Wednesday, April 03, 2013
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
Maryland's Montgomery County Council approved an additional $7 million to pay for construction work already completed at Silver Spring Transit Center, which is already two years behind schedule and about $80 million over budget.
The $7 million approved by county lawmakers has nothing to do with major design and construction problems detailed in a county report released two weeks ago.When it comes to who will pay to repair those problems, county officials say it will likely be determined in litigation with the project’s contractors.
“We will move expeditiously to make sure that we make the necessary repairs and that the taxpayers of Montgomery County will not have to pay for the flaws of the contractor,” says County Executive Ike Leggett, who has threatened to cancel the county’s contract with Foulger Pratt and other contractors and sue to recover any funds paid to fix the transit center’s construction issues, like inadequately thick concrete.
“Whatever we spend we will get back because we are going to pursue to the ultimate degree of the law and the legal process to make sure the county is reimbursed for anything we may have to put out in advance,” says Leggett.
Council President Nancy Navarro echoed Leggett’s vow to go to court, if necessary, to protect taxpayers but left open the possibility the county is also responsible for the mess at the transit center.
“I have not said at any moment that the county could not have some responsibility in this. It is possible,” says Navarro, who says the transit center could open to the public while any litigation proceeds.
No lawsuits have been filed yet.
Contractor Foulger Pratt has said the county’s design plan was flawed from the start. Company executive Bryant Foulger has said any safety issues concerning concrete and reinforcing steel bars are the county’s responsibility.
Tuesday, April 02, 2013
By Kate Hinds
Over a dozen plans for improving rail in the Northeast Corridor are under consideration by the federal government, ranging from minor improvements to a future with 220-mile-per-hour bullet trains between Washington and Boston -- not to mention new service between Long Island and New England.
These various options are detailed in a new report released Tuesday by the Federal Railroad Administration. NEC FUTURE sketches out 15 alternatives representing different levels of investment through the year 2040 in the 457-mile corridor.
The options, in turn, have been grouped into four separate categories which grow progressively more ambitious: while those in Level A focus on achieving a state of good repair, Level D would build a separate high-speed rail line between Boston and D.C. and bring new service in the region, primarily in Long Island, New England and the Delmarva peninsula.
The report aims to jump-start public debate about how rail capacity should be shaped in the region. "It is intended to be the foundation for future investments in the Northeast Corridor, a 150 year-old alignment that has guided the growth of what is now one of the most densely populated transportation corridors in the world,” said Rebecca Reyes-Alicea, NEC FUTURE program manager for the Federal Railroad Administration. “(It) will further the dialogue about the rail network in the Northeast and how it can best serve us over for the years ahead.”
Over the next year, these 15 options will be winnowed down. The federal government wants to have a single alternative in place by 2015.
Because it's conceptual, no cost estimates are included in the report. But existing documents provide a baseline. In 2010, Amtrak identified $9 billion alone in state of good repair projects for the NEC, with an additional $43 billion in investment just to meet projected 2030 ridership levels for the current system. Meanwhile, another Amtrak report estimated the cost of bringing high-speed rail to the NEC at $151 billion.
Dan Schned, a senior transportation planner at the Regional Plan Association, said "what’s possible and what Congress has the stomach to spend are two different things."
But he said that funding need not come solely from Congress. "Successful high-speed rail projects around the world have private sector participation," Schned pointed out, adding that "the arrangement of public and private financing and project delivery issues will be the most challenging" aspects of overhauling the NEC.
The Federal Railroad Administration is holding workshops in New Haven, Newark and Washington D.C. next week to present the plan to the public. For more information, go here. Read the full report below.
Tuesday, April 02, 2013
(Derek Wang - Seattle, KUOW) King County Metro could eliminate of almost a third of its routes.
Ongoing budget woes are forcing the Seattle transit provider to consider slashing its bus service. Metro is grappling with less sales tax revenue and it’s anticipating the end of a temporary funding source.
On Monday, the agency released a first draft of possible reductions, which could include canceling 65 routes and reducing service on 86 others.
Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond predicted an unpleasant ride. “Those routes are going to be more crowded,” he said. “You may not be on a route now that may be targeted for reduction, but more people may be needing to access your route and therefore that route is going to become more crowded.”
Another thing that could become more crowded: the street. Metro says fewer people would take the bus if the cuts go into effect. The agency predicts that could lead to as many as 30,000 additional cars on the road every day.
Metro says it will continue to look for ways to reduce costs. Desmond adds that Metro has raised fares already--four times since 2000.
The cuts are far from certain. King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn have asked state lawmakers to come up with new funding sources for Metro. Those sources could be part of a gas tax increase, or a new vehicle tax that would be based on the value of a driver's car.
Friday, March 29, 2013
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) The federal government is making available the balance of $2 billion promised to transit agencies hit hard by Sandy. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told transit managers, mostly in New York and New Jersey, that if they've got invoices for Sandy reconstruction and repairs, he's got $1.2 billion in reimbursements to dole out.
That's $545 million less than the amount available before cuts forced by sequestration.
Most of the funding will go to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs buses, trains and subways in and around the city; the PATH train, which connects northern New Jersey to Manhattan; New Jersey Transit, which runs trains and bus in that state; and the NYC Department of Transportation, which oversees roads and bridges.
Here's the full text of LaHood's announcement:
U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood Announces $1.42 Billion to Help Transit Agencies Recover From Hurricane Sandy
FTA meets deadline to get first $2 billion in aid to storm’s hardest-hit communities
WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced a third round of Federal Transit Administration (FTA) storm-related reimbursements through the FY 2013 Disaster Relief Appropriations Act. The majority of the $1.4 billion announced today goes to the four transit agencies that incurred the greatest expenses while preparing for and recovering from Hurricane Sandy—the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corp. (PATH), New Jersey Transit (NJT), and the New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT). The remainder will be allocated to other transit agencies that incurred eligible storm-related expenses but have not yet received funds.
“Shortly after Hurricane Sandy made landfall, President Obama and I promised that we would do everything in our power to bring relief to the hardest-hit communities, and that is exactly what we have done,” said Secretary LaHood. “In less than two months’ time, we met our commitment to provide $2 billion to more than a dozen transit agencies that suffered serious storm damage, and laid the groundwork to continue helping them rebuild stronger than before.”
A total of $10.9 billion was appropriated for the disaster relief effort, which is administered through FTA’s Emergency Relief Program. (This amount was reduced by 5 percent, or $545 million, because of the mandatory sequestration budget cut that took effect on March 1.) Earlier this month, FTA allocated nearly $554 million of the first $2 billion in aid to reimburse certain transit providers in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. With today’s allocation, FTA has now met the 60-day Congressional deadline to get the initial funds out the door in order to reimburse hard-hit transit agencies for expenses incurred while preparing for and recovering from the storm.
“Considering that over a third of America's transit riders use the systems most heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy, it is imperative that we continue this rapid progress to restore these systems in the tri-state region,” said FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff.
The remainder of the $10.9 billion will be utilized for ongoing recovery efforts as well as to help agencies become more resilient in the face of future storms and disasters. The FTA has published an Interim Final Rule in the Federal Register this week for FTA’s Emergency Relief Program outlining general requirements that apply to all the funds allocated related to Sandy and future grants awarded under this program.
A summary of how the funds announced today are to be allocated is described below. A more detailed breakdown, and information on eligibility requirements, appears in the Federal Register:
$1.4 billion in disaster relief aid primarily to assist the transit agencies that incurred the greatest storm-related expenditures: the New York MTA, the PATH, New Jersey Transit (NJT), and the NYC DOT. These funds are made available on a pro-rated basis, based on damage and cost assessments FTA has made with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the transit agencies themselves.
A separate $21.9 million allocation to reimburse the NYC DOT as part of a consolidated request with other entities for various activities prior, during, and after the storm to protect the Staten Island Ferry, its equipment, and personnel, the East River Ferry service, and Governors Island, including the public island’s Battery Maritime Building ferry waiting room. Emergency measures included moving transit equipment to higher ground, operating ferry vessels at berths to prevent damage; debris removal; reestablishing public transportation service; protecting, preparing and securing Ferry Terminals at St. George and Whitehall, facilities and offices to address potential flooding; staffing and operating ferryboats at berths to prevent damage; and performing shelter-in-place operations for worker protection during the storm.
$422,895 to reimburse four additional transit agencies for expenses incurred preparing for and recovering from the storm. These are the Greater Bridgeport Transit District ($21,783); the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority ($344,311); the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority ($1,179) and the Connecticut Department of Transportation, which is receiving $55,622 just for CTTransit bus-related expenses, as FTA previously allocated $2.8 million to MTA for Metro-North rail service serving southwestern Connecticut.
A table listing total allocations for funding recipients to date and a summary of their reimbursable expenditures is available here.
Friday, March 29, 2013
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) The general contractor leading the construction of the Silver Spring Transit Center is publicly defending itself against alarming charges of building defects in the delayed transit hub, pointing to evidence that it followed Montgomery County's design plans.
Rockville-based Foulger Pratt released copies of daily inspection reports under the letterhead of the firm Montgomery County hired to perform field inspections on the Silver Spring Transit Center, Owings Mill-based Robert B. Balter Company. The signed reports state: "Prior to concrete placement reinforcing steel was inspected and found to be installed as per specifications."
The charges center on insufficient amounts of concrete, reinforcing steel and post-tensioning cables — high-strength steel strands or bars used to strengthen concrete — according to Montgomery County's findings of design and construction flaws released last week to intense news coverage. Foulger Pratt managing principal Bryant Foulger says he would like his side of the story to receive as much attention.
"It feels like from the county executive's comment, that we've been indicted and tried and convicted without realizing there is another very compelling side to this story," Foulger said. "If there is an issue with safety here, it is related to design. That's the county's issue, not ours."
In its rebuttal to the county's claims, Foulger Pratt is zeroing in on the facility's concrete pour strips that the county's investigation said lacked proper reinforcement. The contractor contends all concrete was poured in compliance with design documents.
"They accused us of leaving out things that they didn't include in the design in the first place," Foulger said. "The only area where they've identified as a safety concern are these pour strips, and as you can see by these reports and as you can see by the drawings, we built them in accordance with plans and specs."
The fate of the Silver Spring Transit Center, which is over budget and behind schedule, remains up in the air. Both sides have said their differences can be worked out, but Foulger Pratt claims the transit hub would have opened already had it not been for the county's stonewalling.
"For over a year, Foulger Pratt has been asking the county to sit down around the table, to work together with us in a professional dialogue, first and foremost to determine what if anything needs to be done to open this facility for the public and to get it open," said Judah Lifschitz, an attorney for Foulger Pratt. "It flies in the face of fundamental fairness for the county to not talk to us for a year about these issues, to not engage in a professional dialogue."
Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett has threatened to cancel its contract with its hired design and construction firms unless they pay for whatever mediation will be necessary to fix the transit center's structural problems.
In a statement released after issuing the results of the county's investigation, Leggett said, "These deficiencies not only compromise the structural integrity of the facility, but could also begin to impact the Transit Center's durability far earlier than expected, thus shortening its useful life. At worst, if no changes are made, some of the facility's elements may not withstand the loads they are intended to support, thereby putting the many users of the center at potential risk."
A Washington Post report said Balter Company "improperly tested the strength of concrete, apparently failed to measure its thickness and didn't raise sufficient concerns when the concrete started to crack, according to independent engineers and county officials."
Thursday, March 28, 2013
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) On colorful maps spread out over long tables the planned path of the Purple Line, a 16-mile light rail extension to the D.C. area Metro system, was shown to residents and business owners at a ‘neighborhood work group’ meeting Wednesday night. But the maps reveal, progress to some, means bankruptcy fears to others.
While the maps conjure images of what might be if the $2.2 billion rail system supported by transit advocates and real estate developers ever gets built, to some the plans are the harbinger of personal hardship.
“I’m not happy at all,” said Dario Orellana, the owner of a Tex-Mex restaurant in busy Silver Spring. “We’ve been there for 14 years and moving is going to be really hard on us.”
Orellana is one of about a dozen businesses on 16th Street that would be displaced by the Purple Line’s proposed route through Silver Spring, Maryland. Officials from the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) explained that the planned right-of-way will also absorb part of business-friendly Bonifant Street, making it a one-way street with parallel parking on one side.
“We have to take up a good part of the street, roughly 25 to 30 feet of it, for the Purple Line to come along here,” said Michael Madden, the MTA’s Purple Line project manager. “We work very hard to minimize those impacts.”
Orellana’s lawyer said no matter how much money the state provides his client in compensation for moving his restaurant, he and other entrepreneurs displaced by the Purple Line will struggle to attract the same clientele to new locations.
“I am looking at the map right now and a number of these businesses will probably have to go somewhere. They are right there in the way of the line,” said attorney Dmitri Chernov.
No one will have to move their businesses anywhere if state lawmakers currently in session in Annapolis fail to approve additional funding to replenish Maryland’s transportation trust fund.
“This is the make or break year, so we know that we need additional revenue, the state needs additional revenue in the trust fund to actual build the Purple Line,” said Madden. “So far we are optimistic, based on the discussions going on, that will happen.”
Madden said the MTA is also preparing to negotiate a permanent federal funding agreement because the Purple Line has been accepted into the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program.
“We have planned and designed the project so that it meets all the federal requirements,” Madden said.
A federal grant would provide matching dollars splitting the bill with the state on a 50/50 basis each year of construction, which Madden hopes will begin in 2015 and wrap up in 2020.
“We would not start the project until we know we would have the assurance of sufficient funding to complete the project,” he said.
The Purple Line may be years from carrying its first passengers but the state is close to completing both its preliminary engineering and environmental impact statement, which are due this fall.
The 16-mile light rail system would be powered by overhead cables between Bethesda in Montgomery County to New Carrollton in Prince George’s County, connecting to WMATA’s Red Line’s east and west branches and crossing over Connecticut Avenue. Rider estimates are 74,000 per day by 2040, Madden said.
Some residents at Wednesday night’s meeting – after taking in the MTA’s pretty topographical maps – focused on what they viewed will be the Purple Line’s negative effects on downtown Silver Spring.
“It’s going to take away parking on one side of the street and on Saturdays and Sundays around here on Bonifant Street everything is packed solid,” said Bob Colvin, the president of a local civic association.
Colvin was not impressed with the rail system’s potential to reduce car dependency, thus mitigating the loss of road. “I think people are still going to drive. They are going to come from afar and I’m sure this Purple Line is not going to cover all venues from wherever these people come from.”
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Tuesday, March 26, 2013
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) While the District of Columbia grapples with proposed changes to its parking and zoning policies, last updated in 1958, nearby Arlington County, Virginia seems to have triumphed in its effort to minimize traffic congestion. Commuters are shifting from cars to transit and bikes.
What's more, traffic volume has decreased on several major arterial roads in the county over the last two decades despite significant job and population growth, according to data compiled by researchers at Mobility Lab, a project of Arlington County Commuter Services.
Multifaceted effort to curb car-dependence
Researchers and transportation officials credit three initiatives for making the county less car-dependent: offering multiple alternatives to the automobile in the form of rail, bus, bicycling, and walking; following smart land use policies that encourage densely built, mixed-use development; and relentlessly marketing those transportation alternatives through programs that include five ‘commuter stores’ throughout the county where transit tickets, bus maps, and other information are available.
“Those three combined have brought down the percentage of people driving alone and increased the amount of transit and carpooling,” said Howard Jennings, Mobility Lab’s director of research and development.
Jennings’ research team estimates alternatives to driving alone take nearly 45,000 car trips off the county’s roads every weekday. Among those shifting modes from the automobile, 69 percent use transit, 14 percent carpool, 10 percent walk, four percent telework and three percent bike.
“Reducing traffic on key routes does make it easier for those who really need to drive. Not everybody can take an alternative,” Jennings said.
Arlington’s success in reducing car dependency is more remarkable considering it has happened as the region’s population and employment base has grown.
Since 1996 Arlington has added more than 6 million square feet of office space, a million square feet of retail, nearly 11,000 housing units and 1,100 hotel rooms in the Rosslyn-Ballston Metro corridor. Yet traffic counts have dropped major roads: on Lee Highway (-10%), Washington Boulevard (-14%), Clarendon Boulevard (-6%), Wilson Boulevard (-25%), and Glebe Road (-6%), according to county figures. Traffic counts have increased on Arlington Boulevard (11%) and George Mason Drive (14%).
“Arlington zoning hasn’t changed a great deal over the last 15 years or so. It’s been much more of a result of the services and the programs and the transportation options than it has been the zoning,” said Jennings.
Arlington serving as a regional model
Across the Potomac, the D.C. Office of Planning is considering the controversial proposal of eliminating mandatory parking space minimums in new development in transit-rich corridors and in downtown Washington to reduce traffic congestion. In Arlington, transportation officials say parking minimums have not been a focus.
“When developers come to Arlington we are finding they are building the right amount of parking,” said Chris Hamilton, the bureau chief at Arlington County Commuter Services. “Developers know they need a certain amount of parking for their tenants, but they don’t want to build too much because that’s a waste.”
Hamilton says parking is available at relatively cheap rates in the Rosslyn-Ballston Metro corridor because demand for spots has been held down by a shift to transit.
“In Arlington there are these great options. People can get here by bus, by rail, by Capital Bikeshare, and walking, and most people do that. That’s why Arlington is doing so well,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton credited a partnership with the county’s 700 employers for keeping their workers, 80 percent of whom live outside the county, from driving to work by themselves.
“Arlington Transportation Partners gives every one of those employers assistance in setting up commute benefit programs, parking programs, carpool programs, and bike incentives. Sixty-five percent of those 700 employers provide a transit benefit. That’s the highest in the region,” Hamilton said.
“There’s been a compact with the citizens since the 1960s and when Metro came to Arlington that when all the high-density development would occur in the rail corridors, we would protect the single family neighborhoods that hugged the rail corridors,” he added.
Monday, March 25, 2013
By Tom Lisi
Homes close to good transit options made for better real estate investments during the recession, according to a new study from the American Public Transportation Association.
APTA looked at housing market data from Phoenix, Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Chicago from 2006 to 2011, and compared homes close to transit with homes for the metro region overall. The study found residential property values located near transit performed 41 percent better. Heavy rail, bus rapid transit, and light rail, with more frequent service and transfer options, helped real estate prices even more than commuter rail more typically found in suburbs, according to the study.
Areas with no transit options fared the worst in terms of home value.
Residents close to transit sheds -- areas that are a half-mile away from a transit stop or closer -- also had better access to jobs and incurred less transportation costs. In Chicago, residents close to the city's transit system spent $300 less on transportation per month than the regional average.
Transit is not the sole factor of course, but allowing residents wider access to local amenities has made it a real estate catalyst. Alex Boylan, a Minneapolis-based realtor, says he's noticed that properties close to the light rail or major bus routes don't stay on the market as long. "Now more people are more about community, wanting to live closer to work, and using the transportation that's provided around them," he said. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, the study showed that home prices fell everywhere from 2006 to 2011, but homes next to the Hiawatha light rail line better maintained their values by 62 percent when compared to the entire Twin Cities.
Areas with accessible transit tend to have more nearby amenities, and therefore better walkability scores, something Boylan says homebuyers have been paying much closer attention to in the last few years.
Related: What Makes A City Walkable
The years covered in the APTA study were bad years for the housing market, but now that the market's improving, Darnell Grisby, APTA director of policy and research, says the desire for a city lifestyle will only continue to grow. “The millennial generation that seeks more transit-oriented lifestyles and empty nesters that will be seeking to downsize their homes while living near amenities will ensure that this trend continues,” he says.
The study showed that The Loop in Chicago performed more than 75 percent better than the region as a whole, where retirees and young professionals are fueling one of the most dramatic downtown housing booms in the country -- though the 2010 Census showed that middle class families were still flocking to the city's suburbs.
The study corresponds with other cultural shifts. Other data shows millennials are less car-centric than their parents. A recent Zipcar survey said Americans in the 18-34 age group consider their computers and mobile phones more important in their daily lives than cars, and fewer young people are trying to get driver’s licenses.
"People are voting with their feet," says Sara Wiskerchen, a spokesperson for the National Association of Realtors, a group that partnered with APTA for the study. The real estate industry group has become a booster for transit-oriented development. Wiskerchen says NAR plans to take the study to Congress to push for more public transportation and smart growth initiatives in American cities. "Consumers are looking for, and choosing, neighborhoods that they're able to find more walkable features, that have lower transportation costs, and really just looking at communities in a smart way," says Wiskerchen.
Monday, March 25, 2013
By Kate Hinds
Forced to trim $637 million from its budget, the FAA is closing 149 air traffic control facilities around the country.
The closures will start taking place early next month and will take four weeks to complete.
Air traffic controllers say this means more work for the pilots -- and could lead to delays. "When there’s no controller in the tower, it then becomes a one-in, one-out operation," said Sarah Dunn, a spokesperson for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, meaning pilots, not controllers, will be coordinating air traffic at these airports. "All the pilots are on the same frequency checking to see who’s landing, who’s coming in and out."
But the FAA says the closures won't affect safety. “We will work with the airports and the operators to ensure the procedures are in place to maintain the high level of safety at non-towered airports,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta in a statement.
See the list of towers below.
Sunday, March 24, 2013
(Mary Harris, WNYC) If you're scared of New York City subway rats, hanging out with Paul Jones is a bad idea. He's the man who manages the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority's trash rooms, and he knows where the rats are hiding. He even knows their favorite foods.
"They want the good stuff: the Red Bull, the lattes. They love lattes!" Jones said.
Jones has watched the NY MTA try various tactics to rid itself of rodents. They've hired exterminators. They're putting trash in mint-flavored bags, which are supposed to repel pests. They've even reinforced trash room doors to make it harder for rats to make it to the buffet table.
Now they're trying a new approach. The National Institutes of Health has just given Loretta Mayer, and her company, Senestech, a $1.1 million grant to tempt rats into consuming birth control.
Mayer's product, which is still in development, works in the lab by speeding up menopause in the female rat. She's quick to add that it doesn't affect human fertility because the compound is rapidly metabolized. "It’s just like if you take an aspirin for a headache it'll numb your headache, but if you give an aspirin to your cat it would kill it," she said.
At the moment, she's trying to find the ideal flavor to appeal to the New York subway rat's palate. In Asia, she's flavored her bait with roasted coconut, dried fish, and beer. Here, she's considering lacing the bait with pepperoni oil. It will be mixed into a bright pink smoothie--not solid food--because underground rats can find food easily but are constantly searching for liquid.
Mayer isn't the only scientist chronicling the lives of New York's rats. At Columbia University, Professor Ian Lipkin has been sending teams of researchers into the subways to collect rodent samples. He's trying to discover what kind of germs they're carrying.
"They’re little Typhoid Marys running around excreting all kinds of things that are problematic for humans," Lipkin explained.
Lipkin then puts the risk into perspective: he said he worries more about shaking hands with someone with a bad cough than he does about crossing paths with a subway rat. But he wants to know what the rats are carrying.
"We have every year a whole host of diseases that occur in people--encephalitis, meningitis, respiratory diseases, diarrheal diseases--that are largely unexplained. And one potential mechanism by which people become infected is through exposure, directly or indirectly, to infectious agents that would be carried by rodents," Lipkin said. "We need to know what kind of bugs these animals carry so we can respond more effectively to them."
Back underground, Mayer's research team is gathering results from the initial taste tests. They're encouraged: the rats seem to be enjoying their smoothies.
But Paul Jones has seen exterminators come and go. And even the bluntest of weapons has failed to drive the rats off. He keeps blunt objects in the trash rooms so he can lay a good whack on the aggressive rats.
"We've hit them with shovels and pitchforks - they just flip over and run off. And they don't go away," he says with a sigh. "They're very hard to die."
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Thursday, March 21, 2013
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) If the effort to modernize D.C.’s taxicab fleet has moved at a snail’s pace, the snail crawled another couple inches on Wednesday.
Officials revised a proposal to install credit card payment machines in all cabs this summer at a special meeting of the D.C. Taxicab Commission. Barring any further setbacks, commission chairman Ron Linton expects the amenity that has been the norm in other major cities to start appearing in D.C. June 1.
“I thought originally by last November we would have had credit card machines in every taxicab. The big disappointment was losing the contract we had,” Linton said in an interview with WAMU 88.5.
In November the District's Contract Appeals Board overruled a contract awarded to Verifone Systems to install the credit card machines, setting the District's modernization plan back several months.
The new proposal protects cabbies by increasing customers’ fares $.50 to cover the costs associated with installing and maintaining credit card payment technology.
The base fare will increase from $3.00 to $3.25; the driver will keep that extra quarter. A proposed per-ride surcharge was decreased from $.50 to $.25, a fee that will be collected by the District. Drivers will be allowed to charge an extra dollar per ride if more than one passenger climbs into the cab. About 20 percent of all rides currently involve more than one passenger, Linton said.
”Numbers two, three, four, doesn’t make any difference how many you got, you only get one additional dollar for any additional passengers,” said Linton, who said the District will allow drivers to choose from one of nine possible payment processing vendors.
While most District residents have called for credit card payment options in taxis, some cabbies have resisted them.
“Because of the fee,” explained cabbie Solomon Nessibu as he took a break in Tenleytown. “The credit card company charges you and you have to pay for the machine, pay for repair, extra receipt. It's cost-related. Other than that it's no problem.”
If the taxicab commission’s new proposal clears the final regulatory hurdles, Chairman Linton expects every cab in the district to have credit card payment machines by the end of August.
- Smartphone App Offers What DC Cabs Can’t Yet — Ability to Take Credit Cards (link)
- Proposal Would Put Smart Meters In D.C. Cabs By End Of Year (link)
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Wednesday, March 20, 2013
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) Atlantic City International Airport sits in Egg Harbor Township, about 125 miles south of Times Square. That's far outside the traditional realm of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which covers New York City and northern New Jersey. But authority spokesmen say the South Jersey airport is underachieving and needs their help. That might also be a way of saying they're preparing to buy it.
The authority announced on Wednesday that it will spend up to $3 million to study the idea of adding the 84-acre airport to its portfolio, which includes JFK, LaGuardia, Newark-Liberty, Stewart International and Teterboro Airports.
Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni said his staff is negotiating with the South Jersey Transportation Authority, which runs the airport, over an agreement that would allow the NY-NJ Port Authority to assume part of the airport's operations. He said the arrangement would probably start in July.
"The Port Authority may have the opportunity, if it chooses, to have the option to purchase," he said.
Baroni wouldn't comment on how long the study would take or how much the authority might pay for the facility. He said Atlantic City International's ten gates handle 27 flights a day, but could serve 300 flights a day. The airport's only primary carrier is Florida-based Spirit Airlines.
Baroni said luring passengers to Atlantic City International could relieve some of the over-crowding at Newark-Liberty Airport. The authority also wants to attract South Jersey travelers who fly out of Philadelphia.
The announcement came on the same day that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie launched an initiative to revitalize Atlantic City, which includes plans to beef up police patrols in the tourist district and install "dramatic lighting" on the boardwalk.
Millions of people take buses to the city's casinos but gaming industry experts say the big money comes from gamblers who stay overnight. More regularly scheduled flights to Atlantic City International Airport might draw more of those gamblers. Authority chairman James Sampson said that, as of now, only 1 percent the airport's 1.4 million yearly passengers are on their way to and from the local casinos.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
The nation’s infrastructure received a D+, a slight improvement from the D issued in 2009, in an infrastructure report card released by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), a group whose members stand to benefit from increased spending on the construction of roads, bridges, levees and dams.
The report grades infrastructure in sixteen sectors and prescribes a funding level necessary to bring each up to a B grade. That will require spending $454 billion annually over the next eight years, according to the group’s figures. However, the society estimates only $253 billion annually is currently earmarked for infrastructure repair and improvements, leaving a yearly funding gap of $200 billion.
At a news conference at the Earth Conservation Corps Pump House in southeast Washington – with a view of the structurally obsolete Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge spanning the Anacostia River – advocates of infrastructure spending sought to convey their message in easy to understand terms, acknowledging that ordinary citizens often do not see the costs associated with outdated infrastructure.
“The real goal is that Americans would have this conversation about infrastructure at their kitchen table,” said ASCE president Greg DiLoreto. “They’d sit down and they’d say, you know what? I was driving home last night, hit a pothole, and I ruined the front end of our car. What can be done about that?”
Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, the co-founder of the bipartisan group Building America’s Future, said more Americans are beginning to realize that infrastructure is not free and does not last forever. Still, there is a large difference between what a group of civil engineers believes should be spent and what Congress and state and local governments are willing to spend.
“Members of both parties feel this way, predominately Republicans, that we can’t spend money on anything. That’s wrong,” Rendell says. “We’ve got to get away from this idea that investing in infrastructure is wasteful spending. There are some projects that are bad and we should ask for stricter accountability and transparency, but we’ve got to invest in growth.”
The sector with the highest grade (B-) is solid waste. Inland waterways and levees both received the lowest grade, D-. Grades were poor to mediocre in transportation sectors: aviation (D), bridges (C+), rail (C+), roads (D), and transit (D).
“First we have to repair the quality of the roads,” Rendell said. “But then we have to expand. We have to do additional ramps. We have to widen lanes. A good hunk of the money should be spent on mass transit. There’s got to be a balance.”
The report card breaks down infrastructure state by state. In Washington, D.C., for example, 99 percent of roads are rated poor or mediocre. The report card says driving on roads in need of repair costs District of Columbia motorists $311 million a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs – $833 per motorist.
Winning the public’s support to raise revenues for infrastructure spending will depend on convincing the public they have to pay more, whether its taxes or user fees, according to Emil Frankel, a visiting scholar at the D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center and former Assistant Secretary of Transportation under the George W. Bush Administration.
"The challenge is being able to make the case about specific facilities that people know and understand, and what the implications would be if they have to close that facility,” said Frankel, who said the ASCE’s figures are sound, even if they are unrealistic in terms of what governments are willing to spend.
“We’re not going to raise that money. People acknowledge we have to invest more but there’s disagreement about how much we need to invest. Whatever funds are available we have to make better choices, prioritize and target,” Frankel said.
Saturday, March 16, 2013
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) Metro is working on a system that would ease the process of paying for bus or train fare, turning it into a tap of a smart phone or credit card at a turnstile. While such a system would no doubt simplify the transit process for many, it is still years away.
Boarding a Metro bus or train now is a bit like visiting a foreign country, at least in one respect: you have to convert your dollars into Metro currency, either by using a SmarTrip card or a paper fare card. Metro wants to bring its payment system into the 21st century, even if some long-time riders feel the SmarTrip is just fine.
"I think [SmarTrip] was one of the best ideas Metro has ever put into existence since I've been riding the bus, and I've been riding the bus most of my life," says Greg Olden in Columbia Heights.
SmarTrip may have been a great idea at one time, but it costs the transit authority millions annually to maintain. That is why Metro is now accepting bids from tech companies to develop a new system that would let you tap your credit card or mobile phone to pay your fare.
"The way transportation agencies are looking at this market now is, 'Why don't we allow people to use the existing payment options that they have in their pockets, like the credit cards and debit cards they currently carry to make other purchases, and use those to access the transit system?'" says Randy Vanderhoof, executive director of Smart Card Alliance, which advocates modern payment technologies in a variety of industries. "That way, we don't have to inconvenience consumers, nor do we have to maintain the system that converts that money into transit fare dollars."
Vanderhoof says that while a new system would require installing new fare gates and computers, eliminating the cost and services of the SmarTrip system would save WMATA millions every year.
Metro declined to comment on this story because the transit authority is in the final stages of a competitive bidding process to design a new payment system.
Metro hoped to award a contract early last year, but, as The Washington Examiner reported, the process has been delayed a year.
Once that is finally taken care of, it will likely take about three years to phase in a new payment system.
Friday, March 15, 2013
Our friends at Freakonomics Radio take on the perennial puzzle of automotive life: where to put your car when it's not moving. The average car spends about 95 percent of its life stationary. Give a listen.
From the Freakonomics blog:
The episode begins with Stephen Dubner talking to parking guru Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at UCLA and author of the landmark book The High Cost of Free Parking. In a famous Times op-ed, Shoup argued that as much as one-third of urban congestion is caused by people cruising for curb parking. But, as Shoup tells Dubner, there ain’t no such thing as a free parking spot:
SHOUP: Everybody likes free parking, including me, probably you. But just because the driver doesn’t pay for it doesn’t mean that the cost goes away. If you don’t pay for parking your car, somebody else has to pay for it. And that somebody is everybody. We pay for free parking in the prices of the goods we buy at places where the parking is free. And we pay for parking as residents when we get free parking with our housing. We pay for it as taxpayers. Increasingly, I think we’re paying for it in terms of the environmental harm that it causes.
Shoup’s recommendations have inspired a series of reforms across the country, most notably an ongoing experiment in San Francisco called SFPark. The project essentially establishes a dynamic market for street parking by measuring average occupancy on each block and then setting prices according to demand.
While the experiment is exciting for transportation scholars, it has attracted some criticism. Furthermore, one of Shoup’s former students has uncovered a snag that could undermine the project – or any attempt to manage parking more efficiently. Michael Manville, a city planning professor at Cornell, and co-author Jonathan Williams found that in Los Angeles, “at any given time almost 40 percent of vehicles parked at meters are both not paying and not breaking any laws” (paper here, and a Shoup op-ed here). How can that be? Very often, those cars display a handicapped placard that allows for free, unlimited parking. So you’ll hear about “placard abuse” and what’s being done to stop it.
There aren’t yet enough data from SFPark to know whether the experiment helps with congestion, pollution, and accident risk, but Shoup is hopeful:
SHOUP: If it works, it will make San Francisco an even better place to live and do business and visit. It will just be yet another feather in the cap of San Francisco. And if it doesn’t work, they can blame it all on a professor from Los Angeles.
You’ll also hear from MIT professor Eran Ben-Joseph, whose book ReThinking a Lot: The Design and Culture of Parking offers solutions to improve the prototypical parking lot. He gives us a sense of how many surface parking spaces there are in the U.S. (close to 800 million) and points out that in some cities, parking lots cover a full third of the land area downtown.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) says the one-two punch of last year’s fare increase coupled with a temporary lull in a tax benefit is behind a six-percent drop in rail ridership during the last half of 2012.
At Thursday’s board meeting, Metro general manager Richard Sarles said Hurricane Sandy, the federal holiday on Christmas Eve and weekend track work were other factors that contributed to fewer riders -- but said the increase in fares was the most significant.
“You saw that especially in the second half of the year,” Sarles said. “With the federal transit benefit being restored, we are seeing in the first month or two ridership going back up to what we expected. Clearly, the federal transit benefit, when it was cut almost in half, had a significant impact on our ridership.”
The provision allowing for $230 a month in tax subsidies for transit riders expired at the end of 2011, reducing the eligible amount to $125. In January Congress returned the federal transit benefit to $240.
Metro is rehabilitating its aging infrastructure as part of a multi-billion dollar capital improvement program. The track work requires closing some stations and single-tracking at others nearly every weekend, although track work will be postponed for the upcoming cherry blossom festival.
While necessary to repair the transit system, weekend track work is the target of endless complaints, and Sarles says it has scared some riders away. “On the weekends there is a decrease is ridership especially when we close down a set of stations for very necessary work,” he said.
Metro is also tracking ridership swings at individual stations. Dupont Circle saw the largest drop in riders entering the system last year, mostly because the station’s south entrance was closed for months for an escalator replacement. Navy Yard on the Green Line, where Nationals fans disembark to watch their favorite baseball team, saw the most growth, according to WMATA figures.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
By Kate Hinds
New Jersey Transit is putting together a more than $1.2 billion request for federal aid to help it recover from Sandy and prepare for future storms.
Earlier this week, the agency's post-Sandy project list was approved by the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, a regional authority that has to sign off on federal funding requests. Of that $1.2 billion request, $450 million is direct cost from Sandy damage. (See photos of the damage here). The remainder would help the agency resist damage from future storms.
The largest chunk of money, $565 million, would go to resiliency funding devoted to upgrading its rail facilities and creating two new storage yards in Linden and New Brunswick. Agency spokesman John Durso Jr. said those yards would be built to withstand a storm at least as strong as Sandy.
The agency doesn't want a repeat of last year's flooding at storage yards in the Meadowlands and Hoboken, which surprised the agency and damaged nearly a quarter of its rail fleet. According to the NJTPA document, those facilities "will require evacuation in future impending storms."
Speaking Wednesday at a NJ Transit board meeting, executive director James Weinstein said if the Linden yard clears a vetting process, the agency hopes to have it in place as the default safe haven in time for this year's hurricane season.
But that's not all NJ Transit has to do. Included in the project list:
- $194 million to replace wooden catenary poles with steel ones along the Gladstone Line, constructing sea walls along the North Jersey Coast Line, elevate flood-prone substations, and raise signal bungalows
- $150 million to upgrade the Meadowlands Maintenance Complex in Kearny, including building flood walls
- $150 million for flood mitigation at its facilities in Hoboken and Secaucus and to provide crew quarters "to ensure the availability of crews post-storms"
- $26.6 million to improve the resiliency of the Hudson-Bergen light rail and the Newark city subway.
"If you think about it," said Weinstein, "what Sandy has created (is) a billion dollar-plus capital program overnight, basically. And that billion dollar-plus capital program has to be evaluated, implemented, executed and completed, under some very strict guidelines that were enacted by Congress."
Should NJ Transit receive funding from the federal government, work would have to be completed within two years from the date of funding notification.
These are "hard core infrastructure projects," said Weinstein.
But he added that it may not be enough: "whether you can prevent boats from washing up on your bridge, I don't know of an engineering principle that would do that. But what we're trying to do is make sure that the structural integrity of this infrastructure doesn't get undermined in the future."
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
(Danielle Vernon - San Francisco, KQED) Dawnette Reed started working at the Golden Gate Bridge gift shop one summer when she was 17. Now, at 43, she's a toll collector, and loves it. She’s even got her favorite lanes, Number 1 and 2.
But by the morning commute on Wednesday, March 27, Reed and the other eight full-time toll-takers and 29 part-time workers will be out of a job when the bridge goes to all-electronic tolling. The Golden Gate Highway and Transportation District estimates the change will save $16 million during the first eight years. And, they expect traffic to move much faster.
But for Reed, the change is like losing a loved one.
"We've grown to become a family at the bridge. And we loved coming to work. We won't actually believe it until we see it, " Reed says. "There's so many reasons customers still need us there for."
Drivers ask toll collectors for help during health emergencies, like heart attacks or diabetic shock. Toll plaza personnel routinely report accidents and drunk drivers, and they give directions to the many out-of-towners who get lost.
Golden Gate spokeswoman Mary Currie says the bridge district will run patrols to help motorists. And, she says, in an emergency, drivers can always call 911.
"It's not going to be a duty that is theirs and that is going to be missing," Currie says. "We do that on a regular basis."
Most toll collectors already have other jobs lined up within the bridge district, and a handful have retired. But quitting work isn’t an option for Reed, and she’s not interested in taking another district job. "I have the years, but I don't have the age, so I can't retire yet," Reed says. "The bridge has offered us positions, mostly they're pushing us to be bus drivers for Golden Gate Bridge. That's not what I want to do. A lot of people say, just go do it, just go do it. Well, every job is not for everyone."
Not everyone is sad to see the toll drivers go though. Brian Kelly, from Napa, says it's just progress.
"I don’t think that’s a reason to stay away from technology, and I think it saves assets," Kelly said.
Since electronic tolling with FasTrak was added to the Golden Gate Bridge in July 2000, wait times during the morning commute dropped from as long as 20 minutes to under a minute, according to the district.
Starting on March 27, motorists will have three ways to pay for the bridge: FasTrack, a license plate account, or through a one-time payment system. Drivers can open a License Plate Account that charges a registered credit card every time the car crosses the bridge. Otherwise motorists can make a one-time payment up to 30 days before or up to 48 hours after crossing the bridge online, by phone or eventually at "cash payment locations."
Listen to the audio version of this story here.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
(Washington, D.C. - WAMU) Downsizing parking is necessary to reduce car dependency in D.C., says one real estate expert.
Chris Leinberger, a George Washington University professor and advocate of new urbanism, says D.C. planners’ proposal to eliminate mandatory parking space minimums at new development in transit-rich corridors or downtown D.C. is forward-thinking.
“We don’t want to be in a position where we are still making buggy whips when in fact the market has moved on,” Leinberger said. “Bike lanes and pedestrian activity is a sign of civilization."
Since TN first reported on the proposed zoning change, some motorists have expressed frustration with the possibility it may be more difficult to park in certain neighborhoods. As new development – residential, retail, and office – attracts more residents, shoppers and workers, some motorists believe parking spaces may be tough to find if developers opt not to build underground garages beneath their buildings.
One reason D.C. planners believe new parking structures will not be needed is the growth of car sharing services, like Car2Go, that make car ownership unnecessary.
Car2Go, which charges users $.38 per minute, is marking its first anniversary in Washington this month. The company says it has 19,000 registered customers in Washington who have taken 350,000 collective trips in the past year.
Leinberger says car sharing services reflect D.C.'s transition to a walkable urban environment that provides options like bike sharing, too.
“If you were to say, certainly ten years ago, but even five years ago that we would have in this city and fifty percent of folks go to work without a car and that forty percent of the households do not have a car, they would have had you committed,” Leinberger said.
Less emphasis on parking spaces also makes fiscal sense, he added.
“We are massively subsidizing the car, massively. All these parking spaces… here in downtown D.C., every one of these parking spaces is worth between $50,000 and $70,000. And we are charging as if they’re worth $10,000,” he said.
What motorists pay to park, either on the street with a residential pass or inside an underground garage, doesn’t come close to the expense of constructing and maintaining the parking spaces.
In his view, motorists will adjust to whatever zoning changes are approved, no matter how unreasonable they may now seem. Alternatives to driving and parking – Metro rail and bus, car sharing, bicycling – are gaining steam.
“If the car drivers are saying, give me everything that I want before you peel my fingers off of the steering wheel, you are not going to get it. You couldn’t build the interstate highway system in a year. It’s going to take time,” Leinberger said.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) Expect delays. That's the message from the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority as it readies to spend $2 billion in federal relief aid to make repairs to the subway after Sandy.
Flooding from the storm coated thousands of electrical components in parts of the system with corrosive salt water. The MTA says riders can expect more frequent interruptions of service as those switches, signals, and other parts are replaced.
Immediately after Sandy, the MTA scrambled to get the subway up and running, sometimes with components that were damaged by flooding but hastily cleaned and pressed back into service. Much of that equipment is functioning with a shortened life span, and will be replaced.
That means a lot of repair work will be happening in the subways over roughly the next two years. MTA executive director Tom Prendergast says the work will cause more line shutdowns, called "outages."
"The problem we're going to have is how do we do that and keep the system running?" he told members of the transit committee at MTA headquarters in Midtown Manhattan on Monday. "We don't want to foolishly spend money; we want to effectively spend that money in a very short period of time. So there are going to be greater outages."
Except for the still-shuttered South Ferry terminal and severed A train link to The Rockaways, the subway was almost entirely back up and running within a month after the late October storm. But Sandy's invisible fingers, in the form of corrosion, can still play havoc with trains.
MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said, "The subways have recorded more than 100 signal failures related to Sandy since service was restored after the storm, plus problems with switches, power cables and other infrastructure. Most of those failures happened in yards, but some were on mainline tracks and led to at least short service disruptions."
Twice last week, signals on the R train failed and briefly disrupted rush hour service. The problem was traced to components degraded by salt water caused by flooding in the Montague Avenue tunnel, which connects Brooklyn to Manhattan beneath New York harbor.
The MTA is in line to receive $8.8 billion in federal Sandy relief aid, which is to be split about evenly between repairs and hardening the system against future storms. Projects funded by the first $2 billion must be completed within two years after their start date. That will cause a flurry of repairs in large swaths of the subway--mostly in Lower Manhattan, the East River tubes, and lines serving waterfront areas of Brooklyn.
The MTA already shuts down or diverts train traffic from parts of the system on nights and weekends to upgrade tracks, signals and switches, and otherwise keep the subway in "a state of good repair." Add to that the new Fastrack program that closes sections of lines overnight for several days in a row, allowing work gangs to fix tracks and clean stations without having to frequently step aside for passing trains. And now comes even more disruptions in the form of post-Sandy repair and mitigation.
There's no word yet on when work will commence or on what lines the extra outages will occur, but straphangers would do well to start bracing themselves. Sandy wounded the subway to a greater extent than the eye can see, and it will take years--and extra breaks in service--to return the system to its pre-storm state.