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New Law Makes Distracted Driving a Primary Offense in Virginia

Thursday, April 04, 2013

(photo by mrjasonweaver via flickr)

Virginia lawmakers approved bipartisan legislation that makes texting while driving a primary offense, and significantly raises the fines.

State legislators passed amendments to the bill that were proposed by Gov. Bob McDonnell, including one increasing the fine for texting while driving from $20 to $125 dollars for a first offense and $250 dollars for every subsequent violation.

That's less than the original legislation, which pegged those fines twice as high.

Delegate Rich Anderson (R-Prince William Co.) says it puts texting on the same level as other impaired forms of driving.

"That aligns driving while intoxicated and driving while texting pretty closely," says Anderson.

Sen. George Barker (D-Alexandria) says he has been trying to get a bill passed on this topic for a number of years, after students from Centreville High School brought the issue to his attention.

"I’m very pleased, because this is an extraordinarily dangerous activity," Barker says. "The accident rate is 23 times the rate for people that are texting compared to people that aren’t, which is a phenomenal differential. It clearly will save lives."

Del. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) says the law addresses more than just texting at the wheel.

"You can be convicted not only if you are texting, but also if you are reading a text message, if you are sending an email or if you are reading an email," Surovell says.

The bill does not address other potential distractions, like voice-controlled messaging. There also remains some ambiguity about other activites not expressly banned in the legislation, like the use of GPS on a smartphone.

"Depending on how things work, there may need to be tweaks in the future," Barker says. "I think what we’ve done is adopted a very clear policy here, and if we need to fix the language to clarify that, we can obviously do that in the future."

The amended bill now heads to the governor's desk for his signature. He is expected to sign it.

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Transportation Nation

The Tradition Of Naming Tunneling Machines

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Bertha, on board the Fairpartner, in Elliot Bay (photo by Bow Jones)

(Derek Wang - Seattle, KUOW)  Bertha is here. The world’s largest tunnel boring machine arrived in Seattle Tuesday after being shipped from Japan. It’s expected to reach land sometime this week. After that, in a few months, it will get to work drilling the tunnel that will replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

The Washington State Department of Transportation named the machine, Bertha, after Seattle’s first female mayor, Bertha Knight Landes. The name was suggested by two school kids who won WSDOT’s naming contest.

According to Linea Laird, WSDOT’s tunnel project administrator, the tradition and practice of naming tunneling machines dates back to the earliest mining traditions.

“Originally, it was part of the patron saints of protection of underground workers,” she said. “There would be even a little shrine that would be established there for the workers.”

Laird says the name of the saint gave the miners something personal that they could relate to as they did their dangerous work. Paying homage to their saints evolved into naming tunneling machines.

Naming is commonplace in the tunneling industry these days. Miami named its machine after Harriet Tubman. And Sound Transit named two machines Balto and Togo, after two famous Husky dogs that inspired the Iditarod. And the tunneling machines boring new subway tunnels under the streets of New York City bear a variety of names, including Molina, Georgina, and TESS.

Chris Dixon is supervising the contractors who will be operating Bertha. He’s been in the tunneling business for decades.

“There were two machines that drove tunnels on one contract on the Los Angeles Metro Red Line subway, they called them Thelma and Louise.” Dixon says another machine used in Puerto Rico was named after the wife of a contracting executive.

Laird concedes that the name Bertha might not be the prettiest. But she says the name conjures up something that is big, solid and has a down-home quality to it. That, Laird says, seems like an appropriate description of Bertha’s new home: Seattle.

Here's WSDOT's map of places to go to get a good look at Bertha.

Follow Derek Wang on Twitter.

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Transportation Nation

New Yorkers: Meet Your Bike Share Station Map

Thursday, April 04, 2013

(Click for interactive map)

New Yorkers, meet your Citi Bike station locations. Even more closely placed than your neighborhood Starbucks. Beginning next month, you'll be able to pick up and drop off bikes from Central Park South to Barclays Center. Annual members will get 45 minutes of free riding, daily members 30 minutes.

The New York City Department of Transportation has released an interactive map showing the draft locations of 293 stations located across Manhattan (below Central Park) and across a swath of Brooklyn through Fort Greene. (That 293  is down a bit from last year's projected launch of 420 stations.) Gray dots show the location of future docking stations. The DOT's website says it will "continue to work with New Yorkers to refine these station locations."

The system, which is scheduled to launch next month, will eventually grow to 10,000 bikes and 600 docking stations around the city. It's being operated by Alta Bike Share and funded by Citibank.

The city's bike share program was to have originally launched last year, but a one-two punch of software trouble followed by Sandy flooding knocked it back to May 2013.

To see detailed maps of stations at the community level, click here.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: More NJ Transit-Sandy Revelations, GM Watching Korea, Detroit Electric Launches, Meet a Subway Matchmaker

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Top stories on TN:
Fatter Pedestrians Are Safer, Taxis Are Scourge for Cyclists: Study (link)
Subway Service Returns to South Ferry (link)
One Train Ticket in New Jersey Can be Valid for Years … If You Never Get on a Train (link)
Maryland County Approves Millions More for Troubled Transit Center (link)

All aboard in Tallinn, Estonia -- and put away your wallet. (Photo by MissTerje via flickr)

The head of NJ Transit admitted the agency moved trains into a flood-prone area just before Sandy hit. (The Record)

General Motors is closely watching the escalating tension on the Korean Peninsula and would consider shifting production if the situation deteriorates. (Detroit Free Press)

Texas Governor Rick Perry refuses to back a statewide ban on texting while driving -- but Houston's mayor says she's prepared to go it alone. (KUHF)

Detroit Electric has launched to much fanfare (Wall Street Journal) -- and some skepticism: "Let me get this straight. Detroit Electric, shifty about funding & battery supplier & doesn't have factory, will make EVs 5 months from now?" (@NathanBomey, Detroit Free Press reporter)

Boston could have just one bidder for a $1 billion commuter rail contract. (Boston Globe)

Three months later: assessing the impact of free transit in the Estonian capital city of Tallinn. (AP via Miami Herald)

On this morning's Brian Lehrer Show: more on a new study that found that the majority of pedestrians struck in New York City were hit while in a crosswalk. (WNYC)

Philadelphia's library and city transit provider SEPTA have launched a virtual library at a train station throughout the month of April. (Metro; h/t Transit Wire)

Meet a matchmaker who takes clients to the NYC subway. "The Love Conductor is the first matchmaker to go underground — targeting New York's 1.6 billion subway riders, many of whom are the most alluring, creative and energetically sexy on earth." (New York Magazine)

The founder of Zappos is launching Project 100 in downtown Las Vegas -- "the code name for a complete transportation system designed to let you get rid of your car and be more connected to your neighborhood — all for less than the monthly cost of traditional car ownership." Ingredients: bike share, bus shuttles, and Tesla EVs. (GigaOM)

February traffic crash stats for NYC: 1,111 pedestrians and cyclists injured; 13 killed. (Streetsblog)

The town of Wyckoff, New Jersey, is adopting a "zero tolerance policy" for drivers who flout pedestrian crosswalk laws. One reason why: "a driver recently pulled around a stopped car while children were crossing the street." (NJ.com)

PHOTOS: a rail link reopens in Nigeria. (The Guardian)

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Transportation Nation

Fatter Pedestrians Are Safer, Taxis Are Scourge for Cyclists: Study

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

And yet. (Kate Hinds)

Audio Interview:

NYU Langone Medical Center surveyed more than 1,400 pedestrians and cyclists who were admitted to Bellevue Hospital between 2008 and 2011 and gleaned some insight into pedestrian crashes.

So rather than using police reports, the team at NYU surveyed the people who were injured and passed through this hospital to find out more circumstantial details of the crashes. (But it also means people who were hit but didn't go to the hospital, or people who were killed, aren't in the study.)

Here are some other findings:

  • Young, walking adults are the group most frequently injured by motor vehicles in this study
  • Latino bicycle delivery men are especially vulnerable even though they are more likely to wear a helmet
  • 44% of pedestrians were hit while crossing the street in the crosswalk
  • 6% of people who were hit by cars were on the sidewalk
  • 15% of pedestrians had consumed alcohol earlier
  • 40% of cyclists and 25% percent of pedestrians hit were struck by taxis
  • 43% of the cyclists injured were working, mostly delivery men.
  • 21% of cyclist hit were in a bike lane at the time
  • 15% of cyclists injured were doored
  • Less than a third of cyclists in the study were wearing helmets
  • Being obese reduced the likelihood of injury

So what are pedestrians to do? The study recommends separating traffic from bodies -- as in more bike lanes and more pedestrian plazas.

The study is behind a paywall, but you can read the abstract here.

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Transportation Nation

Subway Service Returns to South Ferry

Wednesday, April 03, 2013


On Thursday, New Yorkers will ride the subway like it's 1999.

Or really 2009, because that's the last time the old South Ferry station saw action.

The formerly decommissioned station is being pressed back into service while the newer station -- heavily damaged by Superstorm Sandy -- undergoes extensive repairs that could take several years. The old station is built around a tight curve in the tracks at the Lower Manhattan terminus of the 1 line that subway trains sometimes use to turn around. And the platform is shorter than the length of a train: passengers using the retro station will need to sit in the first five cars to exit.
Related: Old South Ferry Station, Replaced At a Cost of $530 Million, Pressed Back Into Service

South Ferry is used by tens of thousands of Staten Island Ferry riders. Their convenient connection to the 1 train was lost when Sandy flooded the new South Ferry station. Since then, the 1 line has been starting and ending at Rector Street, which inserts a ten minute walk into Staten Islanders' already long commutes.

Related: Video: South Ferry Subway Station, Post-Sandy

The MTA estimated several weeks ago that returning service to the decommissioned station would cost about $2 million. (Read about the scope of the work here.) Meanwhile, restoring service to the three-year old station destroyed by Sandy will cost about 300 times more.

Workers restoring the old South Ferry station (photo courtesy of NY MTA)

Related: To Replace One Station After Sandy, A Cost of $600 Million

The MTA is still working on restoring another post-Sandy subway service gap: A train service to the Rockaways.

The South Ferry subway station, flooded during Sandy, will take years to replace. (Photo by Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin)

 

 

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Transportation Nation

One Train Ticket in New Jersey Can be Valid for Years ... If You Never Get on a Train

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

The main waiting room at Newark Penn Station (photo by Luke H. Gordon via flickr)

(Sarah Gonzalez - WNYC/NJPR) John Williams says he’s been living at Newark Penn Station for a couple months.

His nails are almost an inch long; his grey beard less groomed than he’d like. But the 60-year-old is dressed sharp in a light brown plaid suit.

“I done had it on for two months,” he said. “I don’t smell and stuff like that but that’s a problem, you got some people in here that really, really smell bad.”

Laws prevent transit police from asking anyone – including the homeless – to leave stations unless they’re breaking rules.

“We can sleep sitting up in here, but if you lay down in here they’re going to wake you,” Williams said. “They take a stick and stick you with it. Or hit on the side of the wall or the bench.”

Inspector Al Stiehler with NJ Transit Police says managing the homeless in train stations takes officers are away from their primary role, which is counter-terrorism and safety.

“Sometimes we’re dealing with the same person two, three times a day,” Stielher said. “They’re intoxicated, they go to the hospital, they come right back. They have a seizure, they go to the hospital, they come right back. Police officers didn’t have the tools to do what they needed. It was just a cycle.”

(photo by Laser Burners via flickr)

Since New Jersey Transit can't ask homeless people to leave the waiting areas, they’re trying to offer help instead.

Michelle Walsh is the Community Intervention Specialist with New Jersey Transit. She tries to get the homeless into shelters and connect them to programs that offer food and services. She says the program has two goals.

“Helping the homeless but also making it more comfortable for passengers when they’re riding through,” she said.

Walsh says she engages about 75 percent of the homeless in some way.

“Even if it looks like someone isn’t working with me, we might be working on… getting their birth certificate from a different state which takes time.”

Many of the homeless men and women have mental disorders, Walsh said. Many want to stay at train stations.

And they have the right to be there, according to Ed Barocas, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union in New Jersey.

“If someone is simply sitting up on a bench, whether they do it for a half hour or 4 hours that’s their right to do it,” Barocas said. “These are areas open to the public, and people who are homeless are a part of the public.”

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has given the state $24 million dollars to help with the homeless. And some of that money will go to organizations that New Jersey Transit partners with.

Buying a Ticket to Sleep on the Benches

John Williams says he prefers to stay at train stations where there are a lot of other homeless people – like a station in Summit. He says it makes him feel more comfortable.

And if he wants to sit, or rest his eyes, on the benches for ticketed passengers only, he knows what he needs to do.

“I have a ticket, okay. This is what you need to have to stay in,” Williams says. “If you doesn’t have that you’re going to have to go out in the cold.”

He doesn’t need to buy a train ticket every night in order to sleep on the benches.

“No I don’t buy a ticket every night. I buy a ticket one time, as long as it’s not punched it’s good. As long as it doesn’t have a hole in it. I done had this for two months.”

Once you’re on a train, conductors, which cost taxpayers about 30 million dollars a year, come by with a hole-puncher, manually punching two holes in every passenger’s ticket.

If you never get on a train to get your ticket punched, your ticket will never expire.

Some of the homeless people at Newark Penn Station have been there for years. One has been at the station for 19 years; another for 26 years.

Inspector Al Stiehler says NJ Transit has been tossing around ideas to create a system where tickets would eventually expire, but he says that’s way down the line.

He says train stations attract large homeless populations because they offer amenities the homeless can’t get elsewhere.

“They have access to liquor stores and bars, there’s people around here that can get money, there’s food, and they have 24/7 hour police protection. They’re not going to get that at a shelter.”

John Williams says he shouldn’t have to go to a shelter.

“Because I am a taxpayer,” he said. “Well, I used to be a taxpayer.”

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Transportation Nation

Maryland County Approves Millions More for Troubled Transit Center

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Maryland's Montgomery County Council approved an additional $7 million to pay for construction work already completed at Silver Spring Transit Center, which is already two years behind schedule and about $80 million over budget.

The $7 million approved by county lawmakers has nothing to do with major design and construction problems detailed in a county report released two weeks ago.When it comes to who will pay to repair those problems, county officials say it will likely be determined in litigation with the project’s contractors.

“We will move expeditiously to make sure that we make the necessary repairs and that the taxpayers of Montgomery County will not have to pay for the flaws of the contractor,” says County Executive Ike Leggett, who has threatened to cancel the county’s contract with Foulger Pratt and other contractors and sue to recover any funds paid to fix the transit center’s construction issues, like inadequately thick concrete.

“Whatever we spend we will get back because we are going to pursue to the ultimate degree of the law and the legal process to make sure the county is reimbursed for anything we may have to put out in advance,” says Leggett.

Council President Nancy Navarro echoed Leggett’s vow to go to court, if necessary, to protect taxpayers but left open the possibility the county is also responsible for the mess at the transit center.

“I have not said at any moment that the county could not have some responsibility in this. It is possible,” says Navarro, who says the transit center could open to the public while any litigation proceeds. 

No lawsuits have been filed yet.

Contractor Foulger Pratt has said the county’s design plan was flawed from the start. Company executive Bryant Foulger has said any safety issues concerning concrete and reinforcing steel bars are the county’s responsibility.

 

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: NYC Crosswalks No Pedestrian Haven, WWII Bomb Discovered Near Berlin Train Station, Capital Bikeshare Sets Record

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Top stories on TN:
Feds Posit Ambitious Plan for Northeast High Speed Rail (link)
Seattle Could Cancel Nearly 30 Percent Of Bus Routes (link)
Distracted Driving Awareness Month Begins With Plea to Change Behavior (link)

 (photo by Kate Hinds)

Crosswalks aren't havens: a study of traffic crashes conducted by one Manhattan hospital found "pedestrians struck by cars are most often hit while in the crosswalk, with the signal on their side...(and) taxicabs pose a disproportionate threat to cyclists." (New York Times)

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford made a "vomiting sound" when asked about transit funding. (CBC)

Minnesota lawmakers are weighing whether to approve the Mayo Clinic's request for $500 million to support its $3 billion expansion plan. "Supporters of the project say state financing for roads, bridges, parking garages and other improvements would ensure that the hospital and clinic system cements its future in the Rochester area." (MPR)

The transportation funding plan proposed by Boston legislators is significantly less ambitious than the governor's. (WBUR)

Some homeless people are essentially making Newark Penn Station their permanent address. (WNYC)

Manhattan's district attorney: "Legislators in Albany must allow New York City to begin a pilot speed camera program, starting at city schools." (AMNY)

The discovery of a World War II bomb near the main train station of Berlin disrupted rail services to and from the German capital on Wednesday. (Spiegel)

Barring a last-minute breakthrough, about 200 New York State Thruway employees will be out of work after today. (Times Union)

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Capital Bikeshare set a record Saturday -- and is embarking upon a major expansion. (Washington Post)

The Dutch city of Rotterdam is crowdfunding a bridge. (The Star)

Two of Chicago Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein's favorite things: bikes and shoes. (Link)

Samoa Air says it's charging passengers based on what they weigh. (NPR)

Explainer: decode the multicolored inscriptions of subterranean infrastructure spray-painted on streets and sidewalks across the United States. (Studio X)

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Transportation Nation

Feds Posit Ambitious Plan for Northeast High Speed Rail

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

The shoot-for-the-moon, Level D plan: a second Northeast Corridor "spine," Long Island-to-New England service, and 220-mph rail (image via NEC FUTURE)

Over a dozen plans for improving rail in the Northeast Corridor are under consideration by the federal government, ranging from minor improvements to a future with 220-mile-per-hour bullet trains between Washington and Boston -- not to mention new service between Long Island and New England.

These various options are detailed in a new report released Tuesday by the Federal Railroad Administration. NEC FUTURE sketches out 15 alternatives representing different levels of investment through the year 2040 in the 457-mile corridor.

Related: Amtrak Updates High-Speed Rail Vision, What’s Changed

The options, in turn, have been grouped into four separate categories which grow progressively more ambitious: while those in Level A focus on achieving a state of good repair, Level D would build a separate high-speed rail line between Boston and D.C. and bring new service in the region, primarily in Long Island, New England and the Delmarva peninsula.

The report aims to jump-start public debate about how rail capacity should be shaped in the region. "It is intended to be the foundation for future investments in the Northeast Corridor, a 150 year-old alignment that has guided the growth of what is now one of the most densely populated transportation corridors in the world,” said Rebecca Reyes-Alicea, NEC FUTURE program manager for the Federal Railroad Administration.  “(It) will further the dialogue about the rail network in the Northeast and how it can best serve us over for the years ahead.”

Over the next year, these 15 options will be winnowed down. The federal government wants to have a single alternative in place by 2015.

Because it's conceptual, no cost estimates are included in the report. But existing documents provide a baseline. In 2010, Amtrak identified $9 billion alone in state of good repair projects for the NEC, with an additional $43 billion in investment just to meet projected 2030 ridership levels for the current system. Meanwhile, another Amtrak report estimated the cost of bringing high-speed rail to the NEC at $151 billion.

Related: Amtrak’s 220mph Vision for the Future

Dan Schned, a senior transportation planner at the Regional Plan Association, said "what’s possible and what Congress has the stomach to spend are two different things."

But he said that funding need not come solely from Congress. "Successful high-speed rail projects around the world have private sector participation," Schned pointed out, adding that "the arrangement of public and private financing and project delivery issues will be the most challenging" aspects of overhauling the NEC.

The Federal Railroad Administration is holding workshops in New Haven, Newark and Washington D.C. next week to present the plan to the public. For more information, go here.  Read the full report below.

NEC Future: A Rail Investment Plan for the Northeast Corridor

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Seattle Could Cancel Nearly 30 Percent Of Bus Routes

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Seattle bus (photo by Oran Viricincy via flickr)

(Derek Wang - Seattle, KUOW) King County Metro could eliminate of almost a third of its routes.

Ongoing budget woes are forcing the Seattle transit provider to consider slashing its bus service. Metro is grappling with less sales tax revenue and it’s anticipating the end of a temporary funding source.

On Monday, the agency released a first draft of possible reductions, which could include canceling 65 routes and reducing service on 86 others.

Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond predicted an unpleasant ride. “Those routes are going to be more crowded,” he said. “You may not be on a route now that may be targeted for reduction, but more people may be needing to access your route and therefore that route is going to become more crowded.”

Another thing that could become more crowded: the street. Metro says fewer people would take the bus if the cuts go into effect. The agency predicts that could lead to as many as 30,000 additional cars on the road every day.

Metro says it will continue to look for ways to reduce costs. Desmond adds that Metro has raised fares already--four times since 2000.

The cuts are far from certain. King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn have asked state lawmakers to come up with new funding sources for Metro. Those sources could be part of a gas tax increase, or a new vehicle tax that would be based on the value of a driver's car.

Follow Derek Wang on Twitter.

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Transportation Nation

Distracted Driving Awareness Month Begins With Plea to Change Behavior

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

(photo by Jim Legans, Jr.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TN MOVING STORIES: L.A. Synchronizes ALL Traffic Lights, MARTA Ridership Falling, Tesla Turns Profit

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Top stories on TN:
A Blind Rider’s Long Commute, or How Transit Cuts Hit Those Who Need It Most (link)
Subway Sea Wall Of Steel Rising Between A Train And Jamaica Bay (link)

Los Angeles (photo by Neil Kremer via flickr)

Los Angeles has synchronized every one of its 4,500 traffic signals across 469 square miles — the first major metropolis in the world to do so. Also: "The magnetic sensors pick up most bicycles as well. Pedestrians are tougher to record, but they are also accounted for." (New York Times)

Ridership on Atlanta's transit system is bucking a national trend by falling. Since 2001 MARTA showed ridership losses on trains for eight years and on buses for 10 — far worse than comparable cities or transit systems. (Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Seattle's transit system says it might remove 65 bus routes and reduce trips on 86 more -- unless the state Legislature allows the county to collect new taxes. (Seattle Times)

Massachusetts legislators will unveil their transportation funding plan today. (WBUR)

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The California Department of Transportation is reviewing whether the large bolts that broke last month on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge had failed quality-control tests by the agency's materials lab. (Sacramento Bee)

Shares of Tesla Motors hit an all-time high after the electric-car maker said it would show a quarterly profit for the first time in its 10-year history -- and founder Elon Musk promises even better news today. (Mercury News)

What do car sales say about the U.S. economy? "The recession may be over, but consumers and manufacturers are still embracing what's practical." (Marketplace)

China's 'airpocalypse:' 1.2 million early deaths in one year alone are being blamed on China's air quality; expatriates are fleeing, and it's only getting worse: rising car ownership and coal consumption will push that country’s air pollution 70% higher by 2025. (Quartz)

Indonesia's Lion Air is planning a massive expansion. Helloooo Australia! (And Thailand, Myanmar, and Vietnam.) (Bloomberg)

A blast from Chicago's two-wheeled past: behold the Lake View Cycling Club, circa 1890. (Link)

Alec Baldwin: distracted bicyclist. (New York Daily News)

It's like the Sharks vs. Jets, only with two people playing brass instruments: watch an epic subway sax battle unfold. (h/t Gothamist)

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A Blind Rider's Long Commute, or How Transit Cuts Hit Those Who Need It Most

Monday, April 01, 2013


Buddy Yates and his guide dog Palmer wait for the bus in Seattle, Wash. (Photo by Derek Wang / KUOW)

(Derek Wang, Seattle, Wash. -- KUOW -- Audio) It’s 3:00 p.m. on a recent workday in Seattle and Buddy Yates sets off on the first leg of his long commute home. He and his guide dog, Palmer, step through the fast-food containers that litter the street on the way to Rainier Avenue South where he will catch his first bus.

“No sniff, no sniff,” says Yates, pulling back repeatedly on his dog’s harness. Even for a guide dog, those containers are hard to resist. It’s only one of the many hurdles Yates, 61, will face over the next two hours.

Five buses and three trains. Every day. That’s the basic commute he’s done for nearly a decade to get to his job at The Lighthouse for the Blind Inc., where he makes canteens and other equipment for the military. He likes to get there by 6:30 a.m. so he has time to settle in and take care of Palmer before his shift begins. To do that, he has to leave his Tacoma, Wash. home at 3:00 a.m.

Like thousands of other residents of Pierce and King counties, Yates depends on a transit system that’s been turned sideways by the recession. More changes are on the way. As Pierce Transit prepares for its third round of reductions since 2009 and as King County Metro Transit warns of cutbacks next year, Yates is worried that he and his wife may have fewer transportation options. That could affect everything from where they work to where they live. Yates says he wishes he could work closer to home but he hasn’t been able to find a job. “A lot of places won’t hire blind people,” he says. “They think we’re too stupid because we can’t see.”

Fallout From The Recession

Pierce Transit has been slammed by the recession. Most of the agency's operating revenue — 71 percent — comes from sales tax. Since 2007, sales tax revenue for Pierce Transit has plummeted by about 25 percent. To cope with the shortfall the agency has raised fares, delayed capital improvements and laid off workers, cutting about a third of its managers. The agency has asked voters to raise the local sales tax, but the ballot measures have failed twice. Pierce Transit made service cuts in 2009 and 2011, and plans to do so again on September 29. After this next round of reductions, Pierce Transit will have cut about half of the service that it offered before the recession.

The cuts will affect a ridership that's already disadvantaged. About 56 percent of Pierce Transit riders make $20,000 a year or less. Agency spokesman Justin Leighton said they’ve heard complaints from riders who say they’ve lost work because of the cuts. “That’s a challenge for our workforce,” he said, “especially for those who work in the restaurant industry or in retail, who often work evening or weekend hours. It’s a struggle for them and we recognize that.”

The Commute As Community

For Yates, the commute is a big part of his social life. As he waits for the train at the Sounder commuter platform a man in Carhartt pants and a bright orange vest approaches. Before the man says anything, Yates calls out, "Hey Matt," and they make small talk. On the train, as people familiar to Yates board, he says hello to them before they even sit down. Yates can identify them from the sounds of their footsteps. “It’s like fingerprints,” he says. “Everyone sounds different.” Over time, he has cultivated a core group of friends on the buses and trains. For Yates the camaraderie is the best part of his daily journey. “We have our own little community,” he says. “We talk about pregnancy, politics, God, sex, everything.”

Sometimes there are headaches. Yates doesn’t like taking the Sound Transit express bus. Unlike the commuter train, the express bus does not have a lot of space if you’re traveling with a fully grown Labrador guide dog. Yates usually sits in the disabled seat and puts Palmer on the chair next to him so the dog won’t block the aisle. But’s that’s led to a few confrontations from passengers who want Palmer’s seat. “I had some guy, 6-foot-5, he pushed his way in; pushed me. He wanted to spread out,” he says. “I said, ‘Well I’m getting off at the next stop,’ because he’s bigger than I am; he was being a jerk.”

More Transit Cuts

Dealing with difficult passengers isn’t nearly as much of a concern, though, as looming cuts by King County Metro. The nation’s tenth-largest bus agency is slightly less dependent on sales taxes than Pierce Transit, but it still receives the majority of its budget from the sales tax; about 54 percent this year. Metro has also maxed out its credit card; it has reached the state-imposed limit on how much sales tax it can collect and needs other options. It has additional funding tools; namely, a $20 vehicle license fee. But that authority expires next year, and Metro is also bracing for a drop in funding from the Washington State Department of Transportation’s viaduct replacement project.

Other transit agencies are also feeling the pinch. Community Transit in Snohomish County has already made cuts. Since 2010, it has cut about 37 percent of its service, including completely stopping the buses on Sundays. Sound Transit has had to scale back its expansion plans that voters approved in 2008 and will not be able to deliver everything it promised. Clallam Transit might also make cuts; General Manager Terry Weed said they’ve asked the federal government for increased assistance. If that doesn’t pan out, they’ll have to reduce service or ask voters to raise sales taxes.

Local officials around the state are asking the Legislature for new funding options. They’re requesting a share of the proposed gas tax increase and a new motor vehicle excise tax, which is based on the value of your car. But it's unclear if lawmakers will take up the request. Both ideas are unpopular with voters, according to a recent Elway Poll.

The End Of The Journey

Two hours after he first left Seattle, Yates and Palmer finally reach home. Yates gets his mail, greets his wife and changes clothes. Palmer hurries over to his water bowl; Yates’ wife gives the dog a few carrots as a pre-dinner snack.

Sitting back in his living room, Yates reflects on why voters rejected the sales tax increase that would have prevented the upcoming bus cuts. He says voters probably didn’t think about the consequences. “Who’s going to take your elderly mother and father to the doctor? Who’s going to take your elderly mother and father to the grocery store?” He says, "They’re going to have to come up with another tax to support them that’s probably going to be worse.”

Listen to the radio version of this story at KUOW.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: EPA's Ethanol Push, L.A.'s Red Car Conspiracy Theory, MARTA's Crime Fighting App

Monday, April 01, 2013

Top stories on TN:
Subway Sea Wall Of Steel Rising Between A Train And Jamaica Bay (link)
LaHood Doles Out Another $1.42 Billion To Transit Hit By Sandy (link)
Contractor Responds to Reported Defects In Silver Spring Transit Centers (link)
Reimagining Package Delivery, WalMart Asks Customers to Play Couriers (link)
Striking Vintage EPA Photos Show Troubling Proximity of People and Pollution in 1970s (link)

Heading to the Bronx today: the MTA's nostalgia train (photo courtesy of NY MTA)

The EPA's push for more ethanol could be too little, too late. (NPR)

The GAO says ridership and revenue estimates for California's high-speed railway project are “reasonable." (The Hill)

Texas will use state DOT money to keep air control towers open at 13 small airports in its state. (KUHF)

DC Metro will triple the number of video cameras it has monitoring its stations and parking garages, and put cameras in rail cars for the first time. (Washington Examiner)

The great Red Car conspiracy theory: is it real?  Listen to why streetcars disappeared from Los Angeles. (SCPR/99% Invisible)

Denver's new light rail line will open April 26. (Denver Post)

Follow TN on TwitterFacebook, or Tumblr.

MARTA launched an app to report crimes. (WSBTV)

Women are free to ride bicycles and buggies in Saudi Arabia -- as long as they are accompanied by a male guardian or relative. (Al-Arabiya)

NYC is piloting a program that would give people with disabilities the option to take taxis instead of Access-A-Ride or public transportation. (New York Daily News)

America is exporting lowrider culture overseas to Brazil. (New York Times)

Reminder: opening day at Yankees Stadium means...the Nostalgia Train! It leaves Grand Central Terminal today at 11:30am. (MTA; more photos here)

The nostalgia train, as seen during the Yankees' 2012 postseason (photo by Kate Hinds)

Unnerving April Fool's Day story: The National Rifle Association will spend $3.2 billion to purchase the naming rights for the new Tappan Zee Bridge. (Nyack News and Views)

Were you forwarded TN Moving stories from a friend? You can sign up here.


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Transportation Nation

Subway Sea Wall Of Steel Rising Between A Train And Jamaica Bay

Monday, April 01, 2013

Pile driver installs a section of steel wall between A train tracks in the foreground and Jamaica Bay behind. (photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY - WNYC) New York is Holland now: the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority is building a wall to keep out the sea along a two-mile stretch of the A subway line on its way to the Rockaway peninsula in Queens. The wall is made of thick steel and runs along the eastern side the tracks on the island of Broad Channel, in the middle of Jamaica Bay.

The $38 million project is the MTA's first big step since Sandy to prevent flooding from future storm surges.

To make sure the wall is strong enough to hold off another flood, workers are pounding each section about 30 feet into the ground. In the end, the wall will rise only seven feet above the rails, two feet above Sandy's height. The MTA thinks that's high enough.

On a recent windy afternoon, Contractor Mitch Levine was watching workers pile drive and weld each section into place. He said the wall is designed to withstand salt water. "This steel is special steel," he said. "It's marine steel, which will stop it from eroding over the course of 100 years."

Keeping the hungry waves at bay

NY MTA program manager Raymond Wong said the wall is supposed to prevent future storm surges from doing what Sandy did in this area, which was rip the embankment right out from under 400 feet of track.

"The tracks were hanging in the air," he said.

For three weeks after Sandy, each tide took another bite from a larger section of the embankment--until the NY MTA rebuilt the shore by dumping tons of stone and concrete next to the tracks. But this stretch of the A train across Jamaica Bay is still not in service. Thousands of riders now cram into crowded shuttle buses and face rush hour commutes that can end after midnight.

The wall will also serve a second purpose: keeping debris off the line. Forty-eight boats came to rest on the tracks after Sandy, along with jet skis, docks and fuel tanks. The clean up alone took three months.

Why a wall?

NY MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said engineers chose a steel wall to protect the A train because, "It could meet strength requirements as well as timing requirements--we wanted to make sure the wall would be in place by May 1." The line is scheduled to return to full service by summer.

Although Jamaica Bay is part of Gateway National Park, Ortiz said the wall didn't need to go through "any type of approval process" because it's within the right-of-way of the tracks, which is controlled by NYC Transit. Ortiz said the NY MTA did consult with the National Park Service and Army Corps of Engineers about the plan.

At the Broad Channel station replacing signals and thousands of feet of cable and other components. (Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Kevin Ortiz)

Bringing the power back

The MTA is taking a much more short term approach to repairing the A train's damaged electrical system. A mile away from Broad Channel, a control house sits in the railyard at the end of the line in Rockaway Park. Inside, Wong showed off rooms stuffed with equipment that looked modern in the 1950s, when it was installed. One panel has thousands of fuses, each with its own hand-lettered tag. Sandy turned these rooms into temporary aquariums.

"Everything was just coated in salt water that undermined the copper," Wong said. "When we came here, this whole thing was a big block of rust."

Electricity is vital to the subway. It powers signals that keep the trains apart, and switches that move those trains down the right track. There's also lighting at stations, public address systems, and power to the third rail to move the trains--the list goes on.

So what is the MTA doing to protect the electrical equipment at low-lying sites from future storms? "We're just trying to get up and running over here," Wong said. "There's really not much you can do."

Wong said, ideally, the MTA will lift the control house 10 feet in the air, rip out the old components and computerize the system. But that's millions of dollars and years away. His goal right now is to get the A train back by summer, however he can.

Click here for more photos of restoration work on the A line.

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Transportation Nation

LaHood Doles Out Another $1.42 Billion To Transit Hit By Sandy

Friday, March 29, 2013

(New York, NY - WNYC) The federal government is making available the balance of $2 billion promised to transit agencies hit hard by Sandy. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told transit managers, mostly in New York and New Jersey, that if they've got invoices for Sandy reconstruction and repairs, he's got $1.2 billion in reimbursements to dole out.

That's $545 million less than the amount available before cuts forced by sequestration.

Most of the funding will go to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs buses, trains and subways in and around the city; the PATH train, which connects northern New Jersey to Manhattan; New Jersey Transit, which runs trains and bus in that state; and the NYC Department of Transportation, which oversees roads and bridges.

Here's the full text of LaHood's announcement:

U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood Announces $1.42 Billion to Help Transit Agencies Recover From Hurricane Sandy

FTA meets deadline to get first $2 billion in aid to storm’s hardest-hit communities

WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced a third round of Federal Transit Administration (FTA) storm-related reimbursements through the FY 2013 Disaster Relief Appropriations Act. The majority of the $1.4 billion announced today goes to the four transit agencies that incurred the greatest expenses while preparing for and recovering from Hurricane Sandy—the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corp. (PATH), New Jersey Transit (NJT), and the New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT). The remainder will be allocated to other transit agencies that incurred eligible storm-related expenses but have not yet received funds.

“Shortly after Hurricane Sandy made landfall, President Obama and I promised that we would do everything in our power to bring relief to the hardest-hit communities, and that is exactly what we have done,” said Secretary LaHood. “In less than two months’ time, we met our commitment to provide $2 billion to more than a dozen transit agencies that suffered serious storm damage, and laid the groundwork to continue helping them rebuild stronger than before.”

A total of $10.9 billion was appropriated for the disaster relief effort, which is administered through FTA’s Emergency Relief Program. (This amount was reduced by 5 percent, or $545 million, because of the mandatory sequestration budget cut that took effect on March 1.) Earlier this month, FTA allocated nearly $554 million of the first $2 billion in aid to reimburse certain transit providers in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. With today’s allocation, FTA has now met the 60-day Congressional deadline to get the initial funds out the door in order to reimburse hard-hit transit agencies for expenses incurred while preparing for and recovering from the storm.

“Considering that over a third of America's transit riders use the systems most heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy, it is imperative that we continue this rapid progress to restore these systems in the tri-state region,” said FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff.

The remainder of the $10.9 billion will be utilized for ongoing recovery efforts as well as to help agencies become more resilient in the face of future storms and disasters. The FTA has published an Interim Final Rule in the Federal Register this week for FTA’s Emergency Relief Program outlining general requirements that apply to all the funds allocated related to Sandy and future grants awarded under this program.

A summary of how the funds announced today are to be allocated is described below. A more detailed breakdown, and information on eligibility requirements, appears in the Federal Register:

$1.4 billion in disaster relief aid primarily to assist the transit agencies that incurred the greatest storm-related expenditures: the New York MTA, the PATH, New Jersey Transit (NJT), and the NYC DOT. These funds are made available on a pro-rated basis, based on damage and cost assessments FTA has made with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the transit agencies themselves.

A separate $21.9 million allocation to reimburse the NYC DOT as part of a consolidated request with other entities for various activities prior, during, and after the storm to protect the Staten Island Ferry, its equipment, and personnel, the East River Ferry service, and Governors Island, including the public island’s Battery Maritime Building ferry waiting room. Emergency measures included moving transit equipment to higher ground, operating ferry vessels at berths to prevent damage; debris removal; reestablishing public transportation service; protecting, preparing and securing Ferry Terminals at St. George and Whitehall, facilities and offices to address potential flooding; staffing and operating ferryboats at berths to prevent damage; and performing shelter-in-place operations for worker protection during the storm.

$422,895 to reimburse four additional transit agencies for expenses incurred preparing for and recovering from the storm. These are the Greater Bridgeport Transit District ($21,783); the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority ($344,311); the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority ($1,179) and the Connecticut Department of Transportation, which is receiving $55,622 just for CTTransit bus-related expenses, as FTA previously allocated $2.8 million to MTA for Metro-North rail service serving southwestern Connecticut.

A table listing total allocations for funding recipients to date and a summary of their reimbursable expenditures is available here.

 

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Contractor Responds to Reported Defects In Silver Spring Transit Center

Friday, March 29, 2013

(Photo CC by Flickr user thisisbossi)

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) The general contractor leading the construction of the Silver Spring Transit Center is publicly defending itself against alarming charges of building defects in the delayed transit hub, pointing to evidence that it followed Montgomery County's design plans.

Rockville-based Foulger Pratt released copies of daily inspection reports under the letterhead of the firm Montgomery County hired to perform field inspections on the Silver Spring Transit Center, Owings Mill-based Robert B. Balter Company. The signed reports state: "Prior to concrete placement reinforcing steel was inspected and found to be installed as per specifications."

The charges center on insufficient amounts of concrete, reinforcing steel and post-tensioning cables — high-strength steel strands or bars used to strengthen concrete — according to Montgomery County's findings of design and construction flaws released last week to intense news coverage. Foulger Pratt managing principal Bryant Foulger says he would like his side of the story to receive as much attention.

"It feels like from the county executive's comment, that we've been indicted and tried and convicted without realizing there is another very compelling side to this story," Foulger said. "If there is an issue with safety here, it is related to design. That's the county's issue, not ours."

In its rebuttal to the county's claims, Foulger Pratt is zeroing in on the facility's concrete pour strips that the county's investigation said lacked proper reinforcement. The contractor contends all concrete was poured in compliance with design documents.

"They accused us of leaving out things that they didn't include in the design in the first place," Foulger said. "The only area where they've identified as a safety concern are these pour strips, and as you can see by these reports and as you can see by the drawings, we built them in accordance with plans and specs."

The fate of the Silver Spring Transit Center, which is over budget and behind schedule, remains up in the air.  Both sides have said their differences can be worked out, but Foulger Pratt claims the transit hub would have opened already had it not been for the county's stonewalling.

"For over a year, Foulger Pratt has been asking the county to sit down around the table, to work together with us in a professional dialogue, first and foremost to determine what if anything needs to be done to open this facility for the public and to get it open," said Judah Lifschitz, an attorney for Foulger Pratt. "It flies in the face of fundamental fairness for the county to not talk to us for a year about these issues, to not engage in a professional dialogue."

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett has threatened to cancel its contract with its hired design and construction firms unless they pay for whatever mediation will be necessary to fix the transit center's structural problems.

In a statement released after issuing the results of the county's investigation, Leggett said, "These deficiencies not only compromise the structural integrity of the facility, but could also begin to impact the Transit Center's durability far earlier than expected, thus shortening its useful life. At worst, if no changes are made, some of the facility's elements may not withstand the loads they are intended to support, thereby putting the many users of the center at potential risk."

Washington Post report said Balter Company "improperly tested the strength of concrete, apparently failed to measure its thickness and didn't raise sufficient concerns when the concrete started to crack, according to independent engineers and county officials."

Follow Martin Di Caro on Twitter @martindicaro

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Reimagining Package Delivery, WalMart Asks Customers to Play Courier

Friday, March 29, 2013

(Nancy Marshall-Genzer -- Marketplace) So, you’re at Walmart, getting ready to pay. The cashier says, 'Wait! You can get a few bucks off if you deliver some stuff your neighbor ordered.'

Walmart is definitely thinking outside the big box on this one. Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics, says Walmart may be thinking customer couriers would be faster than Amazon, which Walmart sees as enemy number one -- for good reason.

“The whole retail industry is shifting toward mobile and online purchases and probably felt like they’ve gotten a late start to it,” Perkins says.

So they have to get creative. Walmart and other big-box stores have also experimented with matching Amazon’s prices. Other retailers are offering free apps that tell them when you’re in their store. They can track your progress through the aisles and text you with special offers.

“Let’s say you’re in a grocery store and you’re in the ice cream aisle," explains Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at the NPD Group. "They can tell you that Haagen-Dazs ice cream is on sale today.”

Other retailers are closing brick-and-mortar stores and customizing the ones they keep. Alden Lury, a retail strategist at Kurt Salmon, says for example, a Target in a city might not stock bargain sizes.

“You might not find the 12-pack of Bounty," he says. "You might find the six pack of Bounty. It might be hard to get on the subway with a 12-pack of Bounty.”

Lury says if retailers can get to know their customers that well, and tailor themselves to what savvy shoppers want, they might just have a chance against Amazon.

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Transportation Nation

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

Friday, March 29, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 Follow Alex Goldmark on Twitter @alexgoldmark

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