Distracted Driving

Transportation Nation

Cuomo On Texting While Driving Bill: Sometimes You Need to Enforce Common Sense

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Governor Andrew Cuomo (photo by Kate Hinds)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law a bill that strengthens enforcement against drivers who use handheld devices behind the wheel.

The new law makes using electronic devices while driving a primary traffic offense -- meaning that a driver doesn't need to be stopped for another offense in order to be ticketed.  As the governor put it: "If you are seen by a police officer with a device, a handheld device, any flavor, any electronic device, that is illegal."

The penalty for violating the law will be three points and a $150 fine.

The bill also increases the penalty for using cell phones from two to three points on a driver's license.

Thirty-four states, as well as the District of Columbia and Guam already make texting while driving a primary violation.

Speaking Tuesday at the Jacob Javits Convention Center with a backdrop of police cars, a highway sign, state troopers, and the family of a texting-while-driving victim, Cuomo said he knew the lure that electronics have, particularly for younger drivers.  He called texting while driving a relatively recent phenomenon - "my generation, we had two cans and a string connected, that was communication for us" -- but added that drivers need to understand how critical it is to pay attention while driving.

He added: "It is common sense -- but sometimes you need law enforcement, and you need laws, to remind society of common sense and enforce common sense. And that's what today is all about."


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Transportation Nation

LaHood Wants Police to Issue More Distracted Driving Tickets

Monday, July 11, 2011

U.S. Secretary of Transportation secretary Ray LaHood was in Syracuse, New York, on Monday, touting two pilot programs that have reduced distracted driving through increased police enforcement.

LaHood took the occasion to call for more money for traffic police to replicate the efforts elsewhere.

The pilot programs were meant to determine if increased "high-visibility enforcement" of distracted driving laws would reduce the practice.

At the start of the program last year, Transportation Nation went to Syracuse and rode along with one of the traffic officers. At the time, our reporter observed that not more than six minutes went by without a driver passing while talking or texting on a cell phone.

Under the pilot program, Syracuse stepped up ticketing of distracted driving, even assigning officers to overtime to ticket as many driving texters as they could and using DUI-style check points.  There was a public awareness campaign with snappy slogans like, "a cell phone in one hand, a ticket in the other." Hartford had a similar program.

Both cities issued almost 10,000 tickets during the past year. Hartford saw a 57 percent drop in talking on the phone while driving and a72 percent fall in texting while driving. In Syracuse there was a 33 percent drop overall.

The cities paid for the pilots with a mix of federal and state grants. Each city received $200,000 in federal money and $100,000 in state funds. LaHood took the occasion today to call for more money for this kind of enforcement. He said cash strapped police departments aren't likely to find the money for this kind of project without state and federal help. But the safety benefits are worth it he says.

According to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, more than 5,000 people were killed, and nearly half a million were injured because of distracted driving in 2009. The overall number of crashes and deaths due to cell phone use while driving has been declining since a peak in 2007.


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Transportation Nation

Ray LaHood: People Want to Live in Cities with Transportation Choices

Thursday, June 30, 2011

In Ray LaHood's latest "On the Go" -- the video series in which the US Department of Transportation Secretary answers questions from the public -- he fields questions from Streetsblog readers.  Watch below to see him talk about urban livability, driving responsibly, the expansion of streetcars in New Orleans,  and the DOT's collaboration with HUD and EPA.

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Transportation Nation

[UPDATED] NYC Traffic Data Released: Cell Phones, Seat Belts Top Violation List

Friday, June 24, 2011

(Photo: (cc) Flickr user Global Jet)

[Updated with comments from NYPD]

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) The NYPD issued more tickets for tinted windows violations than speeding so far this year. That's one little tidbit to come out of a new data dump that has road safety advocates excited. New York City traffic data is coming online, allowing anyone to evaluate which streets are the safest, and even which police precincts are the most active in traffic enforcement.

The NYPD has released some--but not all-- of the data required under New York City's Saving Lives Through Better Information Bill (human readable background here). You can now see how many tickets each police precinct has issued for 36 different categories of moving violations. The law requires the NYPD to have three kinds of data available online. Moving violations figures by category and precinct have been posted. Crashes by location and data on injuries and fatalities have yet to be released. NYPD spokesman Paul Browne told Transportation Nation, "As soon as department computer personnel work out the technical requirements for accurately accumulating  motor vehicle accidents, the data will be posted."

The NYPD has issued 530,826 moving violations in the first five months of 2011. According to a WNYC analysis of the first data released, not wearing a seat belt is the top offense (if you include not using a car seat for children), eeking out cell phone use, each with a bit over 81,000 tickets. Combined, those two offenses are about 30 percent of all summonses issued in the five boroughs in 2011. Browne says those violations top the list because they are easier to enforce. "Seat belts and cell phone violations are commonly observed and they do not require special equipment like radar guns, to document or the specialized training that Highway Patrol has in stopping and often pursuing speeders." He added. "Also, illegal  cell phone use, because of its link to accidents and fatalities,  has been the subject of special quarterly enforcement efforts which tend to boost the numbers significantly."

Safer streets advocates like Noah Budnick of Transportation Alternatives is excited to see this law take effect. "This will show where there are the most crashes and the most common factors that contribute to them. Then, that can be compared to summonsing data and help the NYPD target their limited resources on the most dangerous locations and behaviors."

For example, Transportation Alternatives and the NYPD paired up on Wednesday to target a dangerous intersection in Williamsburg with an education campaign. Signs were made to remind cars they must yield to pedestrians and bikes, seen here. "We partnered with the local precinct to advance our shared goal of safety," said Budnick. "Now that the Saving Lives through Better Information Act is in effect, this event a great template for anyone to work with their local precinct to reduce crashes."

This kind of data has been closely guarded by the NYPD in the past. The department has turned over some similar data to Transportation Nation in the past, including bus lane enforcement, but have also frequently declined to provide data on other occasions, including bike ticketing.

Under the new law, the NYPD will issue a monthly report with this data. We'll keep an eye on it, especially after the crash data is posted, and see what we can learn about street safety and moving violations. Stay tuned.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: House Legislation Floats Federal Ban on Cell Phones While Driving, and NJ Transit and Amtrak Suspend Service 3X This Week

Friday, June 24, 2011

(photo by Kate Hinds)


A NY Congresswoman introduced legislation that aims to institute a federal ban on cell phone use while driving. (Detroit Free Press)

This week, power problems forced NJ Transit and Amtrak to suspend service three times on three consecutive days. (Star-Ledger)

The Chicago area's Regional Transit Authority says it may have to start cutting service next month if the state doesn't pay it the $400 million it owes. (Chicago Tribune)

On the Brian Lehrer Show today, a correspondent from NPR's "Planet Money" will explain the impact of President Obama's decision to release 30 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. (WNYC)

Are lower sales the auto industry's 'new normal'?  "So why does it matter if you sell 17 million cars, rather than 12 million? Jobs." (NPR)

New York's MTA says it's on track for a December 2013 opening of the #7 subway extension. (NY1)

Richard Florida writes that commuting to work by bike makes you healthier and happier. (The Atlantic)

Tesla is ceasing production of the Roadster. (Fast Company)

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Ethanol Subsidies Survive Senate Vote -- Metro Transit Can Now Go To Seattle Mariners Games

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Following a court ruling, Seattle's Metro can now begin providing public transit service to sporting events. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

Toronto's mayor is interested in selling naming rights to subway stations, bridges, and highways in order to raise badly-needed revenue. (The Globe and Mail)

Bus-only lanes are coming to LA's Wilshire Boulevard. (Los Angeles Times)

Members of the French parliament are pressuring Air France to place a large order with the French plane-maker Airbus over US company Boeing. (Marketplace)

A new US DOT distracted driving ad features characters from the Disney movie 'Cars 2." Because only bad guys drive distracted.

Ethanol subsidies survived a Senate vote. (NPR)

So many people are using Montreal's bike lanes that the lanes are reaching capacity. (Montreal Gazette)

Las Vegas is using Krispy Kremes to try to lure drivers out of their cars and onto buses. (Las Vegas Sun)

Anthony Weiner's car isn't registered. (NY Daily News)

Lose your NYC MetroCard? Now you can file a claim online. (TransitBlogger)

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Transportation Nation

Confessions of Drivers Who Text and the New Law NY Gov Has Just for Them

Friday, June 10, 2011

(Photo (cc) by Flickr user poka0059)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced legislation proposing strict new penalties for distracted driving Friday. The law, if passed, would make using a mobile electronic device while driving a ticketable offense worth three points on your license, even if a driver isn't breaking any other laws or driving dangerously at the time. Thirty-three states already have laws against texting while driving. However, According to a crowdsourcing project by our partner The Takeaway, the practice is common and not everyone agrees it should be banned, and most people don't think behavior is changing. (See interactive map below.)

In New York, it is already a crime to text while driving, but it is a classified as a secondary offense, which means drivers can only get a ticket for texting behind the wheel if they also break another law. The law Cuomo wants to pass would make it a primary offense to use any portable electronic device while driving. We assume that excludes GPS devices, but we're checking.

The Takeaway, interviewed a mother who has been advocating for a tougher law in New York after her son was killed texting while driving. All week long The Takeaway has been asking listeners what they think about the safety risk and potential laws around texting and driving. The audience was split down the middle about whether they do it and how dangerous they think it is. Here's a map of their responses. Click on the pins for the comments.

As you can see, not everyone is in favor of the new laws. As one Massachusetts listener put it, "I'm driving while texting this response. It's only deadly if the driver is uncapable to drive [sic] and text. I drive for a living and do it frequently." Most respondents however, admit the practice is dangerous, even if they do it. A driver from South Carolina confessed, "I do it all the time. No accident yet, but I've come close a few times... I know I shouldn't do it! And I'm trying to stop."

The topic has gotten national attention in recent weeks following a trio of fatal crashes in Michigan, California, and Georgia. Still, most people in who responded to The Takeaway think the practice is here to stay. "I'm not sure what the solution is. My state now has laws against texting while driving and I'd imagine it hasn't affected anyone's behavior. As a driver, I don't text while behind the wheel unless I'm stopped. As a cyclist, I'm more afraid of texting drivers than I am of drunks," said a more responsible respondent from Madison, Wisconsin.

Transportation advocates, however, are applauding Cuomo's proposed legislation for New York and want to see more done. "Distracted driving is as dangerous as drunk driving," said Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives. "Nobody should be texting or updating Facebook while piloting a two-ton piece of machinery on public streets. New Yorkers will applaud Governor Cuomo for this groundbreaking effort to stop distracted driving." His organization just released a report on traffic safety that finds that more New Yorkers are killed in traffic accidents than by guns.

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: NJ Transit Taking Corporate Naming Bids, Metro Detroit Must Integrate Transit -- Or Else, and Rahm Emanuel: Power Bicyclist

Wednesday, June 08, 2011


NJ Transit is taking corporate bids for naming its stations, terminals, and trains -- and one bidder is crying foul. (The Star-Ledger)

If regional Detroit can't agree on an integrated rail and bus system, they risk losing millions in federal dollars -- and what may be "our last, best opportunity." (Detroit Free Press)

Mayor Bloomberg floated a new plan to expand taxi service in the outer boroughs by setting up hundreds of stands where livery cabs could legally pick up passengers on the street. (Wall Street Journal)

US DOT head Ray LaHood went to New Orleans for the groundbreaking of their streetcar expansion project. (Fast Lane)

Is texting while driving as dangerous as we think -- and is a ban the right way to prevent it? (The Takeaway)

Delta is scrambling to do damage control after charging a group of U.S. soldiers returning home from deployment in Afghanistan $200 each for extra bags. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

It took two years to plan for parking at the upcoming US Open in Bethesda. (WAMU)

Chicago will get protected bike lanes, and Rahm Emanuel bikes 25 miles on weekends. (Chicago Sun-Times)

97 degrees in Minneapolis = Twin Cities highway damage. (Boing Boing)

A dancing traffic cop has become a sensation in Manila. (BBC News video)

Owning a Harley-Davidson in China is a status symbol for a small slice of the aspirational Chinese consumer. (Marketplace)

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Transportation Nation

Indiana Becomes 32nd State to Ban Texting While Driving

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

(Photo: Flickr user William Holtkamp)

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels signed a law Wednesday banning texting while driving. The law, effective July 1, makes texting while driving punishable with a fine up to $500. Drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from any cell phone use while driving.

U.S. Department of Transportation cheered the law, calling it "stiff" and "tough." In a statement, U.S.  Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said “Distraction is still a factor in too many serious crashes. But the bill signed today by Governor Daniels will help make Indiana roads safer.”

This makes Indiana the 32 second state (along with the District of Columbia) to ban texting while driving. Curbing distracted driving has become one of LaHood's hallmarks, who says that drivers who use a hand-held device while driving are four times as likely to get in a serious crash.

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Transportation Nation

Former National Safety Board Chief Rips Bus Industry

Monday, April 11, 2011

(New York, NY -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) When three inter-city buses crashed in the northeast last month, killing 17 people and injuring dozens of others, public officials and many in the booming industry itself said the time had come for reform. The debate is over what kind of regulations to impose on the sprawling industry, which makes 750 million passenger trips a year and accounts for more than 2,000 arrivals and departures every week in New York City.

Among those calling for stricter regulation is James Hall, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board from 1984 to 2001, who in an interview with Transportation Nation criticized long distance bus companies for placing profits over safety, and government for letting it happen.

“We haven’t seen a commitment by the industry or the government," Hall said. "They have treated the people who ride these buses as second-class citizens and given them second class safety.”

He said the 2009 crash of a commuter airline in Buffalo, which killed 50 people, led to tighter regulation of short-hop air carriers; but fatal bus accidents have left bus operators relatively untouched by stricter safety rules.

"I'd like to see the federal government take the responsibility for the safe transportation of citizens on motorcoaches just as seriously as they take the safe transportation of more affluent citizens on commercial aviation," he said.

Hall said he's familiar with the rise and fall of official ire in the months after deadly bus crashes. Federal lawmakers, who have authority over interstate travel, express grave concern. They sometimes even take the next step and author a serious set of recommendations, such as the U.S. Department of Transportation's 2009 Motor Coach Safety Action Plan.That report inspired The Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act, which would've mandated safety upgrades like seat belts, stronger windows and fire suppression equipment on long distance buses.

The American Bus Association, a trade group based in Washington, DC, largely opposed the measure. It estimated the cost of the regulations for new buses at as much as $89,000 per vehicle. A typical new motor coach costs about $500,000. The bill failed.

Association president Peter Pantuso said he supported training bus drivers to a national standard. But he's concerned that mandatory safety features could drive up fares. And low fares are what keep bus operators in business, especially in the burgeoning discount sector.

"The industry is really made up of a lot of very, very small mom and pop companies who operate very safely," he said. "And there are a lot of regulations already in place. It’s a matter of enforcement."

Hall was not satisfied with that sentiment. “I have yet to see the American Bus Association be aggressive on the subject of safety," he said. "They’re aggressive in regard to insuring the profits of their own membership but they need to be just as aggressive in policing their own industry.”

Congress is poised to weigh in with two separate bus safety bills, both of which call for training drivers to a national standard and conducting stricter checks on them. They differ as to how much safety equipment upgrades should be imposed.

And soon the NTSB will release the results of its investigation into the March 12 crash in the Bronx that killed 15 people. The NTSB will also be examining the effectiveness of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the agency charged with regulatory enforcement of the tour bus industry and which has been criticized for lax oversight.

Pantuso said his association is all for rigorous enforcement of existing rules on driver rest and fitness, and inspections of vehicles. But he's wary of over-regulation. He says despite recent crashes, taking a long-distance bus is one of the safest modes of travel in North America--and that should count for something.

Philip White is a bus driver who earns $320 for driving round-trip in two days from New York to Richmond, VA--a five and a half to seven hour trip each way, depending on traffic. He works for Apex Bus, a company based in Manhattan's Chinatown. He recently leaned on the steering wheel in his bus and considered what's at stake when it comes to bus safety.

“Everybody on this bus has a wife or husband and kids," he said. "Or a mother and father at least. It’s not a joke.”

Listen to WNYC FM this morning to hear Hall's remarks.

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Transportation Nation

"Talk Text Crash" TxDOT Launches Distracted Driving Campaign

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Distracted-Driving Simulator

(Houston -- Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is launching its “Talk Text Crash” campaign at the University of Houston. TxDOT hopes the month-long campaign will raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. Students were able to get behind the wheel of a driving simulator at the event to see how easy it can be to lose control when sending a text.

Listen to the story here.

I met Emil Helfer--student and frequent texter-- at the event. Typing on his phone while driving, admits Helfer, may not be such a smart idea. “It’s definitely not the best decision but sometimes it vibrates in your pocket and you have to get a hold of somebody.”

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: US Traffic Fatalities Hit Lowest Point In 60 Years, Toronto Went From "Transit City" to "Transit Pity", and: Look Up! Invisible Bug Highway

Friday, April 01, 2011

U.S. traffic fatalities fell to the lowest levels in 60 years--representing a 25% decline since 2005 (New York Times). US DOT head Ray LaHood writes: "Despite this good news, we are not going to rest on our laurels."

A Los Angeles Times columnist says that the MTA, in eliminating bus lines, is making the wrong decision at the wrong time. Says he in the accompanying video (below): "We are cutting back at exactly the time we should be throwing a lot of resources into expanding public transportation."

The Toronto Star feels similarly about that city's transit plan. "Transit City has become a transit pity," they write of Mayor Rob Ford's commuter rail expansion, saying it "will take longer to build, deliver less service, and leave Toronto in search of an extra $4.2 billion."

Skanska AB, the construction giant working on some of New York's largest public works projects (including the Fulton Street Transit Center), will pay a $19.6 million settlement after being investigated for circumventing rules designed to encourage the hiring of minority- and women-owned businesses. (Wall Street Journal)

A decision about contested bike lanes in Boston's Charlestown neighborhood is expected in April. Last November, the city installed about a quarter-mile of a bike path on Charlestown's Main Street, then removed the lanes a short time later after neighborhood complaints. (Boston Globe)

U.S. sales of cars and trucks are expected to rise at a double-digit rate in March (AP via Detroit Free Press). Meanwhile, Toyota USA today announced higher sticker prices for nearly every 2011 model the company sells here. (USA Today)

A new report says that Texas will be facing a $170 billion gap between the amount of money that needs to be invested in transportation to keep commutes from getting worse and the amount of money the state expects to bring in from federal freeway funds, the gasoline tax and vehicle registration fees between 2011 and 2035. (Houston Chronicle)

President Obama signed a bill that funds the Federal Aviation Administration re-authorization bill through May. Meanwhile, a battle is brewing over some controversial pieces of the longer measure. (The Hill)

In Bethesda, Maryland, you can now use your cellphone to pay the parking meter. (WAMU)

Look up! Above your head is an invisible billion-bug highway. (NPR)

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: Houston is contemplating natural gas-powered buses. NY Congressman -- and bike lane cipher -- Anthony Weiner kills at the Correspondents Dinner (sample line: "Vote for Weiner--he'll be frank.") We have the latest in the inter-city bus investigations. And: the K train rides again -- if only on the subway's roll sign.

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Transportation Nation

BlackBerry Will Remove Apps That Help Drunk Drivers Evade Police

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

This in from Senator Frank Lautenberg's Office:

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), Harry Reid (D-NV), Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), and Tom Udall (D-NM) announced that, in response to their request, Research In Motion (RIM), manufacturer of Blackberry smartphones, will remove from their online store applications that help drunk drivers evade police.  Yesterday the senators sent a letter to smartphone companies, including RIM, asking them to remove the dangerous applications or alter them to remove the DUI/DWI checkpoint functionality.

The applications pinpoint police enforcement zones through user-submitted information that connects to GPS data, providing drivers with the ability to evade DUI checkpoints, speed traps, and red light cameras. The applications are free to download from application stores.   The senators lauded RIM’s decision and renewed their call for other smartphone manufactures to follow suit.

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Transportation Nation

Safety Problems Widespread on NY's Inter-City Buses

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

One of many discount buses that pick up passengers at the curb. (Photo by Naomi A. / Flckr Creative Commons)

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) A review of federal data shows inspectors issued a safety alert for about a third of all inter-city bus companies in New York State in the past month. The alerts are applied when a company rates in the bottom half nationwide of a safety category.

Among those cited were two of three companies whose buses have crashed in the Northeast in the last month. The third company also had a problematic record.

World Wide Travel, the operator whose bus skidded into a pole in the Bronx and killed fifteen people, has an safety alert for Fatigued Driving. The company, which runs buses labeled "World Wide Tours," also rated in the bottom half of all bus operators for vehicle maintenance.

Super Luxury Tours had a crash in New Jersey last week that killed two. It has three alerts: for Fatigued Driving, Driver Fitness and Unsafe Driving--where it scores in the bottom one percent nationwide.

Queens-based Big Boy Coach saw 23 of its passengers injured on Monday when one of its buses tipped over on a New Hampshire highway. Inspectors found its drivers to be unfit at nearly three times the national average. It has no alerts as of now because it's a small company and hasn't been inspected enough to determine whether it warrants them.

Large carriers like Greyhound, Peter Pan, Bolt Bus and Megabus have no alerts and show relatively high safety ratings. Popular Boston-based carrier Fung Wah, on the other hand, has three alerts for Fatigued Driving, Driver Fitness and Vehicle Maintenance.

The U.S. Department of Transportation rates carriers in seven safety categories based on roadside inspections of drivers and vehicles, infractions like speeding and crash data.

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer is asking the New York state commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles to conduct a full audit of all drivers licenses of tour bus drivers, saying that an earlier audit would've prevented the fatal crash in the Bronx.

Sixteen out of 26 coach buses stopped in Manhattan by Governor Cuomo's stepped-up enforcement effort were pulled out of service last weekend  for vehicle or driver violations or both. At checkpoints outside the city, violations were found in 25 of 138 coach buses stopped. The unannounced inspections by state Department of Transportation investigators and local police were made Friday night through Sunday.

Mayor Bloomberg said that though scores of inter-city buses operate out of New York, local government is not charged with overseeing them. "It' federal and state regulations that deal with them," he said. "Clearly somebody should have stopped--if we were able to predict the future--the bus driver in the terrible accident that killed fifteen people. Whether any regulation would've stopped it, I just don't know. It's not something the city does."

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Japanese Automakers Scale Back US Production, Miami Beach Begins Bike Share, and Chinatown Bus Riders Undeterred

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Chinatown bus (Sam Lewis/WNYC)

Many travelers have remained undeterred from taking Chinatown buses in the wake of two deadly crashes this week involving smaller bus lines. (WNYC)

Some Japanese automakers are scaling back US production as they assess the difficulty in getting parts from Japan. (NPR)

And the NY Times reports, of life in Tokyo: "In a nation where you can set your watch by a train’s arrival and a conductor apologizes for even a one-minute delay, rolling blackouts have forced commuters to leave early so they will not be stranded when the trains stop running." (NY Times)

Transit agencies, experiencing a rider increase because of higher gas prices,  would like more money - but no one wants to raise the gas tax, and Congressman John Mica says he won't support an increase in transit funding. (WSJ)

A new report says Indiana's increased restrictions on teen drivers have resulted in a steep reduction in car accidents involving young drivers. (Indiana University)

There's a new bike share program in Miami Beach -- DECOBIKE began operations yesterday. (Miami Herald)

The Chinese government has halted a tree removal program for planned subway construction in Beijing after residents protested. (Xinhua)

The NYT writes about real estate developers and NY's MTA. “The MTA has learned the hard way that it is one thing to ask a developer to make an upfront capital investment, and quite another one to maintain something on a day-to-day basis over the years," says one policy analyst.

The governor of Rhode Island said the state needs to stop borrowing money to pay for transportation projects. (The Providence Journal)

Opponents of the bike lane on Prospect Park West offer up an alternative: move it a block. NYC DOT says “the ‘compromise’ doesn’t hold up.” (Brooklyn Paper)

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: the Northeast Corridor is now a federally designated high-speed rail corridor. Lawmakers are trying -- once again -- to create an infrastructure bank. And a subway artist passes away.

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Transportation Nation

Ray LaHood Answers Questions, Shares Disappointment Over Lack of Jet Pack Innovation

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) US Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood already blogs, Facebooks and tweets. Now he's answering questions in the first installment of what he says will be an ongoing video feature called "On the Go With Ray LaHood."

In the nearly seven-minute long video above, LaHood sits in what’s presumably his office (with the browser on his computer monitor opened to his Facebook page) and he's filmed answering questions on these topics:

A national cell phone ban on distracted driving (he doesn't directly answer the question: "We need good enforcement...but more than anything else, we need people to realize you cannot drive safely while using a cell phone")

Will the administration push for the reauthorization of the Recreational Trails Program and Transportation Enhancement Activities ("Absolutely. We've spent the last two years in this job promoting livable and sustainable communities...We know that people are always going to have cars. We also know that people want to get out of congestion, they want to get on a streetcar, they want to get on a transit system, they want to get on a bus, and they also want the availability of walking and biking paths and the amenities that those provide.")

The future of Tiger 3 ("We're not sure if there will be a Tiger 3 program… (the 2012 budget)  include(s) some programs where people can come directly to us – we don’t call them TIGER.")

And whether the programs in place to maintain bridges and highways are still viable, or will new government cutbacks cause improvements to be delayed. ("Not really...the president also understands that the transportation budget is also a jobs program...[he] has increased dramatically over the next six years the amount of money for roads and bridges -- over $336 billion -- a 48% increase.")

But he leaves the answer to one key question to his blog, not the video. In response to someone who asked, "Where are the jet packs; they said there'd be jet packs," LaHood writes: "I can only say that I share your disappointment that the 21st century so far lacks a decent jet pack.  But it may be of some consolation that, at last year's Oshkosh AirVenture, I did see a flying car."

LaHood writes that he hopes people will keep asking him questions and he's designated a twitter hashtag (#q4ray) for that purpose. No word, though, if he'll offer to come dig your car out of a snowbank, though, the way Newark Mayor Cory Booker did.

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Transportation Nation

Texas Lawmakers Consider Statewide Distracted Driving Bills

Thursday, March 10, 2011

(Houston - Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) Texans used to juggling phone calls and emails during their drive to work may have to come up with another way to multitask soon. Several states have passed laws making it illegal for people to fumble around with their mobile phones while driving, regardless of their age. Texas isn’t one of them, but that could change soon.

Members of the Texas House of Representatives are considering bills that would make texting and emailing while driving illegal. Joel Cooper is a researcher with the Texas Transportation Institute. He testified before the House Transportation Committee on the dangers of texting while driving. “Text messaging turns out to be a perfect combination, the perfect storm, if you will, of three distraction types," he said. "It’s both a cognitive task, you have to think about it, you have to look down at your device, and manipulate it with your hands. So because of that it’s not really surprising that the data are suggesting that text messaging is so dangerous.”

Listen to the story over at KUHF News.

State Representative Tom Craddick suggested combining four of the bills into one that would ban texting while driving. Another bill, introduced by Representative Jose Menendez, would ban both texting and talking on the phone behind the wheel. Charmane Walden, with the National Safety Council’s Texas chapter, says both texting and talking on phones should be outlawed. “People who text and also talk on the phone... might look ahead and see street signs and see other cars, but cognitively they only process about half of what they see," she said. "So we’re in support of eliminating cell phones while driving.”

Mobile phone use while driving is particularly prevalent among younger drivers. A poll out this week found that 63 percent of drivers under 30 admitted to using a wireless device while driving in the last month. Thirty percent reported texting behind the wheel.

The U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has made his opinion of distracted driving clear: He’s not for it. He calls the practice an epidemic and insists that distracted driving will stay on the top of the Department of Transportation’s list of priorities. But the verdict is still out on using hands-free device to talk while driving. Earlier today Secretary LaHood said he would not yet advocate for a ban on drivers using blue-tooth technology until more research is done.

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Transportation Nation

Lawmakers Want National Standard for Teen Licenses

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

(Washington, DC --Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) Lawmakers introduced a bill Tuesday forcing states to meet a national standard for teens’ drivers licenses or take a hit on their federal highway funding.

The bill pushes graduated drivers license programs, or GDL’s, which phase in driving privileges for teens in the hopes of taking some of the danger out of getting behind the wheel.

All 50 states already have some form of phased-in driving for teens, but standards vary widely. Six states allow permits for 14-year olds, while South Dakota has no restricts at all for 16-year-old drivers.

Safety groups and insurance companies have long backed GDL programs, as a way to improve teen driving safety and also to lock in one set of nationwide rules.

Car crashes remain the number-one cause of death for US teens, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Crashes killed more than 40,000 teens over the last five years.

“This is a national problem that requires a national solution,” said Rep. Tim Bishop (R-NY).

Teens are notoriously bad risk takers, but advocates have become increasingly alarmed by the rise of cell phones and other electronic devices. Distracted driving campaigns have zeroed in on adolescents and their texting.

The bill would force states to take on three-stage licensing schemes with unrestricted driving privileges delayed until age 18. The process involves learners permits with passenger restrictions and cell phone bans. It would also let the federal government set standards withholding full licenses from kids caught driving recklessly, with DUIs or other violations.

Teens in the intermediate license phase would face restrictions on night driving and on the number of car passengers.

States would have three years to put in minimum requirements.

“If they don’t, they would face penalties and reductions in funding,” said Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand, D-NY.

The bill authorizes $25 million to help states put new laws in place. Lawmakers said they intend to attach the bill to surface transportation legislation expected to move in Congress later this year.

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Guerilla Urban Planner Plants R.I. Stop Signs, and Obama's Infrastructure Bank

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Obama administration's budget proposal (due out next week) will call for creation of a national infrastructure bank -- a system that could take some spending decisions out of Congress' hands, said Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. (Wall Street Journal)

(photo by COCOEN via Flickr)

An anonymous guerrilla urban planner has planted nearly 600 "undocumented stop signs" in the town of Cranston, RI--and a special town government committee has elected to keep almost all of them in place. (BoingBoing)

Portfolio Magazine looks at how Democrats are pushing infrastructure and high speed rail, while  Republican are targeting transportation funding.  "Both sides should expect to get derailed." The Wall Street Journal has a similar view.

Two taxi medallions in New York City are being sold for a record $950,000 each. (NY Daily News)

DOT Secretary Ray LaHood is trying to broker peace between Chicago's Mayor Daley and the CEOs of American and United Airlines, who are feuding over a proposed expansion of O'Hare Airport. (Chicago Sun-Times)

The Hill writes about Congressman John Mica. "Like President Obama, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman is a backer of high-speed rail. But House Republican leaders, to put it simply, are not as enamored of the idea."

Is there a chance the City of Milwaukee would be willing to share at least part of almost $55 million in federal transit funding – money currently designated for the planned Downtown Streetcar Circulator – with Milwaukee County to help fund its bus system?  That was an idea floated by the campaign of Chris Abele, a Milwaukee philanthropist and candidate for Milwaukee County executive, earlier this week. (Milwaukee Magazine)

Two bills intended to reduce distracted driving are heading to the Virginia House of Delegates. (WAMU)

And, just in time for Valentine's Day, a little transit romance. New Yorkers: have you ever had a missed connection on public transit? The NY Transit Museum is hosting a "love in transit party for all would-be romantics" on Valentine's Day.

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following:

  • Should EV owners pay a gas tax anyway?
  • NJ Transit gets in the real-time transit info game
  • The Republican budget would slash transportation funding
  • A group of businesspeople and retired military leaders say the goal of the US's transportation policy should be to reduce oil consumption

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Transportation Nation

San Francisco Bike Accidents Rise Faster than the Rate of Cycling; Bay Citizen Maps Crash Data

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation; San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) Bicycling in San Francisco can be glorious - paths by the beach, hills with sweeping views of the bay, the ability to cycle in the middle of January without having to come up with creative ways to keep your hands warm.

But it's also rife with "anger, misunderstanding, and mistrust between motorists and cyclists," according to a report issued last year by a San Francisco Civil Grand Jury, which investigated the implementation of the city's bike plan. (Report here; pdf.) This sentiment is a huge issue and perhaps contributes to this jarring statistic: in San Francisco, bike crashes have grown 8% in the past two years--outpacing the growth in ridership, which was 3%. (By comparison, New York City, which has also seen a growth in cyclists -- saw bike crashes decline by 46% from 1996 to 2003.)

That San Francisco data is courtesy of a new comprehensive interactive map by the nonprofit news organization the Bay Citizen, which just released a data app called the "Bicycle Accident Tracker."  We asked Bay Citizen staff writer Zusha Elinson and web producer Tasneem Raja how they got the data - and what they've learned from crunching hundreds of accident reports. (They also began encouraging people to report accidents directly to the Bay Citizen.)

"The bikers, for the most part, think the cars are crazy. And the cars all think the bikers are crazy," said Elinson. They set about mapping every bike accident the San Francisco Police Department wrote a report for in the last two years.  But what constitutes a report-worthy bike accident throws a bit of a monkey wrench into the data crunching.

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