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January 29, 2015

Posts in "Commuting"

January 29, 2015

Kissinger A Reminder Of Strategic/Transit Trade-Offs

Protesters confront former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Protesters confront former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The connection between international strategy and mass transit might seem tenuous.

But Thursday’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on Iran, nuclear weapons, and related matters was a reminder of the lasting tension between spending money on domestic needs, such as transit, and overseas commitments.

In 1969, Kissinger faced the same choices when he served as President Nixon’s national security.

In his memoirs, White House Years, Kissinger writes that he and Nixon in 1969 had to decide what U.S. strategy would be in Europe to defend against potential Russian, (or Soviet as it was then) aggression.

One option was to build up U.S. nuclear forces based in Europe; another option was to build up U.S. conventional (non-nuclear) forces stationed there. Full story

Governors Float Plan To Replace Notorious Bridge

President Obama speaks to a crowd in front of the aging Brent Spence Bridge over the Ohio River  in 2011 as part of his campaign for a job creation bill. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

President Obama speaks to a crowd in front of the aging Brent Spence Bridge over the Ohio River in 2011 as part of his campaign for a job creation bill. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

When a politician’s theme of the day is “aging infrastructure,” the default backdrop for the photo op is often the obsolete and overcrowded Brent Spence Bridge which connects Covington, Ky. and Cincinnati, Ohio.

On Wednesday Gov. Steve Beshear of Kentucky, a Democrat, and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, a Republican, offered a plan to revamp the existing bridge, build a new bridge, and improve interstate approaches to the spans which cross the Ohio River.

The plan calls for:

  • Using a public-private partnership to design, build, maintain, and finance the project.
  • Splitting costs and toll revenues evenly between Ohio and Kentucky.
  • Providing a 50 percent discount in toll rates for frequent commuters.

According to governors’ statement, inflation is driving up the project’s cost (currently $2.6 billion) by $7 million every month.

Full story

January 28, 2015

Blizzard Economics Creates Winners And Losers

Snow covers a car in Cambridge, Mass. on Tuesday. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Snow covers a car in Cambridge, Mass. on Tuesday. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The blizzard that hit parts of the Northeast Tuesday may have been a bit of bust for New York City (9.8 inches in Central Park) and led to charges that Gov. Andrew Cuomo over-reached by ordering roads and mass transit to be shut down at 11pm Monday.

But the nor’easter dumped a lot of snow on places such as Southampton, N.Y. (29 inches) and Groton, Conn. (24 inches).

And according to the U.S. Travel Association, the cancelled flights cost the economy $230 million in passengers’ lost activity.

Each cancelled domestic flight costs the economy $31,600, according to a formula U.S. Travel researchers developed. The estimate is based on airline traffic and on-time data, air traveler behavior and other data collected through surveys, and U.S. Travel proprietary economic models.

The figure accounts for the passengers on more than 7,000 cancelled flights and the spending they would otherwise inject into the economy, but it does not calculate the impact on the airline industry.

Then again, storms such as Tuesday’s do create value for some people and some sectors of the economy.

In cities and towns from New Jersey to Maine there are tens of thousands of dollars spent on plowing and salting the roads. In one part of Massachusetts, hired contract plowers are paid $75 to $140 an hour. Full story

January 27, 2015

CBO Reminder To Congress: Infrastructure Funding 101

House Speaker John A. Boehner has repeatedly rebuffed the idea of a fuels tax increase (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Speaker John A. Boehner has repeatedly rebuffed the idea of a fuels tax increase (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

In its annual budget and economic forecast Monday the Congressional Budget Office reminded members of Congress of some of the basics that set the bounds of the infrastructure debate:

  • While federal spending on highways and mass transit has been running at about $53 billion a year in recent years, “annual receipts from highway taxes, which are largely dedicated to the Highway Trust Fund, are projected to stay at $38 billion or $39 billion each year between 2015 and 2025….” Thus the shortfall is about $14 billion a year.
  • CBO predicts that over the long term gasoline consumption will decline, as vehicles’ fuel economy improves. This will “more than offset increases in the number of miles that people drive stemming from both population increases and real income gains per person.”
  • But just for this year, the drop in gasoline prices (down nearly 40 percent from this same point last year) will cause drivers to drive more miles, so CBO projects that “gasoline use and tax revenues will be roughly in line with last year’s figures….”
  • CBO predicts that oil prices will rise again later this year – a forecast which some private-sector economists and investors don’t agree with at all.

Full story

As Blizzard Hits, Cuomo Bans Travel

Men delivering packages struggle in blowing snow in Manhattan's financial district on Monday as the city braced itself for a blizzard. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Men delivering packages struggle in blowing snow in Manhattan’s financial district on Monday as the city braced itself for a blizzard. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A massive nor’easter was hitting New York, New Jersey, and New England Monday night and Tuesday. That means that mass transit and the highways, at least in the New York City area, were closed, as of 11pm Monday.

In a press briefing late Monday afternoon, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat just elected to his second term, said he’d ordered commuter railroad and subway service to stop at 11pm Monday to allow train cars to be moved to safe storage locations “so that when the weather does leave we’re in a position for the system to start back up.”

He said the city and state had learned from Superstorm Sandy in 2012 that it was far better to protect subway and commuter trains so that service could be resumed as quickly as possible.

He also ordered a travel ban on highways and roads in a 13-county area, including the five boroughs of New York City, except for emergency vehicles.

“If you violate this state order it’s a possible misdemeanor; it’s fines up to $300,” he told a press conference.

Full story

January 22, 2015

After Fatal Subway Accident, Members Vow Vigilance

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The phalanx of four senators and seven House members who showed up the Mansfield Room in the Capitol on Wednesday night usually deal with big-picture issues like Iran’s nuclear weapons’ ambitions.

But Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and her colleagues from Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia were there instead in the role of local government officials, showing their determination to prevent another episode on the Washington, D.C. Metro system such as the Jan. 12 “electrical arcing event” that killed a passenger and left others seriously injured.

They don’t get to appoint Metro’s managers, but they do supply some of the funding for a mass transit system which has proven to be hazardous to the lives and health of their constituents.

Full story

January 19, 2015

Week Ahead: Obama Agenda Setter And New Governors

Maryland Governor-elect Larry Hogan, at the microphone, flanked by other newly elected governors outside the White House after meeting with President Obama on Dec. 5, 2014.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Maryland Governor-elect Larry Hogan, at the microphone, flanked by other newly elected governors outside the White House after meeting with President Obama on Dec. 5, 2014. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

This week features the president’s attempt to steer the agenda with his State of the Union address, as well as a focus in Washington on unmanned aerial vehicles. That industry and members of Congress impatiently await a proposed rule on commercial drone use from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Tuesday

At the National Press Club in Washington, the Small UAV Coalition holds a discussion and drone demonstration with industry representatives including Jesse Kallman, head of business development and regulatory affairs at the flight control software maker Airware and Lucas van Oostrum, co-founder and chief technology officer at Dutch drone manufacturer Aerialtronics.

Full story

January 16, 2015

A Look Back At Our Week: It’s Just Congestion All Over

Traffic jam in Mill Valley, Calif., this one caused by rain and flooding. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Traffic jam in Mill Valley, Calif., this one caused by rain and flooding. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Congestion. Transportation planners spend their lives analyzing it and trying to devise ways to relieve it.

Especially with lots of transportation wonks in Washington this week for the 94th annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board, we heard much expert discussion about congestion on the highways, in our cities, and at our seaports.

On the highways, HNTB’s congestion pricing guru Matthew Click gave us his thoughts on why the San Francisco Bay area is the most interesting place in country in 2015 to watch for development of toll lanes.

Once you exit the highway and arrive in the big city, you may face the question: where can I find a place to park?

We heard from urban planners at the TRB meeting who find that, in fact, parking is much over-supplied in many cities. Maybe not in midtown Manhattan at high noon on a weekday, but in small and mid-sized cities.

Full story

January 15, 2015

Tolling Expert Sees Bay Area as Place to Watch in 2015

This week we asked Matthew Click, vice president and director of priced managed lanes for HNTB, an infrastructure design and construction management company, what he thinks will be the most interesting place in country in 2015 to watch for development of toll lanes and congestion pricing.

Click’s choice: the San Francisco Bay area.

Here are the points he made: Full story

January 14, 2015

Planners Seek To ‘Get Prices Right’ On Parking

San Francisco parking meter. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

San Francisco parking meter. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Transportation analysts spend a lot of time talking about what they call “getting prices right.”

They see some transportation assets (un-tolled highways, for example) as underpriced and over-used.

They see other assets people consider “free” (the space in airplanes’ overhead luggage bins, for instance) which should be priced in order to produce revenue and reveal their true cost.

Underpriced assets lead to what economists call “negative externalities” – overuse, congestion, pollution, and other costs which users impose on society without being made to fully pay for those costs.

(The head of the International Energy Agency sounded a similar note last July by suggesting to Americans that their gasoline prices were too low and “may be encouraging wasteful consumption.”)

So too with urban parking, a topic transportation analysts took on at the Transportation Research Board annual meeting Tuesday.

Full story

January 13, 2015

Cell Phone Signals Offer Massive Trove of Travel Data

Travelers on the New York City subway, many of whom are transmitting data about their travel patterns. (Photo credit should read Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

Travelers on the New York City subway, many of whom are transmitting data about their travel patterns. (Photo credit should read Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

Every hour of every day cell phones are generating data which transportation planners, real estate developers, and investors use to help them to understand traffic flows, shopping patterns, and population shifts.

An Atlanta-based company, AirSage, collects real-time data (15 billion data points every day) from cell phone tower interactions – whenever a person sends a text, makes a phone call, or when a phone is searching for the next cell phone tower.

AirSage was one of the exhibitors at the annual Transportation Research Board meeting in Washington this week.

The company draws the data, which come from more than 100 million mobile devices, from two of the top three cell phone providers. The data cover more than a third of the U.S. population.

Full story

Safety Board Investigating Fatal D.C. Metro Incident

Smoke inhalation victims walk towards a medical aid bus after passengers on the Washington, D.C. Metro were injured when smoke filled the L'Enfant Plaza station Monday.(Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

Smoke inhalation victims walk towards a medical aid bus after passengers on the Washington, D.C. Metro were injured when smoke filled the L’Enfant Plaza station Monday.(Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

The National Transportation Safety Board  has launched an investigation into the incident on Washington D.C.’s Metro system in which one woman died Monday.

NTSB said that its investigators are on the scene at the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station.  Shortly after pulling out of the station Monday afternoon, a subway train filled with smoke. One witness told the Washington Post that it took about 40 minutes for firefighters to arrive and to evacuate passengers from the train.

Eight-four people were hospitalized, including the passenger who died, D.C. fire department spokesman Tim Wilson said, according to the Post.

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles told the local NBC affiliate Monday night that two passengers were in critical condition.

According to the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, there were 51 subway fatalities nationwide in 2012, (the most recent year for which data is presented). For the ten years from 2003 to 2012, fatalities averaged 56 per year.

In any given year the number of subway fatalities is about one-tenth of one percent of all U.S. transportation fatalities, with car, truck, and motorcycle fatalities accounting for more than 75 percent of all transportation fatalities.

January 12, 2015

Looking Into The Future On Electric Vehicle Adoption

An electric vehicle charging station near the San Francisco city hall.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

An electric vehicle charging station near the San Francisco city hall. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

With gasoline now below $2 a gallon in many parts of the country, it might not seem like the most urgent priority to consider electric vehicles.

But the analysts who spoke at Monday’s panel on electric cars at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board were looking not primarily at today but 30 and 40 years into the future.

Major takeaways from the panelists:

  • One baseline scenario is the electric vehicles won’t be more than five percent of vehicles on the road, unless there are big decreases in the cost of batteries and much higher oil prices than the Energy Information Administration forecast for the next few decades.

Using a systems dynamics model, Dawn Manley of the Sandia National Laboratories tested a number of scenarios, including one that was very favorable to electric vehicle adoption by consumers.

“What if batteries were nearly free out into the future, 25 or 30 years from now? What if people who were willing to pay [a higher price for an electric car] had a longer payback period that they were willing to consider?”

The typical consumer is willing to wait three years to recover the higher cost of a higher-priced alternative technology. What if they were willing to consider a nine-year payback period?” And what if oil prices were much higher than they are today or under EIA projections? Then market penetration could reach 20 percent.

  • Support for home recharging should take priority over workplace charging and building more public recharging stations, according to Jonn Axsen, a researcher at the Energy and Materials Research Group at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.

Market failures have locked drivers into a fossil fuel-based infrastructure, said Axsen. “We need a strong climate policy” which should include a carbon tax to stimulate innovation on batteries and recharging facilities, for example.

  • For the most cost-effective deployment of public recharging stations, “it’s all about finding the hot spots,” said John Smart of the Idaho National Laboratory, that is specific locations where vehicle ownership supports big demand, places like the San Francisco Airport and the Fred Meyer store in Kirkland, Wash.

Most of the electric vehicle recharging infrastructure that was built with money from the 2009 stimulus act was not used, but the data gathered from those projects can be used to identify and perhaps predict where the demand for public recharging stations will be, Smart said.

  • On the coldest days of the year, today’s electric vehicles suffer more than a 40 percent decrease in their range, said Tugce Yuksel of Carnegie Mellon University.

That decrease in battery performance and range may limit the customer interest in buying electric vehicles in colder weather states, such as those in the Upper Midwest and Upper Plains states.

And as it currently stands, electric vehicle sales are highest in states with milder winters in their urban areas such as Washington state and California.

According to Yuksel, a round trip in an electric vehicle from Washington to Baltimore and back could be done in an electric vehicle, but on a very cold day the driver would need to stop and re-charge on his return trip from Baltimore, adding up to two hours to the total duration of the trip.

The Week Ahead: Annual Gathering Of The Policy Wonks

A worker makes repairs to a pedestrian walkway and bike path near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. One topic at TRB anual meeting: how states can pay for transportation projects. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A worker makes repairs to a pedestrian walkway and bike path near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. One topic at TRB anual meeting: how states can pay for transportation projects. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The week’s marquee event in Washington is the 94th annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board, a five-day extravaganza of panel discussions, research presentations, and speeches by government officials, corporate leaders, and academic and think tank experts.

On the are nearly 750 workshops and sessions, on topics ranging from “Self-heating Electrically Conducting Concrete for Pavement De-Icing” to “Understanding the Gender Gap in Urban Biking.”

Monday

At the TRB meeting, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will forecast the year ahead for transportation and also discuss opportunities and challenges facing America’s transportation network over the next thirty years.

Also on Monday’s TRB agenda is a presentation from Timothy Butters, acting head the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Scott Darling, acting head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and other transportation officials who will explain how they go about the federal rule-making process for various modes of transportation.

Tuesday

At the TRB annual meeting, National Transportation Safety Board Acting Chairman Christopher Hart and his colleagues unveil the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements for 2015.

Last year’s NTSB list included banning the use of cell phones and other portable electronic devices by anyone while driving a car or a truck, or while piloting a plane, a ship, or a train.

Tuesday’s TRB meeting features a session with state transportation department chiefs on steps they are taking to fund major capital projects in light of the continued uncertainty of federal funding. Featured speakers include Anthony Tata of North Carolina, Charles Zelle of Minnesota, and Joan McDonald of New York.

Thursday and Friday

As the TRB meeting continues, the World Bank is staging its own transportation event, Transforming Transportation: Smart Cities for Shared Prosperity. It features policy makers and experts from several countries including a panel discussion on The Role of Technology in Fostering Sustainable Mobility and Inclusive Growth, with Robin Chase, Founder of Zipcar, and others.

Friday Q&A: Haystack Founder Eric Meyer, Part Two

Do you think the critics of Haystack are getting caught up in a theoretical argument about whether the parking space is a public or private space, rather than focusing on the facilitation of parking and reduction of congestion and pollution?

Parking is a public asset, but one so mismanaged that it benefits almost nobody. If Haystack can help make this public asset more efficient, then that’s a good thing for drivers, for the community and for the city as a whole.

Is Haystack still operating in Baltimore? If so, is it profitable?

We have paused our service in all cities following several roadblocks in cities critical to our model.

If cities aren’t willing to let Haystack facilitate use of parking spaces, could you or some other company purchase on-street parking spaces and then facilitate use of them?

In other words, make public space into a private space and then monetize its use. Or would the policing of that be too difficult?

It is an interesting idea; this is essentially the model that ZipCar uses, and it benefits neighbors, drivers and the city as a whole.  Bringing cities on board with this plan, given our many conversations across the country, would likely be an uphill battle.  It’s a shame more cities aren’t as progressive. Technology is a powerful tool that should be celebrated, not shunned.

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