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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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Transportation Nation

Connecticut Gov Wants Transpo Funding to Fill Budget Holes

Thursday, February 07, 2013

(Neena Satija -- CT Mirror) Coming from a supposedly "pro-transportation" governor, the proposed budget of Dannel Malloy has a lot of transportation advocates confused.

"It's hard to follow the dollars here," Joe McGee, of the Business Council of Fairfield County, said Wednesday afternoon.

"I work with these numbers all the time. I know these budgets. And I'm confused. What am I missing?"

On the one hand, Malloy's budget calls for a $1.26 billion special transportation fund for the coming fiscal year. Transit advocates have also been heartened by the work on the Hartford-to-New-Britain busway and the New Haven-Springfield high-speed rail line.

On the other hand, transportation -- like all other state services -- faces steep cuts as the administration tries to claw its way out of a several-hundred-million-dollar budget hole. And though next year's proposed spending is about $42 million above current levels, it falls $90 million shy of the level needed to maintain current services, according to nonpartisan legislative analysts.

Breakdown of state transit funds. (From 2013 report by state Office of Fiscal Analysis)

The special fund supporting Connecticut's highways, bridges and railways would be raided for non-transportation programs under Malloy's proposed budget, continuing a trend that began roughly a decade ago.

Two days earlier, Republican state Rep. Gail Lavielle of Wilton had suggested changing state law to convert the roughly $1.3 billion fund into a "lock box" that could not be used for other purposes.

"If you don't do something to make some structural changes to the budget to leave money to spend on transportation, I fear for the consequences," Lavielle said. "We have trains that are unsafe, we have bridges that are unsafe."

While campaigning for governor in 2009, Malloy promised to preserve the Special Transportation Fund. In 2011, he tried, shifting $30 million away from the general fund and into transportation.

But as state finances have fallen into deficit, things have swung the other way. About $70 million was taken from transportation and put into the general fund this year, and Malloy wants to take another $75 million next fiscal year.

"He has broken his promise regarding the transportation fund for the second budget in a row," one of Malloy's chief critics, Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said Wednesday.

Car, bus commuters asked to give more

Malloy's budget also assumes a major increase in the wholesale tax on gasoline and other fuels signed into law in 2005 by Gov. M. Jodi Rell. As far as motorists are concerned, about 3.8 cents per gallon will be added to the price of gasoline starting July 1, and the state expects to collect an extra $32 million next fiscal year.

Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba responded to McKinney's charge Wednesday, saying, "Governor Malloy has proposed a robust investment agenda for our state's infrastructure projects, as inconvenient as that may be for the senator."

The transportation fund expects to close this year with a $159 million reserve that is projected to grow to $164 million next year.

"Most residents, at least those not running for governor, would think taking surplus funds and using them to address what would be painful cuts that would affect our most vulnerable, is just common sense," Doba said.

But those reserves apparently will not be used to offset other cuts that many say will hurt the state's poorest residents, as well as worsen its already crumbling infrastructure. Bus fares will jump under the proposal, and many commuters with disabilities will also be asked to pay more. The state's rail budget will be cut by $2 million, and expenditures on road maintenance for towns will be shifted to the state's credit card.

"Those have consequences," said Steve Higashide, of the advocacy group Tri-State Transportation Campaign. "It feels like few areas were spared in this budget, and transportation wasn't spared either."

Lavielle was also concerned that the rise in fares for bus riders and riders with disabilities were going toward filling in the state deficit, rather than improving the transportation system. She has proposed separate legislation that would prevent this.

"If you are collecting money off rail and bus fares, that money should be used for rail and for buses," she said. In recent years, the legislature has also raised fares for Metro-North riders, with the increase in revenue going toward the state's general fund rather than the rail system.

Ben Barnes, secretary of the state's Office of Policy and Management, said it was incorrect to assume that increases in bus fare would go toward services other than transportation. But nowhere in the proposed budget is that made clear.

"Is the money raised for transportation staying with transportation, or is it being used to cover part of the deficit? It's unclear to me," said McGee of the Business Council of Fairfield County.

A ride on the public bus costs $1.25 right now. Under Malloy's plan, it'll go up to $1.50 in 2014 and raise $4 million next year. For riders with disabilities that prevent them from riding regular public transit, they'll have to pay 4 percent more to ride what are known as paratransit vans provided for them under federal law.

Advocates say the fare increases will impact commuters who are already suffering.

McGee credited Malloy for continuing to focus some investment in transportation, but he questioned whether Connecticut has an overall comprehensive plan.

"We know he's committed to transportation. But it's confusing," McGee said. "[W]e are not clear exactly on what his intentions are."

Neena Satija also blogs over at CT Mirror’s Rant and Rail. Follow her on Twitter.

 

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Transportation Nation

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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Transportation Nation

Ed Koch, Staunch Supporter of Transit, Inadvertent Boon for Biking, Dies at 88

Friday, February 01, 2013

Ed Koch reclines in the office of his campaign manager in September 1977-as seen in "Koch". (Courtesy of the film.)

Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch died on the 100th birthday of Grand Central Terminal. That's a poetic coincidence, but not a random one. Koch played a crucial role in ensuring America's cathedral to public transportation lived to see its centennial celebration, fiercely advocating for its preservation first as a Congressman and then as mayor. (Here's the Grand Central Terminal preservation story told with charming archival audio).

That's just one of many of Koch's  staunch stances during his three terms from 1978 - 1989 that has transit advocates heaping praise in memory of the bellicose mayor who helped pull New York  out of dark times.

In fact, many of his most controversial moments have to do with transportation, including famously walking across the Brooklyn Bridge in protest of the 1980 transit workers' strike. 

Though, his biggest impact on transportation may have been through a project that never was. Early in Koch's tenure, NY Governor Hugh Carey pushed for a highway megaproject known as "Westway" to put the West Side Highway underground, a plan the federal government would only fund if the mayor also signed off on it.

Koch refused until Carey promised the state would subsidize the NYC subway enough to avoid any fare increase for four years. The governor kept his word for two years, then reneged. But Koch -- with his subway loyalties -- had the last laugh.

In 1985, a legal challenge and Congressional opposition doomed the Westway project. Koch and then-governor Mario Cuomo chose not to fight to resurrect Westway and instead scrambled to "trade-in" the federal funds to be reallocated to transit, yielding more than $1 billion for subways and buses according to Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign. (See video of Koch discussing Westway below.)

The NYC Straphanger's Campaign also said in a statement of condolence to Koch's family that the former mayor inherited a subway system with ridership at the lowest level since 1917. Yet when he left office, the system was on the rise. 

"Mayors have limited powers to affect subway and bus service, which is run by a State public authority. Mayor Koch used his to the fullest, employing his bully pulpit to drag public promises out of transit executives before the glare of cameras, such as improved announcements and a crackdown on subway graffiti. Under pressure from Mayor Koch, the MTA completely eliminated graffiti on subway cars in 1989, during Mayor Koch's last term in office. In the mid-1980's, Mayor Koch doubled the City's commitment to the MTA's vital five-year rebuilding program."

Inadvertently, Koch gave a boost the the NY cycling community as well: by trying to ban bikes from Midtown in 1987. What was meant as a crackdown on weaving bicycle messengers transformed hordes of casual riders into activists, or at least supporters of advocacy groups like Transportation Alternatives, which saw membership sign-ups increase ten fold. The bike ban was eventually voided over a legal technicality, but the organized bike lobby remains strong to this day. 

Koch's memory has been firmly fastened to transportation with the most sturdy and standard of civic tributes: the Queensboro Bridge has been renamed the Edward Koch Queensboro Bridge. "There are other bridges that are much more beautiful like the George Washington or the Verrazano but this more suits my personality," he told WNYC, "because it's a workhorse bridge. I mean, it's always busy, it ain't beautiful, but it is durable."

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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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Transportation Nation

Va. Gov's Plan to End Gas Tax Goes Before Committee

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Workers complete one span of the track for the Silver Line to Dulles Airport. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is proposing a new structure to fund large state transportation projects. (Photo by Armando Trull/WAMU)

(Washington, DC - WAMU) A legislative committee in the Virginia House of Delegates will take up Governor Bob McDonnell's $3 billion transportation funding plan Wednesday. The governor expects his bill will go before the full House and Senate next week.

McDonnell's proposal has been picked apart since its unveiling three weeks ago, but he still says it's the best plan out there. McDonnell insists increasing the gas tax would be politically impossible, which is why he has recommended eliminating the gas tax and replacing it with a higher sales tax to fund transportation.

"I can only tell you that the poll that was done last week by two independent sources said that 2-1, Virginians favored this approach over tax increases," McDonnell said. "So I think I've found the right economic and political model that can actually get the job done and can pass."

Virginia would be the first state to eliminate its gas tax, dumping what has become a rule of transportation funding: use the roads, pay the tax that's supposed to maintain them. But it's not outrageous — it's just different, says Joshua Schank, the president of the Eno Center for Transportation, a D.C.-based think tank.

"We are one of the few nations on earth that uses gas taxes to directly fund transportation," he says. "Most countries have much higher gas taxes than we do, which sends a signal to users and discourages gasoline consumption and encourages smaller vehicles and more public transportation. So they have much higher gas taxes than we do but they don't dedicate that money to transportation."

But Schank calls the governor's plan 'inconsistent' because it maintains a user fee on trucks by continuing the diesel tax and a user fee for electric vehicles by increasing the registration fee to $100.

"And then he's getting rid of the so-called user fee for passenger vehicles by getting rid of the gas tax," he says. "It's not a strategy based on thoughtful analysis about how we should be paying for our transportation system."

Schank acknowledges the governor has to deal with political realities. McDonnell says neither the General Assembly nor Virginia residents want to pay more at the pump.

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Transportation Nation

Pittsburgh Not Enforcing Tow Truck Licensing Rules

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Illustration by Anita DuFalla

(Halle Stockton -- PublicSource) In April 2010, the Pittsburgh City Council unanimously passed an ordinance to protect motorists from aggressive tow-truck drivers.

Council members had heard one too many stories about price gouging by towers, or vehicles being snatched in “spiderweb” lots, those with lurking tow-truck drivers and confusing parking rules.

Although some of the practices already violated city ordinances, the city had no way to enforce its rules. So council established a business license for towing operators, and a new set of rules for towing vehicles improperly parked in restricted lots.

The licensing requirement was signed by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl within a week.

Nearly three years later, however, the licenses have not been issued.

That has left drivers like Elliot Gerard with little recourse when they have complaints about towing companies.

Gerard, of Monroeville, parked in a private lot designated for medical offices at Forbes and Shady avenues in Squirrel Hill last spring. According to his wife, Alicia Gerard, as her husband took their infant son from the car seat to stop at a nearby Starbucks, he locked eyes with the driver of a Travis Towing truck parked a few spots away.

When he returned minutes later, his Nissan Rogue was chained to the truck’s ramp.

According to Alicia Gerard, the tow-truck driver told Gerard that to get his car back, he’d need to produce $110 in cash on the spot — or pay $150 at the impound lot.

Such an additional charge would violate the city code, which sets the maximum cost at $110, and does not allow extra charges or storage fees for the first 12 hours.

Gerard asked the driver to let him take his son’s safety seat and diaper bag from the car because he didn’t have the cash to pay, Alicia Gerard said, but the driver refused.

Ultimately, the driver told Gerard he could pay $115 by credit card, which he did, and his car was not towed. In 2000, the city code was amended to make towing companies accept credit cards as well as cash.

“Elliot was at fault because he didn’t see the sign, but the tow-truck driver’s actions were mischievous and calculating,” Alicia Gerard said.

Mark Travis, owner of Travis Towing, said the situation unfolded differently, but he would not elaborate.

“It’s just very popular to demonize us,” he said of the towing industry. “It’s an accepted form of bullying.”

‘Aggressive towing’

Complaints about towing companies piled up in 2010, after then-City Councilman Doug Shields called for city residents to share problems.

Among the complaints Shields received: A tow truck driver took a woman to an ATM to withdraw $300 so her vehicle wouldn’t be taken to the impound lot. A family told of coming to town for a Pirates game and returning to an empty parking space, with no signs in the lot telling them who to call about retrieving it.

Pittsburgh resident Gary Van Horn complained at the time that a tow-truck driver tried to charge him $900 for towing and storing his car after he had an accident and asked that his car be towed to a specific auto-body shop. Van Horn filed a police report and the amount was reduced to $200.

“This was purely aggressive towing,” he told PublicSource. It was “taking advantage of the situation.”

Each towing business was following its own set of rules, said Shields, who represented District 5 until 2011. So he wrote the 2010 ordinance in an attempt to use business licenses to make the rules uniform and the companies accountable.

The bill was to regulate operators who tow cars that have been parked in a restricted area, not those who tow a vehicle at the owner’s request after an accident.

“The business license was a common-sense response to citizens being preyed upon by unscrupulous operators,” Shields said. The city issues other professional licenses, including those for electricians, general contractors and pawnbrokers.

Getting a license would require tow-truck drivers to provide their drivers' licenses and business owners to provide proof of insurance, tax identification and access to company business records. The records would show whether they were adhering to the maximum towing charges and accepting credit cards as well as cash.

The 2010 law gave the enforcement job to the Department of Public Safety. The licenses were to cost $100, and $50 to renew annually.

The ordinance said that before a car could be removed from a private or restricted lot, towers would need a signed and time-stamped request from property owners, and that there must be signs in the lot warning of the tow risk.

In addition, tow-truck drivers could not tow a vehicle if the owner showed up before it was connected to the truck. If the motorist was too late, the tow companies would have to notify police of the towed vehicle’s location through an online program run by the Department of Public Safety.

An unenforceable rule?

Council unanimously passed the bill in April 2010 and Ravenstahl signed it. But Shields says the mayor's staff soon after told him it was not a priority.

Mayoral spokeswoman Joanna Doven said Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper said the law was “unenforceable.”

Chief Harper did not respond to numerous requests in the past two months for comment on why he thought the ordinance was unenforceable. Bureau of Police spokeswoman Diane Richard said Harper had a booked schedule for much of November, was on vacation in December and recently was off because his mother died. Doven said neither the mayor nor Public Safety Director Michael Huss would be available for comment.

Protecting "citizens from aggressive tow companies … is certainly important,” Doven wrote in an e-mail. “However, the ordinance was written by a politician without any input from the officials who would be responsible for implementing and enforcing the ordinance.”

Doven said she did not know which parts of the ordinance Harper thought were unenforceable. While she said a police representative would contact PublicSource, none had done so by deadline.

The mayor's office voiced few public misgivings about the measure during council's initial deliberations. At a March 2010 council meeting, Shields said he had sent the ordinance to the mayor’s policy director and had not heard back.

“I assume they are fine with it,” he said.

During an April council meeting the same year, Assistant City Solicitor Jason Zollett said the Law Department’s initial concerns about the bill had been assuaged because of amendments Shields was adopting.

“I’m perfectly content with the way it reads at this point," Zollett said.

Resolving towing disputes, Shields said, was going to take “some focus on the part of the police department, and Chief Harper has assured me that that’s going to happen.”

And when Harper came to council’s table shortly afterward to answer questions, he raised no concerns about the bill.

At several other council meetings, the dates to implement the ordinance were changed to give the city more time, but Shields said the administration was committed to having the system in place by early 2011.

All the amendments were passed by council and signed by the mayor.

Doven told PublicSource that Ravenstahl signed the original measure because he supported the idea behind the legislation. Thinking it would be revised later, she wrote, Ravenstahl “followed the will of council."

Doven said Councilman Bill Peduto, a Democrat who represents District 8, offered to rework the ordinance and that Harper had been awaiting his proposed revisions.

However, Peduto, who is challenging Ravenstahl in this year’s mayoral race, said the conversation ended when he asked Harper and Huss in March of 2012 for specific problems with the bill and was not given an answer.

“I’m not going to go through the foolish exercise of introducing and passing a bill and then see the administration not do it again,” he said.

Theresa Kail-Smith, who chairs the council's Public Safety committee, did not return calls for comment.

Industry response

Nick Milanovich, manager at J.E. Stuckert Inc., says the Uptown-based towing company supported the business license.

“It would protect everybody,” he said. “And it would make sure that everyone is on the same page with insurance and liabilities.”

Joe Stickles, owner of Stickles Towing in Greenfield, said he supports a business license because it would help push out “fly-by-night” businesses that employ drivers without driver’s licenses or proper insurance.

Having the law on the books, but not enacted, has created confusion for the industry, both men said.

Stickles said several vehicle-owners have questioned his drivers about whether they have a business license.

“We have to explain to them … that it hasn’t been implemented,” Stickles said. “I tell them to call their local representative to ask about the situation.”

Had the law been implemented back when Elliot Gerard dashed into Starbucks for example, the tow-truck driver would have needed a request from the lot owner to remove the SUV. The Monroeville family also would have had a channel to complain about the towing company, and the city could review its practices.

Instead, the Gerards filed a police report, which they said went nowhere.

City officials “put this law on the backburner because it wasn’t important to them, but it was important to us and I’m sure it was important to a lot of others,” said Alicia Gerard.

Peduto said his office receives calls by residents outraged by how they’ve been treated by towing companies.

“There really isn’t a way to prevent it at this point,” he said. “The idea of the ordinance was to get to the root cause. Without it, there’s no mechanism in place to go after those operating illegally.”

Reach Halle Stockton at 412-315-0263 or hstockton@publicsource.org.

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Transportation Nation

Bus Rapid Transit Looks Set for Growth in Oregon

Monday, January 28, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/springfieldhomer/5840474433/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Hayden Bridge Station on Eugene, Oregon's EMX bus rapid transit system.  (Photo CC by Flickr user Slideshow Bruce)

Portland has been a national leader in building light rail, but the transit-friendly city is considering buses as the next round of expansion. Portland is seriously considering bus rapid transit for two high-capacity transit corridors it is planning to expand. Nearby, Eugene is adding to its existing BRT lines, rankling some in the community.

OPB has a pair of stories laying out the potential boom in BRT building. Rob Manning reports on Portland where the decision seems to be coming down to light rail vs bus rapid transit:

There are two high priority corridors in Portland’s long-term transit plan. BRT is on the table, for discussion, in both of them...

Elissa Gertler, a deputy director at the Metro regional government, and the supervisor of the two corridor planning efforts, says there’s one big reason that interest in bus rapid transit may be overtaking light rail: "First and foremost, light rail is expensive. A big capital investment costs a lot of money, and partnership with the federal government in how to fund that has diminished over time, as we’ve expanded our system in this region.”

Bus rapid transit, as pictured above, is a cheaper alternative to light rail lines. Buses are given a dedicated lane to ensure traffic-free travel. Passengers pay before boarding -- similar to subway use -- to speed loading and unloading times. The scheme has proved effective and popular in cities from Curitiba, to Mexico City, to Cleveland.

As has happened in other cities, BRT's flexibility can lead to partial implementation with a kind of BRT-lite.  Something that is an option on the table in Portland. Again from Manning's report:

Transit consultant Jarret Walker says the ideal is to run the bus like a light rail train. Easier said than done in the two corridors Portland is studying.

"You have stretches there, where there’s just so much width," Walker says. "There’s only so much space in the road. And in those places, it doesn’t really matter if you’re building light rail or Bus Rapid Transit, the real question will be: Where do you find a path?"

Standing at 82nd Avenue and Division, Metro’s Elissa Gertler says planners are starting with a focus on where people are traveling. This Division corridor includes multiple college campuses. She says administrators see a value in getting their students out of their cars.

"We have heard them say, 'We don’t want to be a sea of parking lots, we don’t want to have to just building parking. We want to invest in educational space, and serving our students,' ” Gertler says.

Oregon knows how to do bus rapid transit as well as any state in the country. According to rankings by BRT proponents at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, the Eugene BRT system is the second best in the nation, after Cleveland's. Both cities received a "bronze" rating by ITDP compared to "gold" in Bogota and Guangzhou.

The EmX buses in Lane County around Eugene carry 10,000 riders each weekday through dedicated lanes or with "signal priority," traffic lights that change to green when the buses approach.

A new 4.4 mile proposed extension is drawing opposition, according to this report from OPB's Amanda Peacher.

Kilcoin says the EmX extension will help connect West Eugene residents to downtown, and will improve traffic congestion. The project would widen the road in some places. LTD is also planning a number of other improvements, like two pedestrian bridges, new sidewalks, and an additional bike lane. That's in part why the price tag is so high-- all this is estimated to cost $95.6 million.

And that's the main complaint from groups like Our Money, Our Transit. Along 11th Avenue, opponents of the extension have lined the road with signs that read "No Build" with a picture of the big green bus crossed out.

"It's a really poor use of public funds." Roy Benson owns the Tire Factory, an automotive store along the planned route. As a business owner, he doesn't see any benefits of the new line. "I'll probably never have anybody come here on the bus, and then buy four tires and get back on the bus to go home," Benson says.

Peacher cites other opposition, as well as support from transit riders as is to be expected.The plan is going forward, currently in the design phase with a completion date of 2017 if all goes according to plan.

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Why One San Francisco Bike Lane Design Is Upsetting Drivers and Cyclists (AUDIO)

Friday, January 25, 2013

JFK Boulevard, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. (Photo Courtesy of SFMTA Livable Streets)

A prominent bike lane in San Francisco may be suffering because of its unique design. The ambitious, and expensive, bike lane striping of Golden Gate Park stands out from the other projects of San Francisco's bike plan for the criticism it draws from cyclists and drivers alike, in part for a disorienting placement of line of parked cars.

“I think it’s one of the dumbest things I ever saw that they put these stripes down here,” says driver Jimmy Harris of the lanes, pictured above.

Average speeds of drivers and bike riders have both fallen, a success at what's known as traffic calming. But also a stark test case of transportation psychology as users cite narrow lanes and an unusual arrangement of parked cars as confusing.

Ben Trefny and Rai Sue Sussman took a ride along JFK Blvd, with a measuring tape, to see why these particular stripes are raising hackles of bike riders and drivers. Give the audio version a listen.

Here's more: 

For a bit of background, the streets of San Francisco are changing. There are separated bike lanes on Market Street. There’s green paint all over the much-used bike path called the Wiggle. The city is definitely becoming more bicycle-friendly.

After many delays, the city’s bike plan is taking effect, with streets long-designed for car traffic being reconfigured for other modes of transportation. Four years ago San Francisco had 45 miles of bike lanes. Today there are 65 and with more on the way. Plus, 75 more miles of streets will be stenciled with symbols designating them as bike-friendly routes. It’s all having a big impact.

According to the San Francisco Bike Coalition, bike trips have increased more than 70 percent since 2006. But the planners’ choices for JFK Blvd. havn't been implemented so smoothly – and it’s flat-out rankled many of the bicyclists it’s supposed to serve.

The wide JFK Blvd. used to have almost no stripes whatsoever. Now, it’s full of them, creating several chutes designated for different purposes:  there’s a bike lane at either the edge; then buffer zone; a lane for parking; and then in the center a car lane in each direction.

Last spring, we talked with Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bike Coalition, about that project: the striping of Golden Gate Park

“Imagine the parking lanes that are kind of being moved out more into the center of the street, and the bikeway – the dedicated bikeway – will be against the curb, or against the green space, or the sidewalk area,” she said. “So that people biking actually have that physical separation from the moving traffic. JFK we think is a good street to try this because it is a very wide street it's way wider than most streets in San Francisco, so there was room there to try something different.”

It cost at least $425,000 to lay the stripes down – and the MTA estimates more than that to plan it all out.

So, what do the people who travel along JFK think about the new configuration?

“From a drivers’ standpoint, it’s pretty bad,” adds Daly City’s Nick Shurmeyetiv. “Honestly, the first few times I came in – like the first few times it really threw me off. I wasn't sure what was going on. I thought it was a traffic jam, or I don't know what,” he said of the parked cars that appeared to be a lane of traffic.

Frank Jones, from Concord says, “Well, we did pull up and stop behind somebody. And we thought, ‘They're not moving.’ Then we realized – there was nobody in the car! So we went around them.”

A count of cars lined up in the designated parking lane across from the De Young Museum one Friday afternoon showed 11 of 46 vehicles at least partially in the buffer zone. They followed a pattern: typically, each vehicle was aligned with the one in front of it. So if one missed the mark, many more would do the same. And they never missed on the side with car traffic. Only on the side toward the bikes.

“Yeah, you know the roadway, the width is a little narrower, but for the most part, this isn't a place to be going really fast from A to B,” says Peter Brown, who works as an SFMTA project manager.

If it’s the SFMTA’s goal to slow traffic on JFK, it’s been successful.

For cars, average speed has dropped about two or three miles per hour since the road was striped, according to a preliminary report. It makes sense, as the thoroughfare is much more narrow, now, and cars have to fully stop if anyone in front of them is trying to park.

Average bike speeds have also dropped, from an average of 14-and-a-half miles per hour to less than 13 during the week and a little slower on weekends. The report suggests that’s because bicyclists who used to cruise really fast up or down Golden Gate Park now have to slow down for other cyclists and the people who are trying to get across the bike lanes to their cars. Calming traffic, on paper anyway, arguably makes the route more accessible and safer.

The SFMTA surveyed people who use JFK both before and shortly after the new stripes went in. Almost 90 percent of responders felt like they understood the striping, but only about 60 percent liked it. Some people, like Lita Ward, don’t.

“I've had several incidents where I've nearly collided with people getting out of their cars, that are crossing the bike lane into the sidewalk area,” says Ward. “Obviously, we can't stop quickly enough... I think it's a great concept, but drivers need to be aware of what that change means for bicyclists."

It didn’t take long, wandering around JFK to see that scenario unfold. Just west of the De Young, two teenagers on mountain bikes blew through a stop sign on the downhill slope. A pedestrian crossing the bike lane to get to his car had to jump out of the way as they rapidly approached. The kids obviously hadn’t anticipated his presence, and the pedestrian didn’t notice until it was nearly too late.

Some people think better signage and public awareness campaigning would solve some of the ongoing issues with the newly striped lanes of Golden Gate Park, including longtime bike activist Chris Carlsson, who runs Shaping San Francisco, which looks into ways to improve the city.

“A proper educational campaign, in conjunction with an infrastructural transformation, I think could be really successful,” says Carlsson, who is one of the founders of Critical Mass.

[Related: Listen to an oral history of how Critical Mass was founded]

The people who most advocated for – and implemented – the striping of Golden Gate Park are examining the effects. The SF Bike Coalition has a webpage devoted to the “JFK Separated Bikeway Project.”

The page addresses some of the problems: cars that aren’t parked where they’re supposed to be; people crossing the bikeway without looking. SFMTA has a page called the JFK Cycletrack. It includes a survey in which people can share their thoughts about what they like and don’t like.

Even with the imposed structure, people are making the new configuration work for them. Sporty bicyclists take the car lane (which is allowed) to avoid slower-biking tourists and families; pedestrians walk in the bike path to avoid sprinklers; and cars drive through like they did before – only slightly slower.

But more than six months in, because of ongoing parking issues and -- for San Francisco -- the unusual off-curb parking situation, it appears that the striping of Golden Gate Park is not working quite as it was originally imagined. The removal of more than 80 parking spaces alone will be enough to change usage of the road. And unless a large-scale redesign is implemented, an experiment in shared road design may simply require users to get used to a number of imperfections.

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NY City Council: DOT is Flouting Law on Safety Stats

Thursday, January 24, 2013

New York City Council members James Vacca and Jessica Lappin with Transportation Alternatives' Juan Martinez (photo by Kate Hinds)

Listen to the audio from Thursday's press conference:

"In 2011, I authored a law called TrafficStat," said Jessica Lappin, who represents the Upper East Side. "The goal was to shine a light on the most dangerous intersections in the city." She and Bronx council member Jimmy Vacca recently sent a letter to DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. It reads, in part: "Although the DOT has been legally required to provide the information noted above to Council Members and Community Boards since June 2011, to our understanding it has yet to do so. The Council has requested copies of traffic safety reports in recent months without success."

The law requires the DOT to identify the city's twenty highest crash locations and then come up with a plan to make them safer. In addition, it requires the DOT to inspect the locations where fatal traffic crashes occur within ninety days.

A clearly frustrated Lappin said it wasn't clear whether the DOT is inspecting the locations of fatal crashes. "How would we know?" she said "They haven't told us that they have. If they have, they should tell us."

A representative for the DOT, reached after the press conference, took issue with the council member's characterization. Spokesman Seth Solomonow said when it comes to traffic safety, "the last five years have been the safest in city history."

The press conference comes a day after the NYPD posted data on traffic crashes online, but then acknowledged that data was raw and contained "overcounts."

Lappin said the council has been asking for the  information for five months. "And they keep saying 'oh, it's coming, it's coming, it's coming,' and we're just sick of waiting."

She said given the DOT's emphasis on safety, she was surprised by the agency's lack of compliance. "This is an administration that we know takes safety very seriously, so I don't understand why they are not complying with this law. We have been asking for months now for them to release this information, and they keep telling us it's on the way.  But we don't want to wait when there are lives on the line."

"I don't care how cold it is," said Vacca. (Reporter's note: the temperature at 10am was 14 degrees.) "I think that we in the city of New York have been in the deep freeze too damn long at the Department of Transportation."

It wasn't clear exactly how the council planned for force the DOT's hand. Lappin said, "we're going to keep pushing them." A member of Vacca's staff said that the councilman would explore the possibility of an oversight hearing if DOT doesn’t comply "soon."

In his statement, the DOT's Solomonow said: "From the landmark pedestrian safety report to annual traffic fatality numbers to street-specific studies, there’s never been more safety data available for New Yorkers. This particular law requires not simply reporting statistics but then identifying locations and taking steps to make each even safer. In practice, this report goes above and beyond the law, documenting the engineering, designing, community outreach, scheduling and implementation efforts that have already brought community-supported safety redesigns to these locations. DOT continues to work overtime on safety, and not a single project has been delayed by this report, which we expect to be complete in a matter of weeks."

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Alexandria To Consider Registration For Bicycles

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Alexandria City Hall (photo by cliff via flickr)

(Michael Pope - Washington, D.C., WAMU) Members of the Alexandria City Council are about to consider whether or not bicycle owners should be forced to register their bikes and pay a fee.

Tucked away in the Alexandria city code is a provision, largely ignored, requiring bicycle owners to register with the city and pay a 25-cent registration fee. City Councilman Justin Wilson admits he is in violation of the policy.

"I've tried. I've actually tried," Wilson says. "We don't make it very easy to register your bike."

As it turns out, nobody registers their bicycle because nobody knows about the provision, which dates back to 1963. Wilson says city officials are now looking at the existing policy to determine what kind of changes might be needed to enforce the measure.

During a recent public hearing, Old Town resident Kathryn Papp said mandatory registration would be a good idea.

"Cars are registered and charged a fee. Motorcycles are registered and charged a fee," Papp says. "Almost every vehicle on the roadway is registered and charged a fee."

Papp says registration would also make stolen bicycles easier to recover, and revenues from a small annual fee could go towards building addition bicycle facilities.

City Council members are expected to consider recommendations in the spring.

 

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DC Commuters Want Less Traffic, More Transit -- And No Congestion Pricing

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

(photo by NCreedplayer via flickr)

Commuters are skeptical that congestion pricing will reduce traffic in the metropolitan Washington area and raise revenues to fund transportation projects. Instead, they favor alternatives to driving -- commuter rail, express bus service, or bicycling/walking.

report released Wednesday by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) weighed the attitudes of 300 area residents who participated in five forums: two in Virginia, two in Maryland, and one in the District of Columbia. The participants were asked to consider three scenarios: 1) placing tolls on all major roadways, including interstate highways; 2) charging a per-mile fee measured by GPS systems installed in cars; and 3) creating priced zones similar to a system in London that would charge motorists to enter a designated area.

These attitudes are being probed at a delicate time for transportation funding in the region: Virginia's governor is proposing the elimination of the state gasoline tax -- while Maryland is looking at increasing theirs. Meanwhile, the area's largest transit project, the Silver Line, has yet to be fully funded.

But the funding scenarios posed to study participants received tepid support.

“This study shows people are cautiously open to concepts of congestion pricing, but they really need to see if it’s going to work, and they have doubts about that,” said John Swanson, a TPB planner.

“They really want to make sure that there are clear benefits, that [congestion pricing] is going to fund new transportation alternatives… particularly transit and high quality bus [service],” he added.

Scenario one – charging tolls on all major roadways – was supported by 60 percent of study participants, who engaged in extended exchanges of ideas and opinions. Scenario two – using GPS to track miles traveled – was opposed by 86 percent, even though drivers’ actual routes would not be tracked, only the number of miles.

“I don’t want to discount privacy concerns,” Swanson said. “I don’t think, however, the concerns were simply the classic ‘big brother’ concerns. There was a lot of code language for broader anxieties.  It was a complicated proposal that was hard to understand.  It seemed to be hard to implement.  A lot of people said it looked like it would be expensive to implement and, frankly, they are right.”

The study participants spoke of congestion in personal terms -- family time robbed, the stress of dealing with incessant traffic. Most commuters said driving is not a choice.

“The availability of other options besides driving—such as transit, walking and biking—increased [the] receptiveness to pricing. Participants also spoke favorably of proposals that would maintain non-tolled lanes or routes for those who cannot or do not want to pay,” the report said.

Transit advocates say the report shows shaping land use strategies to improve access to transit and create walkable, densely built environments is the best way to mitigate the region’s traffic jams.

“Newcomers to the region are very frequently choosing the city or a place near transit rather than a place where they have no option but to drive,” said Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

“What’s most interesting about this report is that it was an effort to seek public support for congestion pricing, but what it documented was the much stronger support for transit and improvements in how we plan land use in order to give people more choices to get around,” Schwartz added.

The study’s authors – the TPB partnered with the Brookings Institution – found most participants were unaware the federal gas tax (18.4 cents per gallon) hasn’t been raised since 1993.  However, they also favored raising the gas tax as an easier, fairer alternative to implementing a congestion pricing program.

Support for increasing the gas tax increased over the course of the sessions --  from 21 percent when the study convened to 57 percent upon its completion.

The gas tax “is a hidden fee,” said Swanson. “We learned that people actually like that. There is a general sense of the invisibility of the gas tax being a problem and potentially a benefit, something that’s strangely attractive to people.”

Eighty-five percent of study participants identified transportation funding shortfalls as a critical problem, yet expressed doubts the government would make the right choices if additional revenues were made available through congestion pricing.

TPB board member Chris Zimmerman, who's also a member of the Arlington (VA) County Board, took exception to the wording of the study’s questions using the word “government” because he felt it provoked a negative response.

“If you are trying to interpret what people say, you have to be careful of what question you ask them,” Zimmerman said. “I think people get that there is a lack of funding.  They also get the fact there are a number of other problems.  There aren’t alternatives. For many in this region, they drive not because that’s what they are dying to do, but because they have no choice.”

Zimmerman, who background is in economics, said it should be no surprise people are lukewarm about congestion pricing proposals, given the lack of alternative modes of transportation in some places.  He is also unsure congestion pricing will work.

“The way roads are run is there is basically no pricing of them at all. Even if you are paying a gas tax it’s not related to your use of any particular road.  An economist looks at that and says of course you are going to get inefficiency and congestion,” Zimmerman said.

“You are not talking about going from the current situation to instantly pricing everything perfectly.  You are talking about implementing costs on particular segments of roads and that gets a lot more complicated because there are secondary effects," Zimmerman said. "We price one thing and many people shift to some other place.  Well, where is that some other place?”

“In practice, implementing that is very difficult.”

The Washington region saw two major highways shift to congestion pricing in 2012. Maryland's Inter-County Connector charges variably priced tolls; the 495 Express Lanes charge dynamically priced tolls and offer free rides to HOV-3 vehicles.

In the case of the Express Lanes, the state of Virginia will not receive toll revenues for 75 years as per its contract with its private sector partner, Transurban, and it remains to be seen if the new toll lanes will ultimately reduce congestion in the heavily traveled corridor. The ICC also has its critics, who say the recently constructed highway was a waste of money.

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Manhattan Borough President Calls for Probe in Subway Safety

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

(photo by Kate Hinds)

(WNYC Newsroom) After a recent surge of subway fatalities and injuries, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer is calling on the MTA to launch a probe into subway safety.

He's pushing for MTA Inspector General Barry Kluger to conduct an in-depth audit of platform accidents.

Stringer says there were 55 subway deaths last year, but there's been an alarming recent spate of death.

By having the inspector general look at the issue, Stringer says, he’s hoping some creative solutions can be found. He thinks everything from sliding doors to new signage should be considered.

In December, two people were pushed to their death on the subway tracks. In recent weeks, one man fell to his death while between subway cars and on Tuesday a man was killed when he jumped into the path of a subway in Times Square.

James Vacca, City Council Transportation Committee chairman, also says he plans to hold hearings on the issue of subway safety.

Stringer is planning a bid for City Comptroller.

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Smart Growth Collides With Transit Planning In Alexandria

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Alexandria City Council members voted for a plan to charge residents in the garage of this new affordable housing complex to discourage the use of automobiles.

(Michael Pope, Alexandria Virginia -- WAMUWhat happens when the principles of smart growth collide with transit planning? That's the case on Jefferson Davis Highway in Alexandria, where a new affordable housing complex is planned, but it comes saddled with a paid parking lot.

Land-use attorney Duncan Blair presented the application to council members as an unusual sort of "Easter egg."

"Probably this is the number one issue in the city," Blair says. "It's the number one issue on the campaign trail. So I'm like the Easter Bunny bringing you exactly what you want, which is 78 new units of affordable housing for a 60-year period."

But some neighbors say this is a case of rotten eggs.

"Duncan, why does the Easter Bunny have to park his car on East Lynhaven Drive?" asks Joe Bondi, president of Lynhaven Citizens Association.

He and many of his neighbors are concerned about the city's decision to separate parking fees from rent. The idea is to discourage the use of automobiles, but Lynhaven residents say they are concerned the new residents will park on the street.

"The choices that people make who will live in this building are different than the choices that people make who live in market-rate buildings," Bondi says.

Alexandria's two new council members opposed the city s efforts to charge extra for parking. Councilman John Taylor Chapman says many of the lower income residents who live in the building may not be able to use the bus rapid transit system to get to work.

"Maybe they are a school teacher, and maybe they don't work in Alexandria," Chapman says. "Maybe they work in Fairfax or Loudoun County or wherever. Our BRT is not going to get them to their job. They are going to need a car."

Chapman and newly-elected Vice Mayor Allision Silberberg voted against the proposal, but a majority of elected officials sided with the developer's plan to charge separately for parking and rent.

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NY's Airports So Old, Millionaire Is Putting Up Private Fortune to Lobby for Renovations

Monday, January 14, 2013

LaGuardia Airport (photo by Alex Goldmark)

Real Estate mogul Joe Sitt knows how to court the jet set. He's the head of Thor Equities, one of the city's biggest landlords for high end retail and offices. And as he sees it, New York's aging airports are holding the region back. "The experience [in our airports] is pitiful," Sitt said.

And he's putting up $1 million of his personal money to change it.

His campaign to overhaul New York area airports launched last week isn't an expensive personal quest for a better travel experience. It's an unusual lobbying campaign in the public (and also self) interest.

A 2011 report by the Regional Plan Association found that NY area airports need to expand and upgrade air traffic technology if they are to keep up with forecasts of air travel growth. Average flight delays at NY area airports are already twice the national average. A 2008 study (pdf) by the Partnership of New York City estimated that if New York's airports aren't modernized, it could cost $79 billion in losses to the regional economy between 2008 and 2025.

"What's one of our business fears? Businesses moving out of the city," said Sitt, the landlord of about 40 buildings, many in tourist hot spots like 5th Ave and Meatpacking. "I love New York City. It is creative. Every tech company should want to be here. But from an infrastructure, transportation, airport [perspective], no offense, versus San Francisco, we fail. They put us to shame out there."

His group the Global Gateway Alliance will lobby all levels of government to invest more in infrastructure for air travel.  "I think government needs some prodding. This needed somebody to carry the torch," Sitt said.

It's not the first time business leaders and planners have called for investment -- the RPA launched the Better Airports Alliance in 2011 -- but Sitt's $1 million of seed money makes the new effort more serious from the start. "It's really the first time we've had a comprehensive, well funded effort to focus on the great need for airport improvement," said Kathy Wylde of the Partnership for New York City, who has joined the board of the Global Gateway Alliance. Lobbying, she said will pressure all levels of government and could include public messages like TV commercials.

The agency that runs NY airports concedes upgrades are needed.  “We recognize that some of our facilities are aging and in need of capital infrastructure investment to ensure the continued economic growth of the region," said Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye. "The Port Authority and our airline partners invested over $1 billion in 2012 on infrastructure projects at our region’s airports, which includes construction of high speed exit taxiways, terminal improvements, and runway rehabilitation. Additionally, the Port Authority is in the process of establishing a public/private partnership to invest $3.6 billion on a new Central Terminal Building at La Guardia.”

 

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NYS2100 Full Report: Start an Infrastructure Bank, Build BRT, and More Transit

Friday, January 11, 2013

Establish an infrastructure bank, expanded rail access, build a bus rapid transit system, and redesign the electric grid. Those are some of the suggestions in the NYS2100 commission's full report on preparing New York state to withstand the next 100 year storm released Friday afternoon.

The commission was convened to suggest a plan for making New York state more resilient in the face increasingly severe weather and future storms like Sandy, which knocked most of New York City's transportation out of service for days. Several transit routes are still not back to normal two months later.

The full report is below. We've pulled out the bits from the executive summary most related to transportation and infrastructure.

Governor Andrew Cuomo's State of the State agenda also included much of these kinds of proposals. We posted that earlier in the week here, and reported on the bus rapid transit proposal specifically if you want more detail on that.

 

From the NYS2100 official report:


 

Develop a risk assessment of the State’s transportation infrastructure
Identify those assets that are vulnerable to extreme weather events, storm surge, sea level rise and seismic events, and to prioritize future investment through the use of a lifeline network that defines
critical facilities, corridors, systems, or routes that must remain functional during a crisis or be restored most rapidly.
Strengthen existing transportation networks
Improve the State’s existing infrastructure with an emphasis on key bridges, roads, tunnels, transit, rail, airports, marine facilities, and transportation communication infrastructure. Focus on improved repair, as well as protecting against multiple hazards including flooding, seismic impact and extreme weather.
• Protect transit systems and tunnels against severe flooding
• Invest in upgrades to bridges, tunnels, roads, transit and
railroads for all hazards
• Strengthen vulnerable highway and rail bridges
• Protect waterway movements
• Safeguard airport operations
Strategically expand transportation networks in order to create redundancies
Make the system more flexible and adaptive. Encourage alternate modes of transportation.
• Modernize signal and communications systems
• Build a bus rapid transit network
• Expand rail access to/from Manhattan
• Create new trans-Hudson tunnel connection
• Expand rail Access to/from Manhattan with Metro-North Penn Station access
• Expand capacity on the LIRR’s Main Line
• Develop alternative modes of transportation Build for a resilient future with enhanced guidelines,
standards, policies, and procedures
Change the way we plan, design, build, manage, maintain and pay for our transportation network in light of increased occurrences of severe events.
• Review design guidelines
• Improve long-term planning and fund allocation
• Improve interagency and interstate planning
• Seek expedited environmental review and permitting on major mitigation investments

 

 

 

Strengthen critical energy infrastructure

Securing critical infrastructure should be a primary focus. Strategies of protection, include among other things, selective undergrounding of electric lines, elevating susceptible infrastructure such as substations, securing locations of future power plants, hardening key fuel distribution terminals, and reexamination of critical

component locations to identify those most prone to damage by shocks or stresses. Creating a long-term capital stock of critical equipment throughout the region provides an efficient system of distribution to streamline the delivery and recovery processes.

• Facilitate process of securing critical systems
• Protect and selectively underground key electrical transmission and distribution lines
• Strengthen marine terminals and relocate key fuel-related infrastructure to higher elevations
• Reinforce pipelines and electrical supply to critical fuel infrastructure
• Waterproof and improve pump-out ability of steam tunnels
• Create a long-term capital stock of critical utility equipment

Accelerate the modernization of the electrical system and improve flexibility
As utilities replace aging parts of the power system, the State should ensure new technologies are deployed. It is important to immediately invest in new construction, replacement, and upgrades to transition the grid to a flexible system that can respond to future technologies, support clean energy integration, and minimize outages during major storms and events. The grid for the 21st century should seamlessly incorporate distributed generation, microgrids, and plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs).

• Re-design electric grid to be more flexible, dynamic and
responsive
• Increase distributed generation statewide
• Make the grid electric vehicle ready
Design rate structures and create incentives to encourage distributed generation and smart grid investments
The State should implement new technologies and system
improvements to provide effective backup power, flexibility,
distributed generation, and solutions for “islanding” vulnerable
parts of the system. In addition to improving the resilience and
stability of energy, electricity, and fuel supply systems, these
solutions promote energy conservation, efficiency, and consumer
demand response.
Diversify fuel supply, reduce demand for energy, and create redundancies
Lowering GHG emissions in the power sector through the Regional
Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) will contribute to reducing
the impacts of climate change over the very long term. To build
on the success of RGGI, the State should encourage alternative
fuel sources such as biogas, liquefied natural gas (LNG), and
solar heating in transportation and other sectors. PEVs, energy
storage systems, and on-site fuel storage where feasible, should
also be used to provide new energy storage mechanisms. Incentive
programs to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy
deployment should be strengthened to increase the level of private
sector investment in this space.
• Facilitate greater investments in energy efficiency and
renewable energy
• Diversify fuels in the transportation sector
• Support alternative fuels across all sectors
• Lower the greenhouse gas emissions cap through RGGI

Develop long-term career training and a skilled energy workforce

The utility workforce is aging and tremendous expertise will be lost
in the next several years. Workforce development strategies should
ensure the availability of skilled professionals to maintain a state
of good repair, effectively prepare for and respond to emergencies,
and deploy and maintain advanced technologies.
• Create a workforce development center
• Expand career training and placement programs
• Build awareness of the need for skilled workers
• Coordinate workforce development among all stakeholders
within the energy sector

 

 

 

 

Establish an “Infrastructure Bank” to coordinate, allocate, and maximize investment

The Commission recommends the establishment of a new Infrastructure Bank with a broad mandate to coordinate financing
and directly finance the construction, rehabilitation, replacement, and expansion of infrastructure.
• Assist the State in making more efficient and effective use of public infrastructure funding
• Mobilize private sector

 

Full report here.

 

 

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Thirty Years Later, is Connecticut Ready to Reinstate Tolls?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Hartford (photo by dougtone via flickr)

(Neena Satija - CT Mirror) It's been almost exactly 30 years since a tractor-trailer plowed into cars waiting at a Stratford toll barrier, triggering an explosion that killed seven people. The January 1983 crash prompted Connecticut legislators to begin phasing out tolls in the state -- and they've been banned ever since.

But if some lawmakers have their way, that could change soon. Rep. Pat Dillon, D-New Haven, will be introducing a bill this legislative session that would re-establish tolls in the state.

"Our infrastructure is crumbling," said Dillon, who has been a legislator since the 1980s when tolls were first banned. "And we don't have the money to pay for it. We're not going to have the funds we need for transportation."

Her proposal comes as Gov.Dannel P. Malloy and the state Department of Transportation have been moving to seriously study the issue of tolls, pointing out that Connecticut's revenue from its gasoline tax is set to decline steeply as cars become more fuel-efficient. The state will begin two studies early this year to consider putting tolls on two major highways - I-84 west in the Hartford area, and I-95 between New Haven and New York.

Highway tolls are gaining more acceptance in other states -- most recently, Los Angeles County, which implemented the first tolls in its history last November.

"It's not just Connecticut where this is becoming an issue," said Tom Maziarz, director of the DOT's Bureau of Policy and Planning. "This is an issue nationwide in terms of the amount of funding available for transportation."

Drivers paid tolls all over the state before the 1980s. There were several toll stations on I-95 and Route 52, on the Merritt and Wilbur Cross Parkways, and on Hartford-area bridges including the Charter Oak. The Connecticut Turnpike alone generated $56 million in revenue in its last year of collections.

Maziarz said he doesn't have an estimate of how much money tolls could bring in today. The DOT studies (which will cost about $2.2 million, mostly paid for by federal funds) will focus more on how the state might reinstate tolls, and for what purpose.

"Congestion pricing," which refers to using tolls meant to reduce traffic at peak hours, has become a popular term in many transportation circles. On I-95, congestion relief is critical, with 16 million hours of delay in the area between Bridgeport and Stamford experienced due to traffic in 2007, the last year for which figures were available. (In 1983, the number was under 5 million). The DOT estimates that delays on I-95 and I-91 cost a total of $670 million in lost productivity that year.

But reducing traffic through tolls on the highway won't be easy. I-95's "peak" period lasts from 6:15 a.m. to well after 10 a.m., and many drivers may not be able or willing to shift their time of travel in order to save money. Other possible routes, like the main roads in towns hugging the highway or the Merritt Parkway, are just as congested.

Another option would be adding new lanes that are toll-only -- a costly proposition in terms of construction and land acquisition. Or, all or some of the lanes on the current highway could be pay lanes -- but that may run afoul of federal requirements that generally do not allow tolls on interstate highways, and therefore deprive the state of needed federal funds.

"The goal is congestion relief," Maziarz said. "What we don't know yet is whether or not electronic tolling can do it, or what combination of electronic tolling and highway improvements and transit improvements are necessary to do it."

When it comes to putting tolls on I-84, the state's focus will be somewhat different. While revenues collected on I-95 could go toward a variety of improvements -- like fixing old roadways and bridges on the interstate, or even beefing up the railway system -- tolls on I-84 are seen as a possible option for financing the reconstruction of the Aetna Viaduct in Hartford.

The elevated roadway through downtown Hartford was built in 1965 and is in desperate need of repair.

"It's reached a point that in order to keep it functioning in a safe manner, it's very expensive and very disruptive," Maziarz said. "We just spent on the order of $25-35 million just within the last year or so with a relatively small repair project out there, where we focused on the bridge joints."

Replacing the whole viaduct, he said, will cost at least $1 billion to $2 billion.

With so many other issues facing the legislature this session, it's not clear whether Dillon's bill to put tolls back on the table will get much attention. Fairfield County legislators are also still very wary of a law that could, many say, disproportionately affect residents in that area.

"I've met so many people, certainly from the Greenwich area, that are opposed to it, that remember what it was like when they had them back in the early '80s and beyond," said Rep. Larry Cafero, a Republican from Norwalk. "So it's a mixed bag."

At the same time, Cafero said, things have changed since the 1980s. Back then, following the Stratford crash, thousands of people marched in protest of tolls because of the potential for accidents at toll booths. There were also concerns about the pollution caused by so many cars braking constantly to pay the toll.

Much of that is no longer a concern, as tolls are often paid electronically now. The DOT's studies will only consider reinstating tolls using an electronic method of payment, such as the EZ-Pass system in use throughout the Northeast.

"I think technology has come a long enough way that it's certainly prudent to look into it," Cafero said.

However, he noted, "for every person that has an EZ-Pass, there's many who don't. And I look to the right of me, and I see lines going back with idling cars for quite some distance of people doing it the old-fashioned way."

Follow Neena Satija on Twitter.

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Transportation Nation

NY Gov Plans for Flood-Proof Subways, Open Transpo Data, Coastal Barriers (Full Document)

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The new Tappan Zee Bridge features prominently in the heroic graphic cover of the New York State 2013 State of the State book. (Click to enlarge)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to flood-proof the NYC subway system using inflatable bladders, roll down gates and new pumps.

He wants to install a statewide network of electric car charging stations.

Those were some of the ideas advanced in his annual  State of the State speech and accompanying 300 page book detailing his agenda for 2013.

The books cover shows a new Tappan Zee bridge rising over a flood-ravaged home, with the capitol building in New York as the connecting image.   Get it?

We've pulled out some of the parts related to transportation and infrastructure for you. Most of them fall under the heading of Sandy rebuilding and storm resilience.

Here some bullet points (not including the Adirondack Whitewater rafting challenge.)

Page 233: "Take Immediate Steps to Protect Transportation Systems Against Future Storm Events

"New York State’s transportation infrastructure encompasses a vast network of Interstates, state highways, local roads, public transit systems, waterways, bike networks, and walking facilities. Our transportation systems link to airports and marine ports that connect New York to the rest of the country and the world. Downstate, New York City boasts the most comprehensive and complex transportation network in the country that supports a region of national and global significance. Overall, the State’s transportation infrastructure is vital to the health of our economy, environment, and well-being.

"Recent severe events, such as Superstorm Sandy, Tropical Storm Lee, Hurricane Irene and the 2010 snowstorm, have revealed vulnerabilities in our transportation infrastructure. Much of it is aging and susceptible to damage from extreme weather events or seismic threats, and many facilities, such as tunnels and airports, have been built in locations that are increasingly at risk of flooding. Steps must be taken to make the State’s transportation infrastructure more resilient to future severe events. To protect and maintain our economy, mobility and public safety, Governor Cuomo has sought federal support to repair and mitigate our transportation systems to better withstand future threats.

"The following measures should be taken to make our transportation systems stronger in the face of future storms. With federal assistance, these measures can and will be taken by the MTA and other State agencies and authorities to harden our transportation systems against future threats:

  • Flood-proof subways and bus depots with vertical roll-down doors, vent closures, inflatable bladders, and upsized fixed pumps (with back-up power sources);
  • Mitigate scour on road and rail bridges with strategically placed riprap and other steps;
  • Replace metal culverts with concrete on roads in flood-prone areas;
  • Providing elevated or submersible pump control panels, pump feeders, and tide gates to address flooding at vulnerable airports;
  • Install reverse flow tide gates to prevent flooding of docks, berths, terminal facilities, and connecting road and rail freight systems, and harden or elevate communication and electrical power infrastructure that services port facilities; and
  • Upgrade aged locks and movable dams to allow for reliable management of water levels and maintain embankments to protect surrounding communities from flooding.

 

We reported earlier in the week base on a draft report, the NYS2100 commission to harden NY against future storms recommended among other things, a new bus rapid transit system. Here is how results of the NYS 2100 commission are summarized officially in Cuomo's book.

Page 225: "The NYS2100 Commission reviewed the vulnerabilities faced by the State’s infrastructure systems and have worked to develop specific recommendations that can be implemented to increase New York’s resilience in five main areas: transportation, energy, land use, insurance, and infrastructure finance. The Commission seeks to:

• Identify immediate actions that should be taken to mitigate or strengthen existing infrastructure systems—some of which suffered damage in the recent storms—to improve normal functioning and to withstand extreme weather more effectively in the future;
• Identify infrastructure projects that would, if realized over a longer term, help to bring not only greater climate resilience but also other significant economic and quality of life benefits to New York State’s communities;
• Assess long-term options for the use of “hard” barriers and natural systems to protect coastal communities;
• Create opportunities to integrate resilience planning, protection and development approaches into New York’s economic development decisions and strategies; and
• Shape reforms in the area of investment, insurance and risk management related to natural disasters and other emergencies."

 

Cuomo also promises more open data, which would include quicker access to transportation data held in State Agencies -- several other states including New Jersey and Illinois already do this.

Page 203: "Open New York will provide easy, single-stop access to statewide and agency-level data, reports, statistics, compilations and information. Data will be presented in a common, downloadable, easy-to-access format, and will be searchable and mappable. The Open New York web portal will allow researchers, citizens, business and the media direct access to high-value data, which will be continually added to and expanded, so these groups can use the data to innovate for the benefit of all New Yorkers."

 

And here's the lofty language used around the new Tappan Zee Bridge, which we have covered extensively.

Page ix: "We set out to bridge the divide between yesterday and tomorrow, what was and what can be, dysfunction and performance, cynicism and trust, gridlock and cooperation to make government work.
And we are.

Look at our progress on replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge. We did in one year what was only talked about for the past ten years. The new Tappan Zee Bridge is BIG, BOLD and BEAUTIFUL. [Emphasis original]

My friends, I would like to say that our job is done. But, we have much more to do."

 

And in more detail on page 4: "Governor Cuomo, working with the State Legislature, enacted a new law allowing the use of design-build techniques on New York Works projects.1 This streamlines the contracting process by holding a single contractor accountable for both the design of the project and its actual construction, with the potential to save 9 to 12 months on the project timeline for bridge repair and construction.

"The centerpiece of the New York Works infrastructure program is the replacement of the Governor Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge in the Hudson Valley, which has been needed for years. Plans for a new bridge were announced more than ten years ago. The State held 430 public meetings and explored 150 different bridge concepts. But New Yorkers still had not seen any results. Governor Cuomo put forward a plan for a new bridge that considered the future transit needs of the region; the plan increases lanes for drivers, creates emergency lanes and shoulders to handle accidents, includes a pedestrian and bike lane for the benefit of local communities, and will boost the economy of the region by creating and sustaining 45,000 jobs. And about one year later, on December 17, 2012, the Thruway Authority awarded a contract for the new bridge at a cost $800 million less than the next lowest bidder and approximately $2 billion less than the original estimate. Work on construction will begin in 2013.
New York’s typically high energy costs have long been a barrier to growth of the state economy. The Energy Highway initiative, introduced in the 2012 State of the State address, is a centerpiece of the Governor’s Power NY agenda, which was put in place to ensure that New York’s energy grid is the most advanced in the nation and to promote increased business investment in the state. In October 2012, the Energy Highway Blueprint was launched, identifying specific actions to modernize and expand the state’s electric infrastructure. The comprehensive plan, supported by up to $5.7 billion in public and private investments, will add up to 3,200 megawatts of additional electric generation and transmission capacity and clean power generation."

 

Full document here:

NY State of the State Book by

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Transportation Nation

Draft Report: To Withstand Storms, Build a Bigger Bus System

Monday, January 07, 2013

MTA "Bus Bridge" After Sandy replaced some subway service (NY MTA photo)

To better survive the economic impact of big storms like Sandy, New York needs a "world class" bus rapid transit system.   That's one of the major recommendations in a draft report commissioned by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on how to rebuild New York infrastructure post-Sandy.

Bus Rapid Transit -- basically, fast buses which run on segregated lanes where users pay off board -- mimics a subway system by planning bus routes that can run almost as quickly through streets as trains can underground.

Such a system could be less vulnerable to floods and more able to restart service after big storms.  It would also be able to connect neighborhoods that would otherwise be stranded by subway service disruptions.

"A world class BRT network would enhance the resilience and redundancy of the overall transit system," according to a draft copy of the report which was leaked to the New York Times.  The report contained no specific recommendations for funding the system.

It also doesn't address the thorny political question which frequently accompanies BRT proposals -- that of of turning over road space traditionally used by cars to buses only.

The recommendation is part of a set of proposals drawn up by the NYS2100 Commission, one of three large commissions set up by Governor Cuomo to address rebuilding New York in the wake of storm Sandy, which caused over $30 billion in damage.   The two other commissions, on emergency response and preparedness, delivered their findings directly to the governor last week.  No word on when the final 2100 report will be presented to the Governor, or whether or how he'll adopt its recommendations.

BRT advocates, like the Institute for Transportation Development Policy, argue that BRT can be built far more quickly and cheaply than subways. The Second Avenue subway has been under development for half a century, by contrast.

"Financial support from the State would be welcome in helping to bring New York City’s ongoing bus system improvement efforts closer to world class ‘gold standard’ BRT," said ITDP CEO Walter Hook in a statement.  "A world-class BRT system would not only have fully dedicated lanes that keep the buses separate from traffic, and off-board fare collection, but also beautiful iconic stations with platforms that allow people to step directly onto the bus."

The NYS2100 commission is co-chaired by Rockefeller Foundation Chairwoman Judith Rodin and financier Felix Rohatyn. (Rockefeller also funds Transportation Nation.)

The Governor's office didn't comment on the draft report, and an MTA spokesman, Adam Lisberg, said the report's recommendations had not been shared with the MTA.

During storm Sandy, the MTA's temporary "bus bridge," which replaced subway service during the period when all the East River tunnels were flooded, came as close to New York has seen of having a true BRT.   Though there were long lines to board the buses, the buses, aided by police officers stationed at every corner, zipped through city streets.  The ride from the East Village to Barclay's Center in Brooklyn took about 12 minutes.

The city has also installed several "select bus service" lines, which adopt some features of BRT, including off-board payment.

"BRT corridors that serve as connectors to the subway system would provide riders with muliple options for connections and access to the core," the report said.

The draft report suggests creating a bus line that would run the length of southern Brooklyn, connecting the D, F, B and Q lines,  and a east-west corridor connecting  neigborhoods like Bedford Stuyvesant to lines that run through Brownstone Brooklyn, Midwood, and Coney Island.

The draft report notes that transit ridership has increased 60 percent since 1990, but bus line speeds overall have decreased by 11 percent.

 

 

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Transportation Nation

YEAR IN REVIEW Washington, D.C: Silver Lines, Express Lanes, Gentrification, and Scandal

Monday, December 31, 2012

(photo by Wally G)

The Washington D.C. metropolitan region saw major developments in transportation that included progress toward completing the largest public rail project in the country, the opening of a new highway on the Beltway, and an update on D.C.’s coming streetcar system. 2012 also raised questions critical to the region’s economic future.  In a region plagued by some of the worst highway traffic congestion in the nation and a public rail system crowded to capacity, how can transportation planners and real estate developers maximize the region’s economic potential in a climate of finite funding for major projects.

1) The Silver Line

When the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors gave final approval to the county’s involvement in the $5.5 billion project that will connect D.C. to Dulles International Airport, lawmakers removed the last major obstacle to completing the Metro rail line by 2018.  Outstanding issues remain, however.  The most controversial issue is the Silver Line’s financing plan, overseen by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.  Without further federal or Virginia state funding, motorists on the Dulles Toll Road will cover half the Silver Line’s costs.

2) I-495 Express Lanes

A new highway is big news in this region. After six years of construction, high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes opened on Nov. 17 on the 495 Beltway between the Dulles Toll Road and the I-95 interchange in Fairfax County.  Drivers using the HOT lanes may get a faster ride, but the project raised questions about the wisdom of highway expansion as a method of solving congestion as well as the pitfalls of funding megaprojects: without the public-private partnership between Virginia and the international road building company Transurban, the road would not be built.  Virginia gets a $2 billion road, and Transurban gets the toll revenues for 75 years.

3) Transit and Gentrification

Washington, D.C. is one of the fastest gentrifying cities in the United States.  While rising property values, economic development, and a growing number of residents living a car-free existence are transforming the District for the better, gentrification has its costs.

4) The Uber Battle for the Ages

After months of contention, the D.C. Council finally approved legislation legalizing the popular sedan car service Uber.  This battle was strange -- and it got personal. Legislators and regulators seemed to tie themselves in knots figuring out to handle the unregulated Uber while the district’s own taxicab industry struggled to modernize.  In the end Uber won.  And so did smartphone-using, taxicab-hailing residents of D.C.

5) MWAA’s woes

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates two major airports, rarely caught the public’s attention.  But after the authority took control of the Silver Line, however, the public’s attention intensified – and not for good reasons.  Audits by the U.S. Department of Transportation and news reports unearthed a litany of shady contracting, hiring, and travel policies and practices.  Critics have relentlessly pressed for changes to the plan to raise tolls significantly to pay for the Silver Line. MWAA is making changes but has not yet recovered the public’s trust.

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