the mainline stations at Paddington, Euston and King’s Cross with the City centre business district to the east.

Travelling on the new railway was a novelty that thousands of Londoners were eager to experience and on the first day of public service – long queues formed at every station. The line was a huge success with 26,000 passengers using the railway each day in the first six months.

A view of the platform at the Victoria station (Image courtesy of London Transport Museum)

 

In 1969, Queen Elizabeth opened a section of the Victoria Line and actually took the controls. According to press reports, it was her second time riding the Tube.

(Image courtesy of London Transport Museum)

 

But she didn't just ride. The queen apparently also took the controls.

 

Carriage 353 was a  four-wheeled first class carriage built in 1892.  Amazingly, it had been "relegated to use as a garden shed." Check out a video of its history -- and restoration process -- below.

Metropolitan Carriage 353, pausing between test runs at Quorn Station (image courtesy of London Transport Museum)

 

Here's what the interior of a 1938 car looked like:

 (Image courtesy of London's Transport Museum)

 

 

To celebrate the 150th anniversary, Google UK blessed its site with an Underground-themed Doodle.

Google Doodle

 

Today, Transport for London estimates around 3.5 million journeys are made on the network each day, across 11 lines serving 270 stations.

 

Read More

Comments [2]

Transportation Nation

Fairfax Board To Vote On Tysons Tax Hike

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Metro Rail construction from Tyson's Corner to East Falls Church station on Route 267 in Northern Virginia. (Photo by Trevor Wrayton, VDOT)

(Washington, D.C. - WAMU) More than two years after adopting a plan to modernize Tysons Corner, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will decide Tuesday night whether to raise real estate taxes to help pay for the area's new transportation grid.

Both businesses and residential properties in Tysons Corner would be taxed to raise $250 million over 40 years to help pay for road improvements to accommodate expected population and job growth. Although commercial real estate developers are not objecting to the creation of this special tax district — they will benefit most from Tysons' growth — residential property owners are very unhappy.

While the board had contemplated making residential property owners exempt from the new taxes, that may not actually be possible, says Fairfax County Board Chairman Sharon Bulova.

"We were all a little bit surprised when we discovered that wasn't a possibility because of recent legislation at the state level," Bulova says.

At least one Virginia state lawmaker says he will introduce legislation to exempt residential properties or allow them to pay a lower tax rate. Bulova believes that would make it fair for apartment dwellers who don't stand to financially gain from future economic growth around the four planned Silver Line Metro stops in Tysons.

"If you are an existing residential homeowner, you are not going to be able to redevelop your property and you are not going to see the same kind of benefit as a developer," Bulova says.

The $250 million in new taxes is part of a total $2.3 billion needed to build a multi-modal transportation grid at Tysons Corner, county lawmakers say. Planners expect 100,000 people to live and 200,000 to work in Tysons Corner by 2050.

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

NYC Unclutters Parking Signs

Monday, January 07, 2013

NYC unclutters Midtown parking signs. (Graphic via NYC DOT)

New York city is de-cluttering the design of parking signs starting today in Midtown Manhattan, where a slew of parking rules that change depending on the hour and day are laid out in signs that vary in font, color, format and height. Misreading signs can lead to fines well above $100.

The new signs are (almost) fit for twitter. With streamlined phrasing, they reduce the number of characters needed to explain the commercial metered parking zone rules from 250 characters to "about 140," the NYC Department of Transportation said in a statement. By fitting the same information in less space, the DOT says it will save money because the new smaller signage will be cheaper to produce.

“New York City’s parking signs can sometimes be a five-foot-high totem pole of confusing information,” said Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan in a statement.

The updated signs are simpler and easier to read with a consistent two-color layout and a uniform font.

"The basic way these had been done is like a playbill for a music hall in 1845," said Michael Beirut partner at Pentagram, the design firm that created the new look. The old way was, "Pick the most important thing and put that first, center everything," and make it fit by changing font width and placement. "We just tried to make it feel a little bit more sober and subdued and in control," he said.

That was achieved, in part, by shifting the focus from prohibitive phrasing to permissive phrasing, he said. "The old signs read like, 'no one can park here except...' So the new signs flip that to lead with the positive, what you are allowed to do," he said.

The new look makes a few updates that seem obvious in hindsight like placing the day of the regulation before the hours of the regulation and eliminating abbreviations. The hierarchy of information is changed as well. The message of the threatening red "No Standing" sign is now blended with other parking regulations in these commercial parking zones. The big red sign is gone, it's message captured with one line, "others no standing"  added to other signs.

According to the DOT renderings, the messy blue "Pay at Muni-Meter" signs will also go. Once they were a necessary bit of visual clutter for the city's transition away from old fashioned parking meters. The last individual parking meter in Manhattan was jack hammered out of commission with camera's watching in 2011. So long ago that the DOT assumes drivers will know to look down the block for the new meters with a sign.

“You shouldn't need a Ph.D in parking signage to understand where you are allowed to leave your car in New York," said City Council Member Daniel Garodnick in a emailed statement that referred to him as "a longtime supporter of syntactic clarity."

"I was pleased to work directly with DOT, removing unnecessary words in these signs," Garodnick said.

Proving that any effort to make parking easier in Manhattan is worthy of political fanfare, the unveiling of the new design this morning drew not just Sadik-Khan, head of the NYC DOT and darling of the black glasses set, but also the speaker of the City Council and leading mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, along with Garodnick who first proposed simplifying the signs in 2011.

David Gibson of the  design firm Two Twelve, and author of "The Wayfinding Handbook, Information Design for Public Places," sees the changes as a chance for a more radical redesign of street signage. Overall, he said of the new look, "It's a bit of an improvement. It seems like they could have pushed the envelope a little further. It's very much in the vernacular of what parking signs are like now. Maybe this was an opportunity to go a little further, I mean, this is New York city where we break new ground and push the envelope."

The signs will be installed in Manhattan's commercial metered parking zones, throughout Midtown, as well as  some areas in the Financial District, the Upper East Side and Lower East Side. Other parts of the city will get the re-designed signage in the future.

Read More

Comments [2]

Transportation Nation

Draft Report: To Withstand Storms, Build a Bigger Bus System

Monday, January 07, 2013

MTA "Bus Bridge" After Sandy replaced some subway service (NY MTA photo)

To better survive the economic impact of big storms like Sandy, New York needs a "world class" bus rapid transit system.   That's one of the major recommendations in a draft report commissioned by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on how to rebuild New York infrastructure post-Sandy.

Bus Rapid Transit -- basically, fast buses which run on segregated lanes where users pay off board -- mimics a subway system by planning bus routes that can run almost as quickly through streets as trains can underground.

Such a system could be less vulnerable to floods and more able to restart service after big storms.  It would also be able to connect neighborhoods that would otherwise be stranded by subway service disruptions.

"A world class BRT network would enhance the resilience and redundancy of the overall transit system," according to a draft copy of the report which was leaked to the New York Times.  The report contained no specific recommendations for funding the system.

It also doesn't address the thorny political question which frequently accompanies BRT proposals -- that of of turning over road space traditionally used by cars to buses only.

The recommendation is part of a set of proposals drawn up by the NYS2100 Commission, one of three large commissions set up by Governor Cuomo to address rebuilding New York in the wake of storm Sandy, which caused over $30 billion in damage.   The two other commissions, on emergency response and preparedness, delivered their findings directly to the governor last week.  No word on when the final 2100 report will be presented to the Governor, or whether or how he'll adopt its recommendations.

BRT advocates, like the Institute for Transportation Development Policy, argue that BRT can be built far more quickly and cheaply than subways. The Second Avenue subway has been under development for half a century, by contrast.

"Financial support from the State would be welcome in helping to bring New York City’s ongoing bus system improvement efforts closer to world class ‘gold standard’ BRT," said ITDP CEO Walter Hook in a statement.  "A world-class BRT system would not only have fully dedicated lanes that keep the buses separate from traffic, and off-board fare collection, but also beautiful iconic stations with platforms that allow people to step directly onto the bus."

The NYS2100 commission is co-chaired by Rockefeller Foundation Chairwoman Judith Rodin and financier Felix Rohatyn. (Rockefeller also funds Transportation Nation.)

The Governor's office didn't comment on the draft report, and an MTA spokesman, Adam Lisberg, said the report's recommendations had not been shared with the MTA.

During storm Sandy, the MTA's temporary "bus bridge," which replaced subway service during the period when all the East River tunnels were flooded, came as close to New York has seen of having a true BRT.   Though there were long lines to board the buses, the buses, aided by police officers stationed at every corner, zipped through city streets.  The ride from the East Village to Barclay's Center in Brooklyn took about 12 minutes.

The city has also installed several "select bus service" lines, which adopt some features of BRT, including off-board payment.

"BRT corridors that serve as connectors to the subway system would provide riders with muliple options for connections and access to the core," the report said.

The draft report suggests creating a bus line that would run the length of southern Brooklyn, connecting the D, F, B and Q lines,  and a east-west corridor connecting  neigborhoods like Bedford Stuyvesant to lines that run through Brownstone Brooklyn, Midwood, and Coney Island.

The draft report notes that transit ridership has increased 60 percent since 1990, but bus line speeds overall have decreased by 11 percent.

 

 

Read More

Comments [4]

Transportation Nation

INTERVIEW: Author Jeff Speck Explains What Makes a City Walkable

Friday, January 04, 2013

 

Manhattan pedestrians, stepping peppily (photo by Kate Hinds)

Manhattan pedestrians, stepping peppily (photo by Kate Hinds)

LISTEN to this interview that aired on Marketplace or read a summary below. 

(Sarah Gardner -- Marketplace) What makes a city walkable? According to Jeff Speck, the author of "Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step At A Time," a walk has to be useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting if you're going to get people out of their cars and onto the sidewalks.

"The pedestrian has to have a fighting chance against being hit by automobiles," says Speck, "but also the streets need to be comfortable in the way they're shaped by buildings, and you can't have a bunch of blank walls and parking lots to walk by."

Speck says that 77 percent of Millennials want to live urban cores. Of course, New York, Chicago and San Francisco have done a good job keeping their cities pedestrian-friendly, but Speck says no city has put the thought into walkability that Portland, Ore., has.

"The VMT [vehicle miles traveled] of your typical Portlander peaked in 1996," says Speck who lauds Portland for a long-term strategy to minimize the importance of the car, "and as a result, one economist has calculated that about 3.5 percent of GDP is money saved by driving less."

Many cities are doing good things to make their cities more walkable, but Speck says most average American cities still have a long way to go to become truly walkable. Why? The car is still the driving force in city planning.

"A city is being planned not by its mayor," says Speck, "but by a public works director who is responding to complaints about traffic and parking."


The majority of Americans still drive alone in a car to and from work. But in cities and states across the nation, the commuter population is turning to carpools, public transportation, walking, and bikes. Explore this interactive map on how America gets to work.

Read More

Comments [1]

Transportation Nation

YEAR IN REVIEW Connecticut

Thursday, January 03, 2013

A Metro-North commuter train arriving at Westport station (photo by Matt Hintsa via flickr)

(Neena Satija - CT Mirror) As we celebrate the beginning of a new year, it’s time for that obligatory look back on the last one. Some big stories for Connecticut commuters in 2012:

A major storm prompts rail closures for the second year in a row. In 2011, Metro-North suspended service during Tropical Storm Irene and suffered severe damage to its Port Jervis Line; this time around, it was the New Haven Line’s New Canaan branch that was badly hit. But most praised the quick recovery of the tri-state area transportation system, much of which was back online within two to three days after the storm. The full consequences of the damage incurred by the storm are probably yet to be felt, however, with damage to the New York’s MTA system in the billions — and, as of Jan. 2, a federal aid package for the region affected by Sandy has yet to be voted on.

An old rail line gets … well, older. As Metro-North officials keep telling us, the New Haven Line is one of the oldest in the country. Commuters had several painful reminders of that this year, as everything from derailing trains to power problems (or perhaps squirrels???) to signal issues to 100+ year-old bridges that wouldn’t close stranded them for hours. And yet, some data suggest it was still actually a better year for the rail agency than 2011, when severe winter weather and extreme heat caused even more issues.

Fare hikes, followed by … more fare hikes! Metro-North prices jumped 5.25 percent in January of 2012. By the time the legislative session in Connecticut rolled around several months later, a few lawmakers tried to make sure more hikes wouldn’t be in the cards — but they weren’t successful. Ticket prices jumped up again this year, by 4 percent.

Tolls?! Often considered the third rail of Connecticut politics for the past three decades, tolls quietly entered the conversation last year as a way to pay for badly-needed transportation projects and infrastructure upgrades. The calls got louder by the end of the year, and the state will begin studying the prospect of tolls on I-84 and I-95 in earnest in the coming months.

CTFastrak. Following plenty of spirited debate, the Connecticut General Assembly approved a $567 million to built a 9.4-mile road from Hartford to New Britain that will be exclusively for buses. Known affectionately — and derisively — as the Hartford-to-New-Britain busway, the huge project (mostly funded by federal money) saw skepticism even from those who eventually became its greatest proponents. Now, construction is well underway, to the chagrin of many — including some downtown Hartford residents.

A conversation starts about the future of rail travel in the Northeast Corridor. OK, so it’s really just the environmental review process that’s starting, and maybe some people are kicking around some early ideas for what rail travel could really look like between Washington, D.C. and Boston in the next few decades. Also, we don’t really have money to do any of this stuff, on a federal or state level. But still, it’s good to dream!

A fight over parking in Stamford. Given that the waiting list for a monthly parking pass at Stamford’s train station — the busiest in Connecticut — is about two years long, there really is a fight going on about this. First, Connecticut’s Department of Transportation asked people for their input on plans to improve the parking situation at the station — but wouldn’t tell people anything about those plans. After much public fuming, the state created an advisory panel consisting of five citizens who were given a tiny bit more information about those plans than the rest of us. Most of us still have no idea who has submitted proposals to replace a parking garage at the station, and what exactly their proposals are — for which they will get $35 million in state aid. The DOT is expected to make a final decision soon.

Here’s to bigger — and hopefully, better — stories for commuters in the coming year.

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

YEAR IN REVIEW Washington, D.C: Silver Lines, Express Lanes, Gentrification, and Scandal

Monday, December 31, 2012

(photo by Wally G)

The Washington D.C. metropolitan region saw major developments in transportation that included progress toward completing the largest public rail project in the country, the opening of a new highway on the Beltway, and an update on D.C.’s coming streetcar system. 2012 also raised questions critical to the region’s economic future.  In a region plagued by some of the worst highway traffic congestion in the nation and a public rail system crowded to capacity, how can transportation planners and real estate developers maximize the region’s economic potential in a climate of finite funding for major projects.

1) The Silver Line

When the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors gave final approval to the county’s involvement in the $5.5 billion project that will connect D.C. to Dulles International Airport, lawmakers removed the last major obstacle to completing the Metro rail line by 2018.  Outstanding issues remain, however.  The most controversial issue is the Silver Line’s financing plan, overseen by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.  Without further federal or Virginia state funding, motorists on the Dulles Toll Road will cover half the Silver Line’s costs.

2) I-495 Express Lanes

A new highway is big news in this region. After six years of construction, high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes opened on Nov. 17 on the 495 Beltway between the Dulles Toll Road and the I-95 interchange in Fairfax County.  Drivers using the HOT lanes may get a faster ride, but the project raised questions about the wisdom of highway expansion as a method of solving congestion as well as the pitfalls of funding megaprojects: without the public-private partnership between Virginia and the international road building company Transurban, the road would not be built.  Virginia gets a $2 billion road, and Transurban gets the toll revenues for 75 years.

3) Transit and Gentrification

Washington, D.C. is one of the fastest gentrifying cities in the United States.  While rising property values, economic development, and a growing number of residents living a car-free existence are transforming the District for the better, gentrification has its costs.

4) The Uber Battle for the Ages

After months of contention, the D.C. Council finally approved legislation legalizing the popular sedan car service Uber.  This battle was strange -- and it got personal. Legislators and regulators seemed to tie themselves in knots figuring out to handle the unregulated Uber while the district’s own taxicab industry struggled to modernize.  In the end Uber won.  And so did smartphone-using, taxicab-hailing residents of D.C.

5) MWAA’s woes

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates two major airports, rarely caught the public’s attention.  But after the authority took control of the Silver Line, however, the public’s attention intensified – and not for good reasons.  Audits by the U.S. Department of Transportation and news reports unearthed a litany of shady contracting, hiring, and travel policies and practices.  Critics have relentlessly pressed for changes to the plan to raise tolls significantly to pay for the Silver Line. MWAA is making changes but has not yet recovered the public’s trust.

Read More

Comments [1]

Transportation Nation

Bank Robber Tries To Use Metro As Getaway Vehicle

Monday, December 31, 2012

Dupont Circle Metro Station (photo by posixeleni via flickr)

(Patrick Madden, WAMU) D.C. Police have identified an alleged bank robber who tried to use the Metro as his getaway vehicle.

The Metropolitan Police Department says officers arrested 57-year-old Scott Lee Feuer of southeast Washington D.C. in connection with the robbery Friday.

Police say the robbery happened at a Wells Fargo bank on K Street at about 10 a.m. Friday. Police asked Metro Transit Police to hold trains at the Dupont Circle stop after the suspect fled in that direction and authorities were able to arrest Feuer on a train bound for Silver Spring.

Police say detectives are investigating whether the suspect may have been involved in other crimes.

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

Year in Review New York: Sandy, Buses, Tappan Zee -- and Abandoned Bikes

Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 tested New York's transportation infrastructure like no other year in recent memory.

Sandy

Sandy's storm surge flooded hundred-year-old tunnels, drowned power stations, and inflicted a commuting nightmare on millions of Northeast residents for weeks. It also caused a mini-boom in bike ridership -- and elevated climate change to a hot topic in transportation planning.

New York and New Jersey were both hit hard, but each state planned --and responded --  differently. NJ Transit took heavy damage with major routes offline for weeks after parking trains in a flood plain, because, as one executive said, "we thought we had 20 years to respond to climate change." That decision cost the agency $100 million. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was also hit by unprecedented flooding. While in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo is saying the next generation of infrastructure must take climate change into consideration, we learned that across the river, Governor Chris Christie had deep-sixed his state's climate change research department.

The NYC subway was known to be vulnerable to a powerful storm surge, and flooded as predicted. In the storm's aftermath, the agency furiously tweeted updates and churned out service maps with lightning speed - .gif -- impressing even traditionally harsh critics. But while much of the damage was dealt with quickly, other assets -- like the South Ferry subway station, and the A train out to the Rockaways -- remain unrestored. Also unclear: how the agency will cover the $5 billion in damages. So far, the plan is to take on debt rather than pile on to an already scheduled fare hike.

Our complete Sandy coverage is here.

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

A New Tappan Zee Bridge Moves from Idea to Design Plan

The aging Tappan Zee Bridge is being replaced at the cost of several billion dollars -- making it the largest contract ever awarded in New York State. After a lengthy debate about adding transit, which some argued should at least include a plan for bus rapid transit, Cuomo said speed and cost outweighed the merits of adding a rail line.  Transit advocates howled, and some key county officials held up a vote -- but the governor's vision ultimately prevailed: the bridge will be 'transit-ready' -- meaning plans for a rail link or a fully iterated BRT line have been tabled for a future date.

Meanwhile, the issue of how to pay for the bridge has yet to be resolved. The bridge wasn't included in the first round of federal TIFIA loans; the state has since re-applied. The governor said the brunt of the cost would come from tolls -- but the backlash to the idea of a $14 crossing was swift.  A builder was chosen this month (see pics) and work will begin after the state comptroller okays the contract. The new bridge is scheduled to open in 2018.

And no, the old bridge won't be preserved as a greenway. The NY State Thruway Authority -- the agency in charge of the project -- will demolish it.

The winning Tappan Zee design

Street Safety Investigations

We'll have more on this in the new year, but our work on monitoring safe streets in NYC continued with two investigative reports. In our report "Walking While Poor" we found that, in New Jersey, it is more dangerous to be a pedestrian in low income neighborhoods.

And in New York City, our report Killed While Cycling, uncovered why so few fatal bike crashes lead to arrest. The laws just aren't written to punish vehicle crashes with a criminal response and the NYPD has just 19 detectives assigned to investigate criminality when a car or truck hits someone or something. The department argues more lives can be saved by preventative methods, like speed traps. The result, families of those killed on NYC streets rarely feel justice is done.

After deadly crashes, Chinatown buses wane -- and Bolt and Megabus move in.

New York was the original nexus of a curbside bus network that became known as Chinatown buses because they picked up passengers from unofficial bus stops in Chinatowns up and down the Northeast corridor. But the busy corner under the Manhattan Bridge that was once the nexus of this travel network is now mostly empty.

After a deadly year of crashes in 2011, many said the industry was unsafe. While confused travelers tried to figure out just who regulates Chinatown buses, the government took notice. In June, the U.S. DOT shut down 26 bus companies that operate along the most popular routes: the I-95 corridor from New York to Florida. The DOT called it the “largest single safety crackdown in the agency’s history." 

And while some Chinatown buses are still discreetly operating, they're losing market share: mainstream bus companies like Greyhound are expanding their curbside businesses, actively meeting with community boards to add stops in Chinatown itself.

The driver of the bus crash that killed 15 in 2011, Ophadell Williams, was acquitted of manslaughter charges in December.

Abandoned Bikes

This is one story that became way bigger than we expected. It started out simply enough: Transportation Nation asked readers to help map all of the abandoned bikes in New York City. (For those unfamiliar with NYC: abandoned bikes are strewn about our sidewalks like cigarette butts after a party, the detritus of modern mobility.) We wanted to know how many of these bike carcasses there were, and why they stayed so long encumbering walkways, taking up prime bike parking without being removed by authorities.

The response was overwhelming, both for our humble project and for the city. We found more than 500 busted bikes, cataloged in photos sent in from WNYC listeners. We mapped them through an online civic action platform (SeeClickFix )that anyone could update.

When we began to get inquiries from artists and abandoned bike fans (yes, they exist), we picked out our favorite bike photos from the stack and shared them with each other. WNYC listeners called in to confess and explained why they left cycles to rust away. The project spread to Washington, D.C. A nonprofit offered to recycle them. Several photographers sent in links to their own portfolios of abandoned bike art. And so we collected authentic abandoned bikes and turned them into an art exhibit. Meanwhile, the city also promised to collect more of them as they streamlined the process for reporting and removal.

See the full project here.

Ragged rusty bikes hide within the sleek and modern Jerome L. Greene Performance Space

Lost Subways of New York

We kicked off 2012 with a look at the subway system that never was: dozens of tunnels and platforms that were either abandoned or were built but never used. They form a kind of ghost system that reveals how the city’s transit ambitions have been both realized and thwarted.

Read More

Comments [1]

Transportation Nation

Uncovered: The Secret Routes of Silicon Valley Company Shuttles

Thursday, December 27, 2012

@jimgreer posted this photo of a Google bus on Twitter: "@google bus stuck at 23rd and Chattanooga."

(Queena Kim - Marketplace) By now you’ve heard about the perks that come with working in Silicon Valley. Free lunch, 20 percent time -- that’s the work time you can use to pursue independent projects.

Well, another perk? A private bus that picks you up in your neighborhood in San Francisco and shuttles you down to your corporate campus about an hour south in the suburbs of Silicon Valley.

During rush hour in San Francisco, you see them everywhere, said Eric Rodenbeck, the creative director of Stamen Design in the Mission District of San Francisco.

“They’re just so big," Rodenbeck says. "These buses are two stories high and they’re barrelling down residential streets, and no one knows where they’re going except the people who are on them.”

Rodenbeck is talking about the private shuttle buses that run up and down the Peninsula. They look like fancy tour buses. Google’s buses are white. Facebook’s are a sleek blue. But beyond that, they’re sort of a mystery to most San Franciscans.

“You know it’s almost like this masonic ritual,” Rodenbeck says.  "If you've got the key, this whole other city layer unlocks itself to you. And that’s the kind of urban puzzle we like to solve."

So, Stamen decided to map the private shuttle buses connecting San Francisco to Silicon Valley.

(image courtesy of Stamen Design)

But getting the data wasn’t easy. The tech companies don’t comment on the buses. They don’t tell you where they stop or how many people ride on them. But in the era of big data, the information was easy enough to find.

“Even though the companies might not have wanted their locations public, we started looking around and we realized on Foursquare -- if you typed in “shuttle” and “google” or “shuttle” and “apple” all these locations came up because their employees were checking in at those bus stops,” Rodenbeck says.

Stamen also hired bike messengers to follow the buses. And then they had people just sit at a cafe on the corner of 18th and Dolores and count the people getting on and off the buses.

I checked out the Google bus stop a little after 7 a.m. one rainy morning and the “G-bus,” as the display on its windshield reads, was already picking up Googlers. For the next few hours, the buses would arrive in 15-20 minute intervals and a steady stream of 20-30 somethings, holding coffee cups and wearing sneakers and backpacks, would get on board.

It might have been the early morning hour or the rain but few people were willing to talk. When I approached a group of 20-somethings and asked them about the bus, they said they couldn’t talk because Google was in "a quiet period." A quiet period is when a company can’t say anything that might affect its stock price, and that was the nicest response I got until I met 35-year-old Tanya Birch, who works on the Google Earth outreach team. I asked her what it’s like on the bus.

“It’s pretty sweet,” Birch said. “They let us choose the type of seats and decor inside. And it’s got dim lighting with the Google colors.”

There’s also free Wi-Fi on the shuttles, and Birch said it's basically another hour of work.

The tech world is driven by young, educated largely urban workers. But companies like Facebook, Google and Apple are located in the suburbs of Silicon Valley, which is about an hour south of the San Francisco.

“I think a lot of young people who work at the tech companies they want the city life they want something that’s fun and entertaining, and you don’t get that in the suburbs,” Birch said.

So,  to compete for that talent pool, big tech companies have to provide transportation. Rodenbeck says he expected to find the shuttles in the city’s hip, young neighborhoods.

“What we were surprised to learn is that the network is much more extensive than that,” says Rodenbeck.

When the map was finished, Stamen counted buses from Apple, eBay, Electronic Arts, Facebook, Google and Yahoo, and they found the buses ran through almost every neighborhood in San Francisco. Stamen estimates that about 14,000 people ride the private shuttle buses every day.

Rodenbeck says he thinks the locations are secret because the companies are “sensitive to this idea that they are funding a change in the infrastructure in San Francisco without it being regulated.”

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is in the midst of studying what’s essentially emerging as a private mass-transportation system, says Jerry Robbins, a transportation planner for the agency.

“The increase in employer buses has sparked some reaction from residents,” Robbins says.

He says that since tech companies contract out the work to private bus companies, which are regulated by the state, the city has little say in what they do.

But Robbins says the agency has fielded complaints that the the private shuttle buses, which often stop at public bus stops, are causing delays and traffic.

Another impact is rising real estate prices, says Amanda Jones, a realtor in San Francisco for nearly a decade. Today, about half her clients work in the tech industry.

“Unquestionably the shuttle stops are transforming real estate values,” Jones says. “When I interview new clients, we get out the real estate map and they want to show me where their corporate shuttles are. I recently sold a house. He does trading for Google and gets in early in the morning. Literally, if it wasn’t five blocks from a shuttle stop, we didn’t look at it.”

Jones says even fixers-uppers and homes with shaky foundations are selling for a premium if they’re located near a private shuttle bus stop.

“They have so little time to have with family and their friends they want to go home and be able to walk to the restaurant and not be stuck in their car for two hours,” says Jones.

Jones says she gets it because until someone comes up with an app that can beam you to work, the private shuttle bus is as close as you get.

Read More

Comments [2]

Transportation Nation

No Free Rides? PATH Says Au Contraire, Hoboken

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

(photo by AgentAkit via flickr)

Hoboken residents -- who endured seven-plus weeks of no PATH train service, post-Sandy -- are getting a month's worth of free rides.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said Wednesday it will provide 30 free days of PATH service to Hoboken residents who have registered 30-day SmartLink cards.

In a press release, the Port Authority said the free service was a way to show appreciation for the hardship that Hoboken residents experienced.

"We truly understand the extreme difficulties that closure of the Hoboken station put on our loyal resident riders,’’ said Stephen Kingsberry, PATH’s acting director and general manager. “We hope these residents understand the extraordinary efforts PATH workers and contractors made to reopen the station and will accept this free month as a sign of our appreciation for your patience.”

The PATH system was hobbled by Hurricane Sandy, and the Hoboken station experienced some of the area's worst flooding. The station was closed from October 29 until December 19, when service to 33rd Street resumed.

These sandbags weren't enough to prevent flooding in the elevator shafts during storm Sandy. (Photo by Alec Perkins via flickr)

While the entire Northeast experienced massive transit disruption during Sandy, the PATH outage has been especially trying for Hoboken: it has one of the highest percentages of transit ridership in the nation. Bus service between Manhattan and Hoboken has been overcrowded and strained since Sandy, and ferry service -- which costs $9 one way -- is four times as costly as the PATH.

The Wall Street Journal reported cab rides between New York City and Hoboken have doubled since the storm, and the AP says the PATH disruption is causing some residents to leave Hoboken altogether.

There is still no PATH service between Hoboken and the World Trade Center.

 

 

Read More

Comments [1]

Transportation Nation

Vignelli, Designer of Famous Subway Map, Defends His Version Over These Others (IMAGES)

Friday, December 21, 2012

More than iconic, the New York City subway map is a coat of arms for a way of life. It's a tool for 5 million riders a day. It hangs in the Museum of Modern Art. And, occasionally, it changes.

The most recognizable edition remains the most controversial. Designer Massimo Vignelli's clean modern lines and bold colors changed the branding of the subway in 1972 and elevated the map to the level of modern art. It also distorts geography. His map lasted just seven years before confused passengers convinced the MTA to replace it. Vignelli still staunchly defends his design, and in doing so, has offered some choice observations about other versions.

We present some of his comments to you, as recorded during a talk Vignelli gave earlier this year at the New York City Transit Museum.

1939 system-wide NYC subway map

1939 Version:

“There’s too much information. The greatest thing about the London map, if you’ve ever seen it, is that they stick to the subway, the underground. Therefore, there’s no reference to above. In New York, they wanted to put everything. It was too much.”

 

1958 system-wide Subway Map

1958 Version:

“This is more a diagram, but again the details are very fragmented information. You see, all these boxes here, they fragmented the legibility of the line. The express [train] they made in a different way. So it’s too much going on...It could be simplified...Fragmentation is a disease of people that do not know how to design diagrams.”

 

1979 map, which replaced the Vignelli map:

“This is the map that came after our map. If you have to have abstract geography, why do you have it in any case? Why [sic] have it at all?

"And look at here [pointing to curved path of train line at lower Manhattan]. Who cares if the subway has to make a [turn] like that? I’m going, we’re all going, from Point A to Point B. How we get there is the conductor’s problem, not mine.”

 

Updated version of 2008 map, circa 2010

2008 Subway Map

“We belong to a culture of balloons. [The designers] grow up with comic books, and this is what happens. There’s balloons all over the place. It’s ridiculous.”


1972 "Vignelli" subway map

His own map from 1972:

“Every line a different color, every stop a dot.”

When the NY MTA hired Vignelli to develop a new plan for subterranean navigation, he was tasked with streamlining the wayfinding process for riders and bringing New York into the future.

Train routes were straightened into neat angles to make a tidy diagram out of the actual snarl of criss-crossing tunnels. Forty years later, graphic designers still laud Vignelli's map as a triumph.

However beautiful, it is geographically abstract, bearing only inadvertent resemblance to the actual street grid above.

For example, the Vignelli map portrays the 50th St stop on the Seventh Ave line, now the 1 train, to be west of the 50th St stop on the Eighth Avenue line, now part of the C and E, confusing New Yorkers with hardened mental pictures of the city in their mind and sending tourists wandering westward into Hells Kitchen hunting for non-existent subway stops. Just seven years after it was released, the MTA replaced Vignelli's “diagram,” as he calls it (because maps only represent geography) with a more traditional map.

But, Vignelli is back in the subway diagram business. With the help of a new design team, he created “The Weekender,” a digital interactive subway map directly inspired by the 1972 hand-drawn diagram.

 

"The Weekender" digital subway map

 2012 “The Weekender”

“It doesn’t make any sense to print a map anymore. In a digital era, a map should be a digital map. All this information could become alive at the moment. So basically, The Weekender... will, should, become the regular map for all the stations. No more printed map. Printed maps are a trap for tourists.”.

“The blinking dots... are terrific. When you think actually, that there’s all this work in subway all the time, you get an idea of the complexity of the job, and what it means to run a transit system. It’s great. It’s a passion.”

 

Read More

Comments [3]

Transportation Nation

As NY MTA Chair, Lhota Exhorted: Be A Man!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Jim O'Grady and Joe Lhota (Photo: Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Several months ago, NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member Charles Moerdler was droning on with objections to a change in a meeting schedule. The issue was minor and the room was warm -- one could be forgiven for mentally wandering ... or dozing off.

Moerdler wrapped up; Joe Lhota pounced.

"Chuck, I wish you would reconsider that position since your flawed thinking and the erroneous things you said are scurrilous."

Chins lifted off chests. What was this? Lhota continued.

"The lying to this board has got to stop!"

This was real. Moerdler looked mortified. But he rallied once Lhota had wrapped up his tongue-lashing. Moerdler replied by accusing Lhota of character assassination--remember, this began as a squabble about a meeting schedule--before concluding somewhat oddly, "I will not challenge you."

Lhota said, "Oh, I wish you would. Be a man!"

This was Lhota the politician, the guy who, as long-time deputy mayor to Rudy Giuliani, had an up-close view of power wielded as a blunt instrument. This was Lhota the alpha male making a calculated display not just to smack down Moerdler but to let others know that if you cross Joe Lhota, you could pay a price.

Lhota, who'll resign on Dec. 31, seems to have real feeling for New York City's transit system--he spoke movingly of damage done to it during Sandy. But he's no Jay Walder, his technocratic predecessor. Where Walder was bland, Lhota has been blunt.

Exhibit B would be Lhota's reaction to a court ruling in August that the payroll mobility tax, which accounts for almost 15 percent of the NY MTA budget, violates the state constitution. In response, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a measured statement that took issue with the decision. Lhota, for his part, convened a full-blown press conference at Grand Central Terminal, where he attacked the judge who made the ruling, and the suburban legislators who brought the lawsuit that prompted it, as "flawed as well as erroneous."

Lhota came with a chart to show that the MTA subsidizes the average subway ride by a little more than a dollar while subsidizing the average Long Island Railroad rider by more than 7 dollars. Take that.

Even the way he launched his political career was aggressive. It has to be the first time a public figure to announce his intention to run for mayor only moments after presiding over a fare and toll hike. Asked by a reporter how that combination of events reflected on him, Lhota joked, "It's a profile in courage."

And what of his 357-day legacy as NY MTA chairman? Transportation advocates give him credit for several successes: restoring service quickly after Sandy, cutting overhead at the MTA by hundreds of millions of dollars, and bringing back $30 million in subway and bus service that had been cut in 2010.

Those same advocacy groups expressed grave concerns over the MTA budget, which depends on regular 7.5 percent fare and toll hikes--the next one is coming in 2015--and a capital plan funded by massive borrowing. In a statement, the groups sounded a warning:

"Earlier this year, the MTA borrowed $7 billion to help pay for the last two years – 2013 and 2014 – of its current construction program. The agency already spends $2 billion a year out of its $13 billion annual operating budget to pay off its existing $32 billion in debt. Debt service is projected to go up to $3 billion in future years."

Storm Sandy only made the situation worse. The federal government and insurance should pay for most of the estimated $4.75 billion in damage to the NY MTA's transportation system. But $950 million of infrastructure damage may need to be covered by the authority. Advocates point out, "that will come to $66 million a year in additional debt payments for decades to come."

The other unknown that Lhota leaves is the fate of the contract he's been negotiating with Transport Workers Union Local 100 since January. Lhota has said the biggest challenge to the NY MTA's budget are the fixed and rising costs of workers' pensions and healthcare. That's why he made it a priority to get off to a good start with union chief John Samuelsen, who, in the past, made no secret of despising Jay Walder. But now Lhota is leaving before a contract has been reached.

And that speaks to the issue of stability. Counting interim executives, the NY MTA has had six leaders in six years. A Twitter wag pointed out that Lhota today followed his post-Sandy analysis--"We still have a long way to go to get back to normal"--by essentially saying "See you!"

He's leaving to "explore" a run for mayor of New York. Perhaps his successor will stay longer than a year.

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

Breaking: MTA Approves Fare Hike -- and Lhota Officially to Resign This Month

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

MTA head Joe Lhota announcing his "bittersweet"'decision to resign as chairman. (Photo by Jim O'Grady)

(UPDATED) Rare is the meeting of NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority at which the secondary story is a vote to raise fares and tolls. But that was the case on Wednesday morning, when NY MTA chairman Joe Lhota presided over the system's fourth price hike in four years before announcing he'd step down on Dec. 31 to "explore" a run for mayor.

First, the money side: starting March 1, New Yorkers will pay  $30 for a weekly Metrocard and $112 for a monthly card. The base fare for buses and subways will rise to $2.50. Riders of commuter rail lines will see an eight to nine percent increase in ticket prices. Tolls on the authority's bridges and tunnels will go up by about the same amount.

The board voted to adopt Lhota's fare and toll hike recommendations. The board also approved Fernando Ferrer, former Bronx Borough President, as the new MTA vice chairman.

According to the MTA, its 2013 budget "assumes small cash balances available at the end of 2013 and 2014 that will be rolled forward to help address deficits in the following years that will nevertheless total more than $330 million by 2016."

Or, as the agency's official twitter account tweeted: "Our Board has adopted a 2013 budget that is fragile and faces risks, but is balanced."

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

New MARTA GM: First We Economize, Then We Ask the State for Money

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

New MARTA GM Keith Parker talks to the State Senate Transportation Committee (photo by Charles Edwards)

(Charles Edwards - Atlanta, WABE) The new head of Atlanta's transit agency plans to makes changes within and outside the rail and bus agency before asking Georgia lawmakers to spend major state dollars on the transit system.

Keith Parker took over MARTA's helm earlier this month. The agency's previous chief, Beverly Scott, is now running the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

Keith Parker went before the State Senate Transportation Committee to continue his introduction to state lawmakers and discuss a $740,000 audit KPMG has been conducting on MARTA at the agency’s request.

Parker told the committee audit recommendations will turn into a game plan aimed at lowering MARTA’s expenses. He also said he’ll work to change public perception about the transit system being unsafe.

Parker also wants MARTA to explore private partnerships that could lead to more revenue.

“And then I think come to you and say we need your help if you want to take the agency from where it is right now to where we want it to be,” he said.

Parker says when he was running transit systems at San Antonio and Charlotte, the same formula led to hundreds of millions in transit funding.

But will the ‘get our house in order’ strategy work in Georgia? Jeff Mullis chairs the State Senate’s Transportation Committee.

“He has high aspirations for us here in Georgia, doesn’t he?” laughed Mullis.

Mullis and other committee members are impressed with Parker. But that mirth was a sign of how difficult the committee and observers expect it will be for MARTA to get major state funding. That has been a 30-year-old battle.

Parker remains optimistic. He left the Committee meeting early to meet with staff members in Governor Nathan Deal’s office.

Follow Charles Edwards on Twitter.

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

Washington Governor Proposes New Fuel Tax For Education

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

(photo by Larry Darling via flickr)

(Derek Wang - Seattle, KUOW) Washington Governor Chris Gregoire is proposing a new wholesale vehicle fuel tax to help cover the costs of getting kids to school.

Currently, school districts help pay for students' transportation needs, but a recent court ruling says state government is not doing enough to support education. That includes education-related transportation.

Gregoire’s solution? A new tax on refineries to basically pay for school bus costs. Her plan was included in her 2013-2015 budget proposal, which is required under state law. Gregoire said her fuel-tax proposal is directed at oil producers, not consumers.

"Let’s be clear," she says, "the five top oil companies in America, in the first six months of this year, had over $60 billion in profits. So I expect them to do this without passing this on to consumers."

[Also at KUOW: Not Easy To Find Room For Ocean Energy]

Gregoire’s proposal would cost fuel wholesalers about 5 cents a gallon in the first year, 8 cents a gallon by 2015 and 12 cents a gallon in 2017.

State Senator Andy Hill is the likely chairman of the Senate budget committee. He opposes the plan and predicts that the new fuel tax would get passed down to consumers. “That really hurts the middle class as they fill up their tanks," explains Hill. "I think when you ask the average voter, when you ask about transportation, they think about roads, bridges, tunnels, ferries. They don’t think about school buses.”

Fellow Republicans say the state doesn’t need to raise taxes to pay for education.

[Also at KUOW: Another Dock Washes Ashore In Wash., Possibly From Japanese Tsunami]

Gregoire’s plan would need to be approved by two-thirds of the Legislature and Governor-elect Jay Inslee. A spokesman for Inslee wouldn’t say whether the incoming governor supports Gregoire’s plan. The spokesman said Inslee will lay out his own budget plan during the upcoming legislative session.

Follow Derek Wang on Twitter.

Read More

Comments [1]