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Transportation Nation

Obama: Cut Oil Imports by a Third in the Next Decade

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

(File Photo: Getty Images)

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) President Obama is vowing the U.S. will cut oil consumption by a third in the next decade.  Speaking before a group at Georgetown University, Obama said:  "So today, I’m setting a new goal: one that is reasonable, achievable, and necessary. When I was elected to this office, America imported 11 million barrels of oil a day. By a little more than a decade from now, we will have cut that by one-third."

To achieve this, Obama said, he would take several measures:  continue to expand domestic drilling, pursuing increased natural gas drilling while ensuring it didn't endanger oil supplies, and, as he put it, keeping nuclear power "on the table," because he said, nuclear power doesn't produce carbon.  But he said that must be done safely.

His biggest proposals, however, were on the consumption side. By 2015, he said, all federal cars purchased will be hybrid or electric.

"The fleet of cars and trucks we use in the federal government is one of the largest in the country.  That’s why we’ve already doubled the number of alternative vehicles in the federal fleet, and that’s why, today, I am directing agencies to purchase 100% alternative fuel, hybrid, or electric vehicles by 2015.  And going forward, we’ll partner with private companies that want to upgrade their large fleets."

Obama noted that even if the US were to drill "every drop" of U.S. oil, US oil only accounts for 2 percent of the world supply, while the US consumes 25 percent of the oil.  He also pointed out that 70 percent of US petroleum consumption comes from the transportation sector.

Most of the oil consumption part of the speech focused on alternative-fueled personal and commercial vehicles, but he did make reference to increasing mass transit options: " We’ve also made historic investments in high-speed rail and mass transit, because part of making our transportation sector cleaner and more efficient involves offering Americans – urban, suburban, and rural – the choice to be mobile without having to get in a car and pay for gas."

The administration has invested about $11 billion in high speed rail, and wants to spend more than $50 billion more.

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Transportation Nation

Effort to Create Hybrid Taxi Fleet Gets New Legislative Boost

Monday, March 28, 2011

(Image: CC by Flickr user bearclau)

(New York -- Brian Zumhagen, WNYC) New York City's effort to create a fuel-efficient taxi fleet is getting a new legislative boost. The City's plan to require new taxi's to be  hybrids was struck down by a federal appeals court. Now, members of New York's congressional delegation are looking to change the federal law to allow cities to set their own fuel-efficiency standards for taxis. U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand says the Green Taxis Act will be re-introduced in both houses of Congress this week.

"This is a common-sense proposal that would update antiquated laws and give New York the authority, and other cities around the country the authority, to set their own fuel emissions standards," she said.

Under current law, only federal officials can regulate those standards, and that was the reason a federal appeals court rejected New York City's policy last summer. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider the city's appeal last month.

Gillibrand and Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) originally introduced their bill in 2009.

The Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade issued a statement saying the city can improve fuel efficiency without the legislation, if officials simply work with the taxi industry and permit owners to purchase next generation commercially-built taxis.

Via WNYC.

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Transportation Nation

Americans Still Aren't Buying Fuel-Efficient Cars

Monday, March 28, 2011

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) The Detroit Free Press is reporting sluggish demand for fuel-efficient cars despite gas prices climbing above $4-per gallon in many parts of the country.

The Free Press: "Hybrid car sales actually shrunk from 2.9 percent of new vehicle sales in 2009 to 2.4 percent last year. Sales of light trucks -- pickups, SUVs, crossovers and minivans -- rose to 51 percent from 48 percent over the same period."

Car companies have to meet government standards for fleet-wide fuel efficiency. Meeting those targets requires increasing sales of  smaller cars with higher miles-per-gallon performance, and hybrids, which earn carmakers credits under the system.

The government's average fuel economy standards call for a fleet-wide average of 35.5 m.p.g. by 2016. "The 2010 average of all new vehicles actually slipped to 22.2 m.p.g. from 22.3 m.p.g." the Free Press reports.

For a sense of sales numbers of the newest generation of electric cars as compared to SUVs The Free Press offers this: "In the first two months of the year, Chevrolet sold 602 Volts while Nissan sold 154 Leafs. In the same period, by contrast, Cadillac sold 2,793 Escalades and Lincoln sold 1,193 Navigators."

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Underreported: Indian Point and Water

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Concerns about seismic activity at the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant are grabbing the headlines this week, but other issues have been raised in the debate over whether the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should renew the plant's license. WNYC’s Bob Hennelly looks at environmental concerns about 90-100 degree waste water coming out of the plant into the Hudson River.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

The Ragged Edge of the World

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Environmental writer Eugene Linden talks about how the far corners on the earth have been changed by—or have resisted being changed by—modernity. The Ragged Edge of the World: Encounters at the Frontier Where Modernity, Wildlands, and Indigenous Peoples Meet looks at this environmental frontier—Vietnam, New Guinea and Borneo, pygmy forests and Machu Picchu, the Arctic and Antarctica, Cuba and Midway Island.

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Taking Down Freeways Goes Mainstream, Bay Area Floats Transit-Oriented Development Plan, and Massachusetts Picks New Commuter Rail Line Route

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Image from the "One Bay Area" presentation of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments.

San Francisco's regional transportation and housing agencies (One Bay Area) are floating a 25 year-plan to prepare for a future in which the Bay Area has 2 million more people and 902,000 housing units -- and most of it built near rail stations, bus lines, walking paths or bike lanes. (Contra Costa Times)

Half a century after cities put up freeways, many of those roads are reaching the end of their useful lives. But instead of replacing them, a growing number of cities are thinking it makes more sense just to tear them down. (NPR)  You can see our earlier coverage of this issue here, on Marketplace.

Massachusetts transportation officials hoping to build a new commuter rail line have decided on a preferred route to connect Boston to New Bedford and Fall River. The state hopes to have the line built by 2017 -- but the funding has not been secured yet. (Boston Globe)

New Yorkers can now contest parking tickets online. (WNYC)

The Federal Highway Administration launched new standards for bridge inspections (The Hill), which Ray LaHood says will allow the FHWA to more clearly and easily identify bridge issues in each state.

United Auto Workers made concessions in 2008, when the American auto industry was limping. Now, Detroit car manufacturers are newly profitable -- and UAW officials are meeting today to map out strategy in advance of labor contract talks. (Marketplace)

Google has become the first customer for a new wireless EV charging station. The inductive charging system requires only proximity to the charging unit -- no plug or outlet necessary. (Wired/Autopia)

Some fuel-efficient cars can take years to reach the break-even point.  (KUHF)

Georgia's DeKalb County is expected today to approve a $2.7 billion wish list of transportation upgrades, but county officials are still reluctant to support asking residents to pay more in sales tax. And it sounds like no one thinks there's enough local control of the money. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

A Foursquare add-on will give users real-time transit schedules when they check in near a transit stop. (Mashable)

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: NY's City Hall goes on a bike lane offensive, and Mayor Bloomberg speaks -- diplomatically -- about Iris Weinshall, who's not a bike lane fan. The Chinese demand for coal is pushing some American freight lines to the max. A former Metro executive is now working for a transportation lobbying firm. Watch a visualization of London's bike share system on the day of a tube strike. And: happy 200th anniversary, Manhattan street grid.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Ted Danson on Our Endangered Oceans

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Actor Ted Danson discusses his decades-long efforts to save our oceans. In his latest book, Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them, he describes what has happened to our oceans over the past century—from overfishing to the devastating effects of ocean acidification—and offers solutions to how we can combat these abuses in the future, and details his own journey into environmental activism.

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WNYC News

City Reclaims Waterfront as 'Sixth Borough'

Monday, March 14, 2011

WNYC

New York is a city of vast and diverse waterfront — with more than that of Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago and Portland combined. But much of its 520-mile shoreline has been underutilized or neglected for decades. Now, city officials are hoping a new, 10-year strategic plan unveiled Monday will provide a framework for the city to reclaim its standing as a world class waterfront city.

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Transportation Nation

U.S. Sect'y LaHood Says Cars Should Play Smaller Role In Next Gen of Transportation

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Ray LaHood at the 2011 Natonal Bike Summit (photo by Chris Eichler/League of American Bicyclists)

(Washington, DC - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told a conference of bicycle advocates in Washington, DC, that President Obama’s national transportation plan will continue to de-emphasize private vehicles. LaHood has faced opposition from some governors over spending on high speed rail and support for biking and walking paths. But he said those priorities come from “his boss," the president, and the transportation budget that the president has put before Congress.

Ray LaHood's blog post on the speech is here.

“It’s about the next generation of transportation," he said of Obama's agenda. "It’s about high speed rail. It’s about streetcars. It’s about transit. It’s about livable and sustainable communities where you can live in a community and you don’t have to own a car.”

LaHood didn't jump up on a table, as he did in a fit of enthusiasm at last year's League of American Bicyclists' National Bike Summit, but he scaled some rhetorical heights in showering praise around the room.

He began by calling New York Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik Kahn "a quite extraordinary lady" for re-engineering part of the city's streetscape to allow more room for buses, bikes and pedestrians. "She has really put New York on the map when it comes to making New York a liveable, sustainable community," he said. "And you can live in New York and not own a motor vehicle. So Janette, thank you for your leadership."

His remarks come as Sadik-Khan has faced noisy protests from some quarters for making life less convenient for some motorists.

LaHood also defended President Obama's high speed rail initiative, even though Florida Governor Rick Scott last week became the latest governor to turn down federal transportation funds for a high speed rail project--in his case, $2.4 billion.

"There's a lot more governors that have accepted money," LaHood said to reporters in a hallway of the Grand Hyatt Hotel after speaking to a ballroom full of bicycling enthusiasts. "Only three governors have turned back money. I've got people lined up out my door ready to take the more than $2 billion that's coming back from Florida."

He said the Obama administration has already spent $11 billion on high speed rail and is proposing in the current budget to spend $50 billion more. "There's a lot of enthusiasm for high speed rail in America," he concluded.

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Housing Near Public Transport More Energy Efficient, Mexican Trucks Coming to US Roads, and NY Bike Registration Legislation Withdrawn

Friday, March 04, 2011

An EPA report says housing near public transportation uses less energy than homes in the suburbs, even Energy Star-rated ones. (USA Today)

Politifact fact-checks Florida's high-speed rail debate.

Queens Assemblyman Michael DenDekker is withdrawing his proposed legislation requiring bicycles to be registered. (NY Daily News)

The Bicing story: the video below shows the impact that Barcelona's bike share program has made on city streets.

NJ Governor Chris Christie says: "I’m ready to invest in mass transit between New Jersey and New York--I’m just not willing to be fleeced for it" -- and adds that two recent ideas for a trans-Hudson tunnel - extending the #7 and the "Gateway" tunnel - are better projects for the state than the ARC tunnel was. (Star-Ledger)

President Obama and Mexican President Calderon have agreed to let Mexican trucks on US highways (Marketplace).  What does that mean for American truckers? (The Takeaway)

The NY Daily News wants NYC DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan to stick to dedicated bus lanes -- and only dedicated bus lanes -- on 34th Street.

Lose something in a NYC taxi? There's an app for that! (NY1)

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: US DOT Secretary Ray LaHood and Florida Governor Rick Scott are scheduled to talk about high-speed rail this morning. The NYC DOT's 34th Street redesign will itself be redesigned.  The DC chapter of the ACLU wants people who have had their bags searched on the Metro to come forward and help them sue WMATA. And the House voted to extend the nation's surface transportation law.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Monona Rossol on Chemicals, Health and Safety

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Chemist Monona Rossol, talks about how the chemicals in everyday products are harming us—scientists have started linking our increased rates of cancer, autism, obesity, and asthma to chemicals—and what the government is not doing about it. In her new book, Pick Your Poison: How Our Mad Dash to Chemical Utopia is Making Lab Rats of Us All, she explains how everyday toxins get into our bodies and accumulate over time and provides us with inspiration to make changes. 

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The Leonard Lopate Show

T. C. Boyle on His Novel When the Killing’s Done

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

T. C. Boyle talks about his latest novel, When the Killing’s Done: an adventure about endangered animals and those who protect them. Mainly set on the wild and sparsely inhabited Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara, the story looks at the power that humans try to exert, for better or worse, over the natural world.

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Transportation Nation

Controversy on the Texas Prairie: Road to Nowhere - or a Must for Houston's Future?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Will a highway cut through Texas' Katy Prairie?

(Houston - Wendy Siegle, KUHF News)  Houston is preparing to complete an 88-mile ring road this weekend -- as controversy continues to simmer around another, even larger ring road that critics say will induce sprawl.  That road, called the Grand Parkway, would cut through the environmentally sensitive Katy prairie (pictured.)

But for now, after 23 years of construction, the final section of the city’s outer beltway, called the Sam Houston Tollway, will be complete come Saturday.

It’s the second road to circle Houston. The first was Loop 610, which was completed in 1976.

Alan Clark, the director of transportation and planning at the Houston-Galveston Area Council, says the final $400 million dollar section will serve the rapidly growing communities in Northeast Harris County. “It should shorten their travel time significantly," he said. "And by that I mean maybe twenty minutes, thirty minutes - it could be even longer.”

But critics argue that it induces suburban sprawl and doesn't fix congestion problems in Houston's denser, more populated areas.

Those arguments are getting even more heated around another concentric road that has only just begun its giant circle around Greater Houston.

It's called the Grand Parkway, and it would be the third road to ring around Houston.  Some want it, some loathe it. It would be a massive 180-mile toll road encircling greater Houston, and it's been part of the city's planning since 1962. Less than thirty miles have been built so far, but 14 more could be added soon. That's because the Texas Department of Transportation recently announced that it expects to have the nearly half -billion dollars it needs to construct the next segment.

With Houston poised to gain 3.5 million people over the next thirty years, proponents of the road say it's a crucial part of the region's transportation system. Critics say the road is superfluous, arguing that the money should be spent to tackle existing congestion problems in places where more people live and commute. But opposition to the road heats up even more over this next segment -- known as "E" -- because it will cut through the environmentally sensitive Katy Prairie, west of Houston.

You can listen to the story - and see a slideshow - at KUHF.

For more on KUHF's coverage of Segment E -- including a look at the route it would take, and reaction from locals and one tenacious environmentalist -- visit here.

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The Takeaway

T.C. Boyle on 'When the Killing's Done'

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

In 1853, a steamship named the Winfield Scott ran aground near the Channel Islands, which are off the coast of California. Unfortunately, when the ship landed, so did a certain foreign species that reproduced quickly, and ate the eggs of native birds and reptiles: the black rat. In 2001, the National Park Service began fighting the rats with poison. Members of a fringe environmental group responded by scattering vitamin K — an antidote to the poison. It’s this real struggle between warring environmentalists, humans, and animals that is at the center of T.C. Boyle’s newest novel “When the Killing’s Done.”

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The Leonard Lopate Show

The Age of Man and Climate Change

Monday, February 21, 2011

Elizabeth Kolbert explains how climate change caused by humans—building cities, changing the land through agriculture and deforestation, and carbon emissions from cars and industry—has risen to the level of geologic significance. Her article “Enter the Anthropocene—Age of Man” looks at the “Anthropocene,” the new epoch defined by humans’ massive impact on the planet. It appears in National Geographic magazine’s March issue.

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Transportation Nation

Montana Lawmakers Grapple With Megaloads On State Highways

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A "megaload" of refinery equipment waits in Idaho (photo courtesy of ConocoPhilips)

(Helena, Montana -- Jackie Yamanaka,  YPR) -  It's described as "heavier than the Statue of Liberty, nearly as long as a football field, wider than the roads that they’re actually traveling on, and three stories high."

A so-called megaload of refinery equipment bound for a ConocoPhillips refinery in Billings is just east of the Idaho-Montana border, poised to make a circuitous 500-odd mile trip from the Lolo National Forest, and winding up to Roy, before making its way back down to a refinery near Billings.

These first of four coke drum shipments were trucked in from the Port in Lewiston, Idaho along the scenic Lochsa River corridor and along the boundaries of wilderness areas and national forest land. When the second shipment arrives, they will travel together to the south central Montana refinery.

Some Montana residents are concerned these loads will spawn an industrial megaload corridor that will cause excessive wear and tear on roads and bridges.

So Montana lawmakers are considering House Bill 507, which would require industrial equipment on Montana highways to obtain a new, special-use permit.

Zack Porter is the campaign coordinator for the group “All Against the Haul.”  He says Montana lacks a current state regulatory statute to deal with megaloads. "We do not use the word megaloads lightly," he says. "Today’s highway infrastructure, much less those bridges that were built in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s in this state , wasn't built to handle this type of equipment.”

But Jim Lynch, the director of the Montana Department of Transportation, says the process already exists to evaluate and analyze the state’s roads, the hauling equipment, how that load will impact the roadways and make sure it won’t violate the federal bridge laws.

Lynch adds there’s also an environmental assessment conducted under the guidelines of the Montana Environmental Policy Act, as well as a safety plan, and an emergency plan.

“We permit a lot of megaloads,” Lynch says. “This is not the first megaload that has ever been permitted. It happens on a regular basis in Montana.”

Lynch says ConocoPhillips has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the state of Montana that the company will pay for any damage now or in the future even if MDOT has made an error. He adds the company has also posted a $10 million bond. Lynch says that’s to ensure Montanans don’t pay for any possible damage.

Lynch says there are laws in Montana that govern the actions state agencies like his take.

“And I can assure the public,” he says, “that the Montana Department of Transportation did just that follow the existing laws. We can’t make up the laws as we go. We have to enforce the laws of the state of Montana equally among all the users of the highway system.”

Montana DOT director Jim Lynch Director testifying before the Montana House Transportation Committee. Behind him on the chair is a copy of the analysis the agency did for the Imperial Oil, a unit of Exxon Mobil, transportation project. (Photo by Jackie Yamanaka)

During the hearing, Lynch did not speak either for or against HB 507.

MDOT also recently granted final approval to Exxon Mobil Corporation to move large loads of refinery equipment bound for Canada’s oil tar sand fields. Under the newly approved plan, 207 loads of Imperial Oil equipment will move from the Port of Lewiston in Idaho, through Montana and north to the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada.

Opponents of HB 507 said the bill impedes commerce by delaying the issuing of permits.

Dave Galt represents the Montana Petroleum Association. He’s also a former Montana DOT director.

“The purpose of the Interstate system, the strategic highway system, the national network of highway systems, and the federal funding formulas that come to Montana are premised upon the fact that we need a system to move goods across the country,” he says.

And other opponents of the bill say the definition of a megaload in the bill would delay the transport of a number of goods, including wind turbines, large cranes used in construction, and other mining and drilling equipment bound for Montana work sites.

But supporters of the bill say megaloads could harm their small outfitting and guiding businesses by driving away tourists or causing an inconvenience. And they say this bill will ensure safety for other highway users.

The House Transportation did not immediately vote on HB 507.

See the information sheet that ConocoPhillips put out about megaloads below. An image of the route map can be found here.
ConocoPhillipsFAQ

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Oscar Nominated Documentaries: "Gasland"

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Josh Fox, director of "Gasland", talks about his Oscar nominated film, and discusses the effects of the controversial 'fracking' method of natural gas extraction on the health and safety of communities.

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Boston's Pricey Cabs, BART Clears A San Jose Hurdle, and Privatizing The Tappan Zee?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Boston cab (photo by SPBer via Wikimedia Commons)

Radio Boston (WBUR) tries to figure out why that city's cabs are the most expensive in the nation.

The five-decade-long quest to bring BART to San Jose cleared a major hurdle yesterday, when the Federal Transit Administration recommended that it receive $130 million in federal funds this year -- clearing the way for construction to begin in 2012. (Mercury News)

A state commission charged with shoring up Maryland’s cash-strapped transportation improvement fund has proposed raising more than $800 million in increased fees -- and called on state leaders not to take money from the system to plug other holes in the budget. (Baltimore Business Journal)

The Takeaway talks to an economist who says that despite negative perceptions, cities make us better -- and happier.

It's too expensive to maintain New York's Tappan Zee Bridge. It's too expensive to replace it. So politicians are looking at how private companies might provide a solution. (Wall Street Journal)

NY City Council Speaker Christine Quinn will propose changes to parking rules in her State of the City speech today. (WNYC)

An Ecuardorean judge fined Chevron $9 billion in a decade-long pollution case. (Marketplace)

The FAA said that U.S. airline-passenger numbers will reach 1 billion in fiscal 2021 -- two years sooner than projected -- because of improved economic growth. (Washington Post)

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee kicked off their reauthorization field hearings/public listening sessions in West Virginia, where some attendees wanted to talk about raising the gas tax. (Charleston Gazette)

Virginia Senator Mark Warner said that Governor Bob McDonnell's plan to pump nearly $3 billion in the state's roads over three years is not "fiscally conservative" and will not solve the state's transportation problems. (Washington Post)

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: President Obama released his budget; we began looking at its transportation spending.  And: in honor of Valentine's Day, we found love on the subway.

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The Takeaway

Cities: Better For Your Health and Happiness?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Over 249 million Americans live on the three percent of land that constitutes our cities. More than half of America’s income is earned in 22 metropolitan areas. And people live longer in New York City than anywhere else in the U.S. That being said, our nation continues to grapple with negative perceptions about cities. Images of loud, dirty, noisy, graffiti and crime-ridden urban wastelands persist. Economist Ed Glaeser wants to change that. He’s convinced that cities make us better, and that the proof can be seen everywhere from Minneapolis to Shanghai.

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Transportation Nation

Red Tape or a Green Vine? A New Lawsuit Against I-69

Friday, February 11, 2011

(Matt Dellinger - Transportation Nation) In Indiana, another battle has begun in the war over Interstate 69.

Wednesday, the Hoosier Environmental Council (HEC) and the Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads (CARR) filed a complaint (pdf) asking the U.S. District Court to invalidate an Army Corps of Engineers permit issued for the I-69 Evansville-to-Indianapolis highway project.

"The suit alleges that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers never conducted a thorough, independent, and objective review of the permit application or analyzed alternative routes before issuing the permit," a press release says. "One of these alternatives, a route following U.S. 41 and I-70, would save Indiana taxpayers over a billion dollars and reduce the project’s destruction of wetlands, streams, forests and farmland by 60 percent."

The members of both HEC and CARR have been fighting the state highway department over its plans for the “NAFTA Highway” for twenty years, objecting not as NIMBYs but on more universal social, economic, and environmental grounds. Both groups were party to a 2007 lawsuit, also filed in District Court, that argued more generally that Indiana’s new-terrain route had been chosen unlawfully. The decision (pdf) by Judge David Hamilton, upheld the state’s actions, but left the door open to future lawsuits such as the one filed Wednesday.

The initial hearing in the case probably won’t be for a few weeks, but meanwhile the conversation about the relative importance of environmental concerns and highway construction will continue, in a different way, nearby.

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