Alex Goldmark

Alex Goldmark appears in the following:

Meet a Student Super Commuter on the Bus for a Better Life

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Bus one of four to get to school. (Photo by Melissa Bailey / New Haven Independent with permission)

As New Yorkers are considering the importance of school buses with a looming strike set for Wednesday, consider the case of Nikita and her mom, Nilda Paris of New Haven Connecticut.

The mother-daughter duo travels together at least four hours a day on public transit round trip—all in search of a better education and a sense of opportunity they don’t see close to home.

Nikita, who’s 14, gets up at 4:30 a.m. with her mom in their apartment in Bridgeport’s East End. New Haven magnet schools accept kids from Bridgeport, but don’t offer bus service. Paris and Nikita don’t have a car. And the trains don’t run early enough to deliver her for the 7:30 a.m. start of school. So they hop on a series of buses, beginning at 5:30 a.m., to get to school on time.

Melissa Bailey of the New Haven Independent spent a day following Nikita and her mom  -- and taking some great photos -- to see what this student super commute is like. If you want to understand what a multi-transfer transit commute of this sort is like, read the full story. It unfolds as a touching vignette about the search of opportunity, and a bit reminiscent of our past story on the importance of a car -- sometimes -- in economic mobility.

It won't spoil the story to say, Nikita and her mother are cheerful about the trek.

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TN MOVING STORIES: LaHood Speculation, Muni Overtime, Mass Tax

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Top Stories on TN:

Detroit Auto Show: Big Sales, New Models, Fuel Efficiency. (Link)
NY’s Airports So Old, Millionaire Is Putting Up Private Fortune to Lobby for Renovations. (Link)
NYC will get these wayfinding maps: (Link) 

Scroll down for a 2 minute time lapse of the construction of the SF Bay Bridge's East Span.

Mass. Gov. Devall Patrick has launched a campaign to raise taxes to pay for $10 billion in infrastructure needs. (Boston Globe)

Business is booming at Texas ports. So TxDOT is trying to figure out how to upgrade the state’s infrastructure. (KUHF)

After much legal and political fuss, in D.C., Uber launched it's Taxi service in the capital. (Uber)

D.C.'s Metro wants to give $3 to riders who switch to Smartcards, but most people are saying, 'no thanks.' (WAMU)

Ray LaHood will step down “in the next few months” according to an anonymous “top top Obama source.” U.S. DOT would not confirm this. (Chicago Sun Times)

Obama's foreign policy includes  ... walkable communities. Hmm. (Foreign Policy free w/signup)

The Kumbh Mela is kicking off in India and it might be the largest human gathering in history with an expected 30 million people. What can it teach us about cities? (Atlantic Cities)

Toyota reclaims the title of world's biggest automaker. (Guardian)

Transportation Nation is a reader-supported public radio reporting project. Make a donation here.

SF Muni employees have earned nearly double their salary due to overtime ... because budget cuts prevent hiring. Not a model of efficiency. (SF Gate)

BART Ridership is up 6% this year. Great news for BART ... except ... officials only budgeted for 1.8%. BART says it needs 225 new trains. (SF Gate)

The most expensive item at the Detroit Auto Show isn’t a car, or a vehicle at all. It’s the glittering prize for an auto race. (WDET)

NYC’s yellow school bus drivers are going on strike. It’s a fight over how to get special needs kids to school. (SchoolBook)

You will be able to watch Lance Armstrong confess to doping – or dodge Oprah’s questions for 90 minutes – streaming online, not just on the OWN cable network. (OWN)

NYC transport workers are readying for contract renegotiations. One tactic is to subtly imply – using a big poster – that motormen might slow down trains “for safety.” (Daily News, 2nd Ave Sagas

Your #Longread of the day: why big cities are so much more dangerous than small ones: lead (incl from gasoline).  (Mother Jones via Planetizen)

It took three years to build the East span of the SF Bay Bridge. Here's what it looked like condensed to two minutes. (via Atlantic Cities)


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NY's Airports So Old, Millionaire Is Putting Up Private Fortune to Lobby for Renovations

Monday, January 14, 2013

LaGuardia Airport (photo by Alex Goldmark)

Real Estate mogul Joe Sitt knows how to court the jet set. He's the head of Thor Equities, one of the city's biggest landlords for high end retail and offices. And as he sees it, New York's aging airports are holding the region back. "The experience [in our airports] is pitiful," Sitt said.

And he's putting up $1 million of his personal money to change it.

His campaign to overhaul New York area airports launched last week isn't an expensive personal quest for a better travel experience. It's an unusual lobbying campaign in the public (and also self) interest.

A 2011 report by the Regional Plan Association found that NY area airports need to expand and upgrade air traffic technology if they are to keep up with forecasts of air travel growth. Average flight delays at NY area airports are already twice the national average. A 2008 study (pdf) by the Partnership of New York City estimated that if New York's airports aren't modernized, it could cost $79 billion in losses to the regional economy between 2008 and 2025.

"What's one of our business fears? Businesses moving out of the city," said Sitt, the landlord of about 40 buildings, many in tourist hot spots like 5th Ave and Meatpacking. "I love New York City. It is creative. Every tech company should want to be here. But from an infrastructure, transportation, airport [perspective], no offense, versus San Francisco, we fail. They put us to shame out there."

His group the Global Gateway Alliance will lobby all levels of government to invest more in infrastructure for air travel.  "I think government needs some prodding. This needed somebody to carry the torch," Sitt said.

It's not the first time business leaders and planners have called for investment -- the RPA launched the Better Airports Alliance in 2011 -- but Sitt's $1 million of seed money makes the new effort more serious from the start. "It's really the first time we've had a comprehensive, well funded effort to focus on the great need for airport improvement," said Kathy Wylde of the Partnership for New York City, who has joined the board of the Global Gateway Alliance. Lobbying, she said will pressure all levels of government and could include public messages like TV commercials.

The agency that runs NY airports concedes upgrades are needed.  “We recognize that some of our facilities are aging and in need of capital infrastructure investment to ensure the continued economic growth of the region," said Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye. "The Port Authority and our airline partners invested over $1 billion in 2012 on infrastructure projects at our region’s airports, which includes construction of high speed exit taxiways, terminal improvements, and runway rehabilitation. Additionally, the Port Authority is in the process of establishing a public/private partnership to invest $3.6 billion on a new Central Terminal Building at La Guardia.”


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TN MOVING STORIES: Boeing 787 Review, Tesla Broke?, Senate Change

Monday, January 14, 2013

Top stories on TN:
"Don't talk about bike lanes at dinner parties," says Christine Quinn, NYC's City Council Speaker and the leading Mayoral candidate. (Link)
NYC will add a new citywide system of wayfinding maps for pedestrians. We have pics. (Link)
D.C. Planners: Regional Job Growth Should Focus On ‘Activity Centers’ (Link)
The NYS2100 Full Report is released on rebuilding NYC post-Sandy. Transpo recommendations: Start an Infrastructure Bank, Build BRT, and More Transit. (Link)
Thirty Years Later, is Connecticut Ready to Reinstate Tolls? (Link)
D.C. Metro Releases 2014 Budget; No Fare Hikes – But No 8-Car Trains, Either (Link)

Imagining a single subway line on it's own may not make for a useful map, but it does work well as minimalist art. Graphic by Adam Lynch. Details below.

The FAA made the "unprecedented" announcement it would do a full review of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.  (Marketplace)
The review is likely to focus most closely on the power system. (Bloomberg)
Either way, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says he'd feel safe flying on a Dreamliner. (The Hill)

If LaHood does jet off on a 787, it will be in his current job for a little while longer. Despite some expectation that he might step down, the Secretary is posting messages to Congress on his blog about all the work to do this year, implying he's not quitting. (Fast Lane)

United Airlines is getting sued for allegedly using fancy bookkeeping to avoid paying a local gas tax that funds transit in Chicago. (Crains)

Massachusetts is considering taxing parting lots to pay for transit. (Streetsblog)

The chair of the Senate's transportation committee, Jay Rockefeller, is not running for re-election. Who will take his place? (The Hill)

Transportation Nation is a reader-supported public radio reporting project. Make a donation here.

San Francisco's transpo chief says, 'tear down this freeway.' (Streetsblog)

NJ Transit is running full schedules on all rail routes for the first time since Sandy. (NJ Transit and CBS)

While the NTSB investigates a ferry crash in NYC, (WNYC) Norway launches its first all-electric ferry. (GizMag)

Electric sports car maker, Tesla is rumored to be dangerously low on cash. (Gas2)

@TransportNation #IRL: We'll be at the Transportation Research Board conference in DC this week where thousands of transpo and infrastructure researchers share their studies. Tweet at us to say hi or tell us about new research we just shouldn't miss. (After party invites also welcome)

Leaf owners are not happy with Nissan's response to battery problems. (AutoBlogGreen)

One man doesn't think corporations should count as people under the law, so he tried to drive in a carpool lane with a corporation. (AutoBlog)

Pictured above, one of a set of minimalist subway line posters, which unlike most transit maps, does not geographically distort the route. Looks more natural this way, no? Almost like a river. (Kickstarter via Explore / Brainpickings)

Bells aren't cutting it for cycle safety on busy streets, so bike horns are booming. This one is 112 decibels. What? (FastCoExist)

And yes, we know, the 2013 No Pants Subway Ride was this past weekend. You're welcome. We opted not to post the photos this time. But they're up. (Improv Everywhere)

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NYC to Add Citywide 'Wayfinding' Maps to Encourage Walking, Business

Monday, January 14, 2013

(Image courtesy of NYC DOT)

Even with smartphone maps, a waffle iron street grid and numbered streets in most of Manhattan, too many pedestrians are getting lost in New York City according to the NYC Department of Transportation. The solution, or part of it, will begin rolling out in March: maps. Lots of them. Designed just for pedestrians to be placed on sidewalks and eventually on bike share stations all around the five boroughs.

"We have a great system of signage for cars, but we don't have a good system of signage for people," said Jeanette Sadik-Khan, NYC's Transportation Commissioner. (Earlier this week she unveiled newly designed, and less cluttered, parking signs). Starting in March, New York City will install 150 'wayfinding' signs on sidewalks in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens as part of a citywide system that will roll out in phases at a cost of $6 million, most of it borne by the federal government, the rest by local business improvement districts.*

A sample of what NYC's new wayfinding maps will look like. Courtesy NYC DOT.

The sidewalk signage will show pedestrians where they are and which way they are facing -- a study last year found that many New Yorkers couldn't point to north when asked. Transit, local attractions, and businesses are placed on a large map of the local street grid with  circles indicating where you can reach with a five minute walk, and how long it will take to get to other attractions. Like countdown clocks in subways, knowing the time and effort involved in a trip can make it more appealing. The signs, the DOT hopes, will encourage more walking.

"We're very excited about it and think it will be a big boon, not only for visitors ... but also for business." A slowly ambling customer visiting a new neighborhood, or a new route, is much more likely to check out a new shop than a driver is to stop, park, and peek in.

"New York is a perfect place to have a wayfinding system because nearly one third of all trips are made by foot," Sadik-Khan said. A little encouragement to walk could be a tipping point to leave the car at home, she says, pointing out that a quarter of all car trips in NYC are less than a mile, a distance people could walk.

The signs will roll out in Chinatown, Midtown Manhattan, Long Island City, Prospect Heights and Crown Heights. "These are heavily foot trafficked areas," she says. "The lessons that we learn there... will help us as we build a bigger system citywide."

When bike share stations are installed in May, they will include these maps. That would add several hundred more pedestrian maps in many new neighborhoods.

Here's a full length sample:

Sample design of NYC's wayfinding maps. Courtesy NYC DOT.


*An earlier version of this post stated that the majority of the cost of the project would be borne by business improvement districts.

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NYS2100 Full Report: Start an Infrastructure Bank, Build BRT, and More Transit

Friday, January 11, 2013

Establish an infrastructure bank, expanded rail access, build a bus rapid transit system, and redesign the electric grid. Those are some of the suggestions in the NYS2100 commission's full report on preparing New York state to withstand the next 100 year storm released Friday afternoon.

The commission was convened to suggest a plan for making New York state more resilient in the face increasingly severe weather and future storms like Sandy, which knocked most of New York City's transportation out of service for days. Several transit routes are still not back to normal two months later.

The full report is below. We've pulled out the bits from the executive summary most related to transportation and infrastructure.

Governor Andrew Cuomo's State of the State agenda also included much of these kinds of proposals. We posted that earlier in the week here, and reported on the bus rapid transit proposal specifically if you want more detail on that.


From the NYS2100 official report:


Develop a risk assessment of the State’s transportation infrastructure
Identify those assets that are vulnerable to extreme weather events, storm surge, sea level rise and seismic events, and to prioritize future investment through the use of a lifeline network that defines
critical facilities, corridors, systems, or routes that must remain functional during a crisis or be restored most rapidly.
Strengthen existing transportation networks
Improve the State’s existing infrastructure with an emphasis on key bridges, roads, tunnels, transit, rail, airports, marine facilities, and transportation communication infrastructure. Focus on improved repair, as well as protecting against multiple hazards including flooding, seismic impact and extreme weather.
• Protect transit systems and tunnels against severe flooding
• Invest in upgrades to bridges, tunnels, roads, transit and
railroads for all hazards
• Strengthen vulnerable highway and rail bridges
• Protect waterway movements
• Safeguard airport operations
Strategically expand transportation networks in order to create redundancies
Make the system more flexible and adaptive. Encourage alternate modes of transportation.
• Modernize signal and communications systems
• Build a bus rapid transit network
• Expand rail access to/from Manhattan
• Create new trans-Hudson tunnel connection
• Expand rail Access to/from Manhattan with Metro-North Penn Station access
• Expand capacity on the LIRR’s Main Line
• Develop alternative modes of transportation Build for a resilient future with enhanced guidelines,
standards, policies, and procedures
Change the way we plan, design, build, manage, maintain and pay for our transportation network in light of increased occurrences of severe events.
• Review design guidelines
• Improve long-term planning and fund allocation
• Improve interagency and interstate planning
• Seek expedited environmental review and permitting on major mitigation investments




Strengthen critical energy infrastructure

Securing critical infrastructure should be a primary focus. Strategies of protection, include among other things, selective undergrounding of electric lines, elevating susceptible infrastructure such as substations, securing locations of future power plants, hardening key fuel distribution terminals, and reexamination of critical

component locations to identify those most prone to damage by shocks or stresses. Creating a long-term capital stock of critical equipment throughout the region provides an efficient system of distribution to streamline the delivery and recovery processes.

• Facilitate process of securing critical systems
• Protect and selectively underground key electrical transmission and distribution lines
• Strengthen marine terminals and relocate key fuel-related infrastructure to higher elevations
• Reinforce pipelines and electrical supply to critical fuel infrastructure
• Waterproof and improve pump-out ability of steam tunnels
• Create a long-term capital stock of critical utility equipment

Accelerate the modernization of the electrical system and improve flexibility
As utilities replace aging parts of the power system, the State should ensure new technologies are deployed. It is important to immediately invest in new construction, replacement, and upgrades to transition the grid to a flexible system that can respond to future technologies, support clean energy integration, and minimize outages during major storms and events. The grid for the 21st century should seamlessly incorporate distributed generation, microgrids, and plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs).

• Re-design electric grid to be more flexible, dynamic and
• Increase distributed generation statewide
• Make the grid electric vehicle ready
Design rate structures and create incentives to encourage distributed generation and smart grid investments
The State should implement new technologies and system
improvements to provide effective backup power, flexibility,
distributed generation, and solutions for “islanding” vulnerable
parts of the system. In addition to improving the resilience and
stability of energy, electricity, and fuel supply systems, these
solutions promote energy conservation, efficiency, and consumer
demand response.
Diversify fuel supply, reduce demand for energy, and create redundancies
Lowering GHG emissions in the power sector through the Regional
Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) will contribute to reducing
the impacts of climate change over the very long term. To build
on the success of RGGI, the State should encourage alternative
fuel sources such as biogas, liquefied natural gas (LNG), and
solar heating in transportation and other sectors. PEVs, energy
storage systems, and on-site fuel storage where feasible, should
also be used to provide new energy storage mechanisms. Incentive
programs to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy
deployment should be strengthened to increase the level of private
sector investment in this space.
• Facilitate greater investments in energy efficiency and
renewable energy
• Diversify fuels in the transportation sector
• Support alternative fuels across all sectors
• Lower the greenhouse gas emissions cap through RGGI

Develop long-term career training and a skilled energy workforce

The utility workforce is aging and tremendous expertise will be lost
in the next several years. Workforce development strategies should
ensure the availability of skilled professionals to maintain a state
of good repair, effectively prepare for and respond to emergencies,
and deploy and maintain advanced technologies.
• Create a workforce development center
• Expand career training and placement programs
• Build awareness of the need for skilled workers
• Coordinate workforce development among all stakeholders
within the energy sector





Establish an “Infrastructure Bank” to coordinate, allocate, and maximize investment

The Commission recommends the establishment of a new Infrastructure Bank with a broad mandate to coordinate financing
and directly finance the construction, rehabilitation, replacement, and expansion of infrastructure.
• Assist the State in making more efficient and effective use of public infrastructure funding
• Mobilize private sector


Full report here.



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NY Gov Plans for Flood-Proof Subways, Open Transpo Data, Coastal Barriers (Full Document)

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The new Tappan Zee Bridge features prominently in the heroic graphic cover of the New York State 2013 State of the State book. (Click to enlarge)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to flood-proof the NYC subway system using inflatable bladders, roll down gates and new pumps.

He wants to install a statewide network of electric car charging stations.

Those were some of the ideas advanced in his annual  State of the State speech and accompanying 300 page book detailing his agenda for 2013.

The books cover shows a new Tappan Zee bridge rising over a flood-ravaged home, with the capitol building in New York as the connecting image.   Get it?

We've pulled out some of the parts related to transportation and infrastructure for you. Most of them fall under the heading of Sandy rebuilding and storm resilience.

Here some bullet points (not including the Adirondack Whitewater rafting challenge.)

Page 233: "Take Immediate Steps to Protect Transportation Systems Against Future Storm Events

"New York State’s transportation infrastructure encompasses a vast network of Interstates, state highways, local roads, public transit systems, waterways, bike networks, and walking facilities. Our transportation systems link to airports and marine ports that connect New York to the rest of the country and the world. Downstate, New York City boasts the most comprehensive and complex transportation network in the country that supports a region of national and global significance. Overall, the State’s transportation infrastructure is vital to the health of our economy, environment, and well-being.

"Recent severe events, such as Superstorm Sandy, Tropical Storm Lee, Hurricane Irene and the 2010 snowstorm, have revealed vulnerabilities in our transportation infrastructure. Much of it is aging and susceptible to damage from extreme weather events or seismic threats, and many facilities, such as tunnels and airports, have been built in locations that are increasingly at risk of flooding. Steps must be taken to make the State’s transportation infrastructure more resilient to future severe events. To protect and maintain our economy, mobility and public safety, Governor Cuomo has sought federal support to repair and mitigate our transportation systems to better withstand future threats.

"The following measures should be taken to make our transportation systems stronger in the face of future storms. With federal assistance, these measures can and will be taken by the MTA and other State agencies and authorities to harden our transportation systems against future threats:

  • Flood-proof subways and bus depots with vertical roll-down doors, vent closures, inflatable bladders, and upsized fixed pumps (with back-up power sources);
  • Mitigate scour on road and rail bridges with strategically placed riprap and other steps;
  • Replace metal culverts with concrete on roads in flood-prone areas;
  • Providing elevated or submersible pump control panels, pump feeders, and tide gates to address flooding at vulnerable airports;
  • Install reverse flow tide gates to prevent flooding of docks, berths, terminal facilities, and connecting road and rail freight systems, and harden or elevate communication and electrical power infrastructure that services port facilities; and
  • Upgrade aged locks and movable dams to allow for reliable management of water levels and maintain embankments to protect surrounding communities from flooding.


We reported earlier in the week base on a draft report, the NYS2100 commission to harden NY against future storms recommended among other things, a new bus rapid transit system. Here is how results of the NYS 2100 commission are summarized officially in Cuomo's book.

Page 225: "The NYS2100 Commission reviewed the vulnerabilities faced by the State’s infrastructure systems and have worked to develop specific recommendations that can be implemented to increase New York’s resilience in five main areas: transportation, energy, land use, insurance, and infrastructure finance. The Commission seeks to:

• Identify immediate actions that should be taken to mitigate or strengthen existing infrastructure systems—some of which suffered damage in the recent storms—to improve normal functioning and to withstand extreme weather more effectively in the future;
• Identify infrastructure projects that would, if realized over a longer term, help to bring not only greater climate resilience but also other significant economic and quality of life benefits to New York State’s communities;
• Assess long-term options for the use of “hard” barriers and natural systems to protect coastal communities;
• Create opportunities to integrate resilience planning, protection and development approaches into New York’s economic development decisions and strategies; and
• Shape reforms in the area of investment, insurance and risk management related to natural disasters and other emergencies."


Cuomo also promises more open data, which would include quicker access to transportation data held in State Agencies -- several other states including New Jersey and Illinois already do this.

Page 203: "Open New York will provide easy, single-stop access to statewide and agency-level data, reports, statistics, compilations and information. Data will be presented in a common, downloadable, easy-to-access format, and will be searchable and mappable. The Open New York web portal will allow researchers, citizens, business and the media direct access to high-value data, which will be continually added to and expanded, so these groups can use the data to innovate for the benefit of all New Yorkers."


And here's the lofty language used around the new Tappan Zee Bridge, which we have covered extensively.

Page ix: "We set out to bridge the divide between yesterday and tomorrow, what was and what can be, dysfunction and performance, cynicism and trust, gridlock and cooperation to make government work.
And we are.

Look at our progress on replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge. We did in one year what was only talked about for the past ten years. The new Tappan Zee Bridge is BIG, BOLD and BEAUTIFUL. [Emphasis original]

My friends, I would like to say that our job is done. But, we have much more to do."


And in more detail on page 4: "Governor Cuomo, working with the State Legislature, enacted a new law allowing the use of design-build techniques on New York Works projects.1 This streamlines the contracting process by holding a single contractor accountable for both the design of the project and its actual construction, with the potential to save 9 to 12 months on the project timeline for bridge repair and construction.

"The centerpiece of the New York Works infrastructure program is the replacement of the Governor Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge in the Hudson Valley, which has been needed for years. Plans for a new bridge were announced more than ten years ago. The State held 430 public meetings and explored 150 different bridge concepts. But New Yorkers still had not seen any results. Governor Cuomo put forward a plan for a new bridge that considered the future transit needs of the region; the plan increases lanes for drivers, creates emergency lanes and shoulders to handle accidents, includes a pedestrian and bike lane for the benefit of local communities, and will boost the economy of the region by creating and sustaining 45,000 jobs. And about one year later, on December 17, 2012, the Thruway Authority awarded a contract for the new bridge at a cost $800 million less than the next lowest bidder and approximately $2 billion less than the original estimate. Work on construction will begin in 2013.
New York’s typically high energy costs have long been a barrier to growth of the state economy. The Energy Highway initiative, introduced in the 2012 State of the State address, is a centerpiece of the Governor’s Power NY agenda, which was put in place to ensure that New York’s energy grid is the most advanced in the nation and to promote increased business investment in the state. In October 2012, the Energy Highway Blueprint was launched, identifying specific actions to modernize and expand the state’s electric infrastructure. The comprehensive plan, supported by up to $5.7 billion in public and private investments, will add up to 3,200 megawatts of additional electric generation and transmission capacity and clean power generation."


Full document here:

NY State of the State Book by

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U.S. DOT Gives Sacramento $135 Million for Light Rail

Monday, January 07, 2013

Artist's rendering of the Morrison Creek Station.

Sacramento is getting federal money to extend a light rail line. The U.S. DOT will provide $135 million in federal matching money for the Sacramento Regional Transit District's light rail system.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood wrote on his blog:

"The $4.3 mile Blue Line extension will link downtown Sacramento with the growing South County corridor offering commuters an alternative to driving and connecting the faculty, staff, and students at Cosumnes River College with the shops, restaurants and other businesses in the heart of the city."

From the funding announcement the DOT is envisioning some form of transit oriented development.

"New stores and services, new employers, and new housing will combine with the light rail extension to create communities where people can live and shop closer to where they work... Extending the Blue Line will improve access to the area’s major employers and encourage new retail and residential development in specially zoned areas. According to Sacramento Regional Transit, which operates the line, the extension project will generate 1,000 jobs or more over the next two years."

Last year the Sacramento light rail system saw in increase in ridership of 7. 4 percent over 2011. Much of the projected population grown in the region is expected to come along the South County Corridor.

The money will come from the Federal Transit Administration's capital investment program.

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NYC Unclutters Parking Signs

Monday, January 07, 2013

NYC unclutters Midtown parking signs. (Graphic via NYC DOT)

New York city is de-cluttering the design of parking signs starting today in Midtown Manhattan, where a slew of parking rules that change depending on the hour and day are laid out in signs that vary in font, color, format and height. Misreading signs can lead to fines well above $100.

The new signs are (almost) fit for twitter. With streamlined phrasing, they reduce the number of characters needed to explain the commercial metered parking zone rules from 250 characters to "about 140," the NYC Department of Transportation said in a statement. By fitting the same information in less space, the DOT says it will save money because the new smaller signage will be cheaper to produce.

“New York City’s parking signs can sometimes be a five-foot-high totem pole of confusing information,” said Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan in a statement.

The updated signs are simpler and easier to read with a consistent two-color layout and a uniform font.

"The basic way these had been done is like a playbill for a music hall in 1845," said Michael Beirut partner at Pentagram, the design firm that created the new look. The old way was, "Pick the most important thing and put that first, center everything," and make it fit by changing font width and placement. "We just tried to make it feel a little bit more sober and subdued and in control," he said.

That was achieved, in part, by shifting the focus from prohibitive phrasing to permissive phrasing, he said. "The old signs read like, 'no one can park here except...' So the new signs flip that to lead with the positive, what you are allowed to do," he said.

The new look makes a few updates that seem obvious in hindsight like placing the day of the regulation before the hours of the regulation and eliminating abbreviations. The hierarchy of information is changed as well. The message of the threatening red "No Standing" sign is now blended with other parking regulations in these commercial parking zones. The big red sign is gone, it's message captured with one line, "others no standing"  added to other signs.

According to the DOT renderings, the messy blue "Pay at Muni-Meter" signs will also go. Once they were a necessary bit of visual clutter for the city's transition away from old fashioned parking meters. The last individual parking meter in Manhattan was jack hammered out of commission with camera's watching in 2011. So long ago that the DOT assumes drivers will know to look down the block for the new meters with a sign.

“You shouldn't need a Ph.D in parking signage to understand where you are allowed to leave your car in New York," said City Council Member Daniel Garodnick in a emailed statement that referred to him as "a longtime supporter of syntactic clarity."

"I was pleased to work directly with DOT, removing unnecessary words in these signs," Garodnick said.

Proving that any effort to make parking easier in Manhattan is worthy of political fanfare, the unveiling of the new design this morning drew not just Sadik-Khan, head of the NYC DOT and darling of the black glasses set, but also the speaker of the City Council and leading mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, along with Garodnick who first proposed simplifying the signs in 2011.

David Gibson of the  design firm Two Twelve, and author of "The Wayfinding Handbook, Information Design for Public Places," sees the changes as a chance for a more radical redesign of street signage. Overall, he said of the new look, "It's a bit of an improvement. It seems like they could have pushed the envelope a little further. It's very much in the vernacular of what parking signs are like now. Maybe this was an opportunity to go a little further, I mean, this is New York city where we break new ground and push the envelope."

The signs will be installed in Manhattan's commercial metered parking zones, throughout Midtown, as well as  some areas in the Financial District, the Upper East Side and Lower East Side. Other parts of the city will get the re-designed signage in the future.

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NYC Adds Bus Service, in First Transit Expansion in Years

Friday, January 04, 2013


(Photo CC by Flickr user davefishernc)

New York City will get more buses.  Starting Sunday, the NY MTA is increasing the frequency or extending the routes of 17 bus lines. Another four routes will grow later in the month. (Scroll down for the full list.)

It's the first major expansion of transit service in the city since 2010 when a budget deficit led the agency to slash bus routes, and comes at a time when many other cities are cutting funding for buses and subways -- Kansas City has turned to asking citizens to donate online.

Later in the year, the MTA will add six totally new bus lines, mostly to connect booming residential neighborhoods. One line will connect Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Long Island City, another will roll between Chelsea, Hell's Kitchen and the far West Village.

This weekend's expansion in New York restores many of the 2010 cuts, but not all -- the B51, which we profiled -- for example, remains out of service. That bus drew just 900 riders a day compared to a system average of 13,000, resulting in a loss of several dollars per rider.

The MTA says the restorations are based on demographic data and ridership need. These are not new routes, but several of the old ones are getting longer, mainly to serve growing hot spots like an Ikea in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and the Bronx Terminal Market, a big box shopping center in the South Bronx. ,“These enhancements were all a result of listening to our customers and keeping close watch on changing travel trends," New York City Transit President Thomas F. Prendergast said in a statement.

This weekend's expansions will affect about 50,000 riders each day.

The move will be paid for, in part, by a recently approved fare increase, and comes on the heels of $5 billion in damages from Sandy. The MTA has said it will not put the bill for storm repairs on riders, but will ask for federal and state funding.


Sunday, January 6,  2013 Service Restorations and Enhancements: 

Bx13      New Extension from East 161st Street to Bronx Terminal Market (149th Street and River Avenue)

Bx34      Restore daytime weekend service

B4           Restore full-time service to Knapp Street/Voorhies Ave via Neptune Avenue, Sheepshead Bay Road, Emmons Ave/Shore Parkway

B24         Restore weekend service

B39         Restore daytime service between Williamsburg and Manhattan’s Lower East Side

B48         Restore extension from Atlantic Avenue to Prospect Park (BQ) Station

B57         Extend route from Carroll Gardens to Red Hook (Ikea) via Court Street, Lorraine Street and Otsego Street

B64         Restore extension from Cropsey Avenue to Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue (DFNQ) Station via Harway Avenue

B69         Restore weekend service

M1         Restore weekend service from 106th Street to 8th Street

M9         Extend north terminal from 23rd Street to 29th Street via 1st and 2nd Avenues and extend south terminal from City Hall to Battery Park City via Warren Street/Murray Street and West Street

M21       Restore weekend service

Q24        Restore extension from Broadway Junction to Bushwick Avenue via Broadway

Q27        Provide new overnight service from Horace Harding Expressway to Cambria Heights via Springfield Blvd

Q30*        Provide new branch to Queensborough Community College

Q36        Extend alternate trips from Jamaica Avenue to Little Neck via Little Neck Parkway  (This restores weekday service along route of previous Q79 route.)

Q42     Restore midday service from Jamaica Center to St. Albans via Archer Avenue

On Sunday, January 20, we will implement the following service restorations and enhancements:

S76         Restore weekend service

S93*       Extend route from entrance to College of Staten Island into campus area

X1           Add overnight express bus service from Eltingville to Manhattan via Hylan Blvd

X17         Extend route to Tottenville middays

*The Q30 and Q42 are weekday only, so they are being introduced on Monday, January 7.  The S93 is also weekdays only, so it will be introduced on Tuesday, January 22.

In addition, NYC Transit is continuing to work with communities in order to develop new services to address transit needs in growing and changing neighborhoods.  The following new services are planned for implementation later in 2013:

  • New route, Bx46, which would operate between the South Bronx and western Hunts Point to be implemented in April 2013
  • New service connecting Downtown Brooklyn, DUMBO, Vinegar Hill and the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
  • New Williamsburg-Greenpoint-Long Island City service
  • New service between East New York (New Lots Avenue 3 station) and Spring Creek
  • New north-south far Westside Manhattan route to serve the West Village, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen.
  • Select Bus Service on the Bx41 route along Webster Avenue
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NY MTA Tepidly Explores Platform Barriers After Subway Track Deaths ... Again

Monday, December 31, 2012

Paris Metro Platform with Glass Barrier. (Getty Images)

It's only natural after tragedy to look for action, for solutions, for prevention of the next loss. So after two men were pushed to their deaths onto New York City subway tracks this month, a stand-by proposal is back in the news: subway platform barriers.

The idea is to place glass and metal barriers along certain platforms to prevent falls, litter, and the extremely rare cases of people being pushed onto the tracks. (Paris, Tokyo and London have such barriers in some stations.)

Talk of barriers tends to pop up after each high profile death, usually after Pete Donahue of the NY Daily News reminds us that official proposals for barriers remain on the table. (Here's Donahue's well-reported piece from Saturday, and a very similar one from February of 2011.) Here's our piece from 2011 on opposition to the idea.

Transportation Nation has regularly asked the MTA for the status of these proposals and routinely gets a similar answer. Here's the statement from this week.

"Based on the MTA's preliminary analysis, the challenge of installing platform edge barriers in the New York City subway system would be both expensive and extremely challenging given the varied station designs and the differences in door positions among some subway car classes. But in light of recent tragic events, we will consider the options for testing such equipment on a limited basis."

Subway barriers are still, officially speaking, possibly, maybe potentially being considered but not exactly. They're just not worth it, many in the agency and elected office say.

Though the MTA would not cite a cost figure for installation, some proposals place barriers at over a million dollars per station. There are 468 stations.

That's a lot of money for a small number of incidents. In 2012, 54 people have died on the tracks, either through falls, shoves or suicide. That's up from the 2011 number of 47 deaths, though the number of people hit by trains is down. In 2012, 139 people were hit by trains in total, in 2011 it was 146. That's a tiny fraction of one percent of the total number of passengers: the subway serves 1.6 billion rides each year.

The state of the issue is roughly the same as the last time barriers were discussed after another high profile subway track death. That time, it drove a New York state senator to comment, "To even contemplate this nonsense is self-evidently a waste of time, effort, energy and yes – money; money the MTA does not have."

As we reported in 2011, one idea is to pay for the barriers by putting ads on them.

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Year in Review New York: Sandy, Buses, Tappan Zee -- and Abandoned Bikes

Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 tested New York's transportation infrastructure like no other year in recent memory.


Sandy's storm surge flooded hundred-year-old tunnels, drowned power stations, and inflicted a commuting nightmare on millions of Northeast residents for weeks. It also caused a mini-boom in bike ridership -- and elevated climate change to a hot topic in transportation planning.

New York and New Jersey were both hit hard, but each state planned --and responded --  differently. NJ Transit took heavy damage with major routes offline for weeks after parking trains in a flood plain, because, as one executive said, "we thought we had 20 years to respond to climate change." That decision cost the agency $100 million. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was also hit by unprecedented flooding. While in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo is saying the next generation of infrastructure must take climate change into consideration, we learned that across the river, Governor Chris Christie had deep-sixed his state's climate change research department.

The NYC subway was known to be vulnerable to a powerful storm surge, and flooded as predicted. In the storm's aftermath, the agency furiously tweeted updates and churned out service maps with lightning speed - .gif -- impressing even traditionally harsh critics. But while much of the damage was dealt with quickly, other assets -- like the South Ferry subway station, and the A train out to the Rockaways -- remain unrestored. Also unclear: how the agency will cover the $5 billion in damages. So far, the plan is to take on debt rather than pile on to an already scheduled fare hike.

Our complete Sandy coverage is here.

The entrance to the downtown 1 train at Broadway and 79th Street, pre-storm (photo by Kate Hinds)

A New Tappan Zee Bridge Moves from Idea to Design Plan

The aging Tappan Zee Bridge is being replaced at the cost of several billion dollars -- making it the largest contract ever awarded in New York State. After a lengthy debate about adding transit, which some argued should at least include a plan for bus rapid transit, Cuomo said speed and cost outweighed the merits of adding a rail line.  Transit advocates howled, and some key county officials held up a vote -- but the governor's vision ultimately prevailed: the bridge will be 'transit-ready' -- meaning plans for a rail link or a fully iterated BRT line have been tabled for a future date.

Meanwhile, the issue of how to pay for the bridge has yet to be resolved. The bridge wasn't included in the first round of federal TIFIA loans; the state has since re-applied. The governor said the brunt of the cost would come from tolls -- but the backlash to the idea of a $14 crossing was swift.  A builder was chosen this month (see pics) and work will begin after the state comptroller okays the contract. The new bridge is scheduled to open in 2018.

And no, the old bridge won't be preserved as a greenway. The NY State Thruway Authority -- the agency in charge of the project -- will demolish it.

The winning Tappan Zee design

Street Safety Investigations

We'll have more on this in the new year, but our work on monitoring safe streets in NYC continued with two investigative reports. In our report "Walking While Poor" we found that, in New Jersey, it is more dangerous to be a pedestrian in low income neighborhoods.

And in New York City, our report Killed While Cycling, uncovered why so few fatal bike crashes lead to arrest. The laws just aren't written to punish vehicle crashes with a criminal response and the NYPD has just 19 detectives assigned to investigate criminality when a car or truck hits someone or something. The department argues more lives can be saved by preventative methods, like speed traps. The result, families of those killed on NYC streets rarely feel justice is done.

After deadly crashes, Chinatown buses wane -- and Bolt and Megabus move in.

New York was the original nexus of a curbside bus network that became known as Chinatown buses because they picked up passengers from unofficial bus stops in Chinatowns up and down the Northeast corridor. But the busy corner under the Manhattan Bridge that was once the nexus of this travel network is now mostly empty.

After a deadly year of crashes in 2011, many said the industry was unsafe. While confused travelers tried to figure out just who regulates Chinatown buses, the government took notice. In June, the U.S. DOT shut down 26 bus companies that operate along the most popular routes: the I-95 corridor from New York to Florida. The DOT called it the “largest single safety crackdown in the agency’s history." 

And while some Chinatown buses are still discreetly operating, they're losing market share: mainstream bus companies like Greyhound are expanding their curbside businesses, actively meeting with community boards to add stops in Chinatown itself.

The driver of the bus crash that killed 15 in 2011, Ophadell Williams, was acquitted of manslaughter charges in December.

Abandoned Bikes

This is one story that became way bigger than we expected. It started out simply enough: Transportation Nation asked readers to help map all of the abandoned bikes in New York City. (For those unfamiliar with NYC: abandoned bikes are strewn about our sidewalks like cigarette butts after a party, the detritus of modern mobility.) We wanted to know how many of these bike carcasses there were, and why they stayed so long encumbering walkways, taking up prime bike parking without being removed by authorities.

The response was overwhelming, both for our humble project and for the city. We found more than 500 busted bikes, cataloged in photos sent in from WNYC listeners. We mapped them through an online civic action platform (SeeClickFix )that anyone could update.

When we began to get inquiries from artists and abandoned bike fans (yes, they exist), we picked out our favorite bike photos from the stack and shared them with each other. WNYC listeners called in to confess and explained why they left cycles to rust away. The project spread to Washington, D.C. A nonprofit offered to recycle them. Several photographers sent in links to their own portfolios of abandoned bike art. And so we collected authentic abandoned bikes and turned them into an art exhibit. Meanwhile, the city also promised to collect more of them as they streamlined the process for reporting and removal.

See the full project here.

Ragged rusty bikes hide within the sleek and modern Jerome L. Greene Performance Space

Lost Subways of New York

We kicked off 2012 with a look at the subway system that never was: dozens of tunnels and platforms that were either abandoned or were built but never used. They form a kind of ghost system that reveals how the city’s transit ambitions have been both realized and thwarted.

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How to Build a Better Bike Lock -- U.K. Foundation Offers Prize

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Unsuccessful bike locking mechanism. (Photo CC by Flickr use Moff)

(This post by Joe Peach originally appeared in This Big City -- United Kingdom) Cycling has many advantages, but bike theft remains a sadly common drawback. Over 500,000 bikes were stole in in the U.K. last year (that’s one every minute, factoid fans), and less than 5 percent of those were recovered.

Of the 17 percent of cyclists that experience bike theft, 66 percent of them cycle less often and 24 percent stop cycling altogether. So what can be done?

Nesta, an innovation foundation based in the U.K., is currently running the ‘Hands Off My Bike!’ challenge, calling on people from across the country to design breakthrough innovations to make it more difficult to steal bikes. With bikes more difficult to steal, Nesta believes there could be an increase in the numbers of people cycling in the U.K.

[Also at This Big City: Common Spaces: Urbanism, Sustainability and the Art of Placemaking]

The rules surrounding the competition are quite open, simply asking for ‘innovation’. So this could be as straightforward as a new design for a bike lock, or as complex as a high-security bike parking facility. But their needs to be an element of tangibility to each idea as the winning entry will be the one that requires the longest time to steal the bike.

Entries will also be judged on their impact on the environment, cost, and potential for commercialization and/or implementation at scale. There is a £50,000 prize for the winning entry, and it is open to any individual or organization. So if you think you’ve got a winning idea, click here to find out more and submit your entry. The closing date is the 18th January 2013.

More from Joe Peach at This Big City.

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DC's Capital Bikeshare Expanding by 30 Percent

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

(photo by Kevin Kovaleski/DDOTDC via flickr)

Washington, D.C. will add 513 bikes to Capital Bikeshare this winter, expanding the nation's largest operating bike share program by more than 30 percent.

The move was planned for the fall, but the Capital Bikeshare's operator, Alta, faced a shortage of equipment.
District Department of Transportation spokesman John Lisle told Transportation Nation the 54 new stations will add docking spaces for 1,026 bikes. "You want about 50 percent of your docks on the street filled with bikes. That's kind of the ratio that we aim for," he said.

Lisle said there are 1,645 bikes on the streets now at in 2,524 docks, at 191 stations. Some stations have as many as 30 docks, and during special events, far more.

Balance is crucial to a well-functioning bike share program. So central, in fact, that employees of CaBi who shift bikes from location to location to meet demand are called rebalancers.

The proposed locations for the new stations, which you can view on this map (or see the below list) come in a mix of new neighborhoods and existing bike share neighborhoods. “We need to balance the desire to expand into new areas with the need for more docks and bikes in existing areas, particularly downtown, where demand is heaviest,” said Chris Holben, DDOT Project Manager for Capital Bikeshare, in an emailed statement. “Basically, for every ‘expansion’ station we also need more spaces downtown to keep up with demand.”

Capital Bikeshare has been been struggling to keep up with demand. It's expanded to the Virginia suburbs, and one Maryland county just voted to join. All 54 of the new docks will go inside the District.

Despite the popularity, CaBi loses money, although the program operates close to profitability. DDOT foots the bill, and pays Alta to operate the program. The additions mean DDOT will increase what it pays Alta as operator but could potentially earn more if it means more members sign up. DDOT spokesman John Lisle did not share projections for how the expansion might impact potential profitability.

"We are in the process of selling advertising on the stations, which should help on the revenue side," he said. "Installations most likely will be after the inauguration" on January 21st, Lisle said.

Alta is the same company that operates bike share programs in Chicago, and is contracted to launch programs in New York and Portland. Those programs have also suffered from delays.
First Round
18th Street and Wyoming Avenue NW
11th Street and M Street NW
14th Street and Clifton Street/ Boys and Girls Club NW
15th Street and Euclid Street NW
20th Street and Virginia Avenue NW
Ellington Bridge, SE corner NW
Elm Street and 2nd Street (LeDroit Park) NW
New Jersey Avenue and R Street NW
Hiatt Place between Park and Irving NW
13th Street and U Street NW
17th Street and Massachusetts Avenue/JHU NW
5th Street and Massachusetts Avenue NW
8th Street and D Street NW
11th Street and Florida Avenue NW
11th Street and K Street NW
L'Enfant Plaza at Independence Ave SW
11th Street and F Street NW
23rd Street and W.H.O. NW
Constitution Ave and 21st Street NW
34th Street and Water Street NW
Connecticut and Nebraska Avenues NW
Connecticut Ave and Albemarle St NW
O Street and Wisconsin Ave (east) NW
Wisconsin Ave and Fessenden St NW
Wisconsin Ave and Veazy Street NW
14th Street and Upshur Street NW
14th Street and Colorado Avenue NW
5th Street and Kennedy Street NW
Georgia Ave and Decatur Street NW
V Street and Rhode Island Ave at Summit Place NE
2nd Street and M Street NE
Hamlin Street and 7th Street NE
12th Street and Irving Street NE
Neal Street and Trinidad Avenue NE
Rhode Island Ave Metro entrance NE
18th Street and Rhode Island Ave NE
8th Street and F Street NE
Pennsylvania Ave and 3rd Street SE
8th Street and East Capitol Street NE
15th Street and East Capitol Street NE
Independence and Washington/HHS SW
Constitution Ave and 2nd St/DOL NW
6th Street and Indiana Avenue NW
New Jersey Avenue and D Street SE
15th St, F St and Tennessee Ave NE
9th Street and M Street SE
Tingey Street and 3rd Street SE
Deanwood Rec Center and Library NE
Burroughs Avenue and 49th Street NE
Burroughs Ave and Minnesota Ave NE
Minnesota/34th Street and Ely Place SE
Alabama Avenue and Stanton Road SE
MLK, Jr. Ave and Alabama Ave SE
MLK, Jr. Ave and Pleasant Street SE
Next Round
MLK, Jr. Ave and St. E's Gate 5 SE
14th Street and Fairmont Street NW
18th Street and C Street NW
L'Enfant Plaza at Banneker Circle SW
G Street at MLK Library NW
Wisconsin Ave and Ingomar Street NW
Brandywine St and Wisconsin Ave NW
Connecticut Ave and Porter Street NW
O Street and Wisconsin Ave (west) NW
Massachusetts Ave and 48th Street NW
Van Buren Street and Rec Center NW
Ft Totten Metro Station NW
Cedar Street underpass (Takoma) NW
Piney Branch Rd and Georgia Ave NW
1st Street and K Street NE
Rhode Island Ave and Franklin St NE
18th Street and Monroe Street NE
New Jersey Avenue and L Street NW
Haines Point Rec Center SW
2nd Street and V Street SW
Burroughs and Division Avenues NE
Ely Place and Ft. Dupont Ice Rink SE
16th Street and Minnesota Ave SE
MLK, Jr. Ave and St E's Gate 1 SE


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VIDEO: Transportation Nation's Mug. It Can Be Yours.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Action shot from "Multi-Modal Mug" shot film by Amy Pearl / WNYC

At Transportation Nation, we serve up serious news, with flair, style, and a flash of java.

Rejoice. (And get a tax deduction, too.) You can own a Transportation Nation coffee mug.

'What's so exciting about a coffee mug?' you might ask. 'It doesn't run on a smart grid or move at the speed of a bullet train." But, friends, it is a reminder to you of all the value this site has brought you in 2012. And your donation shows our reporters here at TN that you care.

Plus, the video is hilarious. We present to you the multi-modal mug. Yours as a thank-you gift for a donation of $5 / month to our ad-free, nonprofit public media project.

If you won't donate, consider sending this around to your friends who might.

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Taxi E-Hail App Approved in NYC

Thursday, December 13, 2012

UPDATED: Starting on February 15, New Yorkers will have the option to hail a cab from their smartphone, instead of hailing one the old fashioned way.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission adopted Thursday, by a vote of 7 to two abstentions,  a year-long pilot program allowing taxi drivers and passengers to use taxi-hailing apps on their phones.

Smartphone hails will override street hails within a half mile in most of Manhattan, or a mile in a half in Northern Manhattan and the outer boros.

Current rules prohibit apps like Uber, Hailo and GetTaxi because drivers are forbidden from using devices while driving for safety reasons.

TLC rules also forbid payment through a third party system, which is how Uber processes transactions, taking a cut for itself and why the company stopped operating in yellow cabs.

Under the new  rules to allow e-hail apps up for a vote, New York would require e-hail apps here to be a bit different from the ones operating in other cities already... albeit with lawsuits and political battles in many cases.

TLC commissioner commissioner David Yassky said Thursday the city risks falling behind. "We can look at other cities and see that passengers are using these products and benefiting from them, and when you have new technology that's available that can benefit passengers, regulations shouldn't stand in the way."

The apps would still not be allowed to process payments independently in NYC. They'll need to be integrated into the meter to prevent overcharging. In order to be approved under the proposed rules, apps would also need to be programmed so that a driver can't accept a ride while in motion -- that's possible using GPS data or even the accelerometer in a smartphone.

The non-yellow cab car service industry opposed the idea, fearing that it will pull yellow cabs out to places normally dominated by car services, which can be requested by phone call and apps currently. To mollify some of that fear, today's vote may not be on whether to permit e-hail apps in yellow cabs, but whether to run a one year pilot program.


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How Sandy Might Tweak Today's High-Speed Rail Privatization Hearing

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Rendering of an Amtrak NextGen high-speed rail train

On Capitol Hill today, high-speed rail in the Northeast will get dissected and debated.  This time though, Amtrak head Joe Boardman will sit at the witness table with some support from record ridership numbers. And also Sandy.

You can watch the House Transportation sub-committee hearings here at 10 a.m. ET and see the full list of-top level witnesses here

The hearing continues a series of grillings GOP lawmakers have been giving to Amtrak in a push to reduce the subsidies the national rail network relies on each year. Other witnesses on the docket include a DOT rep, an American Enterprise Institute Scholar and a Morgan Stanley managing director.

The 15 word hearing title obscures the topic, so it's pasted way down below in this post, but rest assured the conversation will cover privatization of high-speed rail along the Northeast Corridor.

Outgoing House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica who will chair today's hearing has long supported the idea of building high-speed rail in the Northeast because that route is the only one profitable for Amtrak, but he has argued that funding, and even operations, could be provided by the private sector. Big spending on big projects need not come entirely from the government, Mica has argued.

Robert Puentes of the Brookings Institution says, "Superstorm Sandy did change the conversation around infrastructure, particularly in the Northeast."

The storm, which caused $60 million in losses to Amtrak and billions in damages to other transit agencies, showed the need for expensive upgrades, and a scale of risk involved that demands more active government investment. "The enormous bills we have from Sandy are not going to be born by the private sector. It's ridiculous to think so."

He says, "there is a role for the private sector to play" and he hopes the hearings hone in on it because finding the right role is crucial.

Puentes also says, states are likely to play an increasingly large role in Amtrak funding in the future. As the national government becomes more reticent to pay for unprofitable rail routes, states that want to keep their service will have to start chipping in.

One test case to watch for this model could be the Sunset Limited line along the Gulf Coast that was washed away in 2005 by Katrina. Local officials are lobbying to get it back. The cash-strapped states of Alabama and Mississippi would need to pony up though, and so far it's stalled.

Today's hearing though, is on the Northeast Corridor, where megaprojects are on the table and profits are a reasonable lure for business involvement. The "vision" for high-speed rail still carries a price tag of $151 billion and a minimum construction time of several decades. There is no plan for how to find that huge sum.

Amtrak is likely to try to draw the focus to a more immediate project that is incremental to the "vision," the Gateway program, which would add two new tunnels under the Hudson River into New York's Penn Station from New Jersey. There are two existing Hudson tunnels at capacity now. They both flooded during Sandy along with two of  the four tunnels under the East River.

Petra Messick, a planner with Amtrak  says the tunnels are needed for projected ridership growth but, Sandy also showed the value that new infrastructure could bring.

"When the Gateway Tunnels are built, they will be built in the 21st century and include a host of features that will make them more resilient ... like floodgates," Messick says.

The existing tunnels are more than a century old.

And in case you were still curious, that full 15 word title is: “Northeast Corridor Future: Options for High-Speed Rail Development and Opportunities for Private Sector Participation.”


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CHARTS: Whites Ride Transit Less Often Than Everyone Else

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

In America, white workers a lot less likely to take public transportation to the office than other races. That’s according to a review of the latest American Community Survey by the U.S. Census department.

The American adult workforce is 67.7 percent white. Yet, public transportation commuters are just 39.9 percent are white.

We examined the ten largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. and compared the racial mix of the area at-large (specifically of the workforce) with the racial mix of public transportation commuters.  Across the nation and in every city, whites are less likely to commute by transit.

But some cities have greater transportation divide than others.

In New York, the metaphorical mix on the bus is pretty close to the city at large, just with fewer whites. The NY metro area workforce is 61.9 percent white, on public transportation it's 47.2 percent, a 15 percentage point drop. Other races are in relatively the same proportions as the city at large.

NYU Professor Mitchell Moss says the big apple stands out on this front. "New York Mass transit has the broadest possible reach of users but geographically, ethnically, racially, and economically. It is a striking culture."

Compare Atlanta, a city where residents sardonically joke that the name of the local transit agency MARTA stands for Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta. Whites are 60 percent of the working population and just 25 percent of the transit commuters. The city is mostly white, transit ridership to work is mostly black.

The other southern cities in our sample have similar, though not so stark, figures. Philadelphia also sees a sharp spike in black ridership to work and white flight from the transit system.

It's a complicated topic with local explanations varying from economic divisions to lingering legacies of entrenched discrimination in urban planning. See our past documentary on race and mass transit, Back of the Bus, for more narrative coverage of this.


The Cause and the Lessons

Cities where there's higher transit ridership see more diverse ridership. If the train or bus is a good option, then everyone takes it. If transit isn't so popular, then the bus becomes the option for those who can't afford a car, and sadly, that's correlated with race.

Still, it’s not only about money. In Chicago, the median income of transit riders is higher than the general population, but the racial gap we see nationwide is present. But much less so than in the southern cities. In Washington, D.C. people earning over $75,000 a year are more likely to ride than their less well off capital region co-workers. That's because the D.C. subway system was designed to serve the suburbs, to reduce car traffic over District bridges and it works.

Washington, D.C. is arguably the most diverse of the cities we look at. The white flight from transit is certainly least. The workforce is 59 percent white in the D.C. metro area, and the public transit commuting pool is 48 percent white. An 11 percentage point drop, less than New York, but also from a lower base.

New York and D.C. along with Chicago's numbers suggest that if transit were available to a wider geographic area, it would be used by a wider racial mix.

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Amtrak Breaks Holiday Travel Record, Readies for Contentious Congressional Hearing

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving was the busiest day in the history of Amtrak with a total of 140,691 passengers riding in the 46-state network. Over the full Thanksgiving holiday weekend Amtrak carried 737,537 passengers, up 1.9 percent over last year, the previous record for passenger rail travel volume.

This happened despite a switching problem that shut down train traffic in Penn Station on the day before Thanksgiving for over an hour on some routes. At one point so many waiting passengers were trying to crowd into one of America's busiest (but by no means not roomiest) rail stations that they were forced to wait outside the building. See pics of the gathering crowds of stressed and stranded passengers here.

Nonetheless the ridership record is an impressive feat considering the water deluge that flooded four of Amtrak's six New York area tunnels, stopping service for days, costing the rail network $60 million in lost revenue and badly damaging electrical components, like switches. Amtrak has already asked Congress for $276 million to upgrade facilities to enhance resilience in the face of future storms.

As we reported, the tunnels in and around New York City are 102 years old, and though this is the first time they flooded, some of the electrical equipment in the area is antiquated legacy stock inherited from before Amtrak incorporated in the 1970s making it hard to repair and replace. All the more reason it is impressive that service was restored and capacity added for the record ticket sales over Thanksgiving.

It was also the most lucrative weekend ever for Amtrak, generating $56.1 million in revenue, up 17.9 percent over last year, meaning that revenue-per-Thanksgiving traveler was up significantly.

Regulators on Capitol Hill may be more interested in that latter data point on Thursday when a Congressional committee will call Amtrak brass to answer questions about the future of rail in America. The GOP-led hearing's title is a hint of the tenor we should expect to see: "Northeast Corridor Future: Options for High-Speed Rail Development and Opportunities for Private Sector Participation." Expect Republicans to again push a case for privatizing passenger rail and reducing federal spending, while pressing Amtrak to cut waste and costs. Outgoing Transportation Committee Chair has made no secret of his distaste for Amtrak's spending habits, even going so far as staging a burger eating photo-op to decry the money-losing food service offered on-board Amtrak trains.

In previous hearings Amtrak has said it is 85 percent self-sufficient with revenues rising, pointing out that states ask for increased service on many lines that are not likely to turn a profit.


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Census Data Show Public Transit Gender Gap

Sunday, December 09, 2012

(Photo CC by Flickr use NYC Arthur)

Women are more likely to ride public transportation to work than men. Men are more likely to drive to work.

The latest data from the American Community Survey of the U.S.  Census show: Of the people who take public transportation to work, 50.5 percent are women and 49.5 percent are male. That might not seem like a difference worth mentioning until you consider the workforce overall.

The American adult workforce is mostly male, and by a decent amount: 53 percent male to 47 percent female.

One theory is that type of occupation is correlated with gender, and women are more likely to be in mid-level jobs (so earning less, and looking to spend less on commuting) in offices, which tend to be more likely to be in city centers serviced by transit.

Interestingly, men are slightly more likely to carpool than women in the U.S. and women are slightly more likely drive to work alone relative to the general population of workers.

For solo drivers nationally it's 52.6 percent male (slightly less than their 53 percent share of the workforce).

For carpoolers it's 54.7 percent (a touch more than their 53 percent of the workforce.) Meaning it's men who tend to carpool more than women among those who drive. But just by a hair.

It's transit where the gender gap spikes.

The gap is especially wide in cities where transit is more readily available than it is nationally.

New York City public transportation commuters are 52 percent female, 48 percent male according to the American Community Survey. That's despite the fact that the general workforce in New York City is 51.5 percent male and 48.5 percent female. For drivers, that flips.

Of those who drive to work alone in the five boroughs, 60 percent are male.

Mitchell Moss, the Henry Hart Rice Professor of Urban Policy and Planning at NYU, says, it is "a reflection of the gender differences in occupations. Sole drivers include commuters to high income managerial and financial positions, as well as self-employed craftspeople that require a vehicle to carry equipment and materials." Those workers are more likely to be men. 

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