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Report Finds 10 Most Dangerous Roads in NYC Area for Pedestrians, "Arterial" Are Worst

Monday, February 25, 2013

Nassau County Pedestrian Fatalities, 2009-2011

Fourteen pedestrians died along Hempstead Turnpike in Nassau County, NY from 2009 through 2011. That's almost one fatality for each mile of road, a morbid statistic that earned that 16-mile stretch the dubious distinction of the most dangerous road in the NYC area according to an analysis by a transportation policy watchdog group.

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign crunched traffic data numbers from 2009-2001 for the New York City area, including suburbs in Long Island (which includes Nassau County), New Jersey and Connecticut. According to a report issued by the Campaign today, one type of road stands out as particularly dangerous for pedestrians. 

"The analysis found that arterial roads – roads with two or more lanes in each direction that are designed to accommodate vehicle speeds of 40 mph or higher – are the most deadly for pedestrians, with almost 60 percent of pedestrian deaths in Connecticut, New Jersey and downstate New York occurring on this type of road.

“Arterials were traditionally designed to move vehicles from one destination to the next without regard for other road users like pedestrians and bicyclists. We continue to see that designing roads like this results in needless loss of life,” said Renata Silberblatt, report author and staff analyst with the Campaign."

For a full list of the 10 most dangerous roads according to the report, scroll down. For maps and lists by county, go here.

In the report, the Campaign praised governmental agencies for taking steps to redesign dangerous corridors.

State complete streets laws exist in New York and Connecticut and the New Jersey DOT endorsed a complete streets policy in 2009. In addition, over 40 municipal and county governments in the tri-state region have adopted complete streets policies. These local policies will help ensure that the roadways under local and county jurisdiction are designed and redesigned with all users – pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists in mind.

In 2012, the New York State Department of Transportation began pedestrian safety improvements along Hempstead Turnpike, also known as Route 24.

“We have seen again and again that relatively low-cost improvements such as the improvements being done to Hempstead Turnpike can save lives,” said Veronica Vanterpool, Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s executive director. "“We applaud NYSDOT’s attention to Hempstead Turnpike," she added in an emailed statement.

According to the statement, the improvements include "eight raised medians and five new crosswalks, as well as relocating six bus stops closer to crosswalks and altering traffic signals to calm traffic."

The report recommends increased spending on Safe Routes to School, Safe Routes to Transit and Safe Routes for Seniors programs, and promotes "complete streets" laws that require the inclusion of pedestrian and cyclist concerns in street planning and redesigns.

"Recent improvements to New York’s most dangerous roadways are very encouraging and AARP is hopeful that this report will instill a sense of urgency to make even more improvements where necessary," said Will Stoner, associate state director for AARP in New York in a statement.

The report uses the latest data available in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).

The 10 most dangerous roads in the NYC Tri-State Area

Rank Change in Ranking (Prior Year's Rank) Road Pedestrian Fatalities (2009-2011)
1 - SR-24 (HEMPSTEAD TPKE,FULTON AVE),Nassau County,NY 14
2 - BROADWAY,Manhattan,NY 12
3 ↑ (6) SR-25 (JERICHOTPKE,MIDDLE COUNTRY RD),Suffolk County,NY 11
4 ↑ (6) SR-27 (SUNRISEHWY),NassauCounty, NY 9
4 ↑ (6) SR-110 (NEW YORK AVE,BROADHOLLOW RD, BROADWAY),Suffolk County,NY 9
4 ↑ (14) US‐322/40 (Blackhorse Pike),Atlantic County,NJ 9
4 ↓ (3) US-130 (BURLINGTON PIKE),Burlington County,NJ 9
4 ↑ (6) ROUTE 1,Middlesex County,NJ 9
9 ↓ (3) SR-27 (SUNRISEHWY,MONTAUK POINT STATE HWY, CR 39),Suffolk County,NY 8
9 ↑ (26) US-30 (WHITE HORSE PIKE),Camden County,NJ 8
9 new ROUTE 9,Middlesex County,NJ 8

 

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Transportation Nation

Gov Cuomo Shows No Urgency In Appointing Next Chair Of NY MTA

Friday, February 22, 2013

The front runner in the search for the NY MTA's next chairperson.

(New York, NY - WNYC) Two months have passed since now-mayoral candidate Joe Lhota resigned as chairman and CEO of the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority. So what do we know about his replacement, the man or woman who will face a raft of problems, once that person is chosen by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to lead the nation's largest transit agency?

"Nothing, nada, zip, zero," said Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign. "I haven't heard."

Other transportation advocates say the same. At one time, those advocates would have known by now what was happening. That time was September 2011, two months after Lhota's predecessor, Jay Walder, resigned from the NY MTA's top spot. A search committee made up of advocates and governmental veterans was, by the end of those two months, wrapping up interviews for Walder's replacement. The committee recommended Lhota, whom Cuomo named head of the NY MTA in October of 2011. Three months later, the state senate confirmed him in the post.

A mere year later, Lhota was gone--convinced by Republican power brokers to run for mayor, a decision made easier by the high profile he gained from directing the authority's largely sure-footed handling of storm Sandy.

But this time around, there is little urgency in the search for his replacement. The governor has not courted fanfare in announcing the formation of a search committee, as he did before. Instead, a Cuomo official blamed distractions from Sandy and an Albany budget fight for the fact that "there will be no announcement soon" about a new transit chief. Cuomo spokesman Matt Wing would only add that, "The administration continues to actively search for a new chairman."

Former mayoral candidate Freddy Ferrer, who joined the NY MTA board eight months ago, is serving in a caretaker role as interim chairman and CEO. Ferrer has said repeatedly that he has no interest in making his role permanent.

Acting executive director Tom Prendergast, who normally runs the subways and buses, now has the firmest grasp of anyone on day-to-day operations. Some transportation advocates are floating his name as their choice for the next chairman. Mitchell Moss, NYU professor of urban policy and planning, theorized that Prendergast's prowess at keeping the authority running, particularly Prendergast's skillful navigation of a recent snowstorm, is easing the pressure on Cuomo to promptly name a new NY MTA chairman. "Tom is a seasoned professional who is doing such a good job that there may not be the urgency to fill the position," Moss said.

But the NY MTA faces crucial post-Sandy choices about repairing and hardening the transit system, especially as the authority starts to spend nearly $5 billion in federal aid. Joe Lhota vigorously lobbied his fellow Republicans for Sandy aid; without a permanent chair, the NY MTA has lost at least some of that clout.

The void at the top is also felt in the stalled negotiations between the NY MTA and its largest union, TWU Local 100, which has been without a contract for 13 months. The two sides haven't spoken in nearly four months, an unusually long hiatus for a union negotiation.

An apparent moment to make progress  presented itself in mid-December, when the day-to-day emergency of Sandy had subsided and freshly re-elected union president John Samuelsen was freed from campaigning. Instead, Joe Lhota "dropped the bomb," in the words of union spokesman Jim Gannon, by announcing his resignation.

Lhota was then asked at his final board meeting whether his abrupt departure would stall the authority's talks with Samuelsen, with whom Lhota had gone out of his way to cultivate a productive relationship. Lhota downplayed the problem. "There have been talks and there will continue to be talks," he said. Since then, he's been wrong on the second point.

The talks matter because a balanced budget for the authority rests in part on getting the union to agree to either three years of flat pay or pay increases offset by rules concessions that bring increased productivity. Without those three "net-zeroes," the NY MTA's chronically fragile finances would become even more problematic, with cuts in service a possibility. Either way, that's a headache for the next chairperson to sort out, whenever that person arrives.

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Car Share Parking Attracts an Unlikely Foe in San Francisco

Thursday, February 21, 2013

(photo by Guerilla Features/Jason Tester via flickr)

(San Francisco -- KALW) San Francisco's Board of Supervisors recently passed an ordinance to allow residential developers to add more parking spots to their new apartment buildings–- if those spots are dedicated for car-share programs.

The city considers itself a national leader in car share, and in 2011 it began reserving on-street parking for area nonprofit City CarShare.

So it wasn't a surprise when the ordinance, which was proposed by Supervisor Scott Wiener, passed unanimously. What surprised some was the opposition to it.

In a letter, Sierra Club secretary Sue Vaughan said the plan "will add to overall congestion and negatively impact the flow of transit and air quality.”

The Sierra Club says building more parking spaces -- even for car share -- violates the city’s Transit First policy. That's a 1973 initiative that puts public transit investment as the city’s top transportation priority, and is designed to discourage private automobile traffic.

Apartment parking is hot commodity in San Francisco– under the current rules, developers can only build one space per unit. But for many San Franciscans, that’s not enough. A quick search on Craigslist shows people renting their coveted spots upwards of $300 a month.

Now, the city is considering reducing that amount: a recent development on Market and Castro was allowed just one half of a parking spot per unit. The idea behind the restriction is to get people out of cars and into other methods of transportation, like Muni or biking.

Before the new ordinance, car-share spots counted toward the development’s maximum. For example, the planned building on Market and Castro has 24 units, so that means 12 parking spaces. If the developer wanted to add a car-share spot, it would have to be included in that 12. Under the new ordinance, they could add between two to five spots designated for car-share only, in addition to the 12.

Instead of making new parking spots for car-share programs, The Sierra Club suggested converting existing street parking spots. But Supervisor Wiener’s office countered by offering studies that show each new car share vehicle replaces between eight and ten private cars. In fact, a UC Berkeley study found that after signing up with a car-sharing program, almost half of households with a car got rid of their vehicle.

The San Francisco Supervisors hope that developers will take advantage of these new car-share spots. So do the city’s car-share members, who are seeing their usual spots at gas stations and open-air lots disappear as they get converted into buildings and other uses.

This isn't the first time the Sierra Club has taken a counterintuitive position. Last summer, the group opposed a regional transportation referendum in the Atlanta area that would have generated $3 billion in transit funding. The Sierra Club said that proposal didn't go far enough.  The referendum didn't get the majority it needed to pass.

Follow @IsabeltheAngell on Twitter.

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To Continue Plowing or Throw in the Towel: That is Connecticut's Question

Thursday, February 21, 2013

(Neena Satija - CT Mirror) When the city threatened to tow all the cars on my street after the blizzard, I went into full-on panic mode. I paid a guy with a snow plow thirty bucks to dig out my car. And there was such a huge mound of snow between my roommate’s car and the road, that we actually drove it onto the sidewalk to get it off the street. And then the city never delivered. We live in the East Rock neighborhood of New Haven — and we’re not alone. All over the city, mounds of snow have reduced side streets from two lanes to one. Driving through them on Wednesday was a constant cat-and-mouse game with cars approaching from the opposite direction.  Check out this guy, who has just parallel-parked between two mounds of snow.

(All photos by Dru Nadler)

Chris Betances lives in the Beaver Hills neighborhood. Like me, he spent considerable time and effort digging out his car. Then the city never plowed the street. He nearly got towed earlier, forced to park in an illegal spot.

“Good thing I was actually walking out to my car,” he said. “And there was a tow truck literally right next to my car … I was like, there’s no way you’re towing my car right now. Where else am I going to park, you know?”

What I liked about my job today was that I could whine to the mayor of New Haven, John DeStefano, about this, and ask what gives. It’s a math problem and an energy problem, is basically what I was told.

“You know what? At some point, we do stop plowing, and we do stop removing snow,” he said. The storm has already cost the city more than $2 million; on Monday, with schools ready to be back in session, he decided enough was enough. “We’ve been essentially done except for emergency and safety issues for two days now.” It took as many as 30 payloaders — a few from the city and from the National Guard, but mostly contractors — to remove as much snow as the city did. A lot of it went here, to this public lot reserved for that purpose:

In Bridgeport, snow is even more of a political issue. Some residents are calling for Mayor Bill Finch to resign, and a Facebook page created this week to that effect has more than 120 “likes.” They say the city took too long to dig them out immediately after the storm, and now, they’re dealing with 20-foot-high mountains of snow piled at many intersections by plows. Imagine turning into an intersection and staring this guy in the face, for instance:

Clearly, the city can’t be finished removing snow with payloaders and dump trucks. And it isn’t, emergency director Scott Appleby tells me. He thinks it’ll take at least a couple more weeks to get rid of these dangerous mountains at intersections all over the city. He also vehemently defends Bridgeport’s response to the storm — originally, forecasters said the city would “only” (ha!) get 18 inches of snow.

Bridgeport actually got more than 31-38 inches. But no one realized that, apparently, until around 10:30 p.m. Friday night, the night the storm hit. That’s when, as Appleby puts it, “the system stalled.” Plow and truck drivers had already been pulling 12-hour shifts to deal with the amount of snow. And the people due for a second shift couldn’t get to work.

Appleby said the city learned many important lessons from the storm: Communicate better, with residents as well as weather forecasters. Institute parking bans and emergency declarations farther in advance, even if it may seem a little premature.

Cut down on contracting, by far the biggest expense, if at all possible – maybe even by using volunteers or other agencies. Maybe earlier parking bans would have prevented bizarre and hilarious scenes like this one:

New Haven’s mayor DeStefano was less forthcoming with “lessons learned” that can help during another snow emergency.

“I think there are things you can learn, but the things you learn may have nothing to do with the storm you next experience,” he said.

Or, the money to implement lessons may not be there. The city could try to lock in contractors in advance at a fixed price to save money – but that usually requires paying something upfront before a storm is even forecasted. Bringing in more equipment and staff means hiring more supervisors – which the city can’t afford. More outside contractors or National Guard members only go so far when they’re not familiar with New Haven’s streets in an emergency.

Maybe the most important thing we need to do, DeStefano told me, is temper our expectations. OK, fine. I don’t expect to find a legal parking spot on my street anytime soon. So I’m parking in the “no standing anytime” zone. And if I get a ticket, someone’s going to pay. Also, I’m going to walk on the street in situations like this, so I don’t get trapped on the sidewalk again:

Follow Neena Satija on Twitter.

 

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Looming Fiscal Cliff For Seattle Transit

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Waiting to board Seattle's #7 bus (photo by Oran Viriyincy via flickr)

(Derek Wang - Seattle, KUOW) Bus service in King County could get some good news this week. Washington state lawmakers are expected to introduce a plan that could prevent a looming fiscal crisis. But first, it has to clear some hurdles.

One of the most heavily used bus routes in King County is bus route 7. Officials say as many as 12,000 people ride the number 7 bus every day. Resident Steven Anderson relies on it and hasn’t owned a car in years. He said the number 7 can be really packed during rush hour.

“It will be to the point where it will even pass you because it’s too full,” he said. “So it won’t even pick you up, so you have to wait for the next one or the one after that.”

Crowded buses are a problem that could have been worse if the Washington state Legislature hadn’t stepped in. About two years ago, King County Metro was faced with making massive cuts that would have affected most riders. But those major reductions never happened. Metro cut some costs, trimmed some schedules and ended the downtown Ride Free Zone. It also won new funding authority from the state Legislature and started charging a $20 vehicle license fee for bus service.

The problem is that the $20 fee is due to expire next year.

Transportation advocates are sounding alarm bells. “We’re about a year or so away from a major fiscal cliff for King County Metro,” said Rob Johnson, executive director of Transportation Choices Coalition. He said other transit systems are facing similar challenges, especially in Pierce and Snohomish Counties.  “In Snohomish County, Community Transit has already eliminated all of its Sunday service and significantly reduced service from 2008," Johnson said. "We’re really struggling as a region to keep buses on the streets.”

Transit agencies are in a tough bind because of funding problems. The systems are largely paid for by sales taxes. But when the recession hit, people started spending less -- and funding for transit plummeted.

Last year, King County asked the Legislature for a permanent funding solution, one that would not expire. But that effort failed after King County and its suburban cities couldn’t agree on how to split the new revenue.

This year the issue is before lawmakers again, and some officials are optimistic that they can work out a deal. Democratic Representative Judy Clibborn chairs the House Transportation Committee and is leading this year’s effort in Olympia. She said unlike last year, this year’s proposal is connected to a larger plan for all of Washington, not just for King County, and is expected to cover buses and road improvements.

“This is a whole new ballgame,” Clibborn said. “Last year there was no statewide package on the table. There was nothing that was moving forward for helping cities and counties with transit and ferries and this year there is.”

For the legislation to pass, it will need a lot of support. Two-thirds of the Legislature will need to vote for it in order for it to take effect. But it could still go before voters. And it would be a tough sell to people like SeaTac resident Steve Donah. Donah said state lawmakers are wrong to propose new taxes or fees.

“They need to use the money that they have better. They’re not putting that money in where it needs to go,” he said. “I’ve been in this state for 25 years now, moved from California up here, and I’m seeing more potholes than I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Donah’s sentiments could be a signal of things to come. The last roads and transit package put before Puget Sound voters failed in 2007.

Follow Derek Wang on Twitter here. And listen to the radio version of this story here.

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Making Orlando's Streets Safer for Pedestrians

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pedestrians fare better crossing low-speed streets like this one in Thornton Park, Orlando. But high-speed, multi-lane roads are more of a challenge. (Photo by Matthew Peddie)

For years, Orlando has ranked among the most dangerous metro areas for pedestrians in the nation, with roughly two injuries per day and one fatality a week. Now a coalition of pedestrian advocates, law enforcement, local government and health agencies is trying to change that, with a program called Best Foot Forward. And eight months after the program launched, there are some signs of improvement.

Transportation experts say there are three steps needed to make the roads safer for pedestrians: education, enforcement and engineering. Orlando is trying all three, but it still has a long way to go to change the culture for people on foot.

“It’s pretty abominable,” says Bill Carpenter, a volunteer collecting data for the Best Foot Forward Program. He says pedestrians haven’t had much of a voice in Central Florida until now.

Carpenter is monitoring how drivers behave at crosswalks. A pickup truck approaches the intersection of Rollins street and Camden road in Winter Park. Carpenter steps cautiously into the road stretching out one hand to point down at the crosswalk. The driver doesn’t stop.

Bill Carpenter has been monitoring "voluntary yield rates" for drivers at Orlando crosswalks (photo by Matthew Peddie)

“Motorists reactions run the gamut," says Carpenter. "There’s some that begrudgingly stop, then others that wave back at you and say thanks for waiting there for me and go on.”

This dangerous dance is repeated daily all over the city by other pedestrians.

In East Orlando, a restaurant worker  called Tony makes his way to a bus stop on South Semoran Boulevard, near Curry Ford Road.

“This intersection here, it’s crazy," says Tony. He says drivers aren't courteous. "No. They’d rather run you over.”

Badly injured pedestrians go to the Orlando Regional Medical Center, which is part of the Best Foot Forward Coalition. Last year doctors at the center treated over 400 patients who’d been hit by cars.

But there are signs the education campaign is starting to have an effect, says project manager Brad Kuhn.

“On those roads at 35 miles an hour and less, we’ve been able to take the yield rate from about one in eleven to approaching one in three.”

That means at some of the 18 crosswalks being monitored in Orlando and Orange county, more drivers are yielding now for pedestrians than they were six months ago.

Kuhn’s organization, Bike Walk Central Florida, has reached out to 88,000 households to promote pedestrian safety, and 11 Orange County elementary schools are teaching a pedestrian safety syllabus. But, says Kuhn, high-speed roads are still a problem.

“By the time you see the pedestrian, you’re already past them," he says, "which is unfortunate, because on a 40-mile-an-hour road, your chance of survival if you get hit is 15 per cent.”

Enforcement is used to back up the education campaign. Last year police and sheriff’s officers handed out more than 1,200 tickets and arrested 20 drivers for failing to yield at crosswalks.

Orlando Police sergeant Jerry Goglas says some drivers try to blame the pedestrian. “They say: “did you see the pedestrian jaywalking, why is the pedestrian in the road?” Some of them are not understanding once a pedestrian is in a marked crosswalk the driver has to yield.”

Transportation for America's map showing pedestrian fatalities around Orlando 2000-2009. (Image from the 2011 report 'Dangerous by Design')

Best Foot Forward is trying out low-cost engineering like signs and road markings-- but the coalition is also interested in something called the Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon.

It’s a small box mounted on a pole at a crosswalk. When activated, a bright LED light flashes towards the eyes of approaching drivers, signaling them to stop. In St. Petersburg, on the other side of the state, these beacons have helped cut the pedestrian accident rate in half over the last ten years.

Pedestrian advocate Bill Carpenter thinks these beacons could help in Orlando, but he says changing drivers attitudes is a long term project. “I’d hate to venture a guess, but it’s going to take longer than six or 12 months. It’s going to take a lot.”

The Florida Department of Transportation is also engaged around the state trying to make the roads safer and it’s rolling out a pedestrian awareness campaign focusing on ten counties with high pedestrian crash rates.  In the meantime, Best Foot Forward hopes its early success will eventually translate into fewer pedestrians winding up in hospital.

Listen to an audio version of this story here. And follow Matthew Peddie on Twitter here.


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SF Mayor Pledges to Fix Muni

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A crowded Muni bus (photo CC by Flickr user Art Siegel)

When he came into office last year, San Francisco mayor Ed Lee said fixing Muni wasn’t a priority for him.

But in his 2013 State of the City address, Mayor Lee devoted almost ten minutes of his speech to the often-reviled public transit system.

Muni’s cars and buses are often overcrowded, sometimes to the point where they can’t stop to take on new passengers. And about 40 percent of Muni vehicles run late, according to an independent analysis by the Bay Citizen published last June. It’s a system so hated by some riders, it even provokes poetry (read “Ode to (Not Muni) Transit" from Muni Diaries). Lee said he sympathized with a ridership plagued by overcrowded chronically late buses, and he promised that changes to Muni are coming soon.

“I know it’s frustrating to push your way onto an overcrowded train or watch an overloaded bus go by,” said Lee. “And I understand the anxiety that comes with being late to work, late to pick up your kids or late to school because you were on time, but your bus wasn’t. I am very pleased to report that positive changes are underway, and with the full support and leadership of the MTA Board of Directors, the nation’s seventh largest public transit agency is once again focused on operations and investing in infrastructure, in maintenance and in safety.”

He concluded by unveiling the “San Francisco Transportation 2030 Task Force,” a group designed to tackle the city’s transportation problems.

But San Franciscans won’t have to wait for the task force to report back to learn what some of these changes are going to be. In 2008, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) started a project called the Transit Effective Program. Known as the TEP, the project began a as a comprehensive effort to overhaul the Muni system. It’s focused on two major issues: making changes that minimize delays on the Rapid Service lines and restructuring regular bus routes to reduce crowding and tardiness.

So far, the TEP has proposed some major changes to Muni. Of Muni’s 79 lines, 32 will have changes to their routes and 40 will have changes to their stop frequency. Six lines will have entirely new routes and three will be eliminated. Designed around the city’s changing commute patterns and congested areas, the SFMTA hopes that these changes will streamline the system and increase Muni’s reliability.

The TEP also proposes some changes to Muni’s Rapid Network corridors. The Rapid Network is a group of 12 exceptionally busy lines that officials have identified as routes they’d like to make faster and more frequent. These are so-called “engineering changes,” or improvements that physically change the structure of certain intersections and transit stops. Think adding “Muni-only” traffic lanes, building new boarding islands, and replacing stop signs with traffic lights.

There are already a couple of TEP pilot projects going on right now. One is taking place along a three-block stretch of Church Street, a busy road in the city’s center. SFMTA has made one of the lanes “transit-only,” meaning only  buses and taxis can use it. It lets Muni bypass the usual traffic and should reduce delays, according to the SFMTA engineers.

Currently, the SFMTA’s Planning Department is busy making sure the rest of the TEP proposals meet California’s environmental standards. The final draft of the Environmental Impact Report is expected in about a year. After that, the SFMTA will implement as many proposals as they can get funding for.

Now riders will just have to wait and see whether these changes are really going to be effective.

Follow Isabell Angell on Twitter: @IsabeltheAngell

 

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Legal Challenge for Taxi Hail Apps with NYC Yellow Cabs

Friday, February 15, 2013

Listen to a conversation about why NYC Taxi innovations so often result in litigation.

The latest effort to reform and remake New York City's taxi industry has met a similar roadblock as previous efforts: a lawsuit.  Livery cab drivers have filed suit to block a rule change that was set to go into effect Friday permitting yellow cabs to accept passengers through smartphone apps.

But city officials say they're reviewing apps as planned and hope to have the system up and running soon.

In New York, yellow cabs have the right to pick up passengers who hail them on the street, but can't be dispatched by phone. Livery cabs are a different category of taxi that can only pick up passengers who call ahead to pre-arrange a pick up.

Taxi apps like Uber, HailO, FlyWheel and ZabKab allow passengers to see where they are on a map and where nearby cabs are, then with a few taps on a touchscreen, hail a cab to come pick them up. 

If the city's 13,237 yellow cabs are allowed to pre-arrange pickups through apps like that, it amounts to a violation of Taxi and Limousine Commission regulations that distinguish yellow medallion cabs from livery cabs, the lawsuit filed Thursday alleges. (Lawsuit is here)

The spokesperson said the apps could go live after March 1 when a contract expires with the companies that provide the in-cab credit card processing and other technology--a suite of services known in the taxi industry as TPEP for Taxicab Passenger Enhancements Project. The TPEP contract would prohibit payment through a third parties, like the smartphone apps. That contract was set to expire today, but has been extended to March 1.

The TLC says four smartphone app companies have already submitted apps for approval and are being reviewed for features like integration with the meter and usability by drivers so they aren't dangerously distracted by their phones while on the road.

So called e-hail apps can make finding a cab easier and driving one more profitable, according to Anil Yazici, a Research Associate at the University Transportation Research Center. "This will bring some efficiency to the search process," he says. 

Yellow cabs in New York spend 40 percent of their time empty looking for fares, especially during off-hours and outside the city center. Yazici says apps "won't eliminate empty trips, that's for sure. But surely it will reduce the empty percentages."

It could also reduce business to livery cabs. In the past just about every change in taxi rules that could cut into the business of one category of cab has resulted in court battles. Earlier this year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan was blocked to add a new category of outer borough "green" cabs that would have a meter and be allowed to pick up street hails outside Manhattan's central business district. (Ruling) Another plan to convert all yellow cabs to a single new car model known as the Taxi of Tomorrow is also facing a court challenge.

The latest legal challenge against yellow cab e-hail apps goes to court on February 28th.

NYC yellow cabs are a $2.5 billion industry and carry over 500,000 passengers a day. 

 

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Transportation Nation

How Hundreds of Passengers Got Stranded in D.C. Metro Fiasco

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Metro passengers on a stranded Green Line train last month exited the tunnel through this vent shaft, in an open field near Anacostia station (image from WMATA)

(Washington, D.C.) The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority says miscommunication among emergency responders contributed to the January 30th fiasco on Metro's Green Line that left hundreds of passengers stranded on dark, overheated trains, while others 'self-evacuated' into tunnels.

A formal report on the incident was presented at the transit agency’s board meeting Thursday, and it recounts what happens when two packed Green Line trains heading outbound toward the Anacostia station in Southeast D.C. shortly before 4:30 p.m. ran into a problem. A malfunctioning electrical insulator was smoking, so the trains had to be single-tracked around it -- a fairly routine procedure.  But what happened next was not.

“Due to a miscommunication between Metro transit police officials and their liaison in the rail control center, police on the platform at Anacostia were unaware of the planned train route, and when they saw the train lights coming in on Track 2 believed there was an immediate life safety threat to the track personnel repairing the insulator,” said Dave Kubicek, Metro’s deputy general manager of operations. He presented a report, entitled "Green Line Incident, Anacostia," (pdf) at the transit agency’s board meeting Thursday.

So police shut down the power to the third rail -- causing the two rush hour trains to stop in the tunnel, the first not far from the Anacostia platform. A short time later, Metro was ready to turn the power back on. Except: “They received reports of self-evacuations and determined it was no longer safe to restore power or move the trains,” Kubicek said.

Metro’s report says the last of the stranded passengers were de-boarded at Anacostia an hour and 20 minutes after power was lost -- but not before experiencing hellish conditions. "Several medical emergencies were reported to the operator via the intercom, mostly
related to heat and stress. However, one passenger had a seizure and the operator rendered aid to her," reads a section of the report.

The investigation found that the agency’s response to the trains “was faster than in prior incidents and improvements were evident in several key areas of emergency response.” Some Metro board members said the most dangerous aspect of this episode was the decisions by passengers on both stranded trains to escape and walk down the tunnels against the wishes of the train operators.  On the train further from the platform, the report says “one passenger challenged the operator by demanding information about when power would be restored. Against the operator’s urging, this passenger and others began self-evacuating.”

Metro also reviewed its attempts to communicate with stranded passengers during the incident and found many passengers were frustrated with incomplete information. While Metro staff sent out 79 service update Tweets, and one of the train operators was commended, the report also found "Metro officials on the scene who failed to make their presence known to customers throughout the train (and) made inadequate announcements to share information with passengers."

The incident forced Metro’s General Manager to issue an apology to customers via email. Among the investigation’s recommendations is to reinforce proper procedures for transit police after the activation of an Emergency Trip Station, which can shut down third rail power in the area of a mechanical problem.

Read the report here.

Follow Martin Di Caro on Twitter @MartinDiCaro

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Investigation: Washington Airport Agency Leadership Targeted Pro-Labor Board Members in Rail Line Fight

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Dulles Airport (photo courtesy of Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority)

(Washington, D.C, - WAMU) A former board member of the authority in charge of airports in the Washington, D.C. region is accusing the agency's leaders of not telling the whole truth in testimony before Congress, and internal emails suggest three current authority board members worked with officials in Richmond, Va. to remove one of their colleagues, an investigation by WAMU has found.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) is trying to rebuild the public's trust after a tumultuous 2012. But key officials who remain in their MWAA posts were involved in the political maneuvering that ended in the resignations of two pro-labor, Democratic board members who, their opponents say, were threatening the completion of the Silver Line: Mame Reiley and Dennis Martire, who supported a controversial pro-union provision for the construction of the rail project's second phase.

Twenty-three pages of emails obtained by WAMU suggest that Republican board members Tom Davis and Todd Stottlemyer, as well as Democrat Rusty Conner, were aware of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s intention to remove Dennis Martire from the MWAA board and communicated with Republican officials in Richmond to secure Martire's removal.

And former MWAA board member Bob Brown, a Democrat, says agency CEO Jack Potter and board vice-chairman Tom Davis did not tell the whole truth when they told members of a House subcommittee last November that the hiring of Mame Reiley to a staff position was only Potter’s idea.

The emails, along with Brown's allegation, suggest that an agency designed to be insulated from political pressures was riven by them.  The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is comprised of four jurisdictions: D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and the federal government (three board members are presidential appointees). The board members terms are staggered to prevent any single mayor or governor from exerting excessive influence over the appointment process.  Yet it appears the Republican administration of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell sought to replace members of the board of directors not when their terms expired but through political pressure exerted by its allies.

‘Not illegal, but against the grain’

Reiley resigned from the board in February, citing health concerns, and began a new, $180,000 per year position shortly thereafter.

“Nobody did anything illegal, but it goes against the grain, of the notion of these kinds of non-political regional agencies,” said Brown.

Brown says Davis, who was appointed by McDonnell, orchestrated the hiring of Reiley to a special position created for her. Brown says he knows this because both Reiley and Davis told him so.

“Tom was the one that conceived of the idea of how to persuade Mame Reiley to resign her seat and open up that prior Democratic appointment for McDonnell to fill,” Brown says.

By replacing Reiley on the MWAA board of directors with Todd Stottlemyer, the McDonnell administration secured another Republican vote against a pro-labor provision included in the bidding process for Phase 2 of the Silver Line. McDonnell and Republicans in the General Assembly fought against that provision, known as a PLA or project labor agreement, and the all-Republican Loudoun County Board of Supervisors threatened to pull out of the project over it.

MWAA had defended the pro-labor provision against these attacks for months, but bowed to this pressure and voted to kill the PLA on June 6.

Davis denies he orchestrated Reiley’s hiring. Reiley did not return calls and emails seeking comment.

“There are other people, who I am not going to get into, that basically initiated this conversation,” Davis said. “I didn't have a dog in that fight but I thought getting her off the board frankly at that point would be a win-win for everybody.  So I acquiesced and didn't raise an objection to it.”

Potter, the MWAA CEO, finalized Reiley's hiring and continues to take sole responsibility for the decision — a decision that was among questionable dealings highlighted in an audit by the U.S. Department of Transportation last year.

“I stand by what I testified in front of Congress. I made the decision on the hiring and it was my sole decision. I made the decision to hire Mame Reiley, period,” Potter told WAMU 88.5 in an interview this week.

Potter noted in his November testimony, “My judgment was not good in terms of the hiring of that person.”  He added, however, that the position was necessary to develop land to offset rising costs at Dulles International Airport.

Davis testified at the same hearing that he knew the job was being created for Reiley.

“I was aware. There were board members it was run by,” Davis testified. “This was a complicated situation.”

Board members emailed about Martire’s ouster

McDonnell on June 14, 2012 attempted to remove Dennis Martire from MWAA's board "for cause."  It was just one week after the board voted to remove the pro-labor provision from the Silver Line bid process. Martire supported the PLA but had also been embarrassed by accusations that he abused MWAA’s travel policy.

Emails sent by Davis, Stottlemyer, and board member Rusty Conner suggest they knew of the governor's intention to dump Martire in February — four months earlier, according to emails which were obtained from a Fairfax Circuit Court filing.

In an email sent on Feb. 18, 2012 Davis wrote to David Speck, a former MWAA board member and member of Virginia’s House of Delegates. “I think they will try to remove Denny so that means two more [board] openings,” the email from Davis reads. “ [Virginia Transportation Secretary] Sean Connaughton is the key decision maker. It may be helpful for them to keep this bipartisan.”

A Fairfax Circuit Court judge blocked the governor’s attempt to remove Martire. The board member eventually settled his legal dispute with the commonwealth and agreed to resign his board seat.

Davis admitted he wanted Martire off the board, but insists it was not for political reasons, and that there was nothing improper in him supporting the labor leader’s removal.

“My job was to try to get a rail system built. This board was dysfunctional. It wasn't just the PLA. It was the lack of transparency. There were 20 things going wrong at that point,” Davis told WAMU 88.5 in an interview.

One of those things going wrong was the insertion of the labor agreement into the bidding process for Phase 2 of the Silver Line, which would have awarded contractors a bonus in their bidding scores if they agreed to enter into a voluntarily labor agreement with the workforce building the rail line. As a right-to-work state, Virginia’s General Assembly voted to withhold $150 million in funding if the PLA provision remained.

Project costs would have escalated under the project labor agreement, Davis argues. But Potter sees a value in such agreements; he credits the PLA Phase 1’s construction with keeping the project on time and on budget.

“The project labor agreement included a no-strike clause.  It assured that there was an available trained workforce for the project.  It produced an outstanding safety record. It provided management flexibility in the form of flexible work schedules that were very much needed given the nature of the type of work that was being done,” Potter said at an MWAA board meeting.

Bids for Phase 2 of the Silver Line construction are due by April 19.

In mid-May, Davis emailed fellow board member Conner, telling him that the PLA would be overturned June 6. "We all need to keep powder dry until then including Richmond," meaning the move to remove Martire should wait until after the PLA vote.

Conner emailed back,  "Call Sean [Connaughton] and tell him not to pull the trigger on Martire until the 7th,” referring to the Virginia transportation secretary.

But Connaughton says it wasn’t his call; the Governor had the final say on Martire’s removal.

“The airports authority members are supposed to be representing the interests of the people that they were appointed by,” Connaughton said. “Each one is governed by the laws of the jurisdictions that appointed them.  They are not supposed to be off doing things that are contrary to the interest of the jurisdictions in the region.”

In a June 1 email, Davis seems to joke that Martire may "keep his parking if he resigns, not if he is removed."

MWAA provided Martire $855,000 to pay his legal fees.  The authority also provided Davis, Stottlemyer, and fellow board member Rusty Conner $196,000 for their legal fees incurred fighting subpoenas for 700 emails requested by Martire’s lawyers. The emails cited in this story were part of that filing. The $196,000 was paid to the law firm DLA Piper, where board member Rusty Conner is a partner.

"A Clean Sweep"?

Despite MWAA’s efforts to turn over a new leaf on ethics and practices, one government watchdog said the continued political infighting will affect the agency’s ability to perform its duties.

“Given all that has gone in the past couple of years with the board, it really seems like the best course of action would be a clean sweep and an entirely new set of board members,” said Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Both the MWAA board chairman Michael Curto and CEO Jack Potter should also resign after being implicated in the Department of Transportation audit, Sloan said.

“It’s impossible for the public to have confidence in board members who engage in conduct like that,” she said.

Follow Martin Di Caro on Twitter @MartinDiCaro

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Transportation Nation

Five Lessons for Seattle Bike Share from Boston's Hubway

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Boston Hubway bike share docking station. (Photo CC by Flickr user JMazzolaa)

(Derek Wang, Seattle -- KUOWThe plan to create a bike sharing program in Seattle is clicking into a higher gear. Puget Sound Bike Share hopes to launch in 2014. Organizers updated Seattle officials Tuesday saying they hope to hire a vendor by the spring.

Initial areas for the plan include the University District, Eastlake, Capitol Hill, South Lake Union, Downtown and Queen Anne.

To get some guidance for the Seattle effort, KUOW spoke with the founder of one of the fastest-growing systems in the US, Nicole Freedman. Freedman started Boston’s program, The Hubway, which launched in 2011. It has 105 stations, more than 1,000 bicycles and 9,000 members. Members have taken about 675,000 trips; more than 500,000 of those trips were taken in the last year. Freedman is also an Olympic cyclist and has studied city planning at MIT and Stanford.

Tip 1: Choose The Right Business Model That Fits Seattle

Boston’s system is operated by a private company, but the system is owned by the city. In fact, city officials view it as part of the transit system. Right now no city money has gone toward the system. Freedman said it’s paid for by advertisements, sponsorships and grants. But as the system expands, the city might be required to spend money on maintenance and operations, like it would for any other transit system.

Seattle’s proposal is slightly different. It would be administered by a nonprofit group, but a private company would run the system’s day-to-day operations.

Tip 2: Locate The Bike Stations Close Together

During the startup phase, planners might be tempted to space out the bike stations to cover as many different neighborhoods as possible. That’s something to avoid. Freedman recommended keeping the stations between 200 to 400 meters apart.

“Let’s say I’m in a meeting in a skyscraper downtown and I have to get back to my office. If I go downstairs, out the door and the nearest station is three blocks away, it’s not worth my time to go walk three blocks, and get on a bike," she said. "If I then have another three block walk at the other end at my office, the efficiencies of saving time and using the bike are pretty much gone because of the walk time.”

[Related story: DC Bike Share Visualizer Shows How Neighborhoods Use CaBi Differently, by Clusters.]

Tip 3: Talk To Other Cities

A lot of other cities, including Washington, D.C., Denver and Chicago, have bike sharing programs. Other cities, such as Vancouver, B.C., Portland and San Francisco are still in the planning phases. Freedman says those cities have already done a lot of the groundwork and Seattle could benefit from looking at those different experiences.

[Related: San Francisco Poised to Pick Alta to Run Bike Share.]
Tip 4: Don’t Be Discouraged By Reports Of Hardware And Software Problems

Some systems have had problems with bikes and the software that operates the system. Freedman says Boston was lucky and never had software problems. But she says the problem occurred when one of the nation’s leading vendors switched software developers. Freedman’s point is that the problems should not discourage planners because improvements are always being made. “There’s a lot of great choices out there,” she said. “Doing the homework early will definitely ensure the best system for Seattle.”

[Related: NYC Bike Share Delayed Until Spring]


Tip 5: Think Creatively About Encouraging Membership

Boston has made it a focus to offer service in poorer neighborhoods as well as more well-to-do ones. But low-income people often don’t have credit cards, which are required to become a member. Freedman said in Boston, they’re looking at social service agencies and the possibility that those groups could sponsor people looking to get a credit card.

Freedman has visited Seattle before and seemed excited about the prospects of a bike sharing program in the city. “I can guarantee that it’s going to be a huge success in  Seattle,” she said. “It’s a great city. You’ve got a great culture of people that want to be biking.”

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School Bus Workers Face Cold Reality of Strike

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tommy and Dina Nero are school bus workers who have been off their route for weeks because of the strike. (Photo by Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

(Stephen Nessen - New York, SchoolBook) Since January, Tommy and Dina Nero have been a presence at the picket lines nearly every day. A bus driver and matron, as well as husband and wife, the couple has been dedicated to their union’s position in the ongoing school bus strike but, as the dispute drags into it second month, they also are facing the real-life challenges of limited pay and not working at a job they love.

“Those children are our children, as far as I’m concerned,” Tommy Nero said. “The children on my bus now, I’ve known them for the last three and-a-half years. So, the parents know us. It’s like a family, an extended family.”

Buses at a depot in the Bronx (photo by Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

The school bus strike has disrupted more than 5,000 of the 7,700 routes in the five boroughs. The last time this happened, in 1979, the strike lasted 13 weeks. And with all parties firmly entrenched in their positions, this one doesn’t have an end in sight. For the members of 1181 Amalgamated Transit Union, this means reduced wages and the loss of health care benefits.

And every week on strike has heightened the Neros’ anxieties.

There are the impending bills to pay: the mortgage on their Jackson Heights apartment, building fees, car bills, and college tuition for their 24-year-old son who has one more semester left at John Jay College. Also, Tommy needs a steady supply of inhalers for his asthma, a steep cost without health care.

Dina said she hit her head while doing laundry recently and it caused a big concern.

“I was like please, please don’t let me be bleeding, because I can’t afford to get stitches right now. It’s scary, because everything you do, you’re like ‘Oh I can’t get hurt,’ and it’s so on your mind,” she said.

Dina Nero on strike in the Bronx (photo by Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

During a recent visit to their home, Tommy wore his silver hair slicked back. Under his black driver’s jacket he sported a grey sweatshirt emblazoned with “Alaska,” a memento from better times.

“Alaska was our trip of a lifetime. It was our retirement money. We always wanted to go there. Now, from here on end, we don’t know what we’re doing. All our vacations will be on the fire escape,” Tommy said.

Tommy’s grandfather was a union man, working in steel mills in Harlem. Several of his relatives also are school bus drivers and escorts who are on strike now. He said he’s not only concerned about his job, but about the future of unions in the city.

The union says the strike is about ensuring employee protections are put in all new city contracts, protections that would ensure that companies hire union drivers and matrons, and assign routes based on seniority. The city says it’s illegal to keep the protections in the contract.

The strike has been going on since January 16.

Listen to the story here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Snow Plow Tracking Site Too Popular for Its Own Good

Monday, February 11, 2013

Snow plows in the Boston area, February 9, 2013. (Photo by John Byrum)

Snow was still dumping down on Boston Friday evening when the city had to pull down its public website for tracking snow plows. Within a couple of hours of snowfall the site had over a million requests from users. Boston's total population is 625,000.

"[The site] couldn't handle all the traffic," said John Gulfoil, spokesman for Mayor Thomas Menino. "It was hurting our efforts to actually track our own plows," he said.

The city had built the GPS-enabled tracking website so the public could watch along in real time as plows made their way around the city street by sodden street. 

After the blizzard of 2010, New York City was trapped in piles of snow. Cars, buses, even ambulances were abandoned in streets that went unplowed for days.  stranded on unplowed streets and citizens crying foul that they couldn't tell when and where the cleanup was coming. In the aftermath, NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg said, "there was a discrepancy between information coming into and out of City Hall and what people were actually experiencing on the streets." He vowed to track each plow using GPS in the future. (More on that below.)

The blizzard this past weekend that hit Boston hardest, brought with nearly three feet of snow and the first real test (that we are aware of) of a GPS-managed snow plow fleet in a major snowstorm.

Boston has had a private GPS tracking system in place for smaller storms since. This was the first time the public was able to watch the plows move in real-time along with city officials.

The catch is that the same GPS system that populated the dots on the public website map also powered the Department of Public Works operational maps at its command center. The flood of interest from the public was clogging the servers and preventing plow fleet managers from doing their jobs. 

The Department of Public Works mustered private contractors to join the city fleet in removing more than three feet of snow from city streets. The GPS tracking system has been in place for years and helps hold the drivers accountable because managers can see where they are. "They can't hide," as Gulfoil puts it. “Hopefully next time there’s a major storm we’ll have all the bugs worked out,” Gulfoil said.

New York City had a similar website in place, though with much less snow to contend with -- and citizens out sledding and such in higher numbers -- the PlowNYC website proved less popular and less problematic. Keith Mellis of the NYC Department of Sanitation didn't have traffic numbers immediately available. "We had no interruption," he said. "It works." 

You can see where plows went in NYC hour by hour on this visualization of the PlowNYC data extrapolated by plow-watcher Derek Watkins.

 

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Transportation Nation

Transit Tracker: Info for your travels and commute

Thursday, February 07, 2013

As a blizzard moves through New York City area, we're keeping our transit tracker updated to help you plan your travel and navigate the alerts issued by several agencies.

The brunt of the storm is expected to hit late Friday and into Saturday, with heavy snow and high winds. Expect extra trains and buses Friday afternoon to help folks who want to get home early, and then fewer later in the day.

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Purple Line Design Will Stop if Maryland Doesn't Get More Transpo Funding

Thursday, February 07, 2013

The proposed Purple Line Route (image via Maryland Transit Administration)

(Washington, D.C. - WAMU) Local officials are asking Maryland's Department of Transportation not to divert funding from the Purple Line, the proposed light rail line that would connect Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

The agency is considering reallocating $41 million dollars in Purple Line design funding to other sources if state lawmakers fail to pass a transportation revenue increase in this legislative session. The move would  put the rail project on hold, which would be "unacceptable," according to Montgomery County Council President Nancy Navarro. She sent a letter voicing her concerns to MDOT's acting secretary this week.

"Montgomery County, specifically, is relying on these projects to continue our economic development strategies through our different redevelopment projects," Navarro says. "Many of the redevelopment projects that we have already adopted, all the master plans that we have adopted will mostly likely not be realized."

MDOT agrees, says agency spokesman Jack Cahalan -- which is why it believes the legislature should approve more money.

"The bottom line is, without a revenue increase, the state will simply not have the money to construct any new highway or transit projects," says Cahalan. "That's the reality."

The 16-mile Purple Line carries a $2.4 billion dollar price tag. Montgomery County officials say engineering funding for the Corridor Cities Transitway, a proposed bus rapid transit system, is also on the line.

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Officials: As Construction Site, World Trade Center Vulnerable To Floods

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

One World Trade Center with 9/11 in the foreground. (photo by melfoody / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) A Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official says a built-out World Trade Center site will be less vulnerable to future storms like Sandy once construction is done by 2020. But the authority hasn't decided what to do in the meantime to protect the site from rising tides.

Construction sites that include open pits, as does the 16-acre World Trade Center site, are vulnerable to flooding. And much of the site is built on landfill where the Hudson River once flowed--and would flow again if not for retaining walls.

But Port Authority executive director Pat Foye wouldn't elaborate on what steps could be taken to protect the site from flooding while under construction, and harden the site once construction is done in an age of climate change and rising sea levels.

"Port Authority people and outside experts are looking at how to make the site more resilient," Foye said. He wouldn't give details about possible mitigation efforts beyond saying, "The review continues."

Foye estimated it will cost $2 billion to repair storm damage to the World Trade Center, along with the rest of the authority's facilities, including airports, bridges and tunnels. Foye said $800 million alone is needed to fix the PATH train system, which only recently returned some of its lines to a pre-Sandy schedule.

Foye said insurance reimbursements and FEMA payments should cover those costs."There will be no material impact on the budget," he said.

Still under construction in Lower Manhattan is One World Trade Center, which carries a price tag of $3.8 billion, making it the world's most expensive new office tower. To offset the costs of the 1,776-foot skyscraper, the authority last year levied higher bridge and tunnel tolls and reduced spending on transportation infrastructure.

One World Trade Center is scheduled to be done by early next year. But some part of the larger World Trade Center site will be under construction, and vulnerable to flooding, for at least the next eight years.

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The High Cost of Traffic: Time, Money, and Climate Change

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Welcome to your commute, drivers. (Graphic courtesy of TTI)

Urban automobile traffic is better than it was at its peak in 2005 -- but the cost of traffic congestion is on the rise.

The 2012 Urban Mobility Report -- a ranking of traffic congestion from Texas A&M's  Transportation Institute (TTI) -- says the total financial cost of congestion in 2011 was $121 billion, or about $818 per car commuter. A big piece of that is wasted fuel, which the report says reached a total of 2.9 billion gallons.

But worse still than mulling that over is a new addition to the report: the tally of annual carbon dioxide emissions attributed to traffic. The TTI estimates it at 56 billion pounds – or about 380 pounds per auto commuter.

The E.P.A. considers carbon dioxide a major factor in climate change, and estimates that transportation accounts for about one-third of the country's CO2 emissions, second only to the generation of electricity.

Harder to quantify financially is wasted time: the TTI says the average car commuter spent an extra 38 hours traveling in 2011, two-and-a-half times worse than the 16 hours in 1982.

The report also measures a "planning time index," which show how much time drivers need to be sure they'll arrive at their destination.

(Example: according to Google Maps, a trip from TN's offices in lower Manhattan to JFK Airport should take 30 minutes. But New York's PTI is 4.44 -- meaning drivers should allow 133 minutes to cover the worst-case traffic scenario. Meanwhile, the transit combo of the subway to the Air Train should take a little over an hour, says Google Maps.)

The report comes at a time when many states are struggling with how to replenish transportation funding coffers strained by aging infrastructure and increasingly diminished returns on the gas tax. Virginia is eying a new sales tax, Connecticut is debating new tolls, and some of Los Angeles's freeways are no longer free. Meanwhile, New York's MTA -- the nation's largest transit system -- estimates it sustained $5 billion in damage from Sandy.

Unsurprisingly, the TTI says the nation's largest urban areas see the worst traffic. DC tops the list for the fourth year in a row, followed by Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Boston. Although car traffic overall is down from a 2005 peak, as the economy recovers, the numbers of cars on the road is increasing.

The report offers up some suggestions. It cautions that there's no one-size-fits-all approach, but offers up a range of solutions from increasing capacity to developing land more densely. "Improving transportation systems is about more than just adding road lanes, transit routes, sidewalks and bike lanes," says the TTI. "It is also about operating those systems efficiently."

That last sentence probably will cause tension headaches for local transportation officials who have been trying to wring every last dollar out of their budgets. Funding was flat in the latest surface transportation bill.

But Slate contributor Matthew Yglesias offers up another solution, albeit one that has yet to be passed in an American city: congestion pricing. "Naturally an underpriced valuable commodity leads to over consumption," he writes. "Charge people enough money to eliminate routine congestion and you'll find yourself with fewer traffic jams and an enormous pool of revenue that can be used to maintain your basic infrastructure and upgrade your bus service."

Read the full report here.

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As Virginia Debates Transportation Funding Plan, EVs Put Gas Tax Under Microscope

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Chevy Volt at the 2012 NY International Auto Show (photo by Kate Hinds)

As both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly prepare to work to find common ground after passing different versions of Governor Bob McDonnell’s major transportation funding plan, critics say the governor’s proposal to eliminate the state gas tax and replace it with a higher sales tax would not provide enough revenue to satisfy the state’s transportation needs.

On Monday the House gave preliminary approval to a measure that keeps most of McDonnell’s proposals intact, including eliminating the state’s 17.5 cents-per-gallon gasoline tax.  In the Senate, a key Republican lawmaker is proposing a different solution: a 5.5 percent sales tax on the wholesale price of gasoline tied to inflation.

The bill approved by the House killed the governor’s plan to impose a $100 registration fee on alternative fuel vehicles.  The proposals are scheduled for a final vote today.

The McDonnell administration argues higher fuel efficiencies continue to eat into gas tax revenues so the tax should be replaced, especially as the adoption of hybrid and electric cars is expected to reduce gas consumption.

The latest hybrid and electric models are currently on display at the Washington Auto Show, where proponents say they have become much more practical for everyday use since the first generation models.

Mahi Reddy, the founder of SemaConnect, a manufacturer of electric vehicle charging stations based in Bowie, Maryland, says EVs are indeed becoming more popular, although they only represent less than one percent of all vehicles on the road today.

“Previous generations of electric cars struggled because they used lead-acid batteries. They used nickel-metal hydride batteries,” Reddy said. “The new generation all use lithium batteries, the same lithium technology that is in your cell phone. So that means these batteries are much lighter, they have much more range, and these cars are much better engineered so they are practical cars you can use to commute to the office.”

In his view, the biggest obstacle facing EVs is the lack of charging stations.

A report by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments found our region has strong potential for EV growth, but an "underdeveloped charging network" is one of several problems.

But while the governor views improving fuel efficiency as a reason to dump the gas tax altogether, the Council of Governments executive director Chuck Bean takes the opposite position.

“In terms of transportation funding all of the options need to be on the table; gas tax, sales tax. We are really in a crisis of transportation funding and need to be very creative,” Bean said. “I would hesitate to reverse or eliminate any taxes because there is simply a great need for more funding.”

The potential of these vehicles does raise another potential challenge to funding transportation: as the U.S. vehicle fleet is comprised of more EVs and regular vehicle fuel standards improve, the gas tax will lose even more of its purchasing power. That would leave states looking for other revenue streams like higher tolls, more borrowing, higher vehicle fees, or higher sales or property taxes to pay for roads and rails.

The smart growth community says there is no way for Virginia to build its way out of its infamous traffic congestion and taht the solution lies in changing land use policies and urban planning strategies to maximize the potential for transit, walking, and bicycling.

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NASA's Moon Mining Robot

Monday, February 04, 2013

NASA's RASSOR (Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot) (photo by Matthew Peddie)

In a building at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, about 40 engineers and scientists are tackling the practical challenges of space exploration -- like designing astronaut clothing for long missions, converting trash into fuel, and harvesting extra-terrestrial resources.

"It's really a return to NASA's roots, the very early days of how NASA designed new technology" says Jack Fox, Chief of the Surface Systems Office at Kennedy Space Center. "We believe in a hands-on approach: just try something out, and if it works, great. If it doesn't, put it aside and try something different."

Swamp Works- NASA's technology incubator at Kennedy Space Center (photo by Matthew Peddie)

The Swamp Works team is housed in the refurbished Apollo flight crew training building, where astronauts once familiarized themselves with the lunar module and learned how to use the lunar rover. Scientists are now trying to solve some of the problems faced by those astronauts -- like dealing with space dirt.

"Dust got everywhere. It clung to everything," says Fox.

On one side of the building scientists are developing technology to banish dust electronically.

And in the Granular Mechanics and Regolith Operations lab, engineers are figuring out how to deal with the sandblasting effects of rocket exhaust during landing and lift-off on the moon and other planets. They're also building a machine to excavate space dirt, or regolith. NASA one day hopes to send astronauts beyond the moon, to an asteroid or Mars, and the Swamp Works team is developing a robot that can excavate other planets for water and other resources.

The RASSOR (Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot) looks like a small tank. At each end is a fearsome toothed drum, used to scoop up the regolith. It can also raise and lower its arms to climb over rocks.

Drew Smith, who helped design RASSOR, explains the counter-rotating drums would allow the robot to dig on another planet like the moon.

"Since we don’t have a really large mass on another planet we have to be able to cancel out the excavation forces or it would just spin its tracks and not go anywhere."

The robot weighs about 180 pounds, but on the moon that's only about 30 pounds of force.

The engineers are building a regolith test bed -- essentially a giant sand pit -- which they'll fill with 120 tons of "simulant" or imitation space dirt, so they can test the robot.

Philip Metzger, NASA physicist (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Philip Metzger, a physicist at the Regolith Operations Lab, says harvesting resources on other planets could lighten the load of spacecraft blasting off from earth. "By using the resources of space -- of the moon and the resources of Mars, we can reduce the mass of a Mars mission by a factor of between three and five," says Metzger.

NASA aims to eventually send a version of the RASSOR into the craters of the moon to excavate lunar ice deposits. Metzger says anything they design to work on the moon should also work on Mars -- although operating the robot remotely poses a problem: "On the moon there's  only a 2.7 second time delay, so you can tele-operate, but on Mars it’s too far of a distance to tele-operate. So robotic autonomy is one of the key technologies we’re trying to develop," he says.

Companies like Caterpillar are interested in robot autonomy for terrestrial mining. "Mining’s moving into places humans can’t go here on earth," says Metzger, adding that space mining companies have also expressed an interest in licensing the technology.

NASA's Orion spacecraft under construction at Kennedy Space Center (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Meanwhile, in a separate building at Kennedy, NASA employees and Lockheed Martin contractors are assembling the spacecraft designed to take astronauts to an asteroid, Mars and beyond. The green welded aluminum pressure capsule of the Orion crew module is being transformed into a functioning spacecraft inside the Operations and Checkout building. Orion's first unmanned foray into space is slated for September 2014.

 

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Transportation Nation

How Grand Central Terminal Survived the Wrecking Ball - And Lived to 100

Thursday, January 31, 2013

(New York, NY - WNYC) Soon after Grand Central Terminal opened in 1913, it was viewed as an one of the great public spaces in America, an icon of modern travel. By the 1940s, a popular radio drama bearing its name would open with a blast from a locomotive whistle and an announcer crying, "Grand Central Station! As a bullet seeks its target, shining rails in every part of our great country are aimed at Grand Central Station, part of the nation's greatest city."

Thirty years later, developers wanted to take a wrecking ball to Grand Central and replace it with an office tower.

In truth, the place was seedy. That's according to Kent Barwick, a former head of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission and a key player in the effort to prevent the destruction of the terminal to make way for an office tower. "It was pretty dusty and the windows were broken," he recalled of Grand Central back then. "It was dark and and littered with advertising everywhere. And there wasn't any retail except for a couple of newsstands that had near-poisonous sandwiches and undrinkable coffee."

(We've done some terrific coverage of Grand Central in the past year:  a tour of the Grand Central clock tour with The Invention of Hugo Cabret author Brian O. Selznick here and a cool behind-the-scenes video of Grand Central's secrets here.)

The Fight Is On

The terminal was owned by the Penn Central Railroad, a company in decline because of America's move to the suburbs and car-dependent travel.  The much vaunted Interstate Highway Bill also spelled death for long-distance rail travel. In 1975, Penn Central was careering into bankruptcy and desperate to squeeze a windfall from its prime Manhattan real estate. So it proposed to do to Grand Central what it had done to Penn Station: sell the development rights to a company that would tear down the Beaux-Arts masterpiece and erect a steel and glass tower.

But Grand Central, unlike Penn Station, was landmarked.

The owners sued in state supreme court, claiming the new landmark law was unconstitutional. The railroad won, and moved to demolish Grand Central. The preservationists scrambled.

Barwick and his colleagues at The Municipal Arts Society called a hasty press conference in the terminal at Oyster Bar. Barwick's boss, Brendan Gill spoke first. "If we can't save a building like this, what can we do?" he asked.

The preservationists knew they were fighting to save not only the building but the landmarks law itself. And they knew from press descriptions of them as "a troop of well-known New Yorkers" that some of their opponents were painting them as elitists who wished to suspend New York in amber. Former consumer affairs commissioner Bess Meyerson spoke next, and addressed the issue.

"It's not really a question of change," she said. "If any city understands change, it's our city. But I think it's high time that we ask that very important question, 'Change for what?'"

Cause célèbre

The next speaker was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, whose presence transformed preservation from a stuffy to a glamorous pursuit. "I think if there is a great effort, even if it's at the eleventh hour, you can succeed and I know that's what we'll do," she said.

The New York Times prominently featured her in its coverage the following day, noting her "eleoquence," as well as her "two-piece tan dress adorned with heavy long gold chain." The effort to save Grand Central was, from that moment, a national issue.

Barwick recalled that Onassis also wrote a letter to Mayor Abe Beame, and that the letter began, "'Dear Abe, How President Kennedy loved Grand Central Terminal.'"  Barwick laughingly added that, "I don't know, and I don't need to know, whether President Kennedy had ever expressed himself on that subject."

Not long after, Beame told the city's lawyers to appeal the state supreme court's decision, an appeal the city won. The case then moved, in 1978, to the U.S. Supreme Court.Penn Central again argued it should be able to do what it wanted with its property. New York's lawyers said the city had the right to regulate land use through the landmarks law.

The verdict

The justices sided with the city. Grand Central Terminal was saved and, in the early 90s, underwent a restoration that brought back its luster. Penn Central Railroad eventually became Metro-North, which last year saw near-record ridership of 83 million passengers.

Barwick said that today, the city can't imagine being without Grand Central Terminal. "You see New Yorkers all the time, staking a claim in that building, pointing up to that cerulean sky and saying, 'Hey. this belongs to us,'" he said.

Grand Central Terminal turns 100 years old tomorrow.

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