Thursday, March 07, 2013
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) In the basement of a Lutheran church a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol bicycling advocates gathered on a rain-soaked Wednesday afternoon to prepare to meet their congressional representatives. On the third day of the National Bike Summit in Washington, bicyclists from across the country took their message to lawmakers: as more bikes share the roads with cars, more bicyclists are being killed or injured.
“In order for people to feel safe they have to have their own space,” said Karen Overton of New York City, who owns two bike shops. She had a face-to-face meeting with her congresswoman, Rep. Nydia Velázquez, to talk about improving street safety through federal investments in bicycling infrastructure.
“It’s getting easier. Ten years ago it was like we were aliens on the hill. So there has been change in the right direction,” Overton said.
Less than 0.5% of federal highway safety funds are spent improving bicyclist and pedestrian safety, say advocates, at a time when the streets are becoming more dangerous for people not in cars. Pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities have increased from 12% of all roadway deaths in 2008 to almost 16% in 2011, according to the federal government's fatality analysis reporting system (FARS).
In addition to increasing federal spending on bicycling and walking infrastructure (traffic calming structures, separated bike lanes, cycle tracks), advocates are asking their representatives to follow through on efforts to require state transportation departments to set statistical goals to reduce biking and pedestrian incidents, part of a “performance measures” initiative of the MAP-21 legislation signed into law by President Obama on July 6, 2012.
“While there may be a broad safety target set for the number of lives that are lost on the roads, there isn’t a specific one for bicyclists, for pedestrians, and we feel it's a big enough issue that there should be a specific target,” said Andy Clarke, the president of the League of American Bicyclists. He is a signatory on a letter urging U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to convince states to use federal funding to make non-motorized transportation safer.
LaHood is a favorite among bike and pedestrian advocates, and he dropped by the National Bike Summit earlier this week.
Overall roadway fatalities have dropped significantly, according to federal data. The number of people killed has dropped from 37,423 in 2008 to 32,367 in 2011. But roughly 5,000 pedestrians and bicyclists are killed annually.
“The numbers have been going up slightly for those two means of travel,” Clarke said. “They’ve been going down for people who are in cars and are belted and buckled up. We want to see a similar level of attention paid to crashes that are happening involving bicyclists, involving pedestrians, even motorcyclists.”
Anthony Siracusa of Memphis was among the advocates who trekked to the hill on Wednesday. He successfully pushed for a $15 million grant to build a bicycle and pedestrian bridge across the Mississippi River. He says once lawmakers should visit bicycling and walking projects in their home districts to see for themselves how cities are becoming more livable.
“It’s one thing to talk about it across a board room table,” he said. “It’s another thing for them to actually experience it and see the number of stakeholders who come together around these projects, and the relatively small investment it takes to make a profound difference in the community.”
Follow @MartinDiCaro on Twitter.
Thursday, March 07, 2013
(Emily DeMarco, PublicSource) Morry Feldman downs two horse pills with breakfast. Then, he uses four different sprays. Two puffs into the mouth. Two into the nose. Repeat at dinner.
Feldman, 59, has severe asthma and allergies. And Pittsburgh is among the worst places he could live or work because of the region’s poor air quality.
“If I miss a dose, I start to get sick,” said Feldman, a senior account executive at WQED Multimedia.
Feldman is one of nearly 97,000 adults in Allegheny County with asthma.
The county received F’s in the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2012 study.
Among the reasons cited by experts for the region’s poor air quality: diesel fumes.
The Pittsburgh City Council passed a local law in 2011 requiring construction companies to retrofit equipment that runs on diesel fuel in order to reduce emissions. But, to date, no dozers, diggers or dump trucks have had to comply.
Called the Clean Air Act of 2010, the local law focused on construction sites that received public dollars. If the development’s budget was larger than $2.5 million and it received at least $250,000 in public subsidies, it would have to retrofit a percentage of its diesel equipment.
Regulations for the ordinance haven’t been finalized, making it unenforceable.
Supporters of the ordinance have cried foul.
“If we truly want to be the most livable city, we have to contend with our air pollution,” said Rachel Filippini, the executive director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution, known as GASP. “And one way to do that is to clean up construction vehicles.”
GASP was part of a coalition of health, environmental, faith, industry, and labor organizations that helped to draft the legislation.
Small, but deadly
The Environmental Protection Agency has set standards for new diesel engines, but it’s the old engines that produce what’s known as ‘dirty diesel’ fumes. A typical diesel engine has a life span of 20 to 30 years.
It is widely accepted that dirty diesel exhaust contains tiny particles of soot, also known as black carbon. And that the smallest of these particles can go straight into the bloodstream and are linked to cancer, asthma and stroke.
In addition, the diesel exhaust contains nitrogen oxides, which, when released into the atmosphere on hot days, create ozone, a powerful irritant that can cause chemical burns in the lungs.
Children, the elderly, and people with chronic lung and heart conditions are among the most vulnerable to dirty diesel’s impact. And the workers who operate diesel equipment are the first to breathe the harmful emissions.
The city council passed the local legislation requiring developers to curb diesel emissions, in part, because Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods are densely packed, with schools and playgrounds often near construction sites.
If the legislation had been in effect, one construction site that would need to comply would be Bakery Square 2.0, a development on Penn Ave. that broke ground in January 2013. The $100-million project is the sister site to Bakery Square 1.0, home to Google’s Pittsburgh offices, high-end shops and a hotel.
With the help of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and the Urban Redevelopment Authority, according to a press release from the mayor’s office, the development was awarded about $2 million in federal funds. The development was recently awarded $4 million from the administration of Gov. Tom Corbett.
The girls at the Ellis School who have asthma could be directly affected by the diesel emissions while Bakery Square 2.0 construction is underway, said Dr. Fernando Holguin, the assistant director at the University of Pittsburgh’s Asthma Institute.
“Maybe some children will wheeze a little more...and some kids may end up in hospital,” Dr. Holguin said.
Representatives from the project’s development company, Walnut Capital, did not return phone calls or emails requesting comment. A representative from The Ellis School said she didn't know enough about the ordinance to comment.
Just a piece of paper
‘Clean construction’ laws have sprouted across the country. Pittsburgh’s was modeled after New York City’s version, called Local Law 77.
New York’s version passed in 2003 and took about a year to implement. It also required convincing industry officials that the retrofits wouldn’t cause warranties to be voided or engines to explode, said Gerry Kelpin of that city’s Department of Environmental Protection.
Kelpin’s team is in charge of enforcing the law.
City leadership, including The New York City Council and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, strongly supported the law, Kelpin said.
Pittsburgh City Councilman Bill Peduto, who was the main sponsor of the ordinance, gave a copy of New York City’s regulations to Pittsburgh’s Law Department.
Meetings concerning the regulations to implement the ordinance have been going on for more than a year, according to Peduto’s office.
However, the regulations have not been finalized, said Daniel Regan, Pittsburgh’s solicitor.
Regan said they are waiting to hear from Peduto’s office. Peduto is running for mayor to replace Ravenstahl.
“We weren’t involved, nor were we asked to be involved, in drafting the legislation,” Regan said, adding they they thought it was important for the sponsors to review it.
When PublicSource asked about the implementation of the ordinance at a public event, Ravenstahl declined to comment.
Doug Anderson, the deputy city controller whose inspectors will be in charge of enforcing the retrofitting requirements, said his inspectors haven’t been trained.
Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, co-sponsor of the ordinance, said she hopes the regulations are written as soon as possible.
“Until it’s implemented, it’s just words on a page,” said Rudiak, who is running for re-election.
Rudiak said she has a list of ordinances that council passed that haven’t been implemented by this administration.
“At the end of the day, I want to make sure the public is aware of what’s really going on out there, and they can be the judge of how they feel about it,” she said.
According to Pittsburgh’s City Code, any ordinance that isn’t vetoed by the mayor, automatically becomes law; the Clean Air Act of 2010 was signed by Ravenstahl.
But in order for the law to be enforceable, rules need to be drafted.
The dirty diesel regulations have been in the works for more than a year.
“That’s a long time,” said Denise Rousseau, a professor of public policy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College.
Rousseau, who was speaking about the role of elected leaders in implementing laws and not about any specific instance, suggested that the reasons for the delay might include an administrative backlog, logistical problems coming up with enforceable rules or pressure from an external source.
An undue burden?
Construction industry representatives, who were at the table during the drafting of the law, warned that retrofitting requirements might block small construction companies from doing business in Pittsburgh.
The Heinz Endowments, whose Breathe Project works with government and industry for cleaner air, contributed to an existing Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) fund to help small contractors retrofit their equipment. (The Heinz Endowments also supports PublicSource.)
“It was a way to help small contractors to still be competitive under a new requirement,” said Caren Glotfelty, senior director of The Heinz Endowments’ Environment Program.
A new piece of diesel equipment is a huge investment for companies, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Besides buying new equipment, companies can replace the engine, swap parts in the engine, or attach a filter to retrofit. Each option must be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“Not all machines have solutions,” said Jason Koss.
Koss is the director of industry relations for the Constructors Association of Western Pennsylvania. About 15 members of the trade association have already retrofitted their equipment using money from the ACHD, he said.
Koss said there are always costs associated with new regulations.
Supporters of the law said opportunities to make the air cleaner are being lost.
And for people like Feldman, the costs of the region’s poor air quality are tangible.
Feldman, one of Dr. Holguin’s patients, developed asthma and allergies during his early 50s. But he hasn’t has an asthma attack for about four years because he regularly takes his medication.
The meds cost about $150 a month, even with health insurance through WQED. (The public broadcasting network is a news partner of PublicSource.)
Filippini, of GASP, said that doing nothing about the diesel air pollution may seem like the cheaper and easier thing to do, but the health and environmental costs are great. Children miss school because of asthma attacks; parents miss work to stay home with sick children. There are also more emergency room visits, and higher insurance premiums.
Pittsburgh has come a long way from its ‘smoky city’ image, Filippini said, adding that this law is a tangible step the city can take to clean up regional air pollution.
“It is a way that they can be a leader,” she said.
Reach Emily DeMarco at 412-315-0262 or email@example.com.
Correction: This story originally said that Councilman Bill Peduto is running for mayor against Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. Ravenstahl is not running for another term.
Wednesday, March 06, 2013
January was the worst month in more than a year for pedestrian safety in New York City, according to preliminary data from the NYPD. Twenty pedestrians were killed on city streets during the first month of the year. That's nearly double the monthly average for pedestrians deaths in 2012, which -- according to the same NYPD data -- was 11.
As the above chart shows, in NYC more pedestrians die in traffic than motorists, passengers or cyclists, the four categories tracked by NYPD. Fatalities fluctuate substantially from month to month, but the peak month of May 2012 saw just 15 pedestrians killed in crashes. There were two months when more motorists died than pedestrians last year.
The NYPD also released data on summonses issued in January. The most common ticketed violation was failure to obey a sign (14,677 summonses). Offenses are more common if they can be spotted and issued by officers without special equipment, such as using a cell phone while driving (11,244 summonses), not wearing a seat belt (9,621 summonses) and tinted windows (9,004 summonses) in the front seat. Speeding, unless it is excessive, requires a radar gun (6,356 summons). Failure to yield to pedestrians is considered one of the more dangerous traffic offenses, and the violation for which the driver of the truck was cited in the death of six-year old Amar Diarrassouba in East Harlem. There were 1,198 summonses for failure to yield in January.
See chart below. Full list of summonses is available on NYPD website here.
As we reported earlier this week, using this and other preliminary data it hints that NYC traffic fatalities ticked up in 2012 over 2011, a record low year. The DOT has said it will release the official numbers "soon."
Tuesday, March 05, 2013
By Kate Hinds
For thousands of children worldwide, the toughest part of getting an education is getting to school.
A new exhibit now on display at the United Nations chronicles those sojourns. Journeys to School follows the routes of children in 13 different countries take as they walk, ride donkeys, snowmobile, ride the subway, and even canoe to school. Many of them must navigate dangerous roadways -- an issue that was thrown into sharp relief in New York City last week, where a 6-year old boy was struck by a truck just blocks from his school. All the photos underscore the link between transportation and education. Getting to school in a safe -- not to mention timely -- fashion is as important as the condition of the classroom.
According to UN statistics, 1,000 people under the age of 25 are killed in traffic crashes each day.
While much of the exhibit was devoted to countries in the developing world, some children are in major cities -- including New York.
Santiago Munoz lives in Far Rockaway, Queens -- a New York City neighborhood devastated by Sandy. Before the storm, Santiago's commute to the Bronx High School of Science was already daunting.
"I used to walk six blocks to the nearest A train station," he said, "and from there I would ride it for around, I would say 50 minutes, then transfer to the 4 train for 40 minutes." Tack on a ten minute walk from the station to the school, and his commute -- on an average day -- was one hour and 40 minutes.
But then Sandy washed out a key segment of the A train, and he now takes two buses to get to the subway. "And now it takes me two hours and a half to get to Bronx Science." He says he uses his commute time to do homework or catch up on sleep.
Munoz said the exhibit gave him perspective. While he acknowledges his commute appears tough to the average New Yorker, "compared to these kids -- not at all. They're very inspiring."
Photographer Ruth McDowall talked about the average school day for children of the nomadic Fulani minority in Kulumin Jeji, Nigeria. "They have to wake up at 5:00 in the morning," said McDowall, "to do chores like collecting firewood, getting water -- sometimes it can take an hour or more in dry season." The kids start walking to school by 6:30 am. "They get to school by eight, do about three hours of school, and then do another hour and a half walk home." Because the walk is long and hot, many children become dehydrated on the way to school, where they often find it difficult to concentrate. When they get back home, the rest of the day is devoted to herding responsibilities.
The exhibit is on display in the United Nations Visitors Center until April 26, 2013. It's organized by UNESCO, public transportation company Veolia Transdev and photo agency SIPA Press.
Monday, March 04, 2013
As we reported last week, six-year old Amar Diarassoubba was killed while crossing a Harlem street last week. The emotional case has thrust the dreary issue of pedestrian safety into the spotlight, and what that reveals is a poor record of traffic crashes involving kids for East Harlem and a lack of fresh data to measure progress.
According to police, Amar was walking with his nine-year old brother. A crossing guard was supposed to be at the intersection on First Avenue and 117th Street, but wasn’t. And, of course, the truck was supposed to yield but didn’t. The rear wheels of the tractor trailer ran Amar down as he was in the crosswalk. His brother stood watching. All of it was just half block from Amar’s school.
PS 155 sits at the center of something of a hot spot for kids in traffic crashes according to two different studies.
The group Transportation Alternatives looked at all crashes involving kids from 1995-2009. In East Harlem, children made up 43 percent of traffic injuries. A much higher proportion (15 percent) than just a few blocks south on the same avenues on the Upper East Side which has the same percentage of children in the population according to the study.
“This is not a force of nature that we do not have control over, this is something we can fix,” said Juan Martinez of Transportation Alternatives.
In the second study, The Tri State Transportation Campaign tracked all traffic deaths from 2009 to 2011 in the New York region. The group found that in Manhattan, five kids under 15 years old died in traffic. But there was a cluster. Three of them were within just seven blocks of PS 155. (See map here).
Parents at PS 155 say the area is hazardous as trucks are constantly roaring by to and from the nearby shopping mall and the RFK (formerly Triborough) Bridge.
Mayor Mike Bloomberg and his Department of Transportation say they’re aware of the problem, and working on it. “We try to have traffic lights, we try to have red light cameras, which the state won’t let us have. We deploy our police officers when they’re not doing other things.”
Seth Solomonow of the Department of Transportation said in an email, “From last year’s safety redesign of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard to school safety projects to simplifying the entrance to Harlem River Park, Harlem has seen some of the most extensive and innovative safety changes ever brought to New York City’s streets." Solomonow said prior to this recent incident, just one child pedestrian had died in Manhattan since 2011.
First Avenue is slated for a redesign to add pedestrian plazas and a bike lane.
Both the Mayor and Department of Transportation like to point out that in 2011, the city had the lowest number of traffic fatalities on record. That year, the Mayor announced the tallies even before he pushed the button for the New Year's Eve ball drop. But preliminary data for 2012 show a rise in traffic deaths, and the city has yet to release the final numbers to the dismay of city council members like the east side’s Jessica Lappin. She’s been calling for detailed reports for over a month.
“They’re supposed to be providing this information. We’ve been asking for it for months. And they still haven’t provided it. That’s why we had a press conference back in January. And they promised us we would have it in weeks. Well it’s been a month plus and we still don’t have the data.”
Since January, Transportation Nation has repeatedly asked the Department of Transportation for the number of children killed or injured in traffic in New York City to no avail. The only available data on 2012, or that includes the locations of crashes, is an NYPD preliminary data based on initial accident reports. Those figures show that fatalities might be on the rise over 2011, but they are un-audited.
Police say the investigation into the Diarrassouba crash continues, including into the whereabouts of the crossing guard. No charges have been filed and no arrests have been made.
Friday, March 01, 2013
Parents held their childrens' hands a little tighter as they picked them up from PS 155 on Friday afternoon. Danger felt closer than usual here, and tragedy was the topic of conversation after six-year old Amar Diarrassouba died on the corner, struck and killed by a turning tractor trailer truck.
"I was the one who picked him up off the middle of First Avenue," said Melanie Canon, a mother who was standing in front of the school a day after the accident.
"He was face down," she said of Amar, who'd been walking to school with his 9 year-old brother. "His brother was standing right next to him. The little boy said, 'Help.' I picked him up by the back of his jacket. He was lifeless, limp. I saw a big pool of blood."
Canon is a doctor but there was nothing she could do. Amar--praised by neighbors as being kind to all--had no pulse.
Canon's daughter is a 3rd grader who attends nearby PS 206 and passes the same intersection every morning. Like the parents outside the PS 155, she said it's a treacherous walk for a child. "The paths to the schools need to be safe."
Outside the school, where the flag waved limply at half-mast, parents complained about the heavy volume of trucks, especially since 2009, when the East River Plaza mall opened a block away.
Tara French lives in the neighborhood and walks her three children to the school each day. "It's dangerous," she said." First Avenue is a dangerous street for them to be crossing. And now we have the mall so we have all the 18-wheelers coming up First Avenue."
Jaime Barton agreed. "The trucks should have at least another way to go for deliveries, that's how I feel," he said. The truck that struck Amar was coming from the direction of the mall, heading west on 117th street, and hit the child as it turned right onto First Avenue toward the Tri-Borough Bridge, which is seven blocks north. 117th Street is a narrow, one-way side street.
"Even 116th is a bigger intersection because it's two-way. This is one-way," Barton said as her daughter interrupted to boast about a recent birthday, her 6th.
A crossing guard was supposed to be at the intersection. Police are investigating her whereabouts. "What we're saying is that she was not on post when the accident happened which was 0754--that's all we can say at this time is that she wasn't there," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told reporters Friday.
While some parents said that crossing guard was frequently late or absent, others didn't blame her. Lydia Soto, who has a 13-year old at the school, said that parents had complained in the past about the guard to the school. Standing with French, the parents said that several years ago--the date was uncertain--parents had petitioned to have a different crossing guard replaced. The new guard on Second Avenue was "fabulous," they said.
Department of Education spokesperson Marge Fienberg said, "The principal of the school has not received any complaints about this guard and generally, when there are complaints, the safety agents provide parents with the number of the local precinct.
The NYPD is responsible for hiring crossing guards. The department has said that retaining crossing guards can be difficult because the job is only part time, several hours in the morning and several in the afternoon, and, according to the NYPD website, can pay below $10 per hour .
A spokesperson at the NYPD said the department would have to research whether there had been past complaints about the crossing guard at PS 155.
The city Department of Transportation oversees the rules of the roads, such as where trucks are permitted to drive or when special turn signals or lane markings are needed. The department has declined repeated requests over the past two months for data on the number and locations of children who were hit by vehicles in New York City.
Amar's family wouldn't speak about the accident. But outside the family's home, a man identifying himself as the boy's uncle said of the tragedy, "It is God." He said the rest of the family was taking the same approach.
-With WNYC News
Friday, March 01, 2013
"WASHINGTON –The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) today shut down Boston-based Fung Wah Bus Transportation’s using new authorities given to FMCSA under the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21).
“Bus companies that jeopardize public safety and refuse to cooperate with our investigators have no place on the road, and now, thanks to our additional authority, we can take them off,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Safety is our highest priority, and we will continue to do all we can to ensure that unsafe bus companies are not on our roads.”
"Earlier today, Fung Wah stopped cooperating with FMCSA safety investigators and blocked further access to company safety records. Under provisions contained in MAP-21, signed into law by President Obama in July 2012, FMCSA may revoke the operating authority registration of a motor carrier that fails to comply with an administrative subpoena or a letter demanding release of company safety records. This is the first case of FMCSA exercising this new provision to revoke a motor carrier’s federal operating authority.
“We will not hesitate to immediately shut down a bus or truck company that ignores safety regulations and puts innocent lives at risk,” said FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro. “We will employ every tool we have to take unsafe commercial drivers, vehicles and entire companies off the road anywhere in the county at any time.”
On Tuesday, FMCSA ordered Fung Wah to immediately provide its entire fleet of 28 motorcoaches for thorough and detailed safety inspections by qualified inspectors. FMCSA’s safety investigators had continued their examination of Fung Wah’s operations through the rest of the week in order to consider further action against the company as a whole in addition to ordering its buses out of service."
Friday, March 01, 2013
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
(Washington, D.C. - WAMU) For the first time since they began fighting the construction of a highway ramp near their homes, a coalition of eight homeowners’ groups in Fairfax County and Alexandria are getting some official help in their battle with the Virginia Department of Transportation.
Alexandria city leaders are pledging to lobby state transportation officials to reconsider the placement next to the homeowners’ properties of the planned northern terminus of the future I-95 Express Lanes, 30 miles of high-occupancy toll lanes extending from the Edsall Road area in Fairfax County to Garrisonville Road in Stafford County. The $1 billion public-private project is scheduled for completion in December 2014.
Before winning the public support of Alexandria city hall, the group Concerned Residents of Landmark had been rebuffed by public officials in their bid to convince VDOT to stop construction.
One of the group’s leaders, Mary Hasty, whose home in Alexandria’s Overlook community will stand just 75 feet from the completed exit ramp, says time is running out.
“We’re racing against the clock, yes. And my understanding is that VDOT has accelerated the building project of the ramp because they want it to be done so the opposition will stop,” Hasty said.
VDOT will begin pile driving at the site next week, a significant step in the building process, but Hasty remains steadfast.
“Even if they’ve driven the piles, when the public health issue comes to light, they can stop,” she said.
Alexandria Vice Mayor Allison Silberberg says the city has a responsibility to represent its constituents.
“Science is convincing, and they had an outside firm that’s very prestigious do this research and it is very convincing,” Silberberg said. “We are certainly going to make the case from an environmental and health perspective.”
Concerned Residents of Landmark spent more than $70,000 to hire the national law firm of Shrader & Associates to perform a traffic and environmental analysis of the project. Their study found backed up traffic on the exit ramp will spew a cloud of pollution in excess of federal safety standards, the group said.
“My biggest concern with VDOT is that they failed to fulfill their requirements under NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act,” said Hasty, who said VDOT did not perform localized studies of pollution impacts on her community.
VDOT officials dispute the homeowners’ accusations.
“Our studies were approved back in the end of 2011 which met all federal and regulatory requirements and that is why we are proceeding with construction today,” said John Lynch, VDOT’s Northern Virginia megaprojects director. “Their study used a different modeling technique and so we are trying to see why there is a big difference in the outcome of the two models.”
The Shrader study says 80,000 people in Fairfax County and Alexandria will be affected by pollution from vehicles exiting I-95, especially from particulate matter equivalent to what was spewed by the coal-fired GenOn electric plant that was closed down last year after a long battle with Alexandria.
“This is a health issue. It’s incumbent on our elected officials to carry this message to Richmond,” said Herb Treger, the vice president of the board of directors of Watergate at Landmark, a community of 4,000 residents that joined Hasty’s coalition. “It’s a government project. Government projects can always be stopped. I worked for the government for 40 years. I know they can be halted until the proper studies are done,” he added.
In order to determine if the project’s environmental impacts met federal safety standards, VDOT studied the location with the most traffic volume in the project corridor, the Springfield interchange, Lynch said. That “worst case scenario” conformed to federal standards clearing the way for construction throughout the corridor, Lynch said.
“For the localized ‘hotspot’ analysis there are guidelines from the EPA to choose different locations for your project and typically you choose the worst place,” Lynch said. “It’s a qualitative analysis. If you do it at the worst case scenario then you assume that it is fine everywhere else.”
VDOT has no plans to stop construction.
“We have no intention of going away,” Treger said.
Follow @MartinDiCaro on Twitter.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
(Derek Wang - Seattle, KUOW) Washington Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond said Tuesday that cracks in the pontoons for the state Route 520 floating bridge project were largely the result of a flawed design by the state.
The pontoons are the floating part of the 520 bridge across Lake Washington, the longest floating bridge in the world. They’re huge concrete structures that support the roadway; the larger pontoons are about the length of a football field and weigh the same as 23 Boeing 747 jetliners.
Last year, cracks were discovered in the pontoons for the new bridge, which prompted then-Governor Chris Gregoire to convene an expert panel to review the situation.
The panel released their findings on Tuesday, and found two reasons for the cracks: the contractor didn’t follow the state’s engineering guidelines as it was building the pontoons, and the state had a faulty design.
WSDOT never ran models that tested the pontoon design.
Specifically, the cracks occurred when the steel bands were used to compress the concrete pontoons, a process called post-tensioning. Originally, those bands were inserted through the lengths of the pontoons.
The fix involves using the same technique but in a different direction. WSDOT said it would insert the steel bands across the width of the pontoons and compress the concrete, which should eliminate the major cracks.
Washington Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond said her department did not follow standards of good practice. She said WSDOT never ran models that tested the pontoon design.
“Engineering is all about analyzing and testing, and checking, whether it’s a pontoon or bridge or highway off ramp. And so I think a step was missed,”she said.
Hammond said she didn’t know why that step was missed, but she said she requested an internal review and heads might roll. “What are the accountabilities for those employees?” she said.
The development comes at a time when there will be a change in leadership at WSDOT. Last week, Governor Jay Inslee announced a new transportation secretary, effective next month.
Hammond said the pontoon problems have been frustrating for her. “I know I’ve taken a very strident approach to lessons learned, what exactly happened, how do we go after making sure this never happens again. And as I leave, if that’s what I can leave the agency, an awareness of what we did wrong and how we can improve ourselves for the future, then I would say that at least that’s a positive note,” she said.
Hammond said the contractor, Kiewit-General Joint Venture, will work to fix the pontoons. The state has about $200 million in its contingency fund to cover the costs. WSDOT will have to negotiate with the contractor to determine which party pays for the repairs of the different cracks, because both WSDOT and Kiewit-General are responsible for the problem.
The work means that the floating section of the bridge will probably open in the fall of 2015, Hammond said. The contract for the floating bridge calls for the project to be open by July 2015, although officials had publicly said they hoped it would be open by the end of 2014.
Follow @DerekJWang on Twitter.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
By Kate Hinds
One day after the federal government ordered Fung Wah's entire bus fleet off the road, the company has been barred from operating out of Boston's South Station. And on Wednesday, the company said it would suspend service.
This ends -- if only temporarily -- Fung Wah's discount service between New York and Boston.
The company used rental buses to operate service between the two cities on Tuesday, but on Wednesday it put up notice on its web site saying it is suspending service until it can inspect and repair its fleet (see above.)
The federal government's order affected the 28 buses owned and operated by Fung Wah. Massachusetts has issued a blanket order that applies to all buses operated by Fung Wah, including vehicles it rents or leases.
“Due to the safety issues involved in the suspension of your company’s right to operate a passenger bus service for a substantial portion of your bus fleet, the MBTA insists that your company immediately cease all passenger bus operation from SSBT until further notice,” reads a letter delivered yesterday by attorneys for Newmark Knight & Frank Global Management Services, the MBTA's managing agent for the South Station Bus Terminal.
“In the interest of safety the MBTA cannot allow buses which have been suspended from operation, or any other buses which are not properly licensed and inspected to operate from SSBT.”
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
By Kate Hinds
The entire passenger fleet of Chinatown bus company Fung Wah has been ordered off the road for an immediate safety inspection.
This news comes a day after the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities found cracks in many bus frames and asked the federal government to declare the company an "imminent safety hazard."
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Fung Wah - which operates between New York and Boston for about $15 each way -- must cease transporting passengers on its 28 vehicles, which must be immediately taken off the road for inspection.
But, says a DOT spokesman, "the company, if it chooses, has the prerogative to rent or lease other vehicles; the company is not shut down."
A phone call to Fung Wah's New York offices earlier Tuesday afternoon would seem to bear this out, as the woman who answered the phone said the company was still operating buses between New York and Boston every hour.
From the DOT:
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has ordered Fung Wah Bus Transportation, Inc., to immediately cease passenger service and provide its entire fleet of 28 motorcoaches for thorough and detailed safety inspections by qualified inspectors. Going forward, FMCSA will continue to work closely with its state law enforcement partners in Massachusetts and New York to ensure the safety of the traveling public.
FMCSA’s safety investigators are continuing their examination of Fung Wah’s operations, including examining the safety records of its vehicles, drivers and other company safety performance requirements prescribed by federal regulations, and may consider additional actions against the company if warranted.
Beau Duffy, a spokesman for the New York State Department of Transportation, said in an email: "We are working with our partners at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the state of Massachusetts to ensure Fung Wah’s buses are not put back in service until they are inspected and any deficiencies are corrected."
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
The airport experience will get more aggravating if Congress does not avoid the automatic budget cuts called sequestration, three Virginia Democratic lawmakers said Monday at a news conference inside Reagan National Airport, predicting fewer flights available and longer security lines.
Representatives Gerry Connolly and Jim Moran and Senator Tim Kaine, flanked by members of air travel and pilots’ groups, issued a warning for every American who plans to fly: cuts to the FAA and TSA budgets would affect key personnel who now man air traffic control towers and security screening checkpoints.
Connolly said, “47,000 [FAA] employees could be furloughed one day per two-week pay period, the equivalent of ten percent of their workforce. That number includes 15,000 air traffic controllers. That will affect the scheduling of flights and the availability of flights.” He added, the sequestration cuts would not force a simple belt-tightening but instead affect staffing levels at airports across the country.
Some Republicans are questioning why the possible $689 million FAA budget cut, which amounts to about four percent of the agency’s $15.9 billion budget, would cause so many problems. Moran said sequestration provides no flexibility to Congress or President Obama.
“The cuts are being concentrated on what’s called discretionary programs, which is a minority of the entire federal budget, and they are also being squeezed into a seven month period out of the fiscal year,” Moran said. “So if you had 12 months in which to spread them out, if you had the ability to identify which programs are a higher priority than others, if you didn’t have to cut every program, project and activity equally, and if you could deal with the entire federal budget, the effect would not be anywhere near as severe.”
“We can fix this. It doesn’t have to be this way. In fact it’s not that hard to fix,” said Kaine, who said congressional Republicans oppose a “balanced approach” to deficit reduction that includes tax increases and spending cuts.
Some Republicans disagree with that assessment.
Virginia Republican Congressman Frank Wolf was invited to the news conference but did not attend. In a statement released by his office, Wolf urged both President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner to embrace “bipartisan plans to turn off sequestration.”
In his letter to the president, Wolf said the best solution is to enact the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles Commission, which he said would reduce the deficit and prevent the automatic federal budget cuts.
The possibility of additional hour long waits on security lines caused by cuts to the TSA’s budget is not sitting well with travelers. Some are angry Congress has failed to reach a deal to avoid disruptions to air travel.
“They ought to go back to school and learn how to add and subtract. This wouldn’t have happened in the first place,” said one woman at Reagan National Airport who declined to provide her name. “I’m totally disgusted with government.”
Others travelers weren’t buying the dire warnings about 90-minute flight delays.
“I feel that decline in services will be fairly minimal, except perhaps for business travelers. I feel like the amount of money being cut is a small percentage of the total,” said Ed Evan as he sat in the US Airways terminal.
If sequestration takes effect, Congress can act later to restore some of the cuts, but Connolly warned the process will be difficult.
“We have a continuing resolution funding the federal government that expires March 27, so there is an opportunity… to try to fix some of these problems,” Connolly said. “But you have to remember that once sequestration kicks in, that creates a new baseline for the continuing resolution. In other words, the new number is minus the sequestration.”
It remains unclear how much wiggle room the FAA and TSA will have to adjust air traffic controllers’ and security screeners’ work schedules to maintain adequate staffing during peak travel times and the coming summer vacation months.
“The fact is no one knows right now what the impact of the sequester will be,” said Geoff Freeman, the chief operating officer of the U.S. Travel Association.
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
By Kate Hinds
Cheaper car insurance rates can now be yours, New Yorkers -- if you drive fewer miles more safely, and agree to attach an electronic monitoring device to your car's dashboard.
It's called usage-based insurance, and it's already in place in dozens of states across the country. It is relatively new to New York, however, and now city officials and the two companies offering it are trumpeting its benefits to boost enrollment.
Under this type of insurance, drivers agree to attach a monitoring device to their car's electrical system. That device relays behavioral information like speed, number of miles driven, time of day the car is used, and how often -- and hard -- the brakes are hit. (The device is not a GPS device, insurers hasten to add.) The data is analyzed and a premium rate computed. Currently, only Progressive and Allstate are offering this type of insurance in New York.
New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said this type of insurance incentivizes good driving. "I think that when people realize they can save real money, and you can save money by driving safely, I think we'll see safer driving and money in the pockets of New Yorkers." She said it makes good financial sense for New Yorkers, who tend to drive less than people in other parts of the country because of the availability of public transit.
Which is a good thing. "There's really a big public policy benefit to a program like this," said Dave Pratt, Progressive’s general manager of usage-based insurance. "If you can save money by driving less, avoiding dangerous times of day and driving more safely, we might actually encourage people not to drive as much, so there wouldn't be quite as much traffic."
Pratt added "we've seen some evidence that being in the program does help people to drive more safely."
The devices also allow users to track their own driving habits via computer.
Allstate and Progress say the program is purely voluntary, and it rewards good behavior without punishing bad. So drivers who routinely speed down the Thruway at 2am won't be slapped with higher premiums. (Or, as Progressive's Flo puts it in a commercial, "before you worry your pretty little heads -- no, your rates can't go up.")
Read more about the usage-based insurance on the NYC DOT's website here.
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
Metro employees will soon be able to anonymously report "close calls" and other safety hazards.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is working with the federal government to set up a hotline. It's one of the recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board after a deadly 2009 Red Line crash that killed nine people and injured 80 others. That crash was the deadliest episode in Metro history, and ensuing investigation uncovered rampant safety problems at the transit agency.
WMATA is working with the rail worker's union to establish the confidential “close call” reporting system. The goal is to catch potential safety hazards that would otherwise go undetected by Metro’s usual safety reporting systems. Metro employees would be able to report problems without fear of retribution.
“This is a partnership with our union, Local 689 Amalgamated Transit Union, and we are working out a memorandum of understanding with the union to determine the parameters of the program,” said Andrea Burnside, Metro’s chief performance officer. “It is very important to have it confidential because employees will not be willing to participate in the program.”
Exactly what would constitute a “close call” is being hammered out in negotiations with the union, Burnside said.
Improving safety -- and convincing the public their safety on the rail lines is being taken seriously -- ranks as a Metro priority since the Red Line crash. WMATA approached the U.S. Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics for help in creating the reporting program.
"Systems that allow confidential reporting of safety violations are an important part of creating a safety culture in an organization," said DOT spokesman Justin Nisly in an email to Transportation Nation. "The Bureau of Transportation Statistics currently operates a similar safety reporting system for rail that analyzes safety issues to identify trends, new sources of risk, and helps develop preventive safety actions to address them. Because of that expertise, WMATA approached the BTS to help set up their close call reporting program."
New Jersey Transit was the first passenger rail system in the country to establish a confidential reporting system, back in 2009.
“We are getting a positive response,” said New Jersey Transit spokeswoman Nancy Snyder, who said their program is creating a culture where employees are more apt to report problems from the serious to the more routine. “When they see some infrastructure issues they report it to us. They don t have to worry about any type of reprimand,” Snyder said. “Rail yard efficiencies have improved. We‘re getting improved safety in and around our yards as well as operational efficiencies during our morning rush hours and afternoon rush hours.”
Based on New Jersey Transit's program, the U.S. DOT estimates it may receive 400 close call reports each year in D.C. But Burnside cautions that Metro's system is different than New Jersey's, and the definition of what would constitute a "close call" on Metro rail has yet to be determined.
A potential start date for Metro's program has not been established. The "close call" program is part of Metro's long-range strategic plan.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
For years, Orlando has ranked among the most dangerous metro areas for pedestrians in the nation, with roughly two injuries per day and one fatality a week. Now a coalition of pedestrian advocates, law enforcement, local government and health agencies is trying to change that, with a program called Best Foot Forward. And eight months after the program launched, there are some signs of improvement.
Transportation experts say there are three steps needed to make the roads safer for pedestrians: education, enforcement and engineering. Orlando is trying all three, but it still has a long way to go to change the culture for people on foot.
“It’s pretty abominable,” says Bill Carpenter, a volunteer collecting data for the Best Foot Forward Program. He says pedestrians haven’t had much of a voice in Central Florida until now.
Carpenter is monitoring how drivers behave at crosswalks. A pickup truck approaches the intersection of Rollins street and Camden road in Winter Park. Carpenter steps cautiously into the road stretching out one hand to point down at the crosswalk. The driver doesn’t stop.
“Motorists reactions run the gamut," says Carpenter. "There’s some that begrudgingly stop, then others that wave back at you and say thanks for waiting there for me and go on.”
This dangerous dance is repeated daily all over the city by other pedestrians.
In East Orlando, a restaurant worker called Tony makes his way to a bus stop on South Semoran Boulevard, near Curry Ford Road.
“This intersection here, it’s crazy," says Tony. He says drivers aren't courteous. "No. They’d rather run you over.”
Badly injured pedestrians go to the Orlando Regional Medical Center, which is part of the Best Foot Forward Coalition. Last year doctors at the center treated over 400 patients who’d been hit by cars.
But there are signs the education campaign is starting to have an effect, says project manager Brad Kuhn.
“On those roads at 35 miles an hour and less, we’ve been able to take the yield rate from about one in eleven to approaching one in three.”
That means at some of the 18 crosswalks being monitored in Orlando and Orange county, more drivers are yielding now for pedestrians than they were six months ago.
Kuhn’s organization, Bike Walk Central Florida, has reached out to 88,000 households to promote pedestrian safety, and 11 Orange County elementary schools are teaching a pedestrian safety syllabus. But, says Kuhn, high-speed roads are still a problem.
“By the time you see the pedestrian, you’re already past them," he says, "which is unfortunate, because on a 40-mile-an-hour road, your chance of survival if you get hit is 15 per cent.”
Enforcement is used to back up the education campaign. Last year police and sheriff’s officers handed out more than 1,200 tickets and arrested 20 drivers for failing to yield at crosswalks.
Orlando Police sergeant Jerry Goglas says some drivers try to blame the pedestrian. “They say: “did you see the pedestrian jaywalking, why is the pedestrian in the road?” Some of them are not understanding once a pedestrian is in a marked crosswalk the driver has to yield.”
Best Foot Forward is trying out low-cost engineering like signs and road markings-- but the coalition is also interested in something called the Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon.
It’s a small box mounted on a pole at a crosswalk. When activated, a bright LED light flashes towards the eyes of approaching drivers, signaling them to stop. In St. Petersburg, on the other side of the state, these beacons have helped cut the pedestrian accident rate in half over the last ten years.
Pedestrian advocate Bill Carpenter thinks these beacons could help in Orlando, but he says changing drivers attitudes is a long term project. “I’d hate to venture a guess, but it’s going to take longer than six or 12 months. It’s going to take a lot.”
The Florida Department of Transportation is also engaged around the state trying to make the roads safer and it’s rolling out a pedestrian awareness campaign focusing on ten counties with high pedestrian crash rates. In the meantime, Best Foot Forward hopes its early success will eventually translate into fewer pedestrians winding up in hospital.
Thursday, February 14, 2013
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
(Washington, D.C.) The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority says miscommunication among emergency responders contributed to the January 30th fiasco on Metro's Green Line that left hundreds of passengers stranded on dark, overheated trains, while others 'self-evacuated' into tunnels.
A formal report on the incident was presented at the transit agency’s board meeting Thursday, and it recounts what happens when two packed Green Line trains heading outbound toward the Anacostia station in Southeast D.C. shortly before 4:30 p.m. ran into a problem. A malfunctioning electrical insulator was smoking, so the trains had to be single-tracked around it -- a fairly routine procedure. But what happened next was not.
“Due to a miscommunication between Metro transit police officials and their liaison in the rail control center, police on the platform at Anacostia were unaware of the planned train route, and when they saw the train lights coming in on Track 2 believed there was an immediate life safety threat to the track personnel repairing the insulator,” said Dave Kubicek, Metro’s deputy general manager of operations. He presented a report, entitled "Green Line Incident, Anacostia," (pdf) at the transit agency’s board meeting Thursday.
So police shut down the power to the third rail -- causing the two rush hour trains to stop in the tunnel, the first not far from the Anacostia platform. A short time later, Metro was ready to turn the power back on. Except: “They received reports of self-evacuations and determined it was no longer safe to restore power or move the trains,” Kubicek said.
Metro’s report says the last of the stranded passengers were de-boarded at Anacostia an hour and 20 minutes after power was lost -- but not before experiencing hellish conditions. "Several medical emergencies were reported to the operator via the intercom, mostly
related to heat and stress. However, one passenger had a seizure and the operator rendered aid to her," reads a section of the report.
The investigation found that the agency’s response to the trains “was faster than in prior incidents and improvements were evident in several key areas of emergency response.” Some Metro board members said the most dangerous aspect of this episode was the decisions by passengers on both stranded trains to escape and walk down the tunnels against the wishes of the train operators. On the train further from the platform, the report says “one passenger challenged the operator by demanding information about when power would be restored. Against the operator’s urging, this passenger and others began self-evacuating.”
Metro also reviewed its attempts to communicate with stranded passengers during the incident and found many passengers were frustrated with incomplete information. While Metro staff sent out 79 service update Tweets, and one of the train operators was commended, the report also found "Metro officials on the scene who failed to make their presence known to customers throughout the train (and) made inadequate announcements to share information with passengers."
The incident forced Metro’s General Manager to issue an apology to customers via email. Among the investigation’s recommendations is to reinforce proper procedures for transit police after the activation of an Emergency Trip Station, which can shut down third rail power in the area of a mechanical problem.
Read the report here.
Follow Martin Di Caro on Twitter @MartinDiCaro
Monday, February 11, 2013
New England is still digging out of a blizzard that dumped over three feet of snow in many places. We could show you lots of pictures or looping short videos of treacherous transportation, but as we are a public radio reporting project here at Transportation Nation, we offer instead the sounds of the great blizzard dig-out of 2013.
Thursday, February 07, 2013
As a blizzard moves through New York City area, we're keeping our transit tracker updated to help you plan your travel and navigate the alerts issued by several agencies.
The brunt of the storm is expected to hit late Friday and into Saturday, with heavy snow and high winds. Expect extra trains and buses Friday afternoon to help folks who want to get home early, and then fewer later in the day.
Wednesday, February 06, 2013
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) A Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official says a built-out World Trade Center site will be less vulnerable to future storms like Sandy once construction is done by 2020. But the authority hasn't decided what to do in the meantime to protect the site from rising tides.
Construction sites that include open pits, as does the 16-acre World Trade Center site, are vulnerable to flooding. And much of the site is built on landfill where the Hudson River once flowed--and would flow again if not for retaining walls.
But Port Authority executive director Pat Foye wouldn't elaborate on what steps could be taken to protect the site from flooding while under construction, and harden the site once construction is done in an age of climate change and rising sea levels.
"Port Authority people and outside experts are looking at how to make the site more resilient," Foye said. He wouldn't give details about possible mitigation efforts beyond saying, "The review continues."
Foye estimated it will cost $2 billion to repair storm damage to the World Trade Center, along with the rest of the authority's facilities, including airports, bridges and tunnels. Foye said $800 million alone is needed to fix the PATH train system, which only recently returned some of its lines to a pre-Sandy schedule.
Foye said insurance reimbursements and FEMA payments should cover those costs."There will be no material impact on the budget," he said.
Still under construction in Lower Manhattan is One World Trade Center, which carries a price tag of $3.8 billion, making it the world's most expensive new office tower. To offset the costs of the 1,776-foot skyscraper, the authority last year levied higher bridge and tunnel tolls and reduced spending on transportation infrastructure.
One World Trade Center is scheduled to be done by early next year. But some part of the larger World Trade Center site will be under construction, and vulnerable to flooding, for at least the next eight years.