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Transportation Nation

D.C. Cycle Track Construction To Begin In August

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

WAMU

Construction of a westbound bike lane connecting Georgetown with downtown D.C. could begin in August, District transportation planners said Monday during a walking tour of the proposed M Street track.

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Transportation Nation

Does Classical Music at Train Stations Really Deter Crime?

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

(Brian Wise - WQXR) Move along, hoodlums. Antonio Vivaldi is playing at Newark Penn Station.

When New Jersey Transit upgraded the public address system at its Newark transit hub a year ago, they began piping in classical music along with the announcements on train arrivals and connections. The authority subscribed to a music service and station agents could select from different channels, which also include easy-listening and jazz.

The idea, said a NJ Transit spokesperson, is to relax customers "and make it more pleasant to traverse the facilities."

But in cities from Atlanta to Minneapolis and London, there's often a bigger strategy at work: turn on the great composers and turn away the loiterers, vagrants and troublemakers who are drawn to bus stations, malls and parking lots. Last month, the Associated Press reported on a YMCA in Columbus, OH that began piping Vivaldi into its parking lot, and claiming to disperse petty drug dealers as a result.

In the above podcast, WQXR host Naomi Lewin asks why classical music in particular seems to be the weapon of choice – and whether it works.

"It's been used as part of a larger strategy of crime prevention through environmental design," said Jacqueline Helfgott, chair of the criminal-justice department at Seattle University. She noted that classical music is often accompanied by upgrades like better lighting, improved traffic flow or trimmed shrubbery in public areas.

Studies on the specific effects of music on criminal behavior are lacking. But Helfgott believes classical music is historically associated with "a cultural aesthetic that is pro-social as opposed to antisocial," making it a preferred crime prevention tool.

Put another way, rowdy teenagers don't find classical very cool.

Nigel Rodgers, the head of Pipedown, a group that campaigns against background music in any form, believes the strategy presents a slippery slope. “Yes, young people commit crimes and it’s a problem," he said. "I do appreciate that. But we must seek out other pro-sociable ways of dealing with the problem rather than just squirt acoustic insecticide at young people.

"People who really like music of any sort don’t want to have it piped at them when they’re trying to talk, eat or shop when they don’t want it."

It's also worth keeping in mind that not all classical music works as a soothing agent. As anyone who has seen "A Clockwork Orange," knows, even Beethoven's Ninth Symphony has its dark associations.

In Columbus, OH, where the YMCA piped in Vivaldi, the strategy is being hailed as a success. A local business improvement district executive told the AP: "There's something about baroque music that macho wannabe-gangster types hate. At the very least, it has a calming effect."

Should classical music be used to fight crime and loitering? Join the discussion at WQXR.

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Transportation Nation

World's Worst Airship Disaster Wasn't the Hindenburg: Remembering the USS Akron

Saturday, April 06, 2013

The USS Akron over Manhattan circa 1931 - 1933 (Photo U.S. Naval Archives - http://wny.cc/Y3c5Bk)

When we think of the future of transportation now, it's cars that talk to each other, bullet trains and BRT. But 80 years ago, it was blimps. The centerpiece of New York City, the Empire State Building, even explored the idea of docking dirigibles atop it's soaring spire.

But then came the crashes. WABE in Atlanta took the 80th anniversary of the worst airship disaster in history to recall the fiery tragedy that helped end the dreams of blimps as mass transport. And as Jim Buress points out:

"The Hindenburg is easily the most recognized airship disaster.  But it’s far from the worst. The USS Akron, seen here, crashed on April 4, 2013 off the coast of New Jersey. It's considered the world's worst airship disaster. That unfortunate distinction goes to the USS Akron, a navy airship... Seventy-three of the 76 crew members died."

WABE’s Jim Burress interviewed airship historian Dan Grossman of Airships.net.

Give a listen. The conversation starts with Grossman explaining what caused the crash off the coast of New Jersey.

Listen to the interview here.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Not So Safe To Cross

Thursday, April 04, 2013

A new study on pedestrian and cyclist injuries in New York City reports that the majority of pedestrians struck are in a crosswalk at the time of collision. Matt FlegenheimerNew York Times reporter, discusses the study's findings, and Charles Komanoff, transport economist and director of the Carbon Tax Center, joins the conversation.

 

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Transportation Nation

Distracted Driving Awareness Month Begins With Plea to Change Behavior

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

(photo by Jim Legans, Jr.)

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) Safety advocates are pivoting off Distracted Driving Awareness Month to publicize the issue.

Meanwhile, legislators in Richmond -- and push for legislation making texting while driving a primary offense in Virginia.

"I think we're getting to the point where people are starting to understand and recognize that, but I'm not sure people are quite aware of how dangerous it is,” says Debbie Pickford, chair of the board of Drive Smart Virginia.

Just how dangerous? Texting while driving increases your risk of a crash by 23 times, according to a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. Eighty percent of all crashes and 65 percent of all near crashes involve driver inattention within three seconds before the accident. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who has been known to honk at drivers he sees talking on cell phones, has called distracted driving "an epidemic on America's roadways."

Despite these findings, Pickford says, it has been difficult convincing teenagers as well as adults to drop their gadgets and keep both eyes on the road. “The problem is getting worse,” she says. Her group is encouraging drivers to sign a pledge in which they publicly commit to eschewing cell phones while driving.

According to a report by the Governors Highway Safety Association, teen driver deaths went up in the first six months of 2012 compared to the same period the prior year, and Pickford says a big reason is driver distractions like smart phones.

“We’re a multitasking society. We’re a busy society,” Pickford says. “I think multitasking has become a way of life, so people are just trying to get things done when they are in their cars and there is a lot more you can do now on a smartphone.”

Distracted Driving Awareness Month was once just one week, and advocates plans to extend their activities well past April into the “dangerous months” for teenagers when proms and graduation parties increase the potential for risky road behaviors.

Ultimately, safety advocates would like society to view distracted driving the same way it now sees drunk driving, but Pickford concedes that will take many years.

“It took a while for society to get to the fact that drinking and driving is really very dangerous, so I think it will take a few years to build this campaign and make people aware,” she says. “It doesn’t happen over night and it’s why we have gone from a week to a month.  We are hosting a distracted driving summit in September in Richmond.”

Advocates are also looking to Richmond lawmakers for help. This week state legislators are expected to approve legislation that would make texting while driving a primary offense.

“Right now a policeman can pull someone over if they see something else going on in the car.  They cannot pull them over if they see you texting while driving,” Pickford says.

Drive Smart Virginia says youth education starts in the car with parents. Children as young as five begin to pick up their parents’ driving behaviors, so she is urging parents to set good examples and refrain from using hand-held cell phones at the wheel.

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Transportation Nation

Striking Vintage EPA Photos Show Troubling Proximity of People and Pollution in 1970s

Friday, March 29, 2013

"Chemical plants on shore are considered prime source of pollution." (Marc St. Gil, Lake Charles, Louisiana, June 1972. National Archives, EPA Documerica Project)

These photos are beautiful. They're also sad, and hopeful, and quaint.

In the 1970s the EPA commissioned photographers to roam the country and document daily life in places like coal mines, riverbanks, cities, and even an early clean tech conference in a motel parking lot. The images were meant to be a baseline to measure change in the years to come, but there was no funding to go back to the original places.

The Documerica project photos are up on Flickr now (hat tip to FastCoExist for posting some of these gems). It's an overwhelming album of nostalgia for everyday life, but also, devastatingly depressing to see how dirty and toxic so many inhabited places could be in the 1970s ... and how little has changed in some places today.

What makes the project so powerful though, is how beautiful the photography is, even of the mundane moments, or tragic scenarios like kids playing in a river next to a power plant.

Strum through the albums yourself and share your favorites with us on our Facebook page and we'll add more pics to this post later on.

In the albums, there are also early editions of clean technology, like Frank Lodge's photos from the first First Symposium on Low Pollution Power Systems held at what seems to be a motel parking lot.

Exhibit at the First Symposium on Low Pollution Power Systems Development Held at the Marriott Motor Inn, Ann Arbor, Mich. Vehicles and Hardware Were Assembled at the EPA Ann Arbor Laboratory. Part of the Exhibit Was Held in the Motel Parking Lot the Ebs "Sundancer", an Experimental Electric Car, Gets Its Batteries Charged From an Outlet in the Parking Lot 10/1973 (Frank Lodge. National Archives, EPA Documerica Project)

 

"Children play in yard of Ruston home, while Tacoma smelter stack showers area with arsenic and lead residue." (Gene Daniels. Ruston, Washington, August 1972. National Archives, EPA Documerica Project)

 

David Falconer documented the fuel shortage in the west during the 1970s, as well as water pollution in the area at the time.  (David Falconer, National Arcives, EPA Documerica Project)

 

Miner Wayne Gipson, 39, with His Daughter Tabitha, 3. He Has Just Gotten Home From His Job as a Conveyor Belt Operator in a Non-Union Mine. as Soon as He Arrives He Takes a Shower and Changes Into Clothes to Do Livestock Chores with His Two Sons. Gipson Was Born and Raised in Palmer, Tennessee, But Now Lives with His Family near Gruetli, near Chattanooga. He Moved North to Work and Married There, But Returned Because He and His Wife Think It Is a Better Place to Live 12/1974 (Jack Corn. National Archives, EPA Documerica Project)

 Follow Alex Goldmark on Twitter @alexgoldmark

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Transportation Nation

Fung Wah Investigation Leads to 2nd, More Shocking Shut Down Order, Terrifying Quotes

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The U.S. Department of Transportation has again formally ordered Fung Wah Bus company, one of the most well known "Chinatown bus companies" credited with helping to pioneer the now popular business model of picking up passengers outside of bus terminals and charging very low fares.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration ordered Fung Wah bus to halt operations between Boston and New York in late February after Massachusetts inspectors found cracks in the frames of many of the company's buses. Within days that order was escalated to a total shut down of the company.

Longtime riders bemoaned the loss of the discount bus they'd come to love and fear all at once. One even composed a music video tribute for the New Yorker.

Today's action from the U.S. DOT rescinds the previous shut down order and replaces it with another one that is more permanent. The original order was because the company would not cooperate with the investigations into poorly maintained fleet.

This shut down order cites "the absence of an effective systematic maintenance program," "fraudulent or intentionally false entries on inspection" and maintenance records, failing to monitor drivers to make sure they aren't on the road too long, not testing drivers for drugs or alcohol.

"Individually and cumulatively, these violations and conditions of operation substantially increase the likelihood of serious injury or death to Fung Wah Bus tarnsportation Inc. drivers, passengers and the motoring public," the order states.

The FMSCA investigation found that Fung Wah didn't just have a bad maintenance program, it had no maintenance program at all. "Indeed, to the extent that Fung Wah maintains vehicle inspection records and reports, these records and reports cannot be relied upon with any certainty because they purport to show that vehicles were inspected on dates for which the mechanic whose signature appears on those reports was not actually working."

If Fung Wah addresses all of that, the FMSCA could rescind the shut down order. But considering the "blatant disregard" for safety rules, it seems like a stretch to assume that will happen soon.

Here's the full out-of-service order.

(Having a strong reaction to this post? Leave a comment about this on our Facebook page)

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Transportation Nation

Dozens in Congress Press for Nat'l Bike and Pedestrian Safety Goals, Measurement

Thursday, March 28, 2013

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) The recent lobbying by bicycling advocates on Capitol Hill seems to have paid off.

A bipartisan group of 68 members of the U.S. House, responding to the advocates’ safety concerns, has signed a letter to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood asking him to order the Department of Transportation to follow through on two aspects of the MAP-21 legislation signed into law last year.

The representatives, including D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, are asking Sec. LaHood to establish a national goal to reduce bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities and to push individual states to set “performance measures” to accomplish the same.

“If we don't set performance goals for states and cities there will be no incentive for them to look at what many don't even recognize,” Norton said in an interview with WAMU 88.5. “More people are walking and more people are taking their bikes. Thus, there will be no incentive to try to make the roads easier to navigate.”

As overall roadway fatalities have dropped significantly the number of pedestrians and bicyclists killed has increased, according to federal data. Total fatalities have dropped from 37,423 in 2008 to 32,367 in 2011. But roughly 5,000 pedestrians and bicyclists are killed annually, from 12 percent of all roadway deaths in 2008 to almost 16 percent in 2011, according to the federal government’s fatality analysis reporting system.

Safety advocates see the establishment of performance measures as an opening for additional federal funding directed to bicycling and walking infrastructure. Currently less than one percent of federal highway safety funds are spent improving bicyclist and pedestrian safety.

“We urge USDOT to set separate performance measures for non-motorized and motorized transportation,” says the letter signed by the 68 House members. “This will create an incentive for states to reduce bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities, while giving them flexibility to choose the best methods to do so.”

Follow Martin Di Caro on Twitter @MartinDiCaro

3 26 13 LaHood Bike Ped Lettr by transponation

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Transportation Nation

After Poisoning And Whacking Doesn't Work, NYC Transit Tries Birth Control On Rats

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A "smoothie" like this will contain rat birth control. (photo by Mary Harris)

(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.

Senestech researchers (photo by Mary Harris/WNYC)

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.

Paul Jones holds the keys to all of New York City's trash rooms. And he knows where all the rat nests are. (Photo by Mary Harris/WNC)

"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."

To comment on this story, check out TN's Facebook page.

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Transportation Nation

Montana Lawmakers Consider Exempting Megaloads from Extra Environmental Review

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The ConocoPhillips megaload moving through a Helena intersection in February 2011. Photo by Jackie Yamanaka

(Helena, MT – YPR) – The Montana Senate Natural Resources Committee plans to vote Friday on a bill that would exempt oversize loads from having to undergo a review under the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA).

House Bill 513’s sponsor is Representative Bill McChesney (D-Miles City). He says the measure makes it crystal clear that the Montana Legislature “never intended for routine permits for oversize loads be forced to undergo the same scrutiny for environmental impacts that a new highway, a new coal mine or an oil refinery would be subjected to.”

The issue reached a flashpoint about two years ago when protesters sued to block several megaloads. At that time ImperialOil/ExxonMobil wanted to move oversize loads of equipment bound for the Oil Tar Sand fields in Alberta, Canada. Protesters also tried to stop oversize loads of coker drums traveling through Missoula to Billings.

“Prior to this particular incident in Missoula, the Montana Department of Transportation permitting process was always clearly designed and implemented to ensure the public notice and public safety were given substantial consideration without needless requirements or restrictions on the permitees,” says McChesney.

In order to haul an oversize load through Montana, companies need to obtain a 32-J permit. The current application contains an environmental checklist.

Opponents of HB 513 say because these megaloads could pose a threat to public safety, the environment, and cultural resources, a MEPA review may be appropriate. They add these projects should be subject to the MEPA process that expand the public’s right to know and the right of the public to participate in government decisions on such matters.

“If HB 513 passes, these monstrous, three-story, 200-foot long and 500,000-600,000 pound, made in Korea (loads) will be exempt from review for public safety, local highway infrastructure, cultural resources, the economy, and the environment,” says Montana Sierra Club's Claudia Narcisco.

Not true, says McChesney, a retired MDT employee who worked with oversize loads and the 32-J permits. He says before such permits are issued, MDT reviews the route, load size, and that public input is always welcome. He argues a MEPA review for the 32-J permit is redundant. “There’s no justifiable reason for this superfluous barrier to the commerce and the accompanying perception that Montana is a difficult place to do business.”

HB 513 was sent to the Montana Senate on a 72-26 vote.

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Transportation Nation

Traffic Fatalities Up in NYC, Speeding Top Culprit, DOT Says

Monday, March 18, 2013

(Click text below title to see additional charts)

 

Traffic fatalities rose 12 percent in 2012 in New York City, driven by a 46 percent jump in the number of motor vehicle occupants who were killed in crashes. Speeding, the city says, was the top contributing factor. Pedestrians and cyclist fatalities remained at or near historic lows.

The number of cyclists who were killed dropped 18 percent compared to 2011 (from 22 to 18) while the number of pedestrians struck and killed rose by 5 percent in 2012 (from 141 to 148) according to figures released by the NYC Department of Transportation.

In total 274 people died in traffic collisions, 108 of them in vehicles (including on motorcycles) and 166 of them while walking or riding a bike. The DOT had previously cited 237 as the number of fatalities for 2011 but amended that to 245 in today's release.

The DOT calculates "speeding was the greatest single factor in traffic deaths, contributing to 81 fatal traffic crashes—about 30 percent of all traffic fatalities." Fatal hit-and-runs are also on the rise, the DOT said. Other contributing factors were "disregard of red lights or stop signs, driver inattention and/or alcohol."

“One thousand New Yorkers are alive today who would not be if we simply sustained the city’s fatality rate just one decade ago,” said Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. She stressed efforts the city is making to reduce speeding near schools (see graphic below) and long term positive safety trends.

New York remains safe by national standards. Traffic fatalities remain near all time lows following an aggressive program installing about 200 safety improvements in the past five years including street and intersection redesigns, protected bike lanes, slow zones and special attention to schools. NYC traffic fatality rates are less than one third of the national average on a per capita basis, and about half the rates of many other big cities.

To address the dangers of speeding, Mayor Mike Bloomberg and several members of the City Council want to install speed cameras. Last week the City Council called on state legislators -- whose approval is needed -- to permit the city to install cameras.

The NYPD supported the idea in a statement along with the official release of the 2012 fatality numbers. “Just as red light cameras reduced infractions at intersections where they were installed, we anticipate that speed cameras will result in greater compliance with posted speed limits,” said Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly.

The Police union, however, has come out against the speed cameras, telling the NY Daily News, "What we need are the actual police officers on the street ... Cops on the street are what slows people down.”

Last month, Kelly announced a considerable expansion of NYPD staffing its Collision Investigation Squad (formerly the Accident Investigation Squad) as part of a wider effort to focus more on preventing and investigating traffic collisions, which kill almost as many New Yorkers as gun homicides.

The NYPD issued one million moving violations last year, 71,000 of them for speeding, a figure advocates say is not enough. (By comparison, about 51,000 tickets went to cyclists in 2011. To see the latest breakdown of what summonses were issued by the NYPD, see this chart from January ). Police point out issuing speeding summonses requires special equipment, while other tickets can be written by every officer on the street. That could be why the NYPD supports speed cameras.

If today's announcement is any indication, the initial focus of speed cameras, if approved, could be around schools.

Speeding near schools in NYC. (Image: NYC DOT)

Speeding is alarmingly common near schools. The DOT measured the percentage of vehicles that were speeding when passing NYC schools. Outside three schools, 100 percent of the cars were speeding: P.S. 60 Alice Austen in Staten Island, P.S. 233 Langston Hughes in Brooklyn and P.S. 54 Hillside in Queens.

At the High School for Law Enforcement and Public Safety, 75 percent of cars were going above the legal limit. In all, the DOT released a list of 100 schools where 75 percent or more of vehicles were speeding. Cameras, the city says, can help.

"The streets around our city’s schools are the real speed traps, and we can’t play it safe when it comes to doing everything we can to protect New Yorkers on our streets—and especially seniors and school kids,” said Sadik-Khan.

The DOT also pointed out, no pedestrians were killed in crashes with cyclists.

High-Speed School List

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Transportation Nation

Florida Allows Texting While Driving, Local Dad Fights to Change That

Monday, March 18, 2013

(Photo by Jason Weaver)

(Ariana Prothero, WLRN -- Miami, Fla.) Florida is one of just six states without any ban on texting and driving, even though experts say it makes you 23 times more likely to get into a crash. One Florida dad has made it his mission to get a texting ban passed.

Steve Augello lives in Spring Hill, Florida, just outside of Tampa. Like a lot of parents, he always made his 17-year-old daughter, Alessandra, check-in with him when she was out. Augello also had a rule.

“You weren’t allowed to have that cell phone out while you’re driving,” Augello remembers telling Alessandra. “I even tested her a few times I called her when she was driving and it always went right through to the recorder.”

On November 10th, 2008, Alessandra called her dad around 7 p.m. telling him she was about to head home from rehearsal for a school play. That was the last time they would speak. As Alessandra was driving home, 19-year-old Alyssa Dyer suddenly veered across the center line hitting Alessandra head-on and killing them both. Florida Highway Patrol records show a text message went through to Dyer’s boyfriend shortly after the accident.

When Augello got Alessandra’s belongings back later that night, he found her cell phone zipped up in her purse, just like he always told her to do.

Augello has been telling this story a lot lately because he’s trying to persuade lawmakers in Tallahassee to pass a ban on texting while driving.

That is exactly what Republican Senator Nancy Detert fromVenice is trying to do. This is the fourth year in a row Detert has filed a bill that would make texting and driving a secondary offense. In the past, the legislation had trouble gaining traction but this year both the Senate and House versions are snowballing through their respective committees.

“We don't even need a study,” said Detert. “Everybody who drives the highway on a daily basis sees this everyday of their life and it's outrageously dangerous and needs to be stopped.”

More than a third of drivers reported reading a text or email while driving in a 2012 survey by AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

In Florida, over 4,500 accidents last year were attributed to drivers being distracted by their cell phones or other electronic communication devices.  Of those crashes, 255 were directly linked to texting. But, those numbers don’t paint a full picture. State law enforcement officials say the issue is under reported and there’s no way to count near misses.

As part of a recent pilot study, researchers at a driving simulation lab at Florida International University asked people to compose text messages while in the driving simulators. Denis McCarthy, who helps run the lab, says participants often weren’t even aware that they were making mistakes.

“It’s the way we’re hardwired,” explained McCarthy. “Humans can do one task really well, but studies have shown when we divide our attention between two tasks, we don’t do either well.”

McCarthy says the research clearly shows that texting and driving causes accidents.

But, where the research is less clear is whether bans on texting and taking on cell phones actually work. Studies investigating that link in other states have turned up mixed results. Some found an increase in overall crash claims after laws were passed. Other studies reported a drop in crashes specifically linked to texting or a decrease in the number of people using their phones while driving where the laws were strictly enforced.

However, people who want a texting ban say that the point is to change the driving culture. Democratic State Senator Maria Sachs supports Senator Detert’s bill. Sachs says when her kids text and drive, she threatens to take off her seat belt.

“And they’re very concerned about seat belts,” said Sachs. “See, this is interesting. They grew up with having to put on a seat belt on, I didn’t. But they would never get in a car without putting a seat belt on. We need to make the same education with distracted driving.”

A growing number of people do see it as an issue. AAA reports that nearly 90 percent of survey respondents said they believe other drivers using cell phones are a threat to their personal safety.

Last year the The Miami Herald, the Tampa Bay Times and Bay News 9 polled 800 registered Florida voters. Of those, 71 percent said they wanted a ban on texting while driving.

Arianna Prothero is a reporter with WLRN - Miami Herald News in South Florida. You can find more of WLRN's transportation reporting at wlrn.org.
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Transportation Nation

Montana Considers Legal Limit for Marijuana In DUI Laws

Friday, March 15, 2013

(Helena, MT – YPR) – Montana lawmakers are considering whether to join a dozen other states in setting a legal limit for the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana in its DUI laws.

“This bill is not an anti- or pro-marijuana bill,” says House Bill 168’s sponsor David “Doc” Moore, R-Missoula. “It’s about impaired driving.”

The bill seeks to set the legal limit at 5 ng/ml of delta-9 tetrahyrocannabinol. It’s the same limit set in Montana’s medical marijuana laws.

He says now that Montana’s neighbors -- Washington and Colorado -- have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, he’s concerned impaired drivers may be traveling through the state.

Montana Highway Patrol Sargent Curt Sager trains law enforcement officials in drug recognition. He says while DUI cases involving alcohol are on the decline in the state, marijuana continues to escalate.

He told the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2010 that 372 of the DUI cases involved marijuana; in 2011 that rose to 476; and last year it grew again to 486 cases.

Sager adds the numbers are growing for DUI fatalities involving marijuana. He says they now account to ¼ of the cases.

“So obviously this is a very dangerous, deadly problem that we’re encountering on our roadways,” he says.

He says setting a legal limit for Delta-9 THC for marijuana is based on the .08 blood alcohol content (BAC) in the DUI laws.

Retired chiropractor Pat Pardis is a member of the Montana Cannabis Information Association. He’s against the bill, saying science is inconclusive as to whether the 5 ng/ml limit is accurate to designate an impaired driver.

“We do not believe that per se laws really improve safety on the highway,” he says. “It may make it easier to put somebody in jail or into a treatment program.”

HB 168 passed through the Montana House on a 80-18 vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee did not immediately act on the bill.

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Transportation Nation

U.N.: Over 1 Million Die In Traffic Crashes Each Year - and Many Are in Poor Countries

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The World Health Organization says 1.24 million people die each year as a result of traffic crashes, which are the leading cause of death for people between 15 and 29.

The Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013, released Thursday, also estimates crashes injure between 20 and 50 million people each year.

Worldwide, the report says pedestrians and cyclists constitute 27% of all road deaths. But "in some countries this figure is higher than 75%, demonstrating decades of neglect of the needs of these road users in current transport policies, in favour of motorized transport."

(The above video, which has hair-raising footage of schoolchildren crossing roads in developing countries, provides ample visual evidence of this.)

There's also a strong link between income and road deaths. While wealthier countries have made progress, the toll is rising elsewhere. "91% of the world's fatalities on the roads occur in low-income and middle-income countries, even though these countries have approximately half of the world's vehicles."

(Read TN's report on the link between income and pedestrian fatalities in Newark, NJ)

from the "Global Status Report on Road Safety"

Africa has the highest death rate per 100,000 residents — 24.1, compared with 16.1 in North and South America. The European Region has the highest inequalities in road traffic fatality rates, with low-income countries having rates nearly three times higher than high-income countries (18.6 per 100 000 population compared to 6.3 per 100 000). The Western Pacific and South East Asia regions have the highest proportion of motorcyclist deaths.

The report says the first step to reducing traffic mortality is a group of laws aimed at drinking and driving, speeding, and failing to use motorcycle helmets, seat-belts, and child restraints. Currently, only 28 percent of countries -- covering 7 percent of the world's population -- have laws addressing all of these factors.

Other steps are making road infrastructure safer, ensuring vehicles meet international crash testing standards, and improving post-crash care.

The report was funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable arm of Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City.

Read the entire report below.

Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013

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Transportation Nation

Object Lesson: How Sequestration Could Affect Small Airports

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Chocks Away- business jet traffic at Kissimmee Gateway Airport could suffer if the control tower closes (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Budget cuts brought about by sequestration could force the closure of more than 100 air traffic control facilities  -- including control towers at smaller airports across the US.

Kissimmee Gateway Airport, which is just outside of Orlando, is on the list of towers which could be shut down April 7th. City leaders say that would put the brakes on one of the main economic drivers in the area.

“It’s an economic engine, not only necessarily because of what happens on the field, but also what happens adjacent to it," says Mayor Jim Swan. He says the economic impact of the airport is estimated around $100 million a year. Swan says losing the tower will make it  tough to market a $3.2 million dollar business airpark  which is being built with state and local funds.

A large part of the airport’s traffic includes business jets bringing people to functions at nearby Disney World and conventions on Orlando's International Drive.

Last year the airport saw 129,000 departures and landings from a mix of business jets, and propeller planes. Aviation director Terry Lloyd says losing the control tower- which is operated under a contract with the Federal Aviation Administration- could decrease flights to under 100,000 a year.

"I think it's something that we have a lot of dread [about], and there are a lot of unknowns," he says.

He says having a tower to help manage traffic makes Kissimmee a more attractive destination for business jets.

"The corporate traffic- that's kind of on the top of their checklist, if there's an airport with a tower, that's where they go," he says. "And then if there's not a tower they make a decision- is it important enough for us to go in there, and a lot of it's driven by the aircraft insurance companies."

Aircraft operators also have fuel agreements at airports - like Kissimmee- that guarantee the price of aviation fuel if they land there.  Lloyd says those agreements could also be jeopardized by the loss of the tower.

Other airport users say they're concerned about safety. John Calla, vice president of operations for Italico Aviation--  a company that plans to import and assemble light sport aircraft at Kissimmee -- says he's worried about the mix of traffic if there's no tower. "You see the jets that take off here and the speed they operate," says Calla. "You get a smaller aircraft that's used to flying about 60 miles per hour, integrating with something of that size, and you could get some conflicts.

Calla says the tower is important to separate and sequence the arrival and departure of planes. "They know the speed of the aircraft and they know how much to sequence it so traffic flow is not impaired. It also improves the safety as well."

Florida Congressman Alan Grayson has written to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and the FAA urging them to consider the impact of closing the tower.

 

 

 

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Transportation Nation

NJ Transit Wants $1.2 Billion in Fed Funds for Sandy Recovery, Future Storms

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Hoboken Terminal, post-Sandy (photo by NJ Transit via flickr)

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."

 

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Transportation Nation

Video Tribute to Fung Wah: "I'll Think of You Always with Nostalgia and Fear"

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Was your heartbeat racing, as fast as your wheels?/ When you flipped over on the Mass Pike, like a clown on a peel (...of a banana)

It was just such fears that led the federal government to shutter Chinatown bus operator Fung Wah earlier this month.

Now, Marc Phillipe Eskenazi has composed a mournful musical tribute to the end of $15 bus service between New York and Boston.

The song, a parody of Bob Dylan's "Farewell Angelina," is filled with gems like:

I'll think of you always with nostalgia and fear / Ian Grossman from the Department of Transportation wants to watch you disappear

But in the back alleys of my mind you've never been so dear / farewell, Fung Wah, your engines may be crazy, but they still got me here.

(via The New Yorker.)

 

 

 

 

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Transportation Nation

NY City Council to Albany: We Need Speed Cameras to Keep New Yorkers Safe

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

NY City Council members James Vacca, Christine Quinn, and Jimmy Van Bremer (photo by Kate Hinds)

In the wake of several high-profile traffic deaths, key members of the New York City Council are throwing their support behind state legislation that would bring speed cameras to the city.

Speed camera legislation has languished in Albany for years, due in part to the steadfast opposition of Rochester democrat David Gantt, who chairs the Assembly's transportation committee. Most recently, in 2012, the state legislature failed to bring a speed camera bill to the floor for a vote, earning the ire of New York's mayor.

But advocates say it looks like there's more hope this time around: the Assembly bill has over 30 co-sponsors,  it's got strong support in the City Council -- which council speaker (and mayoral candidate) Christine Quinn says stands ready to deliver a home rule message to Albany -- and, perhaps most tellingly, the state assembly has included the pilot program in its 2013-2014 budget proposal.

"Speeding is, tragically, the number-one cause of fatal crashes in New York City," said Quinn. "This is a really significant problem. Anywhere in America, but (especially) in the biggest most congested city in the world, where we have such a pedestrian city -- to lack this type of enforcement...puts people at risk."

"We just need these cameras to help keep New Yorkers safe," she said.

According to city data, in 2011 70 deaths and 4,700 injuries were attributable to speed-related crashes. The New York City Department of Transportation has not released 2012 data yet.

Quinn was joined at a City Hall press conference by fellow council members James Vacca, Jimmy Van Bramer, Steve Levin and Gale Brewer.

The bill is co-sponsored by Assemblywoman Deborah Glick. Under the terms of the legislation, up to 40 speed cameras would be placed at high-risk intersections in New York for a five-year pilot program. Council members said the cameras would not photograph drivers, fines would not exceed $100, and insurance companies would not be notified of violations.

Those provisions may be necessary to sweeten the deal for opponents who say speed cameras are privacy-invading revenue generators. Because for New York City to get the cameras, the capital has to sign off -- and so far it hasn't proven eager to do so.

"This is a classic example where we are in the hands of Albany," said Jimmy Vacca. "I wish this was something we could do at a city level. If we could, we would." He added: "This is not something I view as a revenue-raiser. This is something I view as a lifesaver."

(Side note: New York City does have red light traffic cameras, although they are currently being litigated.)

The bill could also be riding a tide of renewed energy to combat traffic deaths. Recently, the New York Police Department announced it was reforming how it investigates traffic crashes -- which it now refers to as collisions, not accidents.  NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly told a City Council budget hearing Tuesday that the department will add up to 10 new investigators to its collision squad. "One of the challenges we had in setting up this squad is handling the number of accidents that can be handled by the number of people that we have," said Kelly.

That squad currently has 19 investigators.

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After Spate of Traffic Deaths, NYPD Surfaces Long Sought Reforms

Monday, March 11, 2013

(Photo CC by Flickr user swruler9284)

It has been a grisly few weeks for traffic safety in New York City. At the end of last month, a six-year old boy was run over by a truck in Harlem on his walk to school. Days later, a young couple in Williamsburg, Brooklyn was killed in the back seat of a taxi cab destroyed by a speeding ex-con. And today, a car jumped the curb in Long Island City Queens, hitting five pedestrians, and killing a teenager.

It's an apt time to announce a plan, apparently long in the works, to reform how the NYPD handles traffic crashes. The changes were outlined in a letter to the City Council dated March 4th, a day after six-year old Amar Diarrassouba was buried, and while Julio Acevedo was still on loose, wanted for the hit and run that killed Raizy and Nathan Glauber and their child-to-be in Williamsburg.

The roots of the new NYPD policies date back at least a year, to the last time traffic safety was top news in the tabloids. Last February the City Council held a hearing on traffic safety in which NYPD brass were grilled for several hours on all manner of policy, procedures and statistics. Grieving parents slung angry accusations at the Department for failing to adequately investigate their childrens' deaths. 

So a year later, just as a second swelling of grief and anger was taking shape in the form of petitions circulating and reporters renewing requests for safety data, the NYPD sent a letter to to City Council Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca that outlines a considerable expansion of police resources toward traffic safety, just about exactly what advocates had called for a year ago, and were likely to demand afresh.

The NYPD will expand the number of traffic cases it will closely examine, add new officers for enforcement and prevention of crashes, and implement new and additional training for officers who conduct collision investigations.

"Any of these on their own would have been a huge step forward for road safety," said Juan Martinez of Transportation Alternatives, one of the most vocal groups calling for the changes. "Taken together, it's a banner day."

In a symbolic move, the Department will also change the name of the unit that investigates traffic crashes from the Accident Investigation Squad to the Collision Investigation Squad, because, "in the past the term "accident" has given the inaccurate impression or connotation that there is no fault or liability," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly wrote in the letter.

The NYPD has consistently been criticized for not treating traffic collisions seriously enough in the eyes of safety advocates and family members of victims of crashes. About 250 people die in traffic crashes each year in New York City, almost as many as killed by guns. In most cases of traffic deaths, there is no criminality because of how traffic law is written. Enhanced investigations are often cited as necessary for establishing criminality or more frequently, essential for evidence for civil lawsuits brought by victims.

In the letter, dated March 4th, Kelly outlines the changes to the NYPD traffic crimes policies, many of them already quietly implemented. The most dramatic is a shift in which collisions will be closely investigated by the Accident Investigation Squad's specially trained detectives.

As we reported, before the new policies, the AIS had just 19 investigators and responded only to crashes where someone was killed or was deemed "likely to die" by a medical professional. That meant that many crashes resulting in serious non-fatal injury, such as the loss of a limb, were not handled by AIS, instead by local precincts who perform less rigorous investigations. The policy also meant that cases that resulted in deaths were sometimes not investigated immediately because the victim was not deemed "likely to die" at the scene. That's what happened in the cases of Clara Heyworth and Stefanos Tsigrimanis, neither of which resulted in criminal charges.

Tsigrimanis, a 29 year old musician, was struck while riding his bike. He sustained a severe head injury and was in a coma later that day, but was not deemed likely to die in the emergency room, so local precinct officers investigated, not the AIS who are specially-trained  in gathering evidence from a traffic crash crime scene -- such as how to reconstruct an accident based on skid marks or from the locations of vehicle debris. Tsigrimanis died three days after the crash, but no photos were taken of the scene under the less rigorous investigation, and by the time AIS did respond, after Tsigrimanis' death, it was too late to collect some evidence. No charges were filed against the driver.

That type of case will now get full AIS attention from the start under the new policies. Police will send the AIS (soon to be renamed the Collision Investigation Squad) to cases  where "an individual involved in a collision has sustained a critical injury" that "will be defined as a patient either receiving CPR, in respiratory arrest, or requiring or receiving life sustaining ventilator or circulatory support," according to the letter.

The patrol guide has already been "substantially revised" to reflect these changes, and to better guide officers who first arrive at a crash scene when to call notify AIS to come to investigate.

"Too many traffic collisions have been overlooked because the City hasn't collected the data it needs to hold people accountable and to intervene to prevent future crashes," said City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn who added, the NYPD is implementing reforms that "will keep our streets safer."

It is not clear exactly how many additional collisions this new policy will encompass or the additional workload it will mean for the AIS. NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for more information.

According to the the New York DMV there were 252 fatal crashes in NYC in 2011, the latest year on record. There were 2,942 "serious" injury crashes, which could be as minor as a broken limb. The new NYPD policy is more likely to mean hundreds of additional crashes will be closely investigated, not thousands more.

To handle the additional workload, the NYPD has already made staffing changes and is "in the process of increasing both the overall uniformed headcount of the Highway District as well as the number of investigators assigned to AIS," according to the letter.

Commissioner Kelly noted this policy change is only possible because the number of fatal crashes has decreased considerably over the past decade.

"I am pleased that the NYPD is taking this first step towards tackling the serious issue of traffic crashes," Council member Brad Lander said in a statement. Lander was the lead sponsor of the Crash Investigation Reform Act of 2012 that called for changes of this type of change. That bill called for a task force on traffic safety.

 

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Transportation Nation

How Gender Matters on American Roads

Saturday, March 09, 2013

More women drive than men, but men do more driving. Confusing? A recent study parsed almost 50 years worth of data from the Federal Highway Administration for gender trends in America's roadway habits.

For one, 2005 was a turning point. That's when U.S. female drivers outnumbered male drivers for the first time. But since men log 5,000 miles more per year than women on average, males still account for 60 percent of drivers who are actually on the road at a given time.

The trend of more women getting driver's licenses started decades ago, and the FHA data compiled by Michael Sivak of the University of Michigan Transportation Institute shows the gender ratio of drivers has hovered close to an even split since the late 1990s. In 1963, only 40 percent of drivers were females, and they only did 24 percent of the driving.

Past research has shown marked differences in driving behavior between men and women. Women statistically get in more fender benders, but men disobey traffic laws more often, and get into many more fatal car accidents. It's also no secret that those tendencies also skew toward younger male drivers, and a past study from the same Michigan researcher shows young people are now getting driver's licenses at a slower rate. Still, men and women alike are driving significantly more now than 30, 40 and 50 years ago.

But, more women on the road has changed driving trends as a whole. The study points out that combined with crash patterns that vary by gender, car choices also vary. Women are also much more likely to drive compact, fuel-efficient cars, with better safety ratings.

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