The Inside Scoop On 5 Kinds Of Crazy Weather

Monday, July 02, 2012

Sure, everybody's heard of tornadoes and hurricanes. But derechos? Haboobs? Dig in to our glossary of extreme weather.


Transportation Nation

After Long Fight, Congress Passes 2-Yr Surface Transportation Bill

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Tappan Zee Bridge (photo by Joseph A. via Flickr)

Congress approved a two-year, $100 billion transportation and infrastructure bill just days before the federal highway trust fund was set to expire.

The legislation comes after more than 1,000 days of wrangling by Republicans and Democrats over issues like Keystone oil pipeline approval allowing transit agencies to use federal capital funds for operating expenses during periods of high unemployment. (Neither provision made it into the final bill.)

Senator Barbara Boxer praised the legislation, after leading the Democratic side of negotiations in the Senate. She said it would save about 1.8 million jobs by keeping aid for highway and transit construction flowing to states and create another 1 million jobs by using federal loan guarantees to leverage private sector investment in infrastructure projects.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called it “a good, bipartisan bill that will create jobs, strengthen our transportation system and grow our economy."

But Advocacy group Transportation for America said the bill "disappointing." In a statement, the group said: "We are pleased Congress has averted a shutdown, and the associated loss of jobs -- but this is literally no way to run a railroad...Despite never passing their own bill, House leaders were able to eliminate dedicated funding for repair of bridges and highways; cut vital transportation dollars for cities and local governments; slash funding available to prevent pedestrian deaths; and erode public input and local control in the planning of major transportation projects.


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Transportation Nation

MTA: Rising Sea Levels Are Damaging The Subway

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

(photo by tjlull via flickr)

(Jorteh Senah -- New York, NY, WNYC) One of the city’s newest subway station is already showing cracks.

The South Ferry subway terminal is sprouting leaks that are causing water damage to the newly tiled walls of the renovated station that underwent a $530 million facelift three years ago.

MTA CEO Joseph Lhota said rising sea levels coupled with poorly sealed walls led to leaks in the station, which opened in 2009.

“As part of the renovations there is some leakage coming through and you can see it on the tiles,” Lhota said. “What's happening is that it was not properly sealed and what's also happening is that the water table is rising.”

Lhota said the waters of New York Harbor have risen since the project started in 2005, and the MTA is working with the station's contractor to make repairs.

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Transportation Nation

BREAKING: Court Upholds EPA's Emissions Rules

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

(photo by Josh Koonce via flickr)

A federal appeals court Tuesday said the Environmental Protection Agency was "unambiguously correct" in using existing federal law to limit greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

Several industry groups -- as well as the state of Texas -- had argued that the science behind climate change was uncertain, and that the EPA lacked the legal authority to use the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from factories, power plants, and automobile tailpipes.

But the court unanimously rejected that view. "This is how science works," the judges wrote in the 82-page decision (pdf). "EPA is not required to re-prove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question."

The opinion cites not only a previous Supreme Court ruling but also Schoolhouse Rock.  (As a generation of schoolchildren knows, 'by that time, it’s very unlikely that [a bill will] become a law. It’s not easy to become a law.'")

Read the decision here.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

The Locavore’s Dilemma

Monday, June 25, 2012

Economic geographer Pierre Desrochers discusses the locavore movement, arguing that locavorism may be just a well-meaning marketing fad, or possibly a dangerous distraction from solving serious global food issues.  In The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000 Mile Diet, he and his co-author, policy analyst Hiroko Shimizu, explain the history, science, and economics of food supply.

Comments [41]

The Takeaway

America's Changing Stance on Global Warming

Thursday, June 21, 2012

For as long as we can remember, America has been leading the charge against global warming. But at yesterday's Rio+20 Earth Summit, the President was conspicuously absent. And with the world economy taking up all the front pages, global warming has taken a back seat. 

Comments [2]

Transportation Nation

NYC Mayor Bloomberg: Cities Are Ahead Of Nations In Reducing Greenhouse Gases

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (photo by NYC Mayor's Office)

(New York, NY - WNYC) By the end of the decade, climate-related actions taken by cities around the world will reduce greenhouse gases by 250 million tons per year. That's what New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told delegates at the Rio Earth Summit. He added that by 2030, the annual reduction of greenhouse gases by major cities could be a billion tons per year--the combined output of Mexico and Canada.

Bloomberg was addressing the Rio+C40 Summit, which he said includes 59 cities "from Bogota to Berlin, from Jakarta to Johannesburg, and from my New York."  One of every 12 people on the planet live in those cities, he said, and account for about 14 percent of the world’s total carbon footprint.

“The world is rapidly urbanizing," Bloomberg said. "Cities are becoming bigger and bigger. Our problems are sometimes harder and harder to tackle. Yet we continue to make major progress, even in times of tough budget cuts."

He said New York City has shrunk its carbon footprint by 13 percent in the past five years, and praised other cities for taking similar steps.

“Let me point out that nearly two-thirds of the climate change actions the C40 cities have taken have been paid for solely from our budgets – without support from our national governments," he said. "That’s because cities recognize our responsibilities to act; we haven’t waited for our national governments to go first."

Bloomberg also announced initiatives to improve the management of city solid waste, including reducing the release of methane and other greenhouse gases, and a web site "to provide a broad, deep, and constantly updated library on what the world’s cities are doing about climate change – and about the tools and resources cities can use to further their work."

Go here to read the mayor's full remarks.

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Transportation Nation

Survey: Capital Bike Share Saved 5 Million Driving Miles

Monday, June 18, 2012

Capital Bike Share on the streets in Washington D.C.

A new survey of Washington's Capital Bikeshare, done for Capital Bikeshare, says four in ten users report using cars less -- for an average savings of 523 miles for those users.

The survey's authors say that translates to a total of 5 million miles not driven.

But the survey also found that bike share users tend to be, "on average, considerably younger, more likely to be male and Caucasian, highly educated, and slightly less affluent" than the adult population of the Washington, DC area.

And even though the survey found most (56%) of trips were for non-work purposes, more than nine in ten bike share users are employed, compared to just seven in ten adults in the Washington region.

Other results:

* 64 percent said they would not have made the trip without bike share;

* 15 percent said they joined bike share because of a "Living Social" offer;

* More than half of respondents used bike share as a feeder to reach transit stops.

Lots of other interesting nuggets. You can read the full survey here.

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Transportation Nation

Montana Locality: No Studies That Will Slow Coal Train

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A coal train traveling near Billings, MT. Picture by Jackie Yamanaka.

(Billings, MT-YPR) – The largest city and county in Montana decided to deal with the impact of possible increased coal train traffic locally rather than join the efforts of other communities in calling for a regional environmental study on the issue. Yellowstone County officials object to any study that is critical of coal.

"We need to look at this as an opportunity," says Yellowstone County Commission Chairman John Ostlund. "We have more coal than anybody in the world, countries around the world want to burn it. We need the jobs. We need the tax base. These are the greatest opportunities and problems to have that we could ever hope to have."

The Yellowstone Valley Citizens Council (YVCC), an affiliate of the environmental group Northern Plains Resource Council, recently asked Billings and Yellowstone County officials to ask to be included in an  Environmental Impact Statement scoping hearing for the Cherry Point Port Terminal in Whatcom County, Washington.

The Helena City Commission recently agreed to write a letter to the U-S Army Corps of Engineers to look into increased rail traffic on Helena, the capital city, as it conducts an environmental review on the Cherry Point Port terminal.

YVCC’s Svein Newman asked Billings' Policy Coordinating Committee (PCC), a city-county transportation planning board, to join Helena.

“The issue faced by Billings is similar to the issue faced by Bozeman, Helena, Spokane, and more (communities),” he says. “And instead of over a dozen individual studies to arrive at similar conclusions it makes sense to focus on one (study), especially when it is not funded by county taxpayers.”

Asian customers are interested in buying more U-S coal, but the lack of port capacity is restricting shipments. If ports are expanded, or new ports built, coal from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming is the most direct and closest source via rail.

Opponents of coal port terminal expansion cite concern about the environmental effects of burning coal, the human health effects of coal dust blowing from rail cars, and the impact of increased coal trains on motor vehicle traffic. YVCC projects the number of coal trains passing through Billings could triple from 2009 figures to 40 trains per day because of the growing demand for U-S coal in Asia.

Billings officials, however, are not interested in conducting another rail traffic study. There have been 8 such studies, the most recent in 2004. Instead, they want staff to look at the recommendations from past studies, for example, whether signs to alert motorists when there’s a train blocking the road keep traffic flowing.

“Pardon me if I sound kinda blunt, but I think having a sign that says ‘train on tracks’ when you can actually see the train on tracks is kinda redundant,” says Greg Krueger, Development Director for the Downtown Billings Partnership. “It just says, ‘there’s a train on the tracks’ and prepared to be frustrated.”

PCC Chairman and Yellowstone County Commission Chairman John Ostlund laughed and asked if that should be on the sign.

“I think so,” replied Krueger. “But I do believe if we have signal upgrades that could interface with reader boards, that I’ve seen in other cities, that says ‘southbound traffic/train on tracks/turn left now.’ What I am saying is a train route that in essence takes you around the tracks.”
Other options that could be considered include:  adding left turn lights on the main thoroughfares through Downtown Billings when there’s a train on the tracks and improving one downtown underpass so it could accommodate emergency vehicles.

Yellowstone County Commissioner Jim Reno calls these options “low-hanging fruit.” While being stuck at a rail crossing is an inconvenience, he says, it should be welcomed by the community. Reno says increased rail traffic points to a growing economy.

“We embrace the fact there’s additional landings at the airport. We embrace when we see more (sugar) beet cars. We embrace when we see unit trains of wheat and grain,” he says. “We should come at it (increased coal train traffic) from a positive view point as opposed to my impression that it came early on as an anti-carbon, anti-environmental. We should get past that and look at it as an opportunity that frankly some regions of this country would welcome the opportunity to have economic growth.”

Recently, the Yellowstone County Commission unanimously adopted a resolution formally declaring support for coal and coal based power and the expansion of ports on the West Coast to accommodate increased shipments Powder River Coal from Montana and Wyoming to customers in Asia.

The PCC did not formally take action on how to address traffic concerns through Billings from increased coal train traffic. But it indirectly told a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) to review the recommendations of past rail studies and determine: project prioritization based on projected train traffic, costs, funding sources, responsible party, and a time frame. The TAC recommendations would then be considered at a late date by the PCC.

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Transportation Nation

SF Bay Area Transportation Round-Up

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Construction work on MUNI lines in San Francisco. (Photo by Julie Caine)

For some people in the San Francisco Bay Area, the daily commute will get  a little easier this week. On Monday morning, a new ferry service between the Oakland, Alameda, and South San Francisco opened. In San Francisco, regular service resumed on the MUNI’s N Judah and J Church light rail lines, after ten days of repair work at some of the city’s busiest transit junctions.

Statewide, however, things aren’t so bright. A new poll shows that voters are losing faith in plans for a high speed rail system in California. Despite this, Governor Jerry Brown is proposing legislation that would give High Speed Rail a pass from complying with some of the requirements of California’s strict environmental protection laws.

Julie Caine sat down with KALW host Hana Baba to talk about what’s happening in Bay Area transportation news.


Here's the transcript.

BABA: Let’s start with high speed rail. Can you remind us where things stand with this project?

CAINE: Sure. Well, the California High Speed Rail Authority--they’re the ones responsible for the planning, financing, and ultimate implementation of getting the bullet trains built in California--just hired former Caltrans director Jeff Morales as their new CEO. Morales has intimate ties to high speed rail--he’s an executive with Parsons Brinckerhoff, the company doing project management for the bullet train.

BABA: Isn’t that a conflict of interest?

CAINE: It might be. State senate transportation committee chairman Mark DeSaulnier said he was “troubled by the relationship.” And state senator Doug LaMalfa, a critic of the project as a whole, was quoted in the LA Times as saying “it's difficult to believe that Mr. Morales can be counted on to drive a hard bargain with the company that has been paying his salary.”

The Rail Authority is standing behind Morales, saying he’s the best choice for the job -- it’s been vacant since January. The plan for building the project, is due to go before the legislature later this month. Lawmakers will be asked to release bond money needed to start initial construction of the train later this year in the Central Valley.

BABA: What’s the political support like?

CAINE: Governor Brown says he still fully supports the project, to the point where he’s proposed legislation that would exempt the bullet train from certain requirements of California’s Environmental Quality Act.  It’s an attempt to block opponents of the bullet train, who could use the environmental law to stop construction altogether.

BABA: What kinds of requirements?

CAINE: Well, more details about Governor Brown’s proposal are expected next week, but basically it looks like it would mean people who want to use environmental law to stop the train would have to prove, in court, that the train would cause major environmental problems--like wiping out habitat or an endangered species. In the past, opponents have used the law to hold up construction plans for much more minor issues.

BABA: Sounds like things are heating up.

CAINE: They are. And, according to an LA Times/USC poll last week, voters are losing faith in the project. Statewide, more than half want another chance to vote on the bond measure that voters approved in 2008 to provide initial funding for the project. The polls shows that if it were up for a vote again, almost 60 percent would vote against it.

BABA: We’ll be interested to find out what happens with this. So, let’s move from high speed trains to light rail. Yesterday marked the end of a MUNI project dubbed the ‘Long Shut Down.” Can you tell us what that was about?

CAINE: Sure. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency—or SFMTA--which runs MUNI, shut down the entire N Judah line and ran limited service on the JChurch and 22 Fillmore for ten days. Service is back up and running now, but it seems like they’re still having a few hiccups. One of our reporters here noticed a long back-up of outbound N trains at Church and Duboce this morning, and yesterday, an N train broke down in the avenues, causing a system wide backup for much of them morning

MUNI was working simultaneously in two locations—at Carl Street, and at the busy Church and Duboce intersection. They were replacing worn tracks, upgrading signals and switches that tell trains where to go and which track they should be on, and working on making it safer for pedestrians in both places. At Church and Duboce, they also did work on the sewers—they were taking advantage of the fact that they’d already closed down and dug up that entire intersection.

Last week, I met up with Greg Dewar, who writes a blog called the N-Judah Chronicles, and he described it like this.

DEWAR: I liken it to someone getting their wisdom teeth pulled, getting braces, and a few other painful dental procedures all at once.

BABA: Ouch.

CAINE: It was pretty extensive work, and required massive re-routing of some of the city’s busiest transit lines, but it was the only way to do the repairs--the last time they did work on this scale at Church and Duboce was 20 years ago. That intersection is pretty complex, and can be hard to navigate—bicyclists, pedestrians, drivers, MUNI trains, and buses all come through, and it’s not always so clear who should cross when. SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose told me they hope the new signals will help make things easier for everybody.

ROSE: That’s one of the things we’re looking at in this intersection is how do bikes and pedestrians and transit riders all coexist on one street.  Some of the new traffic signals will help with pedestrians and transit right of way.

BABA: So, how much did this particular project cost?

CAINE: About $40 million dollars—that’s for repairs at Church and Duboce and at Carl Street.  Rose said that’s only a fraction of what it would cost to replace the entire system.

ROSE: At this point, to replace everything in our system would cost about $500 million dollars. We carry about 700,000 trips a day, so we have to do this work as we go.

BABA: So, what’s next on MUNI’s repair list?

CAINE: The MTA just received around $675,000 dollars in state bond money to do repair work in what’s called the Persia Triangle—intersections at Persia, Ocean, and Mission Street on MUNI’s 29 route. But the big project on MUNI’s list is the Central Subway, which just got about $48 million dollars in state bond money. The Central Subway is due to open in 2019.

BABA: And we’ve got a new way to get between the East Bay and the Peninsula, right?

CAINE: Right. A new ferry service between Oakland, Alameda and South San Francisco just opened yesterday. It’s the first new ferry route to be opened since 1992. The idea is to give workers an easier way to get to companies like Genentech.

BABA: Are there any other routes in the works?

CAINE: The Water Emergency Transportation Authority--the agency that operates many of the Bay Area’s ferries--says the next route would bring ferries to Berkeley and Richmond.

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Transportation Nation

New York State to Add Hundreds of EV Charging Stations

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Chevy Volt (Photo: GM)

New York will more than double its electric vehicle charging capacity, installing 325  new stations across the state in high-traffic locations like supermarket parking lots, hotels, train and bus stations, apartment buildings, hospitals, and parking garages. The state has awarded $4.4 million to ten companies and municipalities to install the stations.

Currently the state has approximately 200 EV sites in that offer 400 electrified parking spaces.

In a press release, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo said the effort would encourage New Yorkers to make the switch from gas-powered cars -- and provide an economic boost to the state.

Preliminary locations in New York City include an MTA facility in Battery Park, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, and dozens of parking garages citywide. Each station will have approximately two to six chargers.

The press release also noted that "transportation makes up about three-fourths of the state’s oil consumption, and nearly 40 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions."

According to the administration, the charging stations must be installed by April 2013 -- although many will be in place by the end of this year.

The list of projects can be found below.

Access Technology Integration Inc. – Plans to install charging stations with innovative reservation and payment systems at seven locations around the Albany area, including St. Peter’s Hospital, Albany-Rensselaer Train Station, Times Union Center, universities, supermarkets, and other locations. NYSERDA funding: $244,000.

Beam Charging LLC – Company will install a total of 28 charging stations, each one in a separate public parking garage around Manhattan, for the purpose of gathering data to determine how well such charging stations are used. $400,000.

Car Charging Group Inc. – Plans to install charging stations at up to 15 high-traffic locations in New York City, directed toward apartment dwellers who do not have parking at home. Sites would go in parking garages that are used primarily for monthly parking. NYSERDA funding: $200,000.

City of Rochester – Plans to install 24 charging stations at seven highly-visible and busy locations around the city, including municipal parking garages, City Hall, the Port of Rochester and the Rochester Public Market. NYSERDA funding: $228,000.

Coulomb Technologies Inc. – Partnering with National Grid, Coulomb will deploy 81 dual charging stations with Coulomb’s ChargePoint software. The technology will demonstrate a web-based demand response program, a new low-cost installation method and a customized reservation system. NYSERDA funding: $1 million.

EV Connect Inc. – Plans to install EV charging stations at five Marriott hotels around New York State that make use of a unique reservation and payment system. Project would make it possible for overnight visitors to charge their vehicles while staying at a hotel. NYSERDA funding: $250,000.

Golub Corp. (Price Chopper Supermarkets) - Plans to install 12 charging stations at four locations, each equipped with a weather canopy and lighting to make them visible. This is the first phase of an intended statewide rollout. NYSERDA funding: $325,000.

New York Port Authority – Plans to install seven experimental charging stations for fleet vehicles and public use that practice demand-response (aligning charging times with times of low power demands, reducing charging cost and impact during peak demand to the grid). NYSERDA funding: $720,000.

New York Power Authority – Plans to install 124 charging stations at train and bus stations, airports and municipal parking lots. Three sites would be powered in part through on-site solar power. NYSERDA funding: $989,000.

Plugin Stations Online – Plans to install charging stations at three apartment complexes in Albany, Rochester and Buffalo, as well as one at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy. NYSERDA funding: $64,000.

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Transportation Nation

What Makes A Recreational Trail "Outstanding?" These Eight Get the Prize

Monday, June 04, 2012

(Billings, MT – YPR) – Eight trail projects from across the country are being recognized for their outstanding use of money from the federal Recreational Trails Program (RTF) funds.

The 14th Annual Achievement Awards were chosen by the Coalition for Recreational Trails.

Winning trails meander through Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon and Wyoming. See the full list below.

The awards will be handed out June 5, 2012 on Capitol Hill. The celebration is part of Great Outdoors Week 2012. Two states and members of Congress also will be recognized.

One of the winners is a multi-use trail in Billings, Montana. The Swords Park Trail, Phase 2 is on top of the sandstone cliffs that frame the north end of the state’s largest city.

“When you’re up on the trail system you have incredible views of the Yellowstone River valley, of Billings itself, and you can also see 2 mountain ranges in the distance – The Beartooth Mountains and the Pryor Mountains,” says Darlene Tussing, alternate modes coordinator for the city of Billings. “It really is a beautiful environment.”

The Montana trail is the winner in the Environment and Wildlife Compatibility category.

Phase 2 converted what was once a historic road bed and historic site for early settlers to the Yellowstone Valley. This includes Sacrifice Cliff and Skeleton Cliff, important to the Crow Indian Tribe. There’s also Yellowstone Kelly’s grave and Boot Hill, both tributes to early white settlers to the Yellowstone Valley.

The Montana trail project serves both motorized and non-motorized users. The Swords Park, Phase 2 also won the 2012 Montana State Parks “Trail of the Year Award.”

“Because we wanted to give people choices,” says Candi Beaudry, Director of the City-County Planning Department. “It’s not one mode over the other. We look at all users and that’s embodied in the city’s Complete Streets Policy.”

Funding for this project came from a variety of sources, including the RTP.

“It’s important for Congress to understand how programs passed and operated here in D-C have real life impact on opportunities for recreation at the grass roots level all across this country,” says Derrick Crandall, President of the American Recreation Coalition.

Other winners are:

• The Lombard Trail (Idaho) – Maintenance and Rehabilitation

  • Intertwine Alliance Bi-State Regional Trails Website (Oregon and Washington) – Education and Communication
  • Kwolh Butte Shelter (Oregon) – Multiple Use Mangement and Corridor Sharing
  • Cattahoochee Nature Trails (Florida) – Construction and Design (local)
  • Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway (Nevada) Construction and Design (long-distance)
  • Children’s Center’s Life Trails and Therapeutic Park (Oklahoma) – Accessibility Enhancement
  • Mount Yale Trail Realignment Project (Colorado) – Use of Youth Conservation and Service Corps.

The RTP is administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration.  It was created in 1991 and funding comes from the Federal Highway Trust Fund.

“The Congress said it’s only fair,” says Crandall. “Because a number of recreational trail interests, including: ATV’s, snowmobilers, motorcyclists and 4x4’s pay the federal gas tax on the fuel that they use in their recreational activities. It’s only fair that the money goes into the purposes that are directly benefiting recreation trails as opposed to paving roads or doing other kinds of traditional highway trust fund funded projects.”

Crandall says the RTF budget is about $84 million a year, a fraction of the $200 million collected each year from the roughly 18¢/gallon federal fuel tax from non-highway recreationists.  Congress is working on a surface transportation reauthorization bill. Crandall is optimistic the Recreational Trails Program will continue to receive funding.

“While they (Senate and the House) may not agree on lots of things,” he says “They do seem to be in complete agreement on that (RTP funding).”

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Transportation Nation

VIDEO: Atop NYC Bridges, Baby Falcons Thrive in Homes with Great Views

Monday, June 04, 2012

(New York, NY - WNYC) Peregrines prefer peaks. In New York City, that means the flat tops of tall  bridges. Once again, it's time to cinch up the safety harness, scale a few feats of infrastructure and count hatchlings.

The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority, always casting about for ways to improve its perennially embattled image, has in recent years embraced and promoted its role as Haven of Hatcheries. The authority has allowed the city Department of Protection to build shelters for raptors atop its bridges, and to let city conservationists go into them once a year and band the newborn birds they find. The shelters are no-frills affairs with guano-speckled roofs. And the banding, according to Chris Nadareski, the conservationist in the video, doesn't hurt the birds--though it must be said, those chicks don't seem pleased.

This year's total of newborn falcons on three bridges operated by the MTA: seven. Their wide-eyed adorableness on a scale of 1 to 10: 10. Interesting stat: when diving for prey, peregrines can exceed 200 miles per hour, making them the fastest birds in the world. It also puts them in sync with the city's unofficial motto: "Move swiftly or starve. "

New York City is home to more than 20 pairs of peregrine falcons. Two of the newest ones are called Lief and Skye, which are names you can soon expect to be attached to Brooklyn tots. The birds were nearly wiped out in the 1960s because of pesticides and remain on the New York State endangered list. But, thanks in part to the MTA's hospitality, it is increasingly common to see a raptor in search of a fish wheeling in the sky above the harbor. Hence the video's closing invitation+ warning:

"Look for the peregrine falcons...but not while you're driving."


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Transportation Nation

Topping the Nation in Pedestrian Deaths, Orlando Launches Safety Campaign

Monday, June 04, 2012

Metro Orlando tops the national list of dangerous cities for pedestrians, according to Transportation for America. On average one pedestrian is killed every week and two are injured every day.

Local civic leaders believe a new initiative can reduce the number of crashes and fatalities. They’ve set an ambitious goal of cutting the pedestrian crash rate by 10 per cent a year over the next five years, which they say can be done through a combination of education, enforcement and road improvements.

Launched last week, Best Foot Forward is a joint initiative of Bike Walk Central Florida, local governments, law enforcement and health groups including the Winter Park Health Foundation and Orlando Health.

Coalition chair, former Orange County Mayor Linda Chapin, says pedestrian safety should be a priority in Central Florida.

“It’s about safety, of course, because people are dying. They’re dying every week,” says Chapin.

She says drivers and pedestrians both have to change their behavior to bring down the accident rate. She says residents have to make a choice about the kind of city they want to live in.

“Will it be the kind of friendly community we’ve all visited and recognized, where drivers acknowledge pedestrians with a smile and wave as they slow and then stop for a crosswalk?”

With about 730 pedestrian injuries and 45 deaths a year, Orlando has some way to go.

But Mighk Wilson, MetroPlan Orlando’s Smart Growth Planner, says bringing the rate down by 10 per cent a year can be done.

“It certainly is ambitious, but it is doable. Fatalities are really tough to deal with,” says Wilson Reducing crashes as a whole has to be more of the strategy.”

Wilson says one design fix will be to increase street lighting, although that can be expensive.

Another improvement is retrofitting roads with medians.

“Having a refuge in the middle of a roadway greatly improves safety for pedestrians,” says Wilson.

Ultimately, he says, a lot of the responsibility for preventing crashes falls on drivers.

“What we’ve forgotten as a culture is that there are crosswalks at every intersection, whether they’re marked or not,” he says.

“While it’s true that many crashes involve a pedestrian who’s crossing mid block and doesn’t yield to traffic in the roadway, they could walk fifty feet over to the nearest intersection and cross in an unmarked crosswalk, but no one’s going to recognize that crosswalk.”

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer (third from left) wants to curb Metro Orlando's pedestrian death toll

So the coalition will also focus on educating pedestrians to use crosswalks, and letting drivers know Florida’s law requires them to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks.

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings says drivers who don’t stop for pedestrians can expect to get tickets.

“There will be individuals who initially when we begin will be given warnings, then they’ll be cited,” says Demings.

“The best way we probably can change the behavior of pedestrians and drivers is to ensure that we have appropriate enforcement.”

Bike Walk Central Florida says it will cost about 350 thousand dollars a year to roll out its program across Orange County; it’s applying for a grant from the Florida Department of Transportation to help with funding. The money will be used for education programs for pedestrians, drivers and law enforcement officers, and low cost road improvements.

Meanwhile the city of Orlando is also trying to make the environment safer for pedestrians. Currently it’s halfway through a 4 million dollar, federally funded program to add 18 miles of sidewalks to city streets.



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Beset With Bedbugs? Don't Bother With Bug Bombs

Monday, June 04, 2012

Bug bombs may sound like a high-powered way to deal with a bedbug infestation. But research shows the pesticide fog they create doesn't have faze the tiny pests. And it turns out, the insecticides may only serve to stir up the bugs.


Transportation Nation

Final Montana Yellowstone River Oil Spill Report To Be Released This Summer

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Oil on the surface of a wetland adjacent to the Yellowstone River (photo by NWFBlog via Flickr)

(Billings, MT – YPR) – The panel charged with reviewing all pipelines that cross Montana’s rivers and streams in the wake of last year’s ExxonMobil oil pipeline break into the Yellowstone River is to issue its final report to Governor Brian Schweitzer this summer.

Schweitzer, D-MT, issued an executive order creating the review council after the Silvertip Pipeline ruptured last July releasing an estimated 1,000 barrels of crude into the Yellowstone River.

Officials think floodwaters scoured the bottom of the Yellowstone River, exposing the pipeline.  Exxon Mobil estimated the spill clean up costs at about $135 million dollars.

Schweitzer directed the Montana Oil Pipeline Safety Review Council to assess the risk of ruptures and leaks for each pipeline that crosses a Montana waterway, including the pipeline’s location and the condition of emergency shut-off valves.

“We now have at our fingertips information on where those pipelines are and who they belong to,” says Bonnie Lovelace, regulatory affairs manager for the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. She says key pieces of information are the locations of shut-off valves and whether companies have the latest technology for leak-detection.

“Which means pipeline companies having their control rooms watching those valves and having alarms that tell them that there’s a problem,” she says. Then quickly shutting down the flow.

Lovelace says one result of the review was the creation of an interactive Montana Pipeline Safety Map. She says the data came from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) from information from pipeline owners and operators. She says the database also includes: aerial photographs, topographic maps, property boundaries/ownership, wells, and monitoring stations.

Lovelace says one of the most significant lessons leaned from the Silvertip Pipeline break was the need for information.

“After realizing such a thing could happen, every body’s concerned about could it happen again,” she says. “Are there things we can do to be ready or to essentially prevent a further incident that we had on the Yellowstone River?”

Lovelace says that means working cooperatively with and supporting the U-S Transportation Department’s PHMSA, which regulates the nation’s 2.3 million miles of pipelines.

In the wake of the Silvertip Pipeline rupture, opponents called for tougher state and federal regulations for the proposed Keystone X-L pipeline project. The 1,700 mile pipeline proposal would transport crude from tar sand oil fields in Alberta, Canada and the Bakken Oil Fields in eastern Montana and western North Dakota to refineries on the U-S Gulf coast. The Obama Administration denied TransCanada’s permit last January on the grounds the congressionally mandated deadline did not give federal officials enough time to evaluate the proposal. TransCanada has since offered a shorter pipeline project from Cushing, OK to Port Arthur, TX, including a new route through Nebraska that skirts that state’s environmentally sensitive Sand Hills region and the Ogallala acquifer, the main water source for Nebraska residents.

In Montana, the Pipeline Safety Review Council identified 9,206 pipeline river crossings in Montana. “So we have lots and lots of network of pipelines throughout Montana,” she says. “It’s like a spider web.”

Crews taking water and soil samples during the oil cleanup on the Yellowstone River. Photo by Jackie Yamanaka

The Pipeline Safety Review Council is made up of the directors of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, The Montana Department of Transportation, and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

The panel made 6 recommendations. Public comments on the report will be accepted until June 27, 2012. The Pipeline Safety Review Council plans to deliver a final report to the governor July 18, 2012.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

The Eskimo and the Oil Man

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Bob Reiss talks about Shell oil’s plans to sink exploratory wells in the waters off the North Slope of Alaska—a site that the company believes contains three times as much oil as the Gulf of Mexico. To write The Eskimo and the Oil Man: The Battle at the Top of the World for America's Future he traveled in America's High North over three years and spent time with scientists, diplomats, military planners, Eskimo whale hunters, and officials at the highest levels of the government to explore the issues dividing every American community wrestling with the balance between energy use and environmental protection, our love of cheap gas and the romance of pristine wilderness.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Backstory: Living Planet Report

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The World Wildlife Fund has released its new Living Planet Report. Kate Newman, the Managing Director of Public Sector Initiatives and Field Programs at the WWF, assesses the state of global biodiversity.

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Transportation Nation

Heat From Climate Change Will Kill More Americans This Century: Report

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

(photo by Lori Greig via flickr)

150,000 Americans will die from excessive heat by the end of this century if carbon pollution continues unabated.

That's according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which released a report (pdf) Wednesday projecting future heat-related mortality in the U.S.'s 40 largest cities.

"We think, if anything, (those estimates) are low," said the NRDC's Dan Lashof, explaining during a conference call with reporters that researchers didn't adjust for expected increases in population. But, he said, these stark numbers show "climate change has real life and death consequences -- one of which is that carbon pollution, which is continuing to increase our atmosphere, is going to continue to make climate change worse and increase the number of dangerously hot days each summer."

Thirty seven of the 40 cities studied would see increases in deaths. Larry Kalkstein, a professor of geography and regional studies at the University of Miami and co-author of the research, said they found a "regional coherence" in the heatwave effect. And perhaps counterintuitively, cities in the South appear to be spared the worst.

According to the NRDC, the three cities with the highest number of total estimated heat-related deaths through 2099 are Louisville, Kentucky (19,000 deaths); Detroit (17,900); and Cleveland (16,600).

"The Midwest is particularly hard hit," Kalkstein said, explaining that cities that experience sharp temperature fluctuations are more at risk than those cities with more constant temperatures, even if they're hot.

"Take a typical day in Washington or Philadelphia or New York, where most of the summer days are in the eighties," he said. "And then all of a sudden you get a hot streak, where the temperature goes up to a hundred degrees plus for a week -- and that is what causes the problem. The fact that people are not used to this high variable climate, that all of a sudden you have a 20-degree rise in maximum temperature...for this reason, many less people die of the heat in cities in the deep South."

But just pinning down how many heat-related deaths there are each year is more of an art than a science. "People tend to understate the threat of heat, and the medical examiners tend to under-report the number of people that die from heat," said Kalkstein.

The NRDC praised cities like Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia, which it said have upped their game in responding to heat-related emergencies and have adopted strategies like cooling centers, "heatlines", and organized programs where neighbors look in on local at-risk residents. Some cities also won't cut off power to residents who have failed to pay an electric bill during a heat-related emergency.

Case in point: New York City, with its eight million residents, sees an average of 184 heat-related deaths each summer. But just across the Hudson River in Newark, New Jersey -- population 280,000 -- that number is 56.  "New York has one of the most aggressive local health departments in the country," Kalkstein said. "They're one of the few cities in the country where the Health Department calls the heat emergency, rather than the National Weather Service...they are doubling down on every effort to deal with heat."



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Transportation Nation

Sen. Boxer Shines Sun on Transportation Bill Talks

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) (photo by Todd Zwillich)

(Washington, D.C.) Striking a decidedly feel-good tone on transportation legislation Wednesday, Democrats' chief negotiator painted herself optimistic about the chances of a House - Senate agreement before July 4th.

"I'm feeling good," Senate Environment and Public Works Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), told reporters on Capitol Hill.

Boxer praised talks with Republicans--and even the Republicans themselves--for steady progress. She's leading final House-Senate conference negotiations over surface transportation legislation that expires June 30th.

"I welcome a change of heart on behalf of Republicans that I feel we have now," Boxer said. She was referring to the basics of a 2-year, $109 billion Senate bill that passed with 74 bipartisan votes in March.

Boxer said both she and chief GOP negotiator Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) agree on the desirability of a bill of even longer duration than the Senate bill. But therein lies the difficulty.While Boxer says that 80% of her EPW bill is already agreed to, that bill does not include some of the most contentious issues.

"I don't have any sicking points to share with you today," Boxer said. Even if the senator isn't sharing, that doesn't mean that sticking points aren't present.

How to pay for spending in the bill is a key issue with House conservatives, and one that aides say is not yet solved. So are the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, a GOP demand to roll back EPA coal ash regulations, spending on bike lanes, parks and other so-called transportation "enhancements," and other issues.

Boxer said she spoke to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) by phone Tuesday about the conference and that she was encouraged by the chat. Boehner released a statement saying he was “hopeful that the negotiators can complete work on a conference agreement that includes Keystone and other energy measures to address high gas prices and create jobs."

The statement went on to say Boehner expects "meaningful infrastructure reforms that ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent effectively and efficiently on roads and bridges across this country.”

"I there's a lot more than three or four or two hard issues," Boxer said. Last week House Republicans voted to demand the conference return and approve the Keystone pipeline. Boxer dismissed the importance of the vote as routine but added that discussions had begun on contentious areas like Keystone.


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