Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Drilling Dollars, Autonomous Car Laws, Subway Recovery

Friday, March 29, 2013

Top Stories on TN

Fung Wah Investigation Leads to 2nd, More Shocking Shut Down Order, Terrifying Quotes (link)
Poll: Fewer Than Half of Californians Support High-Speed Rail (link)
Dozens in Congress Press for Nat’l Bike and Pedestrian Safety Goals, Measurement (link)
With Plans Drawn, Maryland’s Purple Line Scares Some Business Owners (link)

Traffic in Detroit, Michigan sometime between 1915 and 1925 (Library of Congress

Linking new gas drilling and energy revenues to transportation funding could solve funding problems, or scuttle chances for a bipartisan transpo deal. (Politico)

A company wants to build a giant vertical moisture fueled wind turbine of sorts that would be America's talled structure and generate wind energy. (Marketplace)

82% of Americans want the nation to prepare for climate change (USA Today via Direct Transfer)

Photos from the NY MTA of the newly restored, old South Ferry subway station called back into service after Sandy damaged the new station. (MTA)

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A recent legal paper makes the case that existing laws don't prohibit automated vehicles. (Atlantic Cities)

But maybe not if you wear Google Glass. W. Va could ban drivers in West Virginia from using the new face computers. (Wired)

There's a kerfuffle over foreign drivers in Florida (Sentinel)

To see if State DOTs are living out pedestrian-friendly values, Tri-State Transportation Campaign looked at the headquarters facilities from space of three state DOTs and evaluated them for walking. (link)

It one solution to pollution buildings that eat smog like this pretty one in Mexico City? (link)

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Transportation Nation

Poll: Fewer Than Half of Californians Support High-Speed Rail

Thursday, March 28, 2013

A map of the planned high-speed rail system in California (photo by flickr user Richard Masoner)

Back in 2008, California voters approved a $10 billion bond to plan and build a high-speed rail system across the state. Four years later, support for the high-speed rail has waned. Now that the estimated cost is $68 billion, a recent survey by the Public Policy Institute of California shows that only 43 percent of likely voters support the project.

That number hasn’t changed since the last time the survey was conducted, about a year ago. When asked if they would support a high-speed rail if the cost was lower, support jumps to 55 percent. But the cost has gone down since the last survey, from $100 billion to $68 billion. It’s unclear what number would tip the public back in favor of the system, but they haven’t reached it yet.

At the same time, a majority of Californians (59 percent) think a high-speed rail system is important to the state “quality of life and economic vitality.”

Meanwhile, the California High-Speed Rail Authority has continued to win or settle its legal battles with cities across California. The Authority plans to move forward with construction this summer. The state must spend its $2.35 billion of federal funding on the project before 2017.

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Transportation Nation

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

Thursday, March 28, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Transportation Nation

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

Thursday, March 28, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Martin Di Caro on Twitter @MartinDiCaro

3 26 13 LaHood Bike Ped Lettr by transponation

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Transportation Nation

With Plans Drawn, Maryland's Purple Line Scares Some Business Owners

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Map presented by MTA at Silver Spring Neighborhood Work Group for Purple Line

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) On colorful maps spread out over long tables the planned path of the Purple Line, a 16-mile light rail extension to the D.C. area Metro system, was shown to residents and business owners at a ‘neighborhood work group’ meeting Wednesday night. But the maps reveal, progress to some, means bankruptcy fears to others.

While the maps conjure images of what might be if the $2.2 billion rail system supported by transit advocates and real estate developers ever gets built, to some the plans are the harbinger of personal hardship.

“I’m not happy at all,” said Dario Orellana, the owner of a Tex-Mex restaurant in busy Silver Spring. “We’ve been there for 14 years and moving is going to be really hard on us.”

Orellana is one of about a dozen businesses on 16th Street that would be displaced by the Purple Line’s proposed route through Silver Spring, Maryland. Officials from the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) explained that the planned right-of-way will also absorb part of business-friendly Bonifant Street, making it a one-way street with parallel parking on one side.

“We have to take up a good part of the street, roughly 25 to 30 feet of it, for the Purple Line to come along here,” said Michael Madden, the MTA’s Purple Line project manager. “We work very hard to minimize those impacts.”

Orellana’s lawyer said no matter how much money the state provides his client in compensation for moving his restaurant, he and other entrepreneurs displaced by the Purple Line will struggle to attract the same clientele to new locations.

“I am looking at the map right now and a number of these businesses will probably have to go somewhere. They are right there in the way of the line,” said attorney Dmitri Chernov.

No one will have to move their businesses anywhere if state lawmakers currently in session in Annapolis fail to approve additional funding to replenish Maryland’s transportation trust fund.

“This is the make or break year, so we know that we need additional revenue, the state needs additional revenue in the trust fund to actual build the Purple Line,” said Madden. “So far we are optimistic, based on the discussions going on, that will happen.”

Madden said the MTA is also preparing to negotiate a permanent federal funding agreement because the Purple Line has been accepted into the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program.

“We have planned and designed the project so that it meets all the federal requirements,” Madden said.

A federal grant would provide matching dollars splitting the bill with the state on a 50/50 basis each year of construction, which Madden hopes will begin in 2015 and wrap up in 2020.

“We would not start the project until we know we would have the assurance of sufficient funding to complete the project,” he said.

The Purple Line may be years from carrying its first passengers but the state is close to completing both its preliminary engineering and environmental impact statement, which are due this fall.

The 16-mile light rail system would be powered by overhead cables between Bethesda in Montgomery County to New Carrollton in Prince George’s County, connecting to WMATA’s Red Line’s east and west branches and crossing over Connecticut Avenue. Rider estimates are 74,000 per day by 2040, Madden said.

Some residents at Wednesday night’s meeting – after taking in the MTA’s pretty topographical maps – focused on what they viewed will be the Purple Line’s negative effects on downtown Silver Spring.

“It’s going to take away parking on one side of the street and on Saturdays and Sundays around here on Bonifant Street everything is packed solid,” said Bob Colvin, the president of a local civic association.

Colvin was not impressed with the rail system’s potential to reduce car dependency, thus mitigating the loss of road. “I think people are still going to drive. They are going to come from afar and I’m sure this Purple Line is not going to cover all venues from wherever these people come from.”

Follow Martin Di Caro on Twitter @MartinDiCaro

Silver Spring Transit Center NWG

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Freight Rail Boom, Streetcar Plans, Congestion Study,

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Top Stories on TN

Google Maps Adds Real-Time Transit Data in NYC, Salt Lake City (link)
Calif. Devil’s Slide Tunnels Open After a Long Fight (link)
Switching Gears and Bringing Cycling Culture Back to China and Taiwan (link)
Senator Pressuring the FAA to Hurry Up and End In-Flight Ban on Cell Phones (link)

Rendering of a proposed downtown St. Louis streetcar.

NPR examines the global and growing phenomenon of women's-only subway cars. New Delhi joins the trend but it's still no picnic being a female traveler in India. (link)

New research paper finds mass transit significantly reduces car traffic even if only a tiny fraction of commuters ride it. (link - paywall) But luckily, Paul Krugman summarizes the logic of the paper for us, "commuters who take mass transit are, very disproportionately, people who would otherwise be driving on the most congested routes." (NYT)

The broken bolts on new Bay Bridge shouldn't delay the opening. (Sac Bee)

"The revival of the Railroad Age" is here, reports the WSJ, with "a building boom unlike anything since the industry's Gilded Age." The face of it is "hot trains," special trains for high volume customers like the USPS, Amazon and FedEx (paywall link)

We mentioned Maryland's ambitious gas and sales tax transpo funding plan. Here's way more explanation from T4America (link)

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A look at traffic ticket data: "As long as you can manage not to crash your vehicle into something or someone, you can more or less go ahead and ignore the speed limit in Bushwick, the Upper West Side or East Harlem" in NYC. (Capital NY)

A federal database is coming for truck drivers who fail drug tests. (The Hill)

A bankruptcy judge gave the go ahead for American and US Airways to merge. (AP)

How to make an airport energy efficient? Build it modeled on palm fronds maybe. (GizMag)

"Sound suits," cloth horses, and eerie music all combine for a giant dance in Grand Central Terminal as part of its centennial celebration. (WNYC - audio)

The feasibility study is complete on the proposed downtown St. Louis streetcar laying out economic, sustainability and quality of life impacts. This allows the plan to move to next phase of consideration. (CMT St. Louis via Direct Transfer)

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The tallest building in America has added an amenity, a bike valet. (Sun Times via reader @rosalindrossi)

Train station porn: pics of America's "grandest" train stations. (Governing)

And why not, check out a bike made out of wood. (FastCoExist)

Puzzle time. Can you tell urban from rural based on the street grid alone? Per Square Mile posted these (and a few other) test images.

Sample #4

Sample #5

Find the answers at Pay Per Mile. (via Direct Transfer)

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Transportation Nation

Google Maps Adds Real-Time Transit Data in NYC, Salt Lake City

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Google Maps showing real-time transit data in NYC.

UPDATED 4:50 p.m.: Google Maps now publishes real-time data for the NYC subway. Not for all subway lines, but it's another step in the march of technological progress that transit advocates hope will make more people ride the subway, and enjoy the journey more too. Salt Lake City was added to Google Maps today as well.

The NY MTA had previously released the data on its website, smartphone apps and through publicly available data for other people to use for making apps. Now the two main transit routing websites have both integrated the real time information, so a passenger, or prospective passenger, can see exactly which train is coming when -- not just when it is scheduled to arrive -- and if they happen to have a choice between the two lines with real-time data, they can even compare departure times and choose the line accordingly. Or more conveniently  have Google Maps routing functions do the choosing.

That increases trip and trip planning efficiency and just as important, knowing the departure times reliably can also increase perceptions of efficiency, which makes people more likely to choose transit over other modes according to a 2011 study from the University of Chicago, which makes this point with charming academic-ease:

"The provision of real-time transit information might serve as an intervention to break current transit nonusers’ travel habits and in consequence increase the mode share of transit use. Moreover, the results of this study suggest that real-time transit information may be more successful in increasing transit ridership if combined with facilitating programs that enhance commuters’ opportunities to be exposed to such systems before using them."

Like Google Maps. Or HopStop, or other transit routing that can integrate this data.

Google first added real time data in six cities in 2011. Google spokesperson Sierra Lovelace said, as of today, Google transit routing is now in 800 cities. Real-time data is only available in the handful of those where the local transit agencies make the data available, including Boston, Honolulu, San Francisco, London, Madrid, Torino, Italy, and as of today, New York City and Salt Lake City. "While it's not all 800, it is many, and we're always looking to expanded that offering," she said.

Lovelace says there are one billion monthly unique users of Google Maps (including Google Earth and all map services), half of them on smart phones. While Google didn't have a breakdown of the data by city or by feature, there is certain to be a sizable audience that now has access to NYC's real-time data through a platform they already check regularly.

Note the "real departure times" below the times in the screengrab above, as TN reader Steve Vance and Chicago transportation writer, points out, that line is what indicates the difference between real-time and scheduled arrival and departure times.

The NYC subway only releases real-time data on seven of roughly 25 lines (depending on if you count the shuttles and the temporary H train). For now it's only on the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 42nd Street Shuttle lines. The other lines have a different switching system which does not produce real-time data in a way that can be exported. There is no timetable for upgrading the rest of the system.

H/T Second Ave Sagas

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Transportation Nation

Switching Gears and Bringing Cycling Culture Back to China and Taiwan

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Cyclists in Shanghai, China (Photo CC by Flickr user BadBrother)

(Elise Zevitz -- The City Fix) China is experiencing the fastest growth in bike sharing in the world, with 39 bike share systems in place, counting the latest addition from last month in Aksu, near the the Kyrgyzstan border. At the head of the 39 cities sits Hangzhou, which currently runs the world’s largest bike sharing program with over 60,000 bikes in service. That’s 40,000 more than the Vélib program in Paris, France.

Yet, at the same time, bikes have lost the wide appeal they once had in China. “In 1950, as a status symbol, every citizen had to have three things: a watch, a sewing machine, and a bicycle”, says professional fixed gear cyclist, Ines Brunn, who has lived in China since 2004. In the last decade, however, Brunn observes that the bike has become an image of the past and a mode of transport for those who cannot afford cars. However, local governments and their citizens in China and Taiwan are recognizing that more needs to be done to promote cycling as a commuter mode and a recreational activity, beyond implementing more bike-sharing programs.

Read the full post at The City Fix.

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Transportation Nation

Devil's Slide Tunnels Open After a Long Fight

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Devil's Slide Tunnels under construction in 2009 (photo by flickr user Mars Hall)

The new tunnels at Devil’s Slide on the northern California coast are finally open to drivers. This marks the first time cars have driven through a brand-new California highway tunnel in almost 50 years. The Devil’s Slide tunnels, officially named the Tom Lantos Tunnels, have been under construction since 2007 but have been a source of controversy since the 1970s.

When Highway 1 was built along the California Coast in the 1930s, it included a 1.2 mile stretch of road on an extremely unstable piece of hillside between San Francisco and Half Moon Bay called Devil’s Slide. During especially rainy winters, the ground would give way, causing the road to break and forcing drivers into a 45 mile detour. In 1995, the road was closed for 158 days.

Since the 1960s, California’s Department of Transportation, or Caltrans, had been looking for an alternative route. Caltrans proposed a highway bypass that would cut through the coastal hills. Locals and environmental activists were vehemently against the bypass, which would have been a larger freeway and split Montara State Park. The groups successfully used the National Environmental Policy Act and the California Coastal Act to postpone construction of the bypass through the 1970s and 80s. At the same time, the groups fought for a tunnel as the solution to the Devil’s Slide.

Caltrans had originally said that a tunnel would be too costly, but an independent study in 1996 showed that the tunnel was “reasonable and feasible.” In November of 1996, 74 percent of the voters of San Mateo County approved an initiative that stated a tunnel was the only permissible repair alternative to Devil’s Slide.

Construction began in 2007. The tunnels are over three-quarters of a mile long, with a total of 32 ventilation fans. The project’s cost of $439 million was fully funded with Federal Emergency Relief money, secured by U.S. Representative Tom Lantos, the tunnel’s namesake.

In a press release, Brian Kelly, the acting secretary of California’s Business, Transportation and Housing Agency, praised Caltrans and the other groups that worked to make the tunnels a reality.

“Ingenuity, will, and perseverance combined to get this project done. The new tunnels are state of the art structures that blend well into the beautiful, natural surroundings on this stretch of Highway 1,” he said. “Thanks to the work of the men and women who dedicated themselves to completing this project, motorists and emergency responders will have a safer journey from this day forward.”

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Transportation Nation

Senator Pressuring the FAA to Hurry Up and End In-Flight Ban on Cell Phones

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

(Photo CC by Jetstar Airways)

(Shannon Mullen -- Marketplace) You know that rule when you’re on a plane that you have to shut down your electronic devices for takeoff and landing? It’s up for review by an FAA panel with everyone from government regulators to airlines and device makers.

The group just met for the first time in January and plans to recommend new standards for devices on planes by July, but Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill thinks that’s not fast enough.

“If somebody is not being the squeaky wheel on this, it could be years, knowing how long this process typically takes,” McCaskill says. She points out that the FAA lets pilots use iPads in the cockpit instead of paper flight manuals, and she says there’s no hard evidence that other devices like e-readers and laptops interfere with planes.

“Unless and until somebody shows me that data I feel sense of obligation to keep pushing to make this rule change as quickly as possible,” says McCaskill, who is already drafting legislation to change the policy.

“Makes me wonder what are we doing there if people like herself have already decided that she wants a certain result and we better come up with it,” says Doug Kidd, of the National Association of Airline Passengers.

He’s on the FAA panel and he argues that there’s no evidence today’s devices don’t affect planes, and new devices hit the market every day. Kidd adds that most people don’t mind reasonable rules during takeoff and landing.

“It’s the most dangerous part of any flight,” he says. “It’s also the time when most accidents occur, so we’d rather not take a chance on distracting the flight crew at this point in time.”

The FAA would not comment on McCaskill’s push for action.  Kidd says the panel’s progress might seem slow, but Congress is not exactly known for its efficiency either.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Gas Tax Fights, Night Solar Flight, Making Transit Easier

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Top Stories on TN
Here's How a D.C. Suburb Avoided the Capital’s Traffic Nightmare (Link)
After Objections, Va. Gov Amends Two-Tiered Transpo Funding Plan (Link) More details here: (TimesDispatch)
Fun Video: Frank Sinatra Sung In Service of Pothole Patching (Link)
NY Auto Show Opens, Debuts Dozens of New Models (Link)

The Solar Impulse in flight. (Photo: Solar Impulse)

The Solar Impulse, a solar-powered airplane with the wing-span of a jumbo jet, is preparing for a cross country flight. It can even fly at night. (NPR)

Marketplace tries to find out which aircraft maker will win in the US Airways-American merger. American has traditionally bought Boeing planes. US Airways prefers Airbus. (Link)

Boeing 787 faces new risk: limits on extended range (Yahoo)

Using handy charts, Greater Greater Washington shows that driving in Maryland is still a bargain by historic standards, even after the fuel tax hike. (GGW)

Mesa Arizona is having trouble acquiring land for the right of way in its planned transit extension. (AZcentral via Other Side of the Tracks)

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Another study reinforcing the current real estate zeitgeist: walkable downtowns are driving booms in several cities. (Forbes) Our past reporting on transit and real estate prices (Link) And new DC data (NRDC)

The Houston area has $446 million to spend on transportation projects. Here's what's on the table. (Houston Tomorrow)

Meanwhile, Houston Metro is trying hard to make its bus system easier to use. (Chronicle)

LA Metro wants to accelerate spending and construction on its 30 year plan to build new transit options. (Metro)

Should Seattle and Tacoma ports merge? (Crosscut via Politico)

Omaha's mayor's race tackles bike lanes and sprawl. (World-Herald)

Meet the DC Area's million dollar bus stop (WaPo)

Worcester Polytechnic Institute has a plan to trap heat from asphalt roads and pipe it elsewhere, potentially transforming urban streets into giant solar collectors. (Green Futures)

Traffic at the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue, called the busiest in the world at 1929. (LA Times: more details

And with an unhealthy craving, we can announce the world record has been broken for the largest train ever built entirely from chocolate.  (Link)

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Transportation Nation

After Objections, Va. Gov Amends Two-Tiered Transpo Funding Plan

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

(Michael Pope -- WAMU) Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has offered a compromise on his transportation funding plan in response to a legal objection by the state's attorney general. Virginia needs new and additional revenue for upkeep it's network of highways (about 58,000-miles worth) and mass transit systems. As cars get more fuel efficient, gas tax revenues are falling in many states.

McDonnel has already signed a bill that replaces the state's 17.5 cents-per-gallon retail gasoline tax with a 3.5 percent wholesale tax on gasoline and a 6 percent levy on diesel fuel. That won't change. The portion of the plan under scrutiny involves sales tax.

Virginia attorney General Ken Cuccinelli had raised concerns about a provision that would have levied higher taxes on some more densely populated areas, including Northern Virginia.

The bill members of the General Assembly sent to the Governor's Mansion had a long list of localities from Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads that would have been subject to a higher sales tax rate. The two-tier tax system was intended to raise money for road building, but Cuccinelli said it may have been unconstitutional.

Now the governor has a fix: ditch the parts about the two urban areas and extend the taxing authority to the entire state. McDonnell is sending an amendment back to the General Assembly that would create regional taxing authority to all 21 of the commonwealth's regional planning districts — two of which are Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

That means the other 19 districts could create taxing authorities for transportation dollars if they wanted to, but they don't have to.

The governor's amendments also cut the controversial $100 fee on hybrid cars to $64 a year, cut taxes paid on hotel stays, and reduced the titling tax on vehicle purchases.

McDonnell's 52 amendments will be considered by the General Assembly in a veto session April 3rd.

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Transportation Nation

Frank Sinatra In Service of Pothole Patching (Video)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

That friendly tuxedo clad road inspector is singing a message of municipal upkeep. Imagine some of these choice lyrics set to Frank Sinatra's My Way

"As now potholes appear / and if you fall, then you'll be hurting / don't worry friends, help is here / we'll take your calls, you can be certain."

"At work our days are full / inspecting all our paths and byways / and more, much more than this, at work in hiiiiighways." 

"We lay each tarmac course, / not when it's wet, but on a dry day / and more, much more than this, at work in hiiighways." 

Watch the full video for four minutes of robust crooning in the service of pothole patching courtesy of the Worcestershire County Council, U.K.

Via Transport Issues Daily.

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Transportation Nation

How a D.C. Suburb Avoided the Capital's Traffic Nightmare

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Arlington's Wilson Boulevard and North Lynn Street at night. (Photo CC by Flickr user Mrs. Gernstone)

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) While the District of Columbia grapples with proposed changes to its parking and zoning policies, last updated in 1958, nearby Arlington County, Virginia seems to have triumphed in its effort to minimize traffic congestion. Commuters are shifting from cars to transit and bikes.

What's more, traffic volume has decreased on several major arterial roads in the county over the last two decades despite significant job and population growth, according to data compiled by researchers at Mobility Lab, a project of Arlington County Commuter Services.

Multifaceted effort to curb car-dependence

Researchers and transportation officials credit three initiatives for making the county less car-dependent: offering multiple alternatives to the automobile in the form of rail, bus, bicycling, and walking; following smart land use policies that encourage densely built, mixed-use development; and relentlessly marketing those transportation alternatives through programs that include five ‘commuter stores’ throughout the county where transit tickets, bus maps, and other information are available.

“Those three combined have brought down the percentage of people driving alone and increased the amount of transit and carpooling,” said Howard Jennings, Mobility Lab’s director of research and development.

Jennings’ research team estimates alternatives to driving alone take nearly 45,000 car trips off the county’s roads every weekday. Among those shifting modes from the automobile, 69 percent use transit, 14 percent carpool, 10 percent walk, four percent telework and three percent bike.

“Reducing traffic on key routes does make it easier for those who really need to drive. Not everybody can take an alternative,” Jennings said.

Arlington’s success in reducing car dependency is more remarkable considering it has happened as the region’s population and employment base has grown.

Since 1996 Arlington has added more than 6 million square feet of office space, a million square feet of retail, nearly 11,000 housing units and 1,100 hotel rooms in the Rosslyn-Ballston Metro corridor. Yet traffic counts have dropped major roads: on Lee Highway (-10%), Washington Boulevard (-14%), Clarendon Boulevard (-6%), Wilson Boulevard (-25%), and Glebe Road (-6%), according to county figures. Traffic counts have increased on Arlington Boulevard (11%) and George Mason Drive (14%).

“Arlington zoning hasn’t changed a great deal over the last 15 years or so. It’s been much more of a result of the services and the programs and the transportation options than it has been the zoning,” said Jennings.

Arlington serving as a regional model

Across the Potomac, the D.C. Office of Planning is considering the controversial proposal of eliminating mandatory parking space minimums in new development in transit-rich corridors and in downtown Washington to reduce traffic congestion. In Arlington, transportation officials say parking minimums have not been a focus.

“When developers come to Arlington we are finding they are building the right amount of parking,” said Chris Hamilton, the bureau chief at Arlington County Commuter Services. “Developers know they need a certain amount of parking for their tenants, but they don’t want to build too much because that’s a waste.”

Hamilton says parking is available at relatively cheap rates in the Rosslyn-Ballston Metro corridor because demand for spots has been held down by a shift to transit.

“In Arlington there are these great options. People can get here by bus, by rail, by Capital Bikeshare, and walking, and most people do that. That’s why Arlington is doing so well,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton credited a partnership with the county’s 700 employers for keeping their workers, 80 percent of whom live outside the county, from driving to work by themselves.

“Arlington Transportation Partners gives every one of those employers assistance in setting up commute benefit programs, parking programs, carpool programs, and bike incentives. Sixty-five percent of those 700 employers provide a transit benefit. That’s the highest in the region,” Hamilton said.

“There’s been a compact with the citizens since the 1960s and when Metro came to Arlington that when all the high-density development would occur in the rail corridors, we would protect the single family neighborhoods that hugged the rail corridors,” he added.

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Transportation Nation

NY Auto Show Opens, Debuts Dozens of New Models

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Images of the new 2014 Cadillac CTS have already begun to leak out ahead of its NY debut.

(Paul Eisenstein, The Detroit Bureau) The New York International Auto Show is the last of the big U.S. car shows before the industry takes a summer break and it takes on more significance than it has in years with at least two dozen new cars, trucks and crossovers scheduled to make their debut at the Jacob Javits convention center in the coming days.

Automakers are hoping that the timing of this year’s New York Auto Show coincides with the continuing revival of the U.S. automotive market. Sales surged at a double-digit pace last year and are echoing that growth so far in 2013. By some of the more optimistic forecasts, the market could jump from 14.5 million to as much as 15.5 million this year – though that is still below the record numbers of early in the new millennium, when Americans bought as many as 17 million new vehicles in a single year.

Industry analysts suggest that major car shows can deliver a surge of new momentum to the market, especially in the surrounding community – and metro New York is already one of the biggest automotive markets in the country.

The flood of new models rolling into Jacob Javits reflects, to some degree, the delays forced by the industry’s worst downturn since the Great Recession of the 1930s. Many makers had to postpone or slow the pace of development due to budget cuts. Others simply slowed things down to wait out a market revival rather than launch critical offerings at a time when consumers might not be interested.

The Chevrolet Corvette unleashed at the Detroit Auto Show in January was a good example, the launch of the seventh-generation 2014 “C7” Stingray delayed by two years due to the maker’s bankruptcy.

[Related: First Official Look: 2014 C7 Corvette Convertible]

According to the automotive data tracking service R.L. Polk, there will be 141 product launches this year, a 57 percent increase from 2012. (For more details on specific models, see full post here.)

Luxury brands dominate this year’s show, in fact, accounting for at least half of the debuts planned, depending on which brands you include. That’s no surprise considering the wealth of the NY region – it is, for example, the single-largest metro market for the new Range Rover model. Cadillac clearly is hoping to gain traction in the traditionally import-oriented Big Apple, a key reason for launching the new model in the city. 

For those on a budget, there are some more affordable new products on display, including the Kia Koup and the update for the Scion tC sports coupe. There are also some significant new family models, including the next-generation Toyota Highlander and Honda Odyssey minivan.

Reflecting recent trends, the NYIAS has slightly more new passenger cars than utility vehicles to tantalize potential buyers with. Sedans, coupes and even sports cars have been regaining some of their own momentum as fuel prices head upward.

That’s not to say the American fascination with utes is dead. They remain a major factor in U.S. sales – or at least more car-like crossovers  do. The number of traditional, truck-based offerings is steadily dwindling. Both the new Nissan Pathfinder and that Range Rover Sport, for example, have migrated to car-based “architectures” in their latest incarnations, as has the new Jeep Cherokee.

That old nameplate is making its return after a long absence from the market, the 2014 Cherokee replacing the aged and slow-selling Jeep Liberty.  Its distinctive design could make it one of the more controversial models at the New York Auto Show this year, even Jeep officials acknowledge.

[Related: First Drive: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Diesel]

While the SUV arm of Chrysler contends that the new Cherokee will retain its off-road capabilities, they also promote the fact that it will deliver significantly improved mileage. And while the 2013 NYIAS isn’t the greenest of auto shows, the environment is nonetheless an important topic for carmakers and car buyers alike.

There will be a handful of new battery-based models making their debut, starting with hybrid versions of two Nissan models, the recently redesigned Pathfinder and the QX60 from the maker’s Infiniti brand. Subaru, meanwhile, will unwrap its first-ever gas-electric model, the XV Crosstrek Hybrid. And Mercedes-Benz will roll out the first pure battery-electric vehicle, or BEV, targeted at the U.S. market. The Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive, in fact, will be the only version of that small people-mover sold in the States.

[Related: Mercedes Turning to Tesla for B-Class Battery Car]

Automakers are already teasing their NY introductions, even releasing images and details on a few models, like the 2014 Buick LaCrosse. There’ll be an assortment of sneak previews for the media on Tuesday evening and then the doors open on Wednesday morning at the Javits.

The public will have to wait a few days but close to a million potential buyers could stream into a city better known for mass transit in the weeks ahead to check out the auto industry’s latest offerings.


A longer version of this post originally appeared on The Detroit Bureau.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Mass. Rail Upgrade, Reauthorization Revived, Uber's Latest Lawsuit, & More

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Top stories on TN:
NYC Transit Tried Everything to Remove Subway Rats, Even Birth Control (link)
Real Estate Study: Homes Near Transit Hold Value Better (link)
FAA to Close 149 Air Traffic Control Towers (link)
Bike Sharing is Coming to San Francisco and Silicon Valley (link)

An uncomfortable pedestrian walkway in Nanning, China (Link to video below)

The Transportation Department is ramping up for another fight to pass a major authorization bill -- and Polly Trottenberg is in charge. (Politico)

For a full list of the transpo amendments that didn't make it into the budget deal from Congress, see Politico's roundup (some links are behing paywalls). (Link)

Mass. is commencing a $13 billion overhaul of the state's rail system, including a route from Boston to Cape Cod for first time since 1995. (NYTimes)

The tolls on the Golden Gate Bridge go all-electronic Wednesday. (Los Angeles Times) (For background, check our past coverage here and here.)

The NY Auto Show opens, plenty of coverage on what to watch for at The Detroit Bureau. (Link)

Maryland House passes gas tax hike to pay for roads and mass transit, awaits Senate approval. (WaPo)

Boeing completes a test flight with its new (hopefully flame-free) battery system. (Guardian)

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Air travel mini-roundup: FAA moves toward easing electronics restrictions. (The HillMeanwhile the TSA is being pressured to outlaw knives again. (Also The Hill) And the TSA issues rules on body scanner usage (TSA via Politico)

Toyota joins London partnership for hydrogen-fueled cars. (AutoBlogGreen)

Fast food chain Krystal is leaving Chattanooga for the Atlanta region in part because of access to transit. (Times Free Press; h/t @T4America)

Turkey is building high-speed rail. (

Houston's Railroad Museum has to find a new home. (KUHF)

E-hail app Uber is facing a class-action suit in Boston over allegations of tip-skimming. (Mother Jones)

Long Beach Calif Transit is delaying a purchase of electric buses built in China because a U.S. EV bus maker raised objections, potentially forcing the agency to decide who makes better clean buses. (Long Beach Press-Telegram via TransitWire)

Another entry for the "what could possibly go wrong" files: more on Ireland's County Kerry passing a resolution permitting drunk driving, which aims to address "the decline of pub culture and the isolation of rural life." (New York Times)

The Atlantic Cities asks if a 4'3" high pedestrian walkway in Nanning China is the "world's most uncomfortable," with a summary of the Mandarin language video explaining it. (Link)

The ten worst passenger planes still in service. All aboard the Yak-42! (Jalopnik)

And Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos paid to reclaim NASA Apollo rocket parts from the bottom of the ocean. Pics --> (link)

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Transportation Nation

Real Estate Tip: Buy Near Transit

Monday, March 25, 2013

Transit-oriented development project in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo CC by Flickr user Steven Vance)

Homes close to good transit options made for better real estate investments during the recession, according to a new study from the American Public Transportation Association.

APTA looked at housing market data from Phoenix, Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Chicago from 2006 to 2011, and compared homes close to transit with homes for the metro region overall. The study found residential property values located near transit performed 41 percent better. Heavy rail, bus rapid transit, and light rail, with more frequent service and transfer options, helped real estate prices even more than commuter rail more typically found in suburbs, according to the study.

Areas with no transit options fared the worst in terms of home value.

Residents close to transit sheds -- areas that are a half-mile away from a transit stop or closer -- also had better access to jobs and incurred less transportation costs. In Chicago, residents close to the city's transit system spent $300 less on transportation per month than the regional average.

Percent change in average residential sales prices relative to the region, 2006-11

Transit is not the sole factor of course, but allowing residents wider access to local amenities has made it a real estate catalyst. Alex Boylan, a Minneapolis-based realtor, says he's noticed that properties close to the light rail or major bus routes don't stay on the market as long. "Now more people are more about community, wanting to live closer to work, and using the transportation that's provided around them," he said. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, the study showed that home prices fell everywhere from 2006 to 2011, but homes next to the Hiawatha light rail line better maintained their values by 62 percent when compared to the entire Twin Cities.

Areas with accessible transit tend to have more nearby amenities, and therefore better walkability scores, something Boylan says homebuyers have been paying much closer attention to in the last few years.

Related: What Makes A City Walkable

The years covered in the APTA study were bad years for the housing market, but now that the market's improving, Darnell Grisby, APTA director of policy and research, says the desire for a city lifestyle will only continue to grow. “The millennial generation that seeks more transit-oriented lifestyles and empty nesters that will be seeking to downsize their homes while living near amenities will ensure that this trend continues,” he says.

Related: Will SunRail change Central Florida's driving habits?

The study showed that The Loop in Chicago performed more than 75 percent better than the region as a whole, where retirees and young professionals are fueling one of the most dramatic downtown housing booms in the country -- though the 2010 Census showed that middle class families were still flocking to the city's suburbs.

The study corresponds with other cultural shifts. Other data shows millennials are less car-centric than their parents. A recent Zipcar survey said Americans in the 18-34 age group consider their computers and mobile phones more important in their daily lives than cars, and fewer young people are trying to get driver’s licenses.

"People are voting with their feet," says Sara Wiskerchen, a spokesperson for the National Association of Realtors, a group that partnered with APTA for the study. The real estate industry group has become a booster for transit-oriented development. Wiskerchen says NAR plans to take the study to Congress to push for more public transportation and smart growth initiatives in American cities. "Consumers are looking for, and choosing, neighborhoods that they're able to find more walkable features, that have lower transportation costs, and really just looking at communities in a smart way," says Wiskerchen.

Related: DC a pioneer in walkable, transit-friendly neighborhoods


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Transportation Nation

FAA to Close 149 Air Traffic Control Towers (LIST)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Forced to trim $637 million from its budget, the FAA is closing 149 air traffic control facilities around the country.

The closures will start taking place early next month and will take four weeks to complete.

Air traffic controllers say this means more work for the pilots -- and could lead to delays. "When there’s no controller in the tower, it then becomes a one-in, one-out operation," said Sarah Dunn, a spokesperson for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, meaning pilots, not controllers, will be coordinating air traffic at these airports.  "All the pilots are on the same frequency checking to see who’s landing, who’s coming in and out."

But the FAA says the closures won't affect safety. “We will work with the airports and the operators to ensure the procedures are in place to maintain the high level of safety at non-towered airports,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta in a statement.

See the list of towers below.

FAA Contract Tower Closure List

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: FAA to Shut 149 Towers, Zappos Wants to Re-Engineer Las Vegas, How Google Street View Has Changed Behavior

Monday, March 25, 2013

Top stories on TN:
After Poisoning And Whacking Doesn’t Work, NYC Transit Tries Birth Control On Rats (link)
Judge Rules No ID Required to Ride NYC Subway (link)
Money Talking Asks, Is Energy Independence A Reality? (link)
NY School Bus Workers Face Major Pay Cut (link)

An old air traffic control tower at LaGuardia Airport.

The FAA is closing 149 airport control towers due to sequestration budget cuts. (FAA; list here)

Meanwhile, the agency is also considering allowing passengers to put their electronic devices into 'airplane mode' rather than having to shut them off. (Venture Beat)

Britain's state-owned East Coast rail route is to be put back into private hands. (Telegraph)

The Indian unit of Ford Motor Co. has apologized for advertisements decried as demeaning to women, including one depicting Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi with a trio of bound women in the trunk of a car. (AP via Detroit Free Press)

Is the founder of Zappos just what downtown Las Vegas needs? (Guardian)

Have a suggestion for Moving Stories? Tweet it to us @TransportNation.

Montana's legislature voted to become one of a handful of states in the U.S. to allow drivers to collect roadkill for meat or fur. (Marketplace; interactive map here)

Only 111 or so stations in New York City's 468-station system have cameras focused on public areas. (New York Daily News)

How Google's Street View has changed behavior: some people use it to eliminate uncertainty. (BBC)

A Houston Union Pacific conductor was fired for stealing train horns and selling them on eBay. (KHOU)

How to crowdsource traffic reporting in Ghana. (Phys Org)

How much do we really "need" fossil fuels? “It’s absolutely not true that we need natural gas, coal or oil — we think it’s a myth,” says one engineer. (New York Times)

From Downton Abbey to the F train: cousin Matthew loves New York's subway. (Gothamist)

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How tennis player Serena Williams beat car traffic to get to a game: "It was probably one of my best memories I think ever, riding a bike to a match. That’s pretty cool.” (AP via Washington Post)

Fine dining on the International Space Station: how to make a honey-peanut butter tortilla. Why a tortilla? Because the crumbs from bread would get everywhere. (h/t Village Voice)

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Transportation Nation

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

Sunday, March 24, 2013

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

(Mary Harris, WNYC) If you're scared of New York City subway rats, hanging out with Paul Jones is a bad idea. He's the man who manages the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority's trash rooms, and he knows where the rats are hiding. He even knows their favorite foods.

"They want the good stuff: the Red Bull, the lattes. They love lattes!" Jones said.

Jones has watched the NY MTA try various tactics to rid itself of rodents. They've hired exterminators. They're putting trash in mint-flavored bags, which are supposed to repel pests. They've even reinforced trash room doors to make it harder for rats to make it to the buffet table.

Now they're trying a new approach. The National Institutes of Health has just given Loretta Mayer, and her company, Senestech, a $1.1 million grant to tempt rats into consuming birth control.

Mayer's product, which is still in development, works in the lab by speeding up menopause in the female rat. She's quick to add that it doesn't affect human fertility because the compound is rapidly metabolized.  "It’s just like if you take an aspirin for a headache it'll numb your headache, but if you give an aspirin to your cat it would kill it," she said.

Senestech researchers (photo by Mary Harris/WNYC)

At the moment, she's trying to find the ideal flavor to appeal to the New York subway rat's palate. In Asia, she's flavored her bait with roasted coconut, dried fish, and beer. Here, she's  considering lacing the bait with pepperoni oil. It will be mixed into a bright pink smoothie--not solid food--because underground rats can find food easily but are constantly searching for liquid.

Mayer isn't the only scientist chronicling the lives of New York's rats. At Columbia University, Professor Ian Lipkin has been sending teams of researchers into the subways to collect rodent samples. He's trying to discover what kind of germs they're carrying.

"They’re little Typhoid Marys running around excreting all kinds  of things that are problematic for humans," Lipkin explained.

Lipkin then puts the risk into perspective: he said he worries more about shaking hands with someone with a bad cough than he does about crossing paths with a subway rat. But he wants to know what the rats are carrying.

"We have every year a whole host of diseases that occur in people--encephalitis, meningitis, respiratory diseases, diarrheal diseases--that are largely unexplained. And one potential mechanism by which people become infected is through exposure, directly or indirectly, to infectious agents that would be carried by rodents," Lipkin said. "We need to know what kind of bugs these animals carry so we can respond more effectively to them."

Back underground, Mayer's research team is gathering results from the initial taste tests. They're encouraged: the rats seem to be enjoying their smoothies.

But Paul Jones has seen exterminators come and go. And even the bluntest of weapons has failed to drive the rats off. He keeps blunt objects in the trash rooms so he can lay a good whack on the aggressive rats.

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

"We've hit them with shovels and pitchforks - they just flip over and run off. And they don't go away," he says with a sigh. "They're very hard to die."

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