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Transportation Nation

100 Died in Texas Work Zone Fatalities in 2010

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Houston police on the scene of a freeway work zone accident. Photo courtesy Texas Department of Transportation

(Houston, TX -- Gail Delaughter, KUHF)  A line of Texas Transportation Department workers in orange safety vests stood before a memorial that lists the names of 24 Houston-area highway workers who've been killed on the job since 1951.  They held photos of friends they work with and family members they go home to every day.

TXDot supervisor Jeff Volk says they all have stories about close calls in work zones. He keeps a crumpled hard hat to remember his brush with a big rig.  "I was out on State Highway 146 in a coned-off lane of the freeway, when an 18-wheeler doing 65 miles-per-hour sucked the helmet right off my head, and it banged down the concrete pavement in the draft of that big truck and five or six people ran over it."

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia was one of the speakers at a Houston event marking National Work Zone Awareness Week, an annual campaign sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration. Garcia doesn't mince words when he talks about the dangers TXDot employees face every day.

"Construction workers are having to dodge flying debris, tires that come off, tread that comes off other vehicles, rocks that are being clipped by tires, loads that are being lost. They are having to dodge all of these dangers and they don't need an idiot of a driver not paying attention."  He says all that stands between a worker and a fast-moving vehicle is "a flimsy cone, a simple barricade, a sign. That's all that's protecting them."

TXDot says at any given time there are more than 1000 work zones on the state's 80,000 miles of highways. 100 people were killed in work zone accidents in Texas in 2010. That includes both workers and people in vehicles. The Houston area had over 2800 work zone crashes that left 21 people dead.

Houston Police Chief Charles McClellan says drivers need to realize there's little room for error when crews are working in the next lane.  "People don't realize how just trying to change the station on your radio, or making a call on your cell phone, or exceeding the speed limit can change someone's life instantly by having a fatal crash."

So what's behind these wrecks?  TXDot says they're caused primarily by drivers who are drunk, speeding, following too closely, or simply not paying attention. Of the the 100 Texas fatalities in 2010, officials say more than 60% had to do with alcohol, drugs, distracted driving, or a combination of the three.  Statistics show 45% of fatal work zone accidents are caused by drivers under 35.  Most of the people who die in work zone accidents are drivers or their passengers.

Former TXDot District Engineer Delvin Dennis remembers the phone call he got back in 2008 telling him a worker had been killed by a drunk driver on a freeway near downtown Houston. "Life is busy, time is precious, but please understand when you're in a hurry and drive dangerously through a work zone, you're not just putting the lives of highway workers at risk, you're risking your own life and the lives of other motorists."

Texas law is tough on drivers who are ticketed in work zones, even if there's not an accident. The law allows for the usual traffic fines to be doubled.

You can listen to the KUHF story here.

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Transportation Nation

NY Governor Cuomo: There's No Political Support for Congestion Pricing

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

(photo by Brigid Bergin/WNYC)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo hasn't changed his mind about congestion pricing.  Cuomo said there's isn't "political support" to pass it.

Also Tuesday Cuomo was asked the last time he'd ridden the subway. Cuomo said it was before he became Governor. By contrast, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg rides the subway most days. Cuomo grew up in a suburban neighborhood in Queens and now lives in Westchester.

At an event Tuesday in lower Manhattan to highlight the state's efforts to curb distracted driving, WNYC asked the governor if he supported an iteration of a congestion pricing plan.

Former New York City traffic commissioner Sam Schwartz is touting a plan that would toll the East River Bridges while lowering tolls on other, non-Manhattan bound spans in an effort to both reduce congestion and give the city's transit system a funding boost. It's gotten support from some corners -- but New York's politicians are wary.

Here's the exchange:

Q: Have you seen Sam Schwartz’s revised congestion pricing plan? Do you support it?

A: I have not seen it. We’ve talked about congestion pricing for many years. We’ve tried to pass it in the past. It hasn’t passed. I don’t know that anything has happened to change that dynamic. I just don’t know if you have the political support to pass it.

That position is virtually unchanged from his position as a candidate for governor, detailed here.

On the subway, the Governor said:

"Our subway service our bus service is a tremendous asset for the city and the state. It works extraordinary well. It’s a great investment. It’s one we want to continue and grow. We can always make it safer. We can always make it faster. We can always make it cleaner. But it’s a great service."

 

(with reporting from WNYC's Brigid Bergin)

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Transportation Nation

Florida Ponders School Bus Ads

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Blank Canvas for Advertisers?

Florida's yellow school buses could be due for a facelift- if legislators sign off on a bill allowing advertisements to be placed on their sides.

The Florida House of Representatives passed the bill last month -- it now goes to the Senate for consideration.

According to the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood, nine other states already allow advertising on the buses, while Florida is one of six considering it.

Supporters say it would provide much needed cash for school districts struggling for funding.

But there are plenty of opponents, like retired Crawfordville teacher Donna Sanford, who made several trips to the state capitol to protest.

"If we start advertising on our school buses that's going to open the door and they're going to come right on down into the hallways and jump on the bulletin boards. I'm just against it. I don't think we need to open that can of worms," she says.

Opponents also worry about increasing the risk of driver distraction. The Florida Association for Pupil Transportation, which represents school bus operators in the state, has taken a stand against the ads for that very reason.

Retired Florida Highway patrolman Edward R Hagler agrees. In his thirty years on the job he saw plenty of motorists fly past school buses as they stopped to pick up students or drop them off.

Hagler says some drivers apparently can't see a big yellow bus with flashing lights and bright red stop signs, and adverts on the bus would make the problem worse.

“When you put signs on the side of a school bus, it diminishes the recognition factor of the school bus," he says. "And why would you do that and put children in unnecessary danger by doing that? It just doesn’t make sense.”

And he says the revenue generated by the buses doesn’t make up for the added danger.

Representative Irv Slosberg sponsored the  bill.

The Boca Raton democrat is convinced the ads won’t make the roads any more dangerous. His daughter died in a car crash in 1996.

“I’d be the last guy to think about putting ads on school buses if I didn’t check it out thoroughly," says Slosberg.

"I’ve researched it and I haven’t had any problem. You know some people are trying to sensationalize it by saying these school buses are going to be wrapped in Captain Crunch ads. Well, that’s not the way it is.”

Slosberg says the ads wouldn’t obscure safety features, and some of the ad revenue would go into driver education.

Orange County is one Florida district that's considering whether to put ads on its school buses. It has some 900 buses on the road on any school day.

The district has not rolled out any firm numbers, but if it were to charge 200 dollars a month for each bus, those ads could raise more than 2 million dollars a year.

But Orange County school district's Public Relations Director Dylan Thomas says the Board would first have to decide whether to approve ads on buses, what type of ads to allow and what to charge for them.

Thomas says the ads would be small- about two by six foot and to the rear of the bus.

He acknowledges they could be distracting.

“Certainly if you do add something else to the side of a bus, that does add an element of distraction. It's a question of how great a risk is that, how great a distraction is that," he says.

Thomas says he's confident the board will take those risks into consideration when it discusses bus ads. If the bill makes it through the legislature this week, those discussions could take place as soon as the summer.

Click here to listen to an audio report by WMFE's Matthew Peddie.

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Transportation Nation

Study: Teen Driving Deaths Up After 8 Years of Decline

Thursday, February 16, 2012

(photo by Jesuspower via flickr)

More than 200 16- and 17-year old drivers died in the first half of 2011, the first increase after more than eight years of decline.

From the report by the Governors Highway Safety Association:

"The numbers of 16- and 17-year-old driver deaths in passenger vehicles in the United States were slightly higher for the first six months of 2011 than in the first six months of 2010, based on preliminary data supplied by all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Deaths of 16-year-olds increased from 80 to 93 (16 percent). Deaths of 17-year-olds increased from 110 to 118 (7 percent). Overall, 16-and-17-year-old drivers deaths increased from 190 to 211 (11 percent ). Twenty-three states had increases in deaths of 16- and 17-year-olds, 19 had decreases, and there was no change in 8 states plus the District of Columbia. Most of the changes were small.

If this trend continued in the second half of 2011, it will mark a reversal of longstanding yearly declines in teen driver deaths, especially among 16-year-olds....Deaths reached historic lows in 2010: 158 deaths of 16-year-old drivers compared with 508 in pre-GDL 1995; and 250 17-year-old driver deaths compared with 507 in 1995. These are much larger decreases than occurred in other age groups."

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Transportation Nation

Feds Pitch First-Ever Distracted Driving Guidelines For Automakers

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ford dashboard (image from http://www.ford.com/technology/)

Automakers should disable potentially distracting technology unless the car is turned off -- or in "park."

That's the message from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which unveiled the first-ever federally proposed guidelines to encourage manufacturers to keep dashboard distractions to a minimum.

The guidelines -- which are voluntary --  would apply to "communications, entertainment, information gathering and navigation devices or functions that are not required to safely operate the vehicle."

The public can comment on the guidelines for the next 60 days. Read the full release below.

________________________________________________

U.S. Department of Transportation Proposes ‘Distraction’ Guidelines for Automakers 

Proposed recommendations would encourage manufacturers to develop
“less distracting” in-vehicle electronic devices 
 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced the first-ever federally proposed guidelines to encourage automobile manufacturers to limit the distraction risk for in-vehicle electronic devices.  The proposed voluntary guidelines would apply to communications, entertainment, information gathering and navigation devices or functions that are not required to safely operate the vehicle.

Issued by the Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the guidelines would establish specific recommended criteria for electronic devices installed in vehicles at the time they are manufactured that require visual or manual operation by drivers. The announcement of the guidelines comes just days after President Obama’s FY 2013 budget request, which includes $330 million over six years for distracted driving programs that increase awareness of the issue and encourage stakeholders to take action.

“Distracted driving is a dangerous and deadly habit on America’s roadways – that’s why I’ve made it a priority to encourage people to stay focused behind the wheel,” said Secretary LaHood. “These guidelines are a major step forward in identifying real solutions to tackle the issue of distracted driving for drivers of all ages.”

Geared toward light vehicles (cars, SUVs, pickup trucks, minivans, and other vehicles rated at not more than 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight), the guidelines proposed today are the first in a series of guidance documents NHTSA plans to issue to address sources of distraction that require use of the hands and/or diversion of the eyes from the primary task of driving.

In particular, the Phase I proposed guidelines released today recommend criteria that manufacturers can use to ensure the systems or devices they provide in their vehicles are less likely to distract the driver with tasks not directly relevant to safely operating the vehicle, or cause undue distraction by engaging the driver’s eyes or hands for more than a very limited duration while driving. Electronic warning system functions such as forward-collision or lane departure alerts would not be subject to the proposed guidelines, since they are intended to warn a driver of a potential crash and are not considered distracting devices.

“We recognize that vehicle manufacturers want to build vehicles that include the tools and conveniences expected by today’s American drivers,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “The guidelines we’re proposing would offer real-world guidance to automakers to help them develop electronic devices that provide features consumers want—without disrupting a driver’s attention or sacrificing safety.”

The proposed Phase I distraction guidelines include recommendations to:

  • ·         Reduce complexity and task length required by the device;
  • ·         Limit device operation to one hand only (leaving the other hand to remain on the steering wheel to control the vehicle);
  • ·         Limit individual off-road glances required for device operation to no more than two seconds in duration;
  • ·         Limit unnecessary visual information in the driver’s field of view;
  • ·         Limit the amount of manual inputs required for device operation.

The proposed guidelines would also recommend the disabling of the following operations by in-vehicle electronic devices while driving, unless the devices are intended for use by passengers and cannot reasonably be accessed or seen by the driver, or unless the vehicle is stopped and the transmission shift lever is in park.

  • ·         Visual-manual text messaging;
  • ·         Visual-manual internet browsing;
  • ·         Visual-manual social media browsing;
  • ·         Visual-manual navigation system destination entry by address;
  • ·         Visual-manual 10-digit phone dialing;
  • ·         Displaying to the driver more than 30 characters of text unrelated to the driving task.

NHTSA is also considering future, Phase II proposed guidelines that might address devices or systems that are not built into the vehicle but are brought into the vehicle and used while driving, including aftermarket and portable personal electronic devices such as navigation systems, smart phones, electronic tablets and pads, and other mobile communications devices. A third set of proposed guidelines (Phase III) may address voice-activated controls to further minimize distraction in factory-installed, aftermarket, and portable devices.

The Phase I guidelines were published in today’s Federal Register and members of the public will have the opportunity to comment on the proposal for 60 days. Final guidelines will be issued after the agency reviews and analyzes and responds to public input.

NHTSA will also hold public hearings on the proposed guidelines to solicit public comment.  The hearings will take place in March and will be held in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington D.C

To view today’s proposed electronic equipment guidelines, click here.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: White House Threatens Transpo Bill Veto, NY Seeks Tappan Zee Loan

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Top stories on TN:
NY City Council Summons Police on Traffic Crime Investigations (Link)
Transpo Bills Set Off on A Long, Bumpy Road (Link)
NY MTA Chief Apologizes for Rat Comments (Link)
DOT Head Ray LaHood Takes Another Whack At House Transpo Bill: It “Takes Us Back to the Horse and Buggy Era” (Link)
Brooklyn Bike Lane Lawsuit Rolls into 2012 (Link)
New York Senate Votes to Restore a Tax Break for Transit Riders (Link)
USDOT: On Time Airline Arrival Highest in 17 Years (Link)
Regulators Soon To Release Reports On Yellowstone River Pipeline Break And Oil Spill (Link)

An aerial view of the George Washington Bridge (photo courtesy of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey)

New York has asked the federal government for a $2 billion loan to help finance the $5.2 billion Tappan Zee Bridge replacement. (Bloomberg)

The White House is threatening to veto the House transportation bill. (Politico, The Hill)

And now transportation sits firmly atop the political agenda. (AP via Bloomberg BusinessWeek)

The Port Authority will spend half a billion dollars to renovate the George Washington Bridge. (nj.com)

Nine New York city cyclist deaths that raise questions. (MetroFocus)

A New York law cracking down on distracted driving has generated nearly 119,000 tickets statewide to motorists using their cell phones or texting while driving since July. (New York Daily News)

The green paint used in Los Angeles' bike lanes is not digitally erasable -- causing some film crews to have to relocate to bike lane-free streets. (Los Angeles Times)

Chicago's transit agency wants customers to know that its survey about "hypothetical fare scenarios" doesn't mean that it's hiking fares. (Chicago Tribune)

A group of bus companies is suing New York after the city's Department of Transportation gave Megabus a free spot outside the Port Authority Bus Terminal. (DNA Info)

Australia pours money into its car industry while slapping huge tariffs on used cars...but some are arguing for the New Zealand model, where second-hand cars are much cheaper.  (The Global Mail)

DC's Capital Bikeshare has hit 1.5 million trips -- in less than a year and a half of operation. (TBD)

New York is phasing in new benches in its subway system. Goodbye, wood; hello stainless! (New York Daily News)

 

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On The Media

Changing People's Minds

Friday, December 16, 2011

It’s hard to change behavior behind the wheel.  But there’s a precedent: drunk driving. Candace Lightner founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving in 1980, after two separate incidents where her twin daughters were hit by drunk drivers. She tells Bob about the lessons anti-distracted-driving advocates can learn from the drunk driving movement.

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On The Media

The Addictive Properties of Cell Phones

Friday, December 16, 2011

While safe-driving advocates have convinced Americans to wear seat belts and drive sober, there is a school of thought that holds that distracted-driving presents a unique challenge. New York Times reporter Matt Richtel tells Bob that our relationship to our devices is unique because of the psychological hold they can have over us.

Quantic And His Combo Barbaro - Cancao Do Deserto

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Transportation Nation

NTSB Head: Distractions Behind the Wheel Have Always Existed -- But Cell Phones Make It Worse

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

NTSB Chair Deborah Hersman

Deborah Hersman, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board, went on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show Wednesday morning to talk about the Board's recent recommendation for a national ban on cell phones.

She also fielded calls from listeners -- like Lisa in Forest Hills, who called to ask about generational differences in cell phone capabilities.  "I'm 45," she said, "and if I try to have a conversation while I'm driving, unless it's with someone physically in the car it's very distracting." So: if you grew up talking on cell phones, is it different?

Hersman said the generational differences have to do with the actual activity, not level of distraction.  She said while older drivers talk more -- younger drivers are different.  "What they're doing much more than talking is texting, or posting to Facebook, or tweeting," she said.

And are hands-free devices safer than holding the phone next to your ear? "What we're concerned about," said Hersman, "goes back to...the cognitive distraction. How the brain is engaged, and not just the hands or the eyes. It's that you're focusing your attention away from the task at hand...accidents develop and happen in the blink of an eye."

To which Brian interjected: "It's Siri versus the NTSB at this point."

Karen in South Harlem called in to say she's often "a completely cognitively alert passenger" on highways between the city and the Adirondacks. Frustrated by the amount of texting while driving she says she witnesses, she wanted to know if she could participate in "a citizen's arrest situation" using her cell phone -- either to call law enforcement or to photograph offenders.

Hersman wasn't willing to deputize passengers, but she agreed that there needed to be a mechanism in place to report on activities like this -- "just like if you suspect someone's drunk driving, making sure those types of things are reportable to law enforcement and they know how to handle those are important."

But the question of what constituted a distraction behind the wheel got the attention of both callers and Brian. Is listening to talk radio distracting? Music? Or eating? Why are those things any less dangerous than talking on the phone?

"Distractions have been around since the Model T," Hersman said, "whether it's people eating, or looking at things on the side of the road or reading billboards...I think there are a lot of distractions but what we're seeing with personal and portable electronic devices is that they're becoming more prevalent, being more used, and people are being more distracted behind the wheel."

You can listen to the segment below, or swing on over to the Brian Lehrer Show page, where you can also take part in the discussion via the comments section.

 

 

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Transportation Nation

NTSB Calls for National Ban On Cell Phones While Driving

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

(photo by mscholar14 via flickr)

Federal investigators today called for a nationwide ban on using cell phones while driving.

"More than 3,000 people lost their lives last year in distraction-related accidents," said National Transportation Safety Board chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. "It is time for all of us to stand up for safety by turning off electronic devices when driving."

The Board is normally charged with investigating accidents, not setting policy.

The board's recommendation came on the heels of an investigation into a multi-car pileup that happened in Missouri last August, when a pickup truck ran into the back of a truck-tractor that had slowed due to an active construction zone. The pickup truck, in turn, was struck from behind by a school bus. That school bus was then hit by a second school bus that had been following. Two people died and 38 others were injured.

According to the NTSB's press release, the investigation revealed that the pickup driver sent and received 11 text messages in the 11 minutes preceding the accident. The last text was received moments before the pickup struck the truck-tractor.

Department of Transportation Ray LaHood has made distracted driving one of his key issues. When he unveiled crash statistics for 2010 earlier this month, he announced a new category: the "distraction-affected crash” measure, which collects data about the role distracted driving plays in accidents. He wrote in a blog post that "data confirms that driver distraction continues to be a significant safety problem. For example... more than three-quarters of the drivers told us they answer calls on all, some, or most trips when they're behind the wheel."

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Transportation Nation

BREAKING: FAA Chief Takes Leave After Drunk Driving Arrest

Monday, December 05, 2011

UPDATED FAA Chief Randy Babbitt will take a leave of absence after being arrested for drunk driving Saturday night.

Federal officials just released a statement saying:

"DOT officials learned of FAA Administrator Babbitt’s arrest on Saturday night within the last hour.  Administrator Babbitt has requested, effective immediately, to take a leave of absence from the FAA.  That request has been granted and Deputy Administrator Michael Huerta will serve as acting administrator.  DOT officials are in discussions with legal counsel about Administrator Babbitt’s employment status."

Babbitt was alone in his vehicle Saturday night when he was arrested in Fairfax, Virginia, for driving on the wrong side of the road.  No one was injured.

The DOT statement -- sent out mid-afternoon Monday, suggests that the DOT only learned of Babbitt's arrest at the same time reporters did.

Despite the embarrassing arrest of a top-level transportation official, the White House declined to immediately call for Babbitt's resignation. "What he have at this point is a matter that just came to light in the last hour or so,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters when asked if President Obama would ask for Babbitt's resignation.

It hasn't been an easy year for the FAA -- what with the partial shutdown and the discovery that air traffic controllers were falling asleep on the job.

Babbitt's boss,  Ray LaHood the Secretary of Transportation, has been fiercely committed to safety in all forms, and has mounted a national campaign to combat distracted driving.

The news of Babbitt's arrest and leave comes just as members of Congress are involved in sensitive negotiations over the FAA's fund authorization.


 

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Transportation Nation

A Shrine to Safe Driving

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Our Lady of the Highways shrine on I-95 in Childs, Maryland (photo by Jonathan Wilson/WAMU)

(Washington, DC - Jonathan Wilson, WAMU) Millions of Americans are hitting the highways for the Thanksgiving holiday, and on the East Coast, many motorists hoping to get anywhere hop on I-95.

Overlooking some of the busiest traffic in the region -- if not the nation -- is a landmark, one whose creators hope may give drivers a little peace even if the traffic threatens their sanity.

Instead of looming over drivers from its hillside perch, it simply seems to be watching. But Father Michael Murray says  it's unmistakable.

"It is a visual, even if people don’t know the history or the significance of it, or the background behind it. Anyone who travels this part of the interstate network with any frequency knows exactly where this is," he says.

Murray, the Superior of the Oblates of Saint Francis de Sales,  is referring to the 12-foot statue of the Virgin Mary that faces northbound traffic on I-95 in Childs, Maryland. Black letters mounted on a low brick wall beneath the statue proclaim her "Our Lady of the Highways."

Most people who pass the statue have no idea who the Oblates of Saint Francis de Sales – a Catholic, apostolic order, dedicated to education – are. Father Murray says that’s okay.

"Friends of mine – like in Northern Virginia and D.C. – they say, now where is that again?" Murray says. "And I say if you’re driving on I-95, just before you hit the last exit in Maryland -- and they usually stop me and say, 'Oh, is it the place with the statue?' And I say, 'Said same.'"

But the statue that’s become such a recognizable landmark isn’t the first to sit on this hillside. Brother John Dochkus remembers the original erected in 1971.

"It was five feet tall, made of cement, and it did not hold up very well in the Maryland winters with the rain and the weather," he says.

The motivation behind the shrine's construction occurred three years earlier, in October of 1968.

Back then, the interstate was just a few years old. In the early morning hours of October 2, there was a 17-car collision which killed three people. Oblates on this campus ran down to the highway to help. Brother Dochkus says poor visibility was likely to blame.

"This area, a fog used to settle over it, because a paper mill that was in the area. It used to change the temperature of the creek that runs through here, and it would form a fog," Dochkus recalls.

The memory of that day lives on with the statue. The Oblates replaced the original in 1986 with the 12- foot, Vermont carrara marble figure so many drivers recognize today.

Though that paper mill and the fog it spawned are now gone, Dochkus fears certain aspects of travel on the nation’s roads have gotten worse.

"We’ve lost a great civility towards each other in driving," he says. "If you don’t put your foot on that gas pedal in a nanosecond, someone’s yelling at you, someone’s honking their horn."

Father Murray says he hopes motorists driving past “Our Lady of the Highways” can cast a glance toward her and remember to be calm -- no matter how fast, or slow, the traffic is moving that day.

"You know, your hands are burning through the steering wheel, but maybe just looking at the statue of the Blessed Mother just reminds you, ‘Well, you know, as frustrating as this is, and as important as it was for me to get to where I hoped to go two hours ago – there’s a bigger picture,'" Murray says.

Brother Dochkus says you don’t have to be Catholic to get the message the statue is sending.

"It’s a reminder to be a bit more kind, a bit more humane, Christian – if that’s your belief," he says. "Whatever your belief is, to remind yourself within that belief to be a little kinder, a bit more civil and a bit more courteous on the road."

And let’s face it: on some days it seems like bringing just a little civility to the roads would take a miracle.

To hear the audio of this story, click here.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: NJ Gov Wants to Borrow Billions To Fix Transpo Infrastructure, Transit Decifit Looms in San Francisco

Monday, November 21, 2011

Top stories on TN:

A NYC school bus strike is looming. (Link)

A transpo funding bill -- without high-speed rail -- gets the president's signature. (Link)

How one TN reporter learned to stop worrying and love a California freeway. (Link)

Lincoln Tunnel helix in 1955

Governor Christie wants the state legislature to okay borrowing billions to upgrade the state's transportation infrastructure. (The Record)

And: a year-long, $88-million overhaul of the Lincoln Tunnel's helix will close lanes and divert traffic onto local roads. (The Star-Ledger)

Will the head of San Francisco's transit agency and the city's new mayor collide over how to reduce MUNI's deficit? (Bay Citizen)

Women are at a greater risk of being injured in car accidents than men, according to a new report. (NY1)

DC has more license plate readers than anywhere else in the country -- and how it's using that information is spurring privacy concerns.  (Washington Post)

If it's illegal to use a cell phone while driving, it's illegal to use it while stopped at a red light. (New York Times)

Brooklyn's Prospect Park tries to slow bicyclists after two serious bike-pedestrian collisions. (New York Times)

NPR kicks off a series on CAFE standards with a look at electric cars -- and why people aren't buying them.

Philadelphia joins Chicago on the list of cities moving to open fare payment for transit systems. (Inquirer)

The world's cheapest car -- India's Tata Nano -- gets a makeover after disappointing sales. (BBC)

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Transportation Nation

Mica: No More FAA Shutdowns

Monday, October 17, 2011

The 18th Intelligent Transportation Systems World Congress Kics off this week in Orlando

(Orlando- WMFE) Central Florida Congressman John Mica wants to pass a four-year aviation re-authorization bill by January.  But to come to an agreement,  he doesn't want another FAA shutdown.

"What's different is we've been there and done it,"  the Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee told a crowd gathered at the 18th World Congress on Intelligent Transport Systems being held in Orlando this week.

"No one liked the partial shutdown, it caused a great disruption but it did get me a solution.  We will have in place long term transportation policy definitely for aviation, and I'm going to do my best for surface and highway transportation."

More Money Please

Mica also said he wants to fund transportation and infrastructure projects beyond their current level but didn't provide specifics, "We've got to find a whole new way for funding transportation."  One idea the Congressman adamantly opposed was any consideration of increasing the Federal gas tax, "completely off the table is any raise in the gas tax.  We are looking at funding possibly, the speaker (John Boehner) has said  some other sources, maybe at the wellhead, maybe where we could get a more reliable and steady transportation funding mechanism. Right now the system is broken.  You drive further and you pay less."

Technology Solutions

Some ideas that could save money for drivers and governments are on display at the 18th ITS World Congress.  One of them is the newly commissioned Central Florida National Test Bed for connected vehicles.  The test bed is composed of a 25 mile loop around part of Interstate 4 loaded with short range radio and GPS transmitters.  Those transponders communicate with so called "connected vehicles" which share safety information in real-time.  The idea is supposed to allow drivers to receive safety warnings if there is road hazard or car crash ahead.  Proponents of the technology, including the US Department of Transportation estimate implementing a "connected vehicle system" could reduce traffic congestion and emissions, and lower driving costs.

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Transportation Nation

Audi Uses Underfunded Infrastructure to Sell Cars

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What are you used to seeing in car ads? The beautiful Pacific Coast Highway. Relieved parents driving minivans while their kids are safe, and entertained. The desert.

To this list,  Audi adds dystopia.

To the backdrop of a dilapidated ribbon of highway, a scrunched-up guardrail, and a broken-up bridge, an announcer intones over a Philip Glass-esque soundtrack: "The road is not exactly a place of intelligence.  Highway maintenance is underfunded, costing drivers $65 billion a year, and countless tires, which drivers never actually check, because they're busy, checking email.

This is why we engineered a car that makes 2,000 decisions every second..."

The ad ran during the high-profile broadcast of the Emmy awards.

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Transportation Nation

Trouble Finding A Parking Space In San Francisco? There's An App For That -- And It's Changing Parking Meter Prices

Thursday, September 01, 2011

SFpark manager Jay Primus. (Photo by Casey Miner/KALW)

(San Francisco – KALW) The city of San Francisco is making its first round of changes to parking meter costs based on data gathered from its street sensors around town. The idea is for meter and garage rates to be based on demand – so popular blocks will cost more, less crowded ones will be cheaper, and everyone will spend a little less time circling the block. How's it working?

According to Jay Primus, the manager of the program, "it’s a little bit like the Goldilocks principle. We don’t want it too hot, we don’t want it too cold – we want it just right. In this case, prices not too high or too low, but just right for the demand we see."

You can hear the whole story over at KALW.

 

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Transportation Nation

Houston’s Red Light Cameras Are Off for Good, Legal Battle Continues

Thursday, August 25, 2011

In a thirteen-to-one decision Houston council members voted to do away with red light cameras and break the city's contract with American Traffic Solutions, the private company responsible for operating and maintaining the cameras. The cameras have been switched off before. This time, it appears, they are off permanently.

The cameras have become a hot button political issue and the subject of a lengthy, and potentially costly legal battle for Houston.  The cameras were first shut off last November following a referendum in which 52.3 percent of voters opposed the camera program.  But just days later, ATS won a court ruling that found that public vote invalid and the cameras came back on.

The contract with ATS was set to run until 2014. After the referendum, the city asked a federal court to determine how much should be owed to ATS. The camera vendor is currently seeking $25 million in damages.  Houston Mayor Annise Parker, however, disputes this amount and calls it completely ludicrous.

It’s not exactly clear why Houstonians were against the cameras in the November referendum, but one prominent criticism was the claim the program was merely a revenue generating exercise for the city. The cameras brought in $10 million a year. The referendum result came as something of a surprise because polling before election day showed citizen support for the cameras.

Michael Kubosh wasn't surprised. The local bail bondsman spearheaded the citizen’s campaign against the cameras. He often worked with people who received red light tickets to contest the charges and was on hand Wednesday when the final city council vote was passed. "Thank God they finally did it today. It looked like they were going to waffle, it looked like they were going to kick the can down the road some more. But I guess they just got tired of it."

Just one councilmember, Sue Lovell, voted to keep the program. She argued the city should accept a settlement offer from ATS and thus avoid the possibility of having to pay millions of dollars in damages for breaking their contract. That proposal would have kept the cameras through 2013. "We're not going to walk away with this with zero damages; we're going to have some debt. And no matter what the debt is, it's going to put us in a situation of making tough decisions."  Lovell said her plan would prevent layoffs resulting from the loss of revenue.  Her council members were unconvinced.

The council vote repeals the original law authorizing the cameras. Mayor Annise Parker says it is now illegal for the city to operate them and added that is not the only thing that's against the law. "For those who may be celebrating the fact that the red light cameras are now turned off, it is illegal to run a red light."

The city's legal department sent a letter to ATS instructing them to turn the cameras off. ATS officials say they'll continue to pursue litigation against the city.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: First Fuel Efficiency Standards for Trucks, Lobbyists Spent $50 Million On FAA Bill, and Stock Market Drop Could Impact UAW Talks

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The first-ever fuel efficiency standards for trucks will be announced today (Marketplace).  You can read about the new CAFE standards for cars here.

Stock market declines could make it harder for the UAW -- currently in contract talks with GM, Ford and Chrysler -- to win concessions from automakers. (Detroit Free Press)

More than $50 million has been spent so far this year on lobbying for a long-term funding bill for the Federal Aviation Administration, a new report says (The Hill). FAA shutdown fact: last month's budget impasse was caused in part by a disagreement over $16 million in rural air subsidies.

As thousands of federal employees move to a new Defense Department complex in Alexandria (VA), a task force will manage traffic, notify commuters of coming construction projects and coordinate transit options. (Washington Post)

A new anti-distracted driving app disables texting when it determines a user is in a moving vehicle. (NY Times)

Slate profiles NYC DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan -- and she writes about her vision for New York's future. "If you're in a car, we're deploying the latest traffic-management technology to keep you moving. If you're walking, you can take advantage of a comprehensive information system geared specifically to navigating New York on foot. If you're making a trip that is just too far to walk but not worth a cab or subway ride, you will soon be able to hop on one of our smart public bikes."

The bicycle is a tool of liberation for women in Zimbabwe. "I was no longer a hostage to religion, tradition or men. I was free. On my bicycle I felt like I was in a room of my own." (The Guardian)

Maryland has its first solar tracking electric vehicle charging station. (WAMU)

When it comes to making the subway system wheelchair accessible, NYC has a long way to go. (DNA Info)

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TN MOVING STORIES: Audit Faults NY MTA, Holland's Peaceful Coexistence with Bikes, and Few Rules Govern Technology and Car Makers

Monday, August 01, 2011

photo by Ed Yourdon/flickr

A joint audit released by the New York State and City comptrollers says the MTA confuses riders -- and wastes millions of dollars -- on construction-related subway diversions. (WNYC)

Did NY MTA chief Jay Walder quit because of a lack of interest on Governor Cuomo's part? (New York Times)

And who will replace Walder? Transit insiders suggest candidates. (Crain's NY)

The Detroit Free Press has a two-part series about the lack of rules governing what technology automakers can put in cars. Example: "In a 2011-model car during a recent Tigers game, the display screen gave a number and encouraged drivers to "Text the Ticket" to join in a chat about the game." Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Russell Shorto's writes about Holland's peaceful coexistence with bicycles. (New York Times)

Irish cabinet ministers gave themselves special permission to drive in bus lanes. (Irish Independent)

Gothamist puts a positive spin on aging C train cars: "The MTA has just announced that every day for the next six years on that line will be Nostalgia Train Day."

British doctors say forcing people to wear bike helmets means they might give up cycling altogether and lose the health benefits of regular exercise. (Telegraph)

Chicago may have new bike lanes, but the city still has clueless motorists. (Chicago Tribune)

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After School Lets Out: "One Hundred Deadliest Days for Drivers"

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

(Houston, Texas) In Texas they call it the “One Hundred Deadliest Days for Drivers”.  It’s the summer stretch where students are finished school and taking to the roads. Statistics from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety say 366 of all fatal collisions were caused by teenagers in 2009, the most recent year statistics were available.

Now the Houston-Galveston Area Council is trying to reduce that number through a new documentary “Chronicles of a Teen Killer”.

Jeff Kaufman, Transport Safety Coordinator with the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) says the idea started with local police Assistant Chief Vicky King.  “She had come up with the idea that she wanted to do a documentary about the dangers of driving while intoxicated and gear it towards younger drivers."

Erica Moriarty, a local high school senior, was one of 13 teens recruited to work on the project. Moriarty would regularly see her peers drinking too much at parties -- and think it was okay to drive home.

The documentary  opens with a young girl slurring her words saying how she wanted to “get drunk and get her party on." The same teen later on admits that she plans on driving home. Some of the teen producers went to the local detox facility and the morgue to see the real side of what drinking and driving can do.

One of these stories in the documentary is told by ‘Milly’. Milly was 17 when she got drunk and drove her three friends home -- one of whom, Danny, never made it. While recording for the documentary Moriarty  said Milly’s story was so powerful that the room was silent, “We were a team of 13 teenagers, we were never quiet we were always talking. I just remember that being super impactful because it really showed what the consequences are in just one person.”

Although the accident happened seven years ago, while recounting it Milly breaks down and tearfully relates how much her one mistake cost everyone, including herself. “I had everything in my world. I had amazing parents and family and I had my whole life in front of me and Danny had, Danny had her whole life ahead of her. She was smart and amazing and the center of everyone’s world…everyone loved her So I took her promising future and all the opportunities that she was gonna have away from her.”

Since its release five weeks ago the documentary has received nearly six thousand hits on YouTube.

For the full story, listen to the radio version at KUHF.

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