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Transportation Nation

Prediction: D.C. Area Highway and Transit Crowding Will Get Worse

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Washington DC - I-395 from D NW (photo by thisisbossi via flickr)

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) The Washington metropolitan region faces worsening traffic congestion and transit crowding as its population and job growth expand over the next three decades, according to a forecast released on Wednesday by a regional planning group.

The forecast by transportation planners at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments says large investments in infrastructure and improved land use policies are necessary to reduce the burden on an overtaxed highway and rail system.

“We’ve had a long period of time of inadequate funding for transportation,” said Ron Kirby, the director of the council’s Department of Transportation Planning, whose forecast says transit and roadway congestion will increase despite the expected billions of dollars in investments between now and 2040. It will take even more money, he said.

“The issues of Metro’s rehabilitation are well known but perhaps less well known is the lack of capacity expansion. We haven’t gotten to eight-car trains on Metro rail,” Kirby said, referring to Metro’s ongoing multi-billion dollar rehab project that does not include the addition of rail cars.

If 50 percent of Metro trains consist of eight cars by 2040, the forecast says the red, orange, yellow, and green lines will be congested (100-120 passengers per car) or highly congested (120+ passengers per car). Only the blue line would be rated satisfactory. If 100 percent of Metro trains consist of eight cars by 2040, the orange, yellow, and green lines will still be congested, according to the forecast, which is an aggregation of statistics and projections provided to the council by its member jurisdictions.

The forecast for the region’s highways is similar. Morning congestion traveling in the direction of the region’s core will worsen along I-95 in Prince William County, I-70 East in Frederick, I-270 South in Frederick and Montgomery Counties, I-66 East in Prince William and Fairfax, and the Dulles Toll Road Eastbound in Loudoun and Fairfax. The inner and outer loops of the Beltway will be more congested in Maryland, the forecast says.

“Carpooling is expected to increase some, because we do have some facilities coming on line,” said Kirby, referring to the just-completed 495 Express Lanes and under-construction 95 Express Lanes. “But there’s been relatively limited new highway capacity. At the same time, we are having very strong growth in the outer jurisdictions where there is relatively little transit. So those trips, whether they are work trips or non-work trips, are very dependent on the road system.”

The forecast says the region’s population will grow by 24 percent to 6.5 million by 2040. Employment is projected to grow by 37 percent, adding 1.1 million jobs.

As people and jobs flock to D.C. and its suburbs, choice of transportation mode will not dramatically change, according to Kirby’s projections. By 2040, 57 percent of all commuting trips will be made by people driving on their own, a four percent decrease from current levels. Carpooling is expected to increase from 11 to 14 percent of commuting trips, transit will remain steady at 24 percent, and biking and walking will increase from four to five percent.

Some lawmakers who sit on the Council of Governments board take issue with the forecast, saying its extrapolations do not account for changes in policy and other factors.

“It would be a mistake to think that’s what the future is going to be,” said Chris Zimmerman, a member of the Arlington County Board and proponent of transit-oriented development.

Zimmerman disagrees with the forecast’s projection that employment will grow fastest in the outer jurisdictions of Virginia, although the highest concentration of jobs will remain in D.C., Fairfax County and Montgomery County.

“The real question is where do you want the growth in jobs and population to be? That’s not a foregone conclusion,” Zimmerman said.  “Almost all the growth in this region and the rest of the country is happening in more developed areas because the market is pushing it that way. If land use regulations change in ways that accommodate what the market wants to do, we’ll see an accelerated trend.”

Zimmerman says the future should not be seen as a competition between either cars or transit; transit-oriented development that combines retail, office, and residential properties in close proximity to a Metro station also encourages more walking.

“The reason for doing transit-oriented development is not simply to get more people on transit, but to get more people out of having to use any kind of vehicle for five, six, seven trips a day,” he said.

Zimmerman acknowledges the highway system will always need significant funding for maintenance and improvements, but if a million more jobs are coming to the region by 2040 it makes more sense – in his view – to attract them to places that workers can reach without a car.

Kirby’s forecast says the average number of jobs accessible within 45 minutes by transit will increase from the current 419,000 to 499,000 in 2040, a projection Zimmerman says will change with better land use policies.

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Transportation Nation

NY MTA Takes On Major Debt Rather Than Raise Tolls & Fares To Pay For Sandy

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

NY MTA Chairman Joe Lhota.

(New York, NY - WNYC) The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority held a board meeting Wednesday -- its first after Sandy -- and the main topic was how to solve a conundrum: filling the $5 billion hole that the storm blew in the agency's budget while simultaneously rebuilding New York's damaged transportation system.

NY MTA Chairman Joe Lhota seemed determined to assure the public that the agency, at the very least, had a plan. He began by saying revenue will not be raised by additional increases to planned toll and fare hikes in 2013 and 2015.

"The burden of Sandy will not be upon our riders," he said. "I have an enormous amount of confidence in our federal government that we will receive a substantial amount of money to get us back to the condition of functionality we had the day before the storm."

He said he didn't expect to see service cutbacks--though he didn't rule them out--and that he'd stick to a pledge to add or restore $29 million in subway and bus service.

Lhota said he is expecting FEMA and insurance to pick up 75 percent of the $5 billion tab. And he's hoping FEMA will boosts its reimbursement up to 95 percent. But the MTA can't count on that. As of now, the authority is on the hook for $950 million, which it needs right away to rebuild.

They'll get it by issuing $950 million in bonds. Lhota said the move will add $125 million to the authority's debt burden over the next three years. The best Lhota could say about where the money would come from is "cost-cutting measures" that are "unidentified at this time."

The MTA is paying $2 billion dollars in debt service this year. By 2018, debt service is expected to gobble up 20 percent of the authority's revenue. That's before figuring in the nearly $1 billion in debt that it voted to add Wednesday.

Lhota said the budget setback would not stop the authority's megaprojects, which are funded by its capital program. The Second Avenue subway, the East Side Access tunnel between Long Island and Grand Central Terminal, and the 7 train extension are essentially funded and nearing completion. Sandy delayed their construction but didn't flood them.

Today's decision to bring on more debt raised an alarm with Gene Russianoff of the New York Straphangers Campaign, an advocacy group. "Funding these needs by MTA bonds will increase pressure on fares through increased debt service - and it sets a troubling precedent for the funding of the next five-year capital program starting in 2015," he said in a statement.

Lhota added that all of the $5 billion will be spent on restoring transit to its pre-Sandy state. (Repairing the South Ferry Station alone is projected to cost $600 million.) None of the funds will be used to harden the system against future storms. That's going to take a whole other pile of money that hasn't been located yet.

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Transportation Nation

Virginia to Study Traffic over Potomac River

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Woodrow Wilson Bridge, stretching over the Potomac River in Virginia (photo by catface3 via flickr)

The Virginia Department of Transportation will study traffic volume over the Potomac River in an effort to determine where the most people and goods will cross as the region’s population grows, the agency said Tuesday.

The study – scheduled for completion next spring – will not recommend a solution but instead provide a basis for consultations with transportation officials in the District of Columbia and Maryland about how best to improve transportation across the river from Point of Rocks in the west to the Route 301 bridge in the east.

“We want to essentially gauge and develop the data from which we can make some informed decisions regarding the best alternatives to deal with the current traffic conditions and what we expect in the future,” said Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton in an interview with Transportation Nation.

Connaughton downplayed the possibility his office would push for the construction of a new bridge over the Potomac.

“We’re really not prejudging anything. In fact, we’re not really getting into what’s the best alternative,” he said.

The study already has its critics, who say the Republican administration of Governor Bob McDonnell has been pushing for a new Potomac River bridge for years.

“They are pushing for another bridge even though the real fixes we need to make are at the American Legion Bridge,” said Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which supports expanding mass transit instead of road expansions.  To Schwartz, a new bridge connecting Virginia and Maryland would lead to more congestion and sprawl.  He favors implementing transit options on the American Legion Bridge.

“In the near term, that can be buses on dedicated bus lanes with frequent service, connecting the Red Line and the Silver Line, connecting Tysons Corner and Fairfax County job centers with the Montgomery County job centers,” he said.  “Fortunately, Fairfax County and Montgomery County have already met and are pursuing the transit investments that are needed both short term and long term.”

Connaughton disputes the allegation the McDonnell administration is after a new “outer beltway” at the expense of mass transit investments.

“This is one of the things that will be the hallmark of the McDonnell administration, is that we are pursuing increased transit opportunities, as well as dealing with congestion on our roadways, and looking for bike paths and pedestrian paths.  We are doing everything.  This is not a one-solution-fits-all,” he said.

If Virginia officials privately favor building another Potomac River span, they may meet resistance across the river.  In an October letter to Secretary Connaughton, Acting Maryland Secretary of Transportation Darrell Mobley clarified his agency’s position.

“The Maryland Department of Transportation’s (MDOT's) highest priority remains the preservation of our existing infrastructure and the safety of the traveling public. MDOT does not intend to revisit the years of debate regarding new crossings of the Potomac River,” the letter said. “We are interested in the study of potential improvements to existing crossings, including: the Governor Nice Bridge along the US 301 corridor, the American Legion Bridge on the Capital Beltway, and the potential addition of transit across the Wilson Bridge.”

Connaughton said he believes D.C. and Maryland officials are in agreement that a study of future traffic volume is necessary. As far as a possible solution, he said, “we haven’t gotten there yet.”

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Transportation Nation

Poll Captures Storm Surge Of Positive Feelings For NY MTA, Gas Rationing

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

NY MTA chairman Joe Lhota, flanked by NY Governor Andrew Cuomo and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, looking pleased while announcing the re-opening of a flooded tunnel last week.(photo by Jim O'Grady / WNYC)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Poll results show that Superstorm Sandy has remade two kinds of landscapes in New York: physical and psychological. Beachfront is gone, trees are uprooted and whole communities have been forcibly rearranged by a monster tide. No less dramatically, a majority of New Yorkers are expressing love not only for their elected officials but everyone's favorite bureaucratic whipping boy, the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

You read that correctly.

The latest Quinnipiac University poll finds 75 percent of New Yorkers rated the authority's performance during and after Sandy at "excellent" or "good." That's better than the Red Cross's 66 percent approval rating, and the dismal 37 percent approval for the region's utility companies, which struggled at times to bring the power back.

NY MTA chairman Joe Lhota was highly visible in the days and weeks following the storm as his workers methodically pumped out no less than seven under-river tunnels and, one by one, got them back to carrying trains and vehicular traffic.

The NY MTA also showed a fair degree of nimbleness by running shuttle buses over cross-river bridges until the subways were dried out. (Taking a cue, the NY Department of Transportation today announced its plan to run a temporary ferry from the hard-hit South Shore of Staten Island to Manhattan.) And the authority captured the public imagination with an online map that showed the the subway recovering in real time.

The Quinnipiac poll, which surveyed more than 1,000 registered voters in New York, also reported that Mayor Bloomberg's odd-even gas rationing system won favor by 85 to 12 percent. Other winners: President Obama, New York Governor Cuomo and, with the best numbers, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. See the full results here.

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MWAA Votes to Raise Fees on Dulles Toll Road

Thursday, November 15, 2012

(photo by bankbryan via flickr)

The agency managing the largest public rail expansion in the nation voted to increase tolls on a Virginia highway in part to help fund construction of the Silver Line.

On Wednesday, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority unanimously approved raising the full, one-way toll on the Dulles Toll Road to $2.75 effective January 1, an increase of $.50.  In January 2014 toll will increase to $3.50.

The toll increases are a major part of the financing plan for the Silver Line extension to Dulles International Airport, a 23-mile, $5.5 billion project whose first phase is scheduled for completion late next year. The MWAA board put off a decision to increase tolls again in 2015 because of the possibility of obtaining additional state and/or federal dollars.

MWAA has two avenues to secure additional funds: Virginia’s General Assembly, which has provided only $150 million to date, and the federal TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act) loan program.

“Our project is, bar none, (one) of the more worthy projects in the country for TIFIA loan financing,” said MWAA Board Chairman Michael Curto in remarks to reporters after the agency’s vote. “We’ve seen the enhanced TIFIA loan program so we’re positioned well, given that the project is shovel ready.  We’re ready to move."

Curto is not the only public official who has expressed optimism a federal loan with come through.  However, MWAA has a lot of competition for TIFIA dollars. Nineteen major transportation projects totaling $27 billion are currently applying for loans, and Congress has authorized $1.75 billion for TIFIA the next two fiscal years.

“The pool is very small compared to what the needs are just for our rail system,” said Terry Maynard, a board member of the Reston Citizens Association, which represents 58,000 residents in a Fairfax County tax district.  “It's going to be very hard to get a significant contribution.”

The association opposes not the Silver Line’s construction but its financing plan, which leaves fifty percent of the entire project’s cost on Dulles Toll Road users (75 percent of Phase II).

“We really want this to get built and succeed,” Maynard said. “We are pressing that all the money [MWAA] receives relieve the burden on toll road users.” Fairfax County residents have relayed their concerns to MWAA that drivers looking to avoid higher tolls will opt for already congested secondary roads, further clogging their communities with traffic.

Curto promised that MWAA will lobby Richmond for additional funding. He declined to criticize the McDonnell administration’s spending priorities, which have seen hundreds of millions of dollars allocated for highway expansions.

“We are going to reach out, work closely and hope to encourage the governor’s administration and the folks in Richmond that Dulles Rail should be the recipient of additional funds.  As Secretary LaHood said, it is a model project,” Curto said.

 

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Crucial East River Tunnel In NYC Now Half-Open

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

NY Governor Cuomo, NY MTA Chief Joe Lhota and US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announce partial opening of Hugh Carey Tunnel in NYC. (photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Cars can now use one of the two tubes of the Hugh Carey Tunnel, formerly the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, in New York.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, who held a press conference at the mouth of the tunnel with NY MTA chief Joe Lhota and US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, said crews have worked around the clock to repair Sandy damage.

"When you saw this tunnel just a week ago, it was filled with water floor to ceiling," he recalled. "It defied belief, what was in this tunnel. And now 15 days later, one of the tubes will open."

Cuomo said both tubes of the 1.7 mile tunnel--the longest vehicular under-river crossing in North America--were flooded with 43 million gallons of debris-laden seawater that damaged electrical, lighting, communications, surveillance and ventilation systems.

The eastern tube -- the one usually dedicated to vehicles traveling from Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan -- is now open to Brooklyn-bound cars and buses for the evening commute from 3 pm to 7.  Friday morning, it will be open for Manhattan-bound traffic during the morning rush between 6 and 10. No trucks are allowed for now.

The governor said the western tunnel suffered worse damage and will not be open for another "few weeks." With both tubes in operation, the tunnel normally carries 50,000 vehicles on an average weekday.

Cuomo is asking the federal government for $30 billion in disaster aid, including $3.5 billion to repair the metropolitan area's bridges, tunnels and subway and commuter rail lines. That request is pending. In the meantime, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is pitching in with $10 million from the highway trust fund.

At the press conference, LaHood explained: "I’m here because the president has said to us, 'Get to New York. Do what you can, when you can do it, as often as you can do it. Take your cues form the governor.'" He said the $10 million request was approved in two hours, before implying that President Obama will come bearing many more relief funds when he visits New York on Thursday.

When a reporter asked the governor whether the U.S. Department of Transportation could cover the whole price tag for the state's recovery from Sandy, Cuomo deadpanned to LaHood, "You don’t have $30 billion dollars, do you?" The answer was, no.

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Transportation Nation

Was It Worth It? Maryland Says New Highway Meets Expectations; Critics Aren't So Sure

Thursday, November 08, 2012

The Intercounty Connector at down (photo by Jessica Jordan)

As the one-year anniversary of the Inter-County Connector approaches, the Maryland Transportation Authority says the highway is meeting its traffic volume and revenue projections. But critics of the $3 billion road don't trust the state's data.

Greg Smith of Maryland-based advocacy group Community Research is one of those critics. As he looks at the ICC at the New Hampshire Avenue interchange right before rush hour, what he sees is a relatively empty highway.

"Well, it is remarkably light for a six-lane, $3 billion interstate highway," Smith says.

Smith, whose group fought the construction of the ICC, believes the 18-mile highway cutting across Montgomery County to connect I-270 in the west with I-95 in the east was a waste of money and -- that the state's traffic figures are nonsense.

"They are cherry-picking their numbers. The Transportation Authority knows full well that the volumes they are getting on the ICC today are far lower than the volumes they had in their official document of record, the Environmental Impact Statement where they ran the numbers for 2010 and 2030," Smith says. "They were projecting much higher volumes, in the order of 100,000-plus vehicles per day on the western end, in the opening year."

But the MTA disputes Smith's claim. Traffic volume is higher than projected on the western-most segment, and slightly lower on the eastern-most portion of the ICC, according to MTA numbers. Weekday traffic averages more than 35,000 vehicles per day between Interstate-370 and Georgia Avenue in the west; 26,000 vehicles per weekday between Route 29 and Interstate-95 in the east.

"Daily traffic volumes are consistent with our projections and are growing at a rate of about three percent on average per month," says MTA spokesman John Sales.

When the ICC first opened to traffic last year, tolls weren't charged until December -- at which point traffic volumes dropped. And it still hasn't exceeded the volume from the last day of toll-free traffic that month.

"Nobody looking at this road and seeing how virtually empty it is would say this was worth $3 billion and taking 60 families' homes," Smith says.

But the ICC was not designed to be at full capacity immediately after opening, Sales says, adding it takes about three years for traffic volume to ramp up on a new toll road. In addition, he says E-ZPass toll revenues have actually exceeded projections.

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Transportation Nation

Virginia Homeowners Fight 95 Express Lanes Ramp

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

A homeowners’ group in Alexandria is fighting a proposal by Virginia transportation planners to build a highway ramp near their homes.

Concerned Residents of Overlook, an upscale community adjacent to I-395, wants the Virginia Department of Transportation to relocate a ramp that will serve as the northern terminus of the 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.

“The ramp is going to be about 75 feet from my house,” said Mary Hasty, who has lived in Overlook for ten years. Hasty says she's learned to live with the constant din of highway traffic but did not expect VDOT would ever build an exit ramp so close to her residence.

“You get used to the hum of traffic, but I certainly never anticipated that I’d have cars 75 feet from my house and my patio and garden,” she said.

The group claims VDOT failed to adequately study noise and air quality impacts that will result when traffic exits the new express lanes onto I-395 or local roads. The neighbors fear exiting highway traffic will back up and idle on the exit ramp.

“Our biggest issue is that they moved the end point, called the terminus, of the HOT lanes from Crystal City, Arlington County to our backyard and they did not do any studies specifically to determine the impact on our communities,” Hasty said.

Hasty’s friend and neighbor, Sue Okubo, said the ramp will ruin property values, too.

“Already a number of neighbors are putting their houses on the market,” Okubo said.

“Maybe there won’t be an impact.  I don’t believe that.  That’s why we are having independent studies to determine what the impact is. We are late in the game and it is a David vs. Goliath scenario, but we are pushing really hard.” Hasty added.

Construction of the ramp is already underway.  Relocating it is unlikely, according to state officials.

“It would be very difficult to make a change at this point having gone through a lot of the studies and approvals at the state, regional, and federal levels,” said John Lynch, VDOT’s regional transportation director for Virginia megaprojects. Lynch refuted the homeowners’ claims that the state failed to study traffic and pollution scenarios.

“We went through the federal requirements and developed an environmental assessment which includes analysis for both noise and air quality,” Lynch said.  “The bottom line is those studies met all the federal requirements and it was reviewed by both the Federal Highway Administration and Environmental Protection Agency. We wouldn’t have gotten approval to move forward with this project if it didn’t meet those requirements.”

Lynch said VDOT responded to residents’ concerns by extending auxiliary lanes to mitigate traffic congestion at the future interchange, adding that all the pertinent documents have been shared with the Overlook community.

“We have been very transparent in providing all of the information that they requested,” Lynch said.  “We’ve met with the community multiple times both in 2011 and 2012 during project development.”

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Transportation Nation

Tuesday Commute: NY MTA, NJ Transit Update

Monday, November 05, 2012

Subway alert on 11/5/12 (photo by Kate Hinds)

For your Tuesday New York-New Jersey commute, some updated information from the MTA and NJ Transit. The press releases are below.

1. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has restored additional subway, bus and commuter rail services in time for the Tuesday morning rush hour. Sections of the A, B and C Trains Will Reopen For Tuesday Morning Rush

Service on the A train will be restored in upper Manhattan to the 207 St station. That will allow service on the C train to be extended to the 168 St station. The B train will begin running between Bedford Park Boulevard in the Bronx and Kings Highway in Brookyn. The Q train will extend service from 57 St – 7 Av in Manhattan to Brighton Beach in Brookyn.

There was significant crowding Monday morning on the 1-2-3 trains on the West Side of Manhattan. MTA New York City Transit is studying ways to adjust signals for the 1 train in lower Manhattan that will allow them to turn around faster, improving the frequency of service and reducing crowding.

The top subway priority is now restoring service on the G and L trains through northwest Brooklyn, where alternate service on the J and M trains was extremely crowded. The G tunnel under Newtown Creek has been pumped out but extensive work remains to repair the signal system. The L tunnel under the East River is still being pumped. NYCT will run extra buses on the B62 route to offer additional service through the area.

Queens Midtown Tunnel Opens For Rush Hour Buses
MTA Bridges and Tunnels will open one lane of the Queens Midtown Tunnel for buses only during rush hour Tuesday. One lane of the south tube will be open for Manhattan-bound buses from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., and for Queens-bound buses from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. The tunnel will be closed to traffic at all other times.

The Queens Midtown Tunnel was flooded with storm surge and sustained significant damage to its mechanical systems that must be repaired. No timetable has been established to reopen the tunnel to general traffic.

The Hugh L. Carey Tunnel, formerly known as the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, was also flooded by storm surge. Pumping operations continue at the tunnel and there is no timetable for reopening it.

MTA Voter Shuttle
The MTA will provide special “MTA Voter Shuttle” buses Tuesday on Staten Island, in Coney Island and in the Rockaways to carry voters from damaged polling places to alternate sites established by the Board of Elections.

The free MTA Voter Shuttles will run in 15- to 20-minute intervals from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. to help voters, particularly those displaced by the storm, get to polling stations. They are in addition to other scheduled bus service in the affected areas.

MTA buses will also be dispatched to carry Board of Elections polling station workers from the Queens headquarters in Kew Gardens to their newly assigned polling stations in the three areas.

Long Island Rail Road
The MTA Long Island Rail Road will restore train service between Ronkonkoma and Riverhead on Tuesday, with connecting bus service from Riverhead to Greenport. The LIRR continues to operate a modified schedule on all branches except the Long Beach branch, and east of Speonk on the Montauk branch.

The LIRR’s modified service is required since two of Amtrak’s four East River tunnels are out of service from flooding associated with Hurricane Sandy. Modified service will be restored to Hunterspoint Avenue and trains will be added between Freeport and Atlantic Terminal.

Because service will be limited, waits will be longer and trains will be more crowded.  In the evening rush hour, customers should expect crowded conditions in Penn Station.  Customers are advised to stagger work hours and travel in off-peak hours, if possible, to help reduce crowding in the peak periods.

2. NJ TRANSIT EMERGENCY BUS SHUTTLE INFORMATION

Newark, NJ -
NJ TRANSIT has made a number of adjustments and refinements to its emergency trans-Hudson transportation plan based on this morning’s commute to most efficiently match the available bus, rail and ferry resources with the needs of state citizens.

The adjustments include the consolidation of eight emergency park & ride lots to four, based on Monday’s real-time ridership. Buses that were used in emergency service at Bridgewater, Woodbridge and Willowbrook Mall, as well as Newark Liberty International Airport have been redistributed to alleviate crowding on buses traveling through South Orange, Jersey City, Hoboken and Newark, to New York.

Customers utilizing the emergency bus service plan can ride the buses at no cost.  Customers utilizing ferry and light rail services will still be responsible for paying normal light rail and ferry fares except Statue Cruise Lines in Liberty State Park.

Buses will operate to and from the following limited-capacity transportation hubs:


Ramsey (Ramsey/Rt. 17 Station)

  • Suburban Transit/Coach USA to operate 15 buses from Ramsey/Rt. 17 Station to Weehawken/Port Imperial from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. for light rail/ferry connections.
  • Suburban Transit/Coach USA to operate 15 buses from Weehawken/Port Imperial to Ramsey/Rt. 17 Station from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Meadowlands, MetLife Stadium, Lots J&K (1 MetLife Stadium)

  • Suburban Transit/Coach USA to operate 25 buses from Meadowlands MetLife Stadium to Weehawken/Port Imperial from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. for light rail/ ferry connections.
  • Suburban Transit/Coach USA to operate 25 buses from Weehawken/Port Imperial to the Meadowlands MetLife Stadium from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Holmdel, Garden State Parkway Exit 116 (PNC Arts Center)

  • Academy Bus to operate 130 buses from the PNC Arts Center from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. to:
    • Lower Manhattan
    • Port Authority Bus Terminal
    • Newark Penn Station
  • Academy Bus to operate 130 buses between 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. from:
    • Lower Manhattan
    • Port Authority Bus Terminal – 41st between 8th and 9th
    • Newark Penn Station – Greyhound Bus Stop

Jersey City (Liberty State Park, Liberty Science Center)

Community/Coach USA to operate 10 buses from Liberty State Park to shuttle customers to Statue Cruise Lines Ferry Service to Battery Park from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., 1 p.m. to 2 p.m., and from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m.  Ferry service from this location will be offered free of charge.

Emergency bus service to Lower Manhattan has been coordinated following the approval of, and collaboration with the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey as well as the New York City Department of Transportation. Pick-up and drop-off locations will take place at the following, designated Suburban Transportation bus stops:

  • Greenwich Street between Battery Place & Morris Street
  • Trinity Place between Rector & Thames Streets
  • Church St. between Warren & Chambers Streets
  • Church St. between Reade & Duane Streets

 

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Transportation Nation

PHOTOS: The Last Ride for Shuttle Atlantis

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Atlantis leaves the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center (photo by Matthew Peddie)

(Orlando, Fla. -- WMFE) NASA has officially signed the last remaining space shuttle at the Kennedy Space Center into retirement.

Riding on a flat bed transporter, Atlantis rolled out of the Vehicle Assembly Building at dawn Friday, bound for its new home at a purpose-built display hall nearly 10 miles away at the privately operated Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

A few hours later a crowd of shuttle workers and their families gathered for a retirement ceremony. NASA administrator Charles Bolden, who flew on Atlantis in 1992, said while the shuttle program has ended, its spirit lives on.

“It’s now NASA’s honor to permanently house this magnificent spacecraft right here, where she rose to the skies 33 times carrying 156 men and women," said Bolden.

"She’s truly a testament to American ingenuity.”

The commanders of both Atlantis’ first mission and the last ever shuttle flight last year also talked about the significance of the program.

Contractors watch as Atlantis moves away from the VAB (photo by Matthew Peddie)

The shuttle travels on a diesel powered 76 wheel transporter (photo by Matthew Peddie)

The cab of the orbiter transporter (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Photographers watch as Atlantis rolls out (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Shuttle Atlantis traveled nearly 10 miles by road to its new home, mostly on NASA property. Engineers removed some traffic lights and street signs to allow the shuttle through (Photo by Matthew Peddie)

Atlantis paused at an intersection as a NASA helicopter circles overhead (photo by Matthew Peddie)

A marching band leads Atlantis into its retirement ceremony (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Shuttle program employees and their families watched the final rollout of Atlantis (photo by Matthew Peddie)

“Atlantis’s final mission may have closed out the space shuttle program, but the spirit that created that program and built her is very much alive as we develop the technologies and systems not only for private companies to serve our needs in low earth orbit, but to keep us on the road to an asteroid, to mars and places beyond." NASA administrator Charles Bolden (photo by Matthew Peddie)

 

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NY MTA Chief Talks Fare Hikes & Why President Reagan Was A Hero Of Mass Transit

Thursday, October 25, 2012

NY MTA Chairman Joe Lhota. (photo by Stephen Nessen / WNYC)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Joe Lhota, chairman of the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority, was a guest on The Brian Lehrer Show Thursday, where he predictably resisted prompts to choose between two proposed flavors of subway and bus fare hikes: raising the base fare or the cost of unlimited cards.

"Reporters all want me to say what I want to do one way or the other," he said. "Here's what I want to do: I want to listen to the public." Eight public hearings on the fare and toll hikes will begin on November 7 in Long Island. Lhota said he'll participate in some of the hearings "until the wee hours of the morning," if necessary, to make sure every question has been answered.

(Go here for dates, times and directions to the hearings.)

Less predictably, Lhota held up President Ronald Reagan as an object lesson for Congressional Republicans who would cut mass transit funding. "We cannot be a car-only society," Lhota said, claiming that Reagan, too, "had that vision."

He then praised Reagan for dedicating six cents from an increase to the federal gas tax to mass transit.

"When I go to Washington and I talk to the folks in the majority in the House--and I have to deal with all of the Republicans, as well as the young Republicans who are part of The Tea Party movement--I'm constantly reminding them that the best and biggest supporter of mass transit in the 20th Century was Ronald Reagan," Lhota said.

Lhota also talked about Hurricane Sandy, which is expected to hit New York City on Monday. He said he'd already taken two conference calls to discuss preparations like "sandbags and getting buses to higher ground." But he didn't think he would have to shut down New York's subway and bus system, an unprecedented move that the authority took last year in advance of Hurricane Irene.

Listen to the entire interview:

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Transportation Nation

As Gov't Considers Regulations, Autonomous Car Boosters Show Off Plans

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Google executives show off a self-driving car. January 20, 2011

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) It’s the heart of the morning commute. A professional pulls his laptop computer from his brief case and begins typing emails to start his work day before arriving at the office. Minutes later the laptop is set aside for the newspaper, opened wide in front of his face so he can leisurely peruse the headlines. This scene plays out on mass transit systems every morning. It would be impossible while driving a car unless one is gifted with extra pairs of hands and eyes.

In the not-too-distant future, however, drivers who now grit their teeth while gripping the steering wheel may be able to sit back, relax, and use their car commuting time productively.

Three states, Florida, California and Nevada, have legalized testing of autonomous cars already and today, the federal government made a small show of support. “The development of automated vehicles is a worthy goal,” National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David Strickland told a  forum in Washington. He said the government is beginning to research what safety regulations are needed for a world where cars drive themselves.

Designers of self-driving – or autonomous – vehicles are promising the technology is moving closer to reality, creating a future where crashes, speeding tickets, congestion, poor fuel efficiency, and all the stress they cause will be history.

“It gives you the freedom to do what you are already doing in the car today but unsafely.  Today people sit in the car and they are texting. We have seen people on the freeway practicing the trombone. It is unbelievable what people do in a car,” said Chris Urmson, the leader of Google’s self-driving vehicle project based in California, who spoke at a seminar on the policy implications of autonomous vehicles at the Swedish embassy in Washington on Tuesday.

The seminar’s host, Volvo, a leader in autonomous vehicle research, tests its cars in Sweden and Spain. Google tests its cars in stop-and-go traffic in San Francisco as well as freeways in the Bay Area and Nevada.

Self-driving vehicles are years from becoming commonplace on U.S. roads, so it is impossible to fully grasp the dimensions of the changes that would be caused by the technology. Because the cars are being designed to navigate traffic more safely and smoothly than any human being can, developers see a future with fewer crashes and traffic violations and with dramatically reduced congestion. That would affect car insurers, law enforcement, safety regulators, and transportation planners.

“If you look at the carrying capacity of U.S. freeways when they are at maximum throughput – the most vehicles moving by per hour – they are only using about 8 percent of the road,” Urmson said. “If you imagine a vehicle that is reacting more quickly and steering more accurately than a person, then you can pack those vehicles more closely and you can take the same infrastructure we have today and easily double the throughput on it, removing congestion completely.”

More efficient use of existing highways would ease the pressure to build new ones, allowing planners to focus finite resources on other pressing infrastructure needs, Urmson said. In practice, congestion is unlikely to vanish for any technological reason, even if capacity is increased; research consistently finds that new drivers take to the roads once traffic time drops and over time, similar congestion levels resume.

Still, the promise of driver-less cars could brig many benefits. Future motorists would not have to relinquish complete control of their cars. They would have a choice between driving themselves or letting the computers, radar, laser, and image processing technology do it for them.

“It’s no fun to be in traffic jams at all,” said Peter Mertens, a senior vice president at Volvo, referring to a scenario when drivers might be happy to let the auto-pilot take over. “But when you are on a highway maybe you really enjoy driving.”

The primary goal of autonomous vehicles is saving lives by reducing the staggering number of traffic fatalities that happen in the U.S.  Relieving congestion is one way to make driving safer.

“[Autonomous vehicles] can be closer together and they can be optimized in the way they drive. You have a very smooth flowing traffic flow and no ups and downs and radical changes,” Mertens said.

Neither Mertens nor Urmson was able to estimate what a self-driving vehicle might cost compared to a regular car, but they said the technology is likely to be introduced into the U.S. vehicle fleet incrementally. Volvo and other carmakers already install adaptable cruise control in some vehicles, for instance.

Transferring driving responsibility from a person to a machine will raise legal issues. What if an autonomous car malfunctions and crashes or just violates a traffic law? To whom would a police officer write a ticket? Google is already in talks with U.S. regulators about it's autonomous car technology.

“If there is a malfunction, we have pretty established law about what that means,” said Bryant Walker Smith, a fellow at the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford Law School. “A manufacturer or anyone else who is responsible for the malfunction will pay. The more difficult question about automated vehicles is what actually constitutes a malfunction.”

If autonomous vehicles actually do avoid crashes, auto insurers would have to adjust their rates, he said, potentially charging lower premiums to drivers who use the new technology.

“The hope in the long, long term is that insurance goes down as crashes go down. What that also means is that manufacturers end up paying a greater share of crash costs, then you could see prices for the car or navigation services increase.”

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Transportation Nation

Virginia's 495 Express Lanes Unveil News Ops Center

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The operators of Virginia’s I-495 Express Lanes unveiled the highway’s incident command center on Wednesday where traffic monitors will watch the flow of vehicles on a widescreen monitor displaying a dozen camera angles. The new lanes are expected to open by the end of fall.

The center will operate 24/7 with staffers monitoring traffic volume in order to compute toll rates. The new roadway – connecting the Dulles Toll Road to the I-395/I-95/Springfield interchange 14 miles to the south – will charge drivers dynamic tolls, meaning the price will change depending on traffic volume. The more traffic, the higher the toll.

The express lanes’ private sector operator, Transurban, is required to keep traffic moving at least 45 m.p.h., so if traffic slows due to heavy volume tolls, will be significantly increased to deter further drivers. Transurban invested $1.5 billion into the lanes as part of a public-private partnership with Virginia, and will receive toll revenues for the next 75 years.

“Three times per mile we will have detector stations that will give our control center here information regarding what is the volume of traffic and what is the speed of traffic,” said Transurban operations manager Rob Kerns. “Our dynamic pricing is scheduled to update every fifteen minutes.”

Transurban has not released precise toll rates because of the dynamic nature of the pricing system. Moreover, once the highway opens, staffers will need some time to determine what rates work best.

Simulation of Express Lanes signage (image courtesy of Transurban)

“The tolls are set minute to minute based on what's actually happening out there. We won't know until the road opens how drivers are reacting to different toll prices,” said Jennifer Aument, a project spokeswoman.

The average toll will be between $3 and $6 during busy periods, said Aument, who said the Express Lanes are designed for use a couple times a week when drivers need a dependable ride. The new lanes will run parallel to 495’s regular travel lanes that are often clogged bumper-to-bumper.

Aument is encouraging drivers to familiarize themselves with the coming changes to the Beltway at 495ExpressLanes.com and to sign up for an E-ZPass as soon as possible.  Only E-ZPass will be accepted in the new lanes, with HOV-3, buses, and motorcycles riding free. However, carpoolers will still need to obtain an E-ZPass Flex transponder.

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Transportation Nation

Mayor Bloomberg Is "Trying To Help" Nearly Bankrupt Yankee Stadium Parking Company

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"How'd you get to the game?" For most Yankees fans, the answer is not driving and parking in a stadium garage but riding mass transit. (photo by Flickr / wallyg)

(New York, NY - WNYC) With the company that owns the Yankee Stadium parking system staring down bankruptcy, Mayor Bloomberg called the situation "sad," and said his administration is "trying to help them."

Speaking during a press conference Q & A, the mayor addressed the issue of the stadium's foundering garages and lots, which have been only 42 percent full this season, according to this latest report.

"There just wasn't the business there that the owners, who made the investment, thought that there was going to be," the mayor said in answer to a question posed by a WNYC reporter. "If the owners of the parking garage can't make money, that's sad. We've got to find a way to help them."

The Bloomberg administration has already tried to help the company by having the city's Economic Development Corporation attempt to broker a deal with a real estate developer to build affordable housing and stores on some of the underused lots near an existing retail mall. But those talks have ended without a deal.

NYC EDC spokesman Kyle Sklerov wouldn't give specifics on the failed negotiations. Nor would he comment on an idea by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. to have the Bronx Parking Development Company build a hotel atop an empty garage. Sklerov would only say:“New options to develop the site will be considered moving forward as part of a larger effort by the BPDC board to get back on sound financial footing."

The scramble to find new revenue for the BPDC was set off by the company's long slide into default on $237 million in tax-free bonds. The NYC EDC acted as the conduit for those bonds, not the seller, so taxpayers aren't holding the debt.

Still, the default is a blow to the agency's reputation. Before the Yankees' new stadium was opened in 2009, Bronx residents and some civic groups tried to warn the city and the team that 9,000 parking spots spread across eleven lots and garages weren't needed. Their concerns went unheeded and the EDC facilitated the tax-free bonds that created a parking system sized to suit the Yankees' misguided desire.

The lots and garages have been underused--even during seasons, like this one, when the Yankees make the playoffs--and the BPDC is now in financial free fall.

Perhaps Mayor Bloomberg said it best when first asked at the press conference about the stadium parking: "Not everything works."

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Transportation Nation

Washington, D.C. Region's Economic Future Tied to Cars -- Or Is It?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

(photo by Elvert Barnes via flickr)

For the thousands of commuters who spend too much of their lives sitting in traffic on the Washington area’s hopelessly congested roads, the future may not look much better than the present. Despite some large investments in mass transit projects, like the Silver Line rail link to Dulles Airport, about three-fourths of all economic activity – from shopping to commuting to work – will be the result of automobile trips in 2040, virtually unchanged from present day, according to a report by the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis.

In 2007, 74 percent of gross regional product (GRP) – a measure of all income -- was the result of car travel. By 2040 it will be 73 percent, according to the study’s authors, who forecast total GRP by that year to potentially amount to $1.8 trillion, up from the current $429 billion. The projections are based on where the study places the region’s major job centers: in the outer suburbs, implying that a regime of road building will be necessary to accommodate the region’s growth.  The study was prepared for the 2030 Group, a group of real estate developers.

The study is flawed, according to mass transit advocates.

“I think it is out of sync with changing demographics and the huge market demand to live not just in the city but to live in neighborhoods that are walkable and near transit,” says Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which advocates transit-oriented development. “This is a report that seems to, through some magic they have applied, allocate significant portions of regional growth to outer suburban job centers.  They are arguing for more highway investment over transit investment in the region.”

The study designates the Tysons Corner-Dulles corridor as the most prominent “activity center” that will see significant changes in transportation use thanks to the arrival of the Silver Line, but the overall forecast allows for minor shifts in mode changes, including bicycling/walking.  Schwartz says the forecast overlooks surging demand for living in urban, walkable places.

“We are changing our land uses and have shown that compact, walkable neighborhoods with transit generate far fewer car trips and shorter car travel distances,” he says. “A younger generation is driving less, living in cities and an older generation of downsizing empty nesters and retirees will not be driving as much. They are out of touch with the trends. They are trying to justify more outer suburban growth,” referring to suburban real estate developers in the 2030 Group.

Whatever transportation infrastructure will be necessary for the expected population and job growth, current levels of government investment are grossly inadequate, according to Bob Chase, the president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, a group that supports highway construction.

“What the study shows is that most of the economic activity centers are heavily dependent upon a good road network, but roads also move buses.  It’s not just about cars,” Chase said.  “We’re not going to have the transportation network to support that type of economy. If we don’t invest more in transportation, we’re not likely to have the economic future that most people would want.”

One possible source of funds would be an increased state and/or federal gas tax, something few politicians are willing to publicly endorse. The current federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon has not been increased since 1993.

“The cost of construction and the cost of maintenance have gone up. The cost of just petroleum products that go into asphalt has gone up 350% in the last ten years,” Chase says.  “If you want to have a strong economy, if you want to have jobs for your kids, you need to make a greater investment in transportation, and the failure to do so is going to cost every person far more in terms of lost wages, lost opportunities, and a deteriorated quality of life, than paying a few more pennies on the gas tax.”

Chase says Virginia and Maryland could also raise sales taxes or create surcharges on income taxes to pay for infrastructure investment.

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For Barbra, I'll Take the Subway -- Brooklyn's Barclays Center Passes Second Traffic Test

Thursday, October 11, 2012

What do Jay-Z fans and Barbara Streisand fans have in common? They both take mass transit.

Long orderly lines of flamboyant ladies in finery stretched from subway steps to the flickering marquis of Brooklyn's new Barclays Center arena for Thursday night's Barbra Streisand concert.

"I am in Brooklyn which is where I was born.  I haven't been here since I was born. I'm about 120 years old," gushed Laura Slutzky of Manhattan, which she insisted on referring to only as New York City. "This is fabulous here. I took the subway, used my Metrocard for two-dollars and 25 cents. I was going to take a limo for $4,550 but this was much easier... I love Brooklyn, I love the whole thing."

The 18,000 seat arena with just 541 on-site parking spaces has raised hackles and hellfire predictions of clogged streets and desperate fans circling the nearby residential neighborhoods for parking, blocking traffic and usurping local car owners; curb space.

Twenty minutes before showtime the shuttle bus bringing concert-goers from remote lots was mostly empty. The attendant said people were using the lots, but they weren't full.

A small army of police and citizen "pedestrian traffic managers" played crossing guard to usher the throngs of walkers safely through the always busy intersection at Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues. Cars and limos that tried to stop to drop off fans, usually in groups, were forced to drive to pre-determined drop off locations that wouldn't block traffic. This operation was in force for the first set of concerts as well.

After the eight Jay-Z shows failed to cause vehicular mayhem, rendering all but irrelevant the "gridlock alert" that preceded opening night, many still feared the pedestrian calm was a fluke, that it was something about Jay-Z fans that predisposed them to use the 11 subway lines, 11 bus lines, the Long Island Rail Road or walk.

In fact it seems that at least 1/3 of fans on opening night got out at the subway station right below the arena, according to our analysis of turnstile data.

The data isn't in yet on the Streisand fans, but after chatting with a few of gaggles of giddy women of a certain age in front of the gates, it was clear, Barbra, as fans know her, draws a crowd from far beyond Brooklyn. And rather than drawing them by their usual mode of automobile, these groups behaved like the Brooklynites. When in Rome ...

Robin Schrieber and her friend took an hour-long train ride on Long Island Rail Road, which stops right next to the arena. "We had to change at Jamaica...We had to walk up and over at Jamaica which we didn't love, but it took us right here."

The LIRR arriving at 7:18 at Atlantic Terminal might as well have been called the Babs Express.

"Everybody was going to the Barbra concert," Schreiber said. "People we knew, people we didn't know, everybody was talking to each other. No one knew where they were going, it was like 'Are you going to Barbra?' 'Where do we get on?' 'Where do we get off?' We all just kind of went en masse together."

 

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Transportation Nation

Yankee Stadium Parking Company Defaults On Its Bonds

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mural near Yankee Stadium. (photo by Flickr / wallyg)

(New York, NY - WNYC) The Yankees are in the playoffs after another successful season. But a key part of their stadium operation is a failure: the company that owns the Yankees Stadium parking garages has defaulted on more than $237 million in bonds.

The default means city taxpayers contributed about $39 million in subsidies to a project that is teetering on the brink of collapse. The city also spent $195 million to replace the parkland it gave to the Yankees, some of it now the site of languishing parking structures.

Financial advisor Edward Moran has told the Bronx Parking Development Company, a nonprofit that owns and operates the stadium parking system, that its cash flow can't keep up with its required payments to bondholders. Moran's analysis comes to a grim conclusion: “Unless debt service costs are lowered through a voluntary restructuring, bankruptcy will eventually be BPDC’s only option."

It is the Yankees' fourth season in their 50,287-seat stadium, a season that saw the team win its division while posting the second highest attendance in the major leagues. But the eleven parking lots and garages owned by the BPDC were only 43 percent full--and that's on game days. Other days, they're largely empty.

Most fans have been traveling to games by subway or taking a train to the new Metro-North station near the stadium. Others have looked for street parking or lots with prices lower then the $25 to $48 dollars charged by the stadium lots.

That means less money than expected for the company, which has been drawing from a reserve fund to pay off bondholders. That fund is all but depleted, which has thrown the company into default.

A source with knowledge of the company's finances tells TN that if bondholders can't be convinced to take less than the $15 million they're owed next year, the company is likely to declare bankruptcy. The next payment is due April 1.

Bettina Damiani of the advocacy group Good Jobs New York says Bronx residents tried to warn the city and the team that 9,000 parking spots weren't needed. "If only advocates and residents saying, 'I told you so,' would somehow make this go away," she said. "But the reality is officials and the Yankees refused to have anybody at the table on this decision."

The Yankees wouldn't comment for this story, except to say that the garages are owned and operated by a private company."The Yankees do not run them," spokeswoman Alice McGillion said.

But as TN has previously reported, the Yankees pushed hard in 2008 to add 2,000 parking spots, paving over parts of two nearby city parks to do it, even though the new stadium is smaller than the old one. The team made it a condition for staying in the Bronx.

Then Yankees president Randy Levine assured the City Council that despite the high cost of the new parking system, it would bring in sufficient revenue. "Those revenues will go back to pay the cost of the project and go to the city and a private operator," he said.

That hasn't been the case. Kyle Sklerov, a spokesman for the city's Economic Development Corporation, said that the BPDC owed the city $25.5 million in back rent and taxes as of the end of 2011. The company is obligated to pay its bondholders before it pays the city.

An arm of the city Economic Development Corporation approved the company's business plan before acting as the conduit for $237 million in tax exempt bonds. Sklerov said 5 percent of the corporation's bond issues are in default; the Yankee Stadium parking system has now joined that dubious list.

Marc LaVorgna, a spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg, said in an email that though the city will not be required to pay off the BPDC's debt, "we are going to continue to work with creditors to get the project back onto sound financial footing." He wouldn't give details on how that might be done. He referred TN to the city's Office of Management and Budget, which did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Marlene Cintron, president of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, similarly refused comment. When asked whether the BPDC was in default, she said, "I’m not sure what the legal term is at this point in time."

In the meantime, Moran is telling the company that it "needs a dedicated manager and accounting person to control its operations." He also recommends wringing extra money from the parking spots during non-game days by pursuing deals with "circuses, ZipCar and auto dealer parking." BPDC attorney Steven Polivy didn't reply to emails and phone calls.

Damiani said the BPDC's default should be a lesson to the city. "If you're going to take your development cues from a corporation like the Yankees, I think it's safe to assume they don't have the residents' and the taxpayers' priorities in mind," she said, adding that "one of the lasting legacies of the Bloomberg administration, one of its most prominent economic development projects, is going down in flames."

The home games in the Yankees' playoff run will bring in more parking money. But then, the Yankees made the playoffs last year and that didn't prevent the company that runs the stadium's parking system from defaulting on $237 million of city-issued, tax exempt bonds.

Plan for a new Yankee Stadium with expanded parking.

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Transportation Nation

To Drive or Not To Drive: Two South American Countries Consider Congestion Pricing

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

(photo by Alex E. Proimos via flickr)

(Drew Reed -- This Big City) Whether they own a Prius or a Hummer, a Porsche or a Pinto, or anything in between, car owners all over the world can agree on one thing: they don’t want to pay to use the roads they drive on. User fees like toll roads, congestion pricing, or others, are almost always met with scorn. Some of the best know examples of this have been in London and New York, where despite the transit friendly culture the measures have been met with controversy. Not surprisingly, similar proposals made in more car-oriented cities have gone down in flames.

The core rationale for user fees on roadways generally falls into two categories. The first is the idea that, since roads are expensive to build and maintain, the people who directly benefit should help to pay for them. While no form of direct payment for roads is ever going to be immensely popular, this idea is generally well received. People who feel their tolls are being used for something are likely to quietly accept them.

The second rationale for road user fees is that they should be used as a mechanism to promote driving patterns that utilize limited road space and car-related infrastructure in heavily urbanized areas more efficiently. This is often met with outrage. And despite the potential benefits of such measures, some of this outrage is understandable. When people have to pay for something, they like to know what it is they’re paying for. Congestion pricing struggles to convince people it needs to exist. For as much as everyone likes to complain about traffic, they have trouble accepting that they are part of the problem, instead embracing solutions that only apply to everyone else.

This equation changes slightly when applied outside of car-saturated first world countries. A recent congestion pricing project in Santiago, Chile, calls for pay centres placed to cover all vehicle entrances to the business district on the eastern side of the city, and charge a nominal fee to all vehicles entering the district that don’t belong to residents or workers (see this write up [es] for more information).

A similar thought process is being applied on the other side of the Andes, where the government of Buenos Aires, Argentina has proposed higher tolls on the City’s freeway system during rush hour. Although this has been proposed to help raise funds for the freeway system, Buenos Aires’s Chief of Government Mauricio Macri has stated explicitly that the program is also intended to reduce traffic during rush hour [es].

What was the reaction to these proposals? The Chilean proposal has yet to get beyond simply being a nifty set of photoshopped Google maps, and if it goes any further the reaction is likely to be along the lines of what transit specialist Louis de Grange predicts [es]:

Though congestion pricing may well be, in specific cases, a useful tool to manage traffic, to think that it is the solution for Santiago’s congestion problem is probably erroneous. In fact there are various cases in which it simply isn’t convenient to implement such a system, since the social benefits that it generates are less noticeable than the costs of implementing and managing it. Moreover, congestion pricing does not eliminate congestion; it only reduces it, hopefully to a socially optimal level.

In Argentina, plans for the new toll structure quickly turned into something of a political football (or perhaps, fútbol, since this is Argentina). The proposal was attacked by supporters of Marci’s chief political opponent, President Cristina Kirchner, who complained it was an unnecessary burden on middle class users of the freeway system, neglecting to consider how to encourage middle class users to use the transit system. Macri, quick to tout his business background, doubled down on the “government should act like a business” aspect of the plan. Lost in the debate was any attempt to find a solution that was anything more than a plank in either side’s political platform.

What is the main difference between the debate over congestion pricing in countries like England or the US versus countries like Chile or Argentina? Quite simply, congestion pricing in Chile or Argentina is shunned because people feel that they should be driving much more than they currently are. Driving is, of course, a symbol of progress, and anything that gets in the way of this keeps countries from clawing their way upward on the world stage and hurts politicians’ re-election chances. This doesn’t happen as much in England or the US since it would be difficult for people to drive any more than they already do. In these countries, congestion pricing measures are opposed because people see free access to highways as the norm, and any attempt to encourage use of other forms of transit or even a more strategic use of the same mode of transit is seen as a strike against the middle class or worse, an attempt to “make us act poor”.

The unfortunate part of this is that in South American countries, where the 1920s era dream of “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage” was never acted on with the same immense government spending as in the more industrialized countries, there is a greater opportunity for sustainable urban reform since car-based infrastructure, political blocs, and social patterns aren’t as well established. Unfortunately, trends in these countries seem to be going in the opposite direction.

Time will tell if congestion pricing in some form will take hold in Latin American countries. Until then, they can take heart in the fact that they’ve been able to challenge the first world in an area where until now it’s always had a monopoly: complaining about tolls.

Drew Reed is an online media producer and community activist specializing in sustainable transportation. He lives in Buenos Aires.

This post originally appeared in This Big City.

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Virginia County Wants To Re-Envision Roads For City Rising West of Washington

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Tysons Corner (photo via wikimedia commons)

With four new Metrorail stations coming to Tysons Corner next year -- as well as a 40-year plan to to bring high-rise condos and gleaming corporate offices to the area -- local lawmakers are considering rethinking the road network.

The Fairfax County (Virginia) Board of Supervisors dug into a report Tuesday from Planning Commission member Walter Alcorn that includes about $1 billion in taxes on current and future developers to cover the costs of infrastructure for cars, buses, bicycles, and pedestrians.

“Right now Tysons has a super grid of very, very large blocks which are not walkable,” Alcorn said in an interview with Transportation Nation.  The county's plan states the "vehicle-based road network will need to transition into a multi-modal transportation system that provides transportation choices to residents, employees and visitors." That means, in part, building smaller, more walkable blocks.

County officials say they want the population of Tysons Corner to increase fivefold by 2050. Currently, the community has 20,000 residents.

The infrastructure redevelopment cost is $2.3 billion, and to pay for it, the planning commission wants to levy new taxes on developers and increase existing property taxes. However, tapping general fund revenues, issuing bonds, and adding a commercial and industrial tax are also under consideration.

“The actual street in front of the development that’s being constructed should be paid for by that developer. However, larger transportation projects that have a major benefit inside and outside of Tysons probably should be paid for by the public sector,” said Sharon Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

“These are extrapolations,” said Bulova, referring to the revenue figures. “We’re looking ahead to an extent we’ve never done before to look at what it is going to take to support the new development.”

And Alcorn says it's worth it. “The point of all these improvements is not to facilitate traffic through Tysons or across Tysons, but frankly to help Tysons become more of a walkable, transit oriented community,” he said. “It’s a grid of streets. It’s also new connections from surrounding roads into Tysons, for example, new connections from the Dulles Toll Road, and improved connection to the Beltway.”

The board will take up the proposal next at its scheduled meeting later this month.
See Fairfax County's "Transforming Tysons" slideshow:

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Transportation Nation

19,000 Seats + Almost No Parking = More Foot Than Car Traffic at Barclays Arena

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Uptopian rendering of Barclays Center Arena in Brooklyn.

(New York, NY - WNYC) Jay-Z has been playing sold-out concerts at the 19,000-seat Barclays Center Arena in Brooklyn and, so far, the biggest traffic problem has been caused by crowds of people coming up from the Atlantic Avenue subway stop and streaming across the street to the arena before the shows. So few people are driving, the scant official parking spaces aren't even filling up.

That's according to Sam Schwartz, who was hired by Barclay's  Center management to come up with a traffic plan for the area during arena events. Neighbors had feared traffic bedlam because the center sits at a complicated intersection of three major thoroughfares notorious for its danger to pedestrians, and that's before the sports and entertainment complex came to town.

But now walkers are winning. "As the herd of pedestrians comes out, we shut down Atlantic Avenue for cars and get the people across the street for about ten minutes and then we let the cars flow," Schwartz said. "It hasn't backed up traffic much."

Schwartz says more than half of all concert-goers so far have come and gone by subway. Besides surges in turnstile use at the Atlantic Avenue stop, riders have also been using subway stops a short stroll from arena: the Fulton Street stop of the G, the Lafayette Avenue stop of the C, and the Bergen Street stop of the 2 and 3.

Others have walked, and about 1,200 people have taken Long Island Railroad trains.

Relatively few fans seem to be driving, judging by the lack of gridlock and the fact that the arena's surface parking lot, with its 541 spaces, has been half empty. Schwartz added that, as of now, not many drivers have been patronizing a group of satellite lots up to a mile from the arena that offer half-price parking and free shuttle buses.

The prospect of drivers circulating en masse through the nearby tree-lined streets looking for free street parking has also failed to materialize. "I've heard no complaints about parking," said Robert Perris, district manager of New York Community Board 2, which includes the area around the Barclays Center Arena.

In hearings and planning meetings leading up to the opening of the arena, residents have been vocal about calling for a parking permit program to keep fans who arrive by car from parking on their streets. The NYC Department of Transportation has so far declined to institute such a program.

Perris said he joined other city officials in inspecting the scene on opening night last Friday. "Traffic was heavy but moving in a well-managed way," he said. "There were police officers or traffic engineers at all major intersections, and pedestrian managers at the crosswalks, both sides. People were going where they were told."

Perris said traffic flow in the streets around the arena, which was heavy before the Barclays Center opened, might be benefiting from the small army of police and traffic managers. "My question is whether we’re always going to have the same level of resources as we had on night one," he said.

Despite the traffic plan's initial success, officials caution that results are preliminary. Brooklyn Nets games may draw greater numbers of fans who arrive by car. And planners will be watching to see how Barbra Streisand's fans choose to travel to Barclays Center Arena for her sold-out show on October 13.

The arena is accessible from 11 subway lines and commuter rail.

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