Nine months after cracks were discovered in two structural steel beams of the Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects–designed Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco, the transit hub will finally reopen on July 1. However, busses won’t roll through the $2.2 billion terminal until the end of the summer; at first, only the 5.4-acre rooftop park will be open to the public. The repair plan announced in January appears to have worked, and, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, the building was declared safe by a panel of engineers yesterday. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which covers the entirety of the San Francisco Bay Area, had determined that welding access holes in the two cracked beams had been incorrectly cut during construction, resulting in stress fractures. After the city paid $6 million in testing and $2.5 million a month in security for the closed center, contractors decided to reinforce the two affected beams, and two untouched beams they connect to, with steel plates. Although the three-block-long transit center is safe to occupy again, the interior was stripped during the repairs and workers need more time to reinstall the ceiling and column coverings. Bus drivers, who had previously been picking up and dropping off passengers at a satellite terminal on Folsom Street a block away will need to be retrained as well. So in the meantime, fitness classes will resume on the transit center’s roof and pedestrians can once again explore the park. Still, there’s no news on the progress to bring rail to the complex’s basement, which was built to accommodate high-speed trains but remains empty. No timeline or budget has been agreed upon for a BART and Caltrain extension to the Transbay Transit Center, although politicians and the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, the independent agency responsible for bringing rail to the station, have agreed upon the need to do so.
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The Cultural Air Up There
Construction begins on massive Machu Picchu airport despite protests
Ground has been broken on a $5 billion airport meant to connect Peru’s mountainous Machu Picchu more easily with the outside world, but conservationists are up in arms over the impact the facility will have on the fragile world heritage site. Machu Picchu is one of the most famous Incan archeological sites in the world but is currently strained past capacity with tourists. According to The Guardian, 1.5 million visited the fortress in 2017, twice the amount recommended by UNESCO. Currently, the site is only accessible through a single runway airport in the nearby city of Cusco, and to ameliorate crowding and provide easier access to the fragile mountaintop, land is already being cleared at the town of Chinchero—between Machu Picchu and Cusco—for a major international airport that would receive direct flights. Machu Picchu sits in the 37-mile-long Sacred Valley, once the heart of the ancient Incan empire, and activists are worried that the airport (and increased tourism) would despoil the miles of paths, terraces, and other vulnerable sites in the valley. Opponents of the airport claim that the environmental ramifications would be huge, and that runoff from the construction would pollute the nearby Lake Piuray, which provides nearly half of Cusco’s water supply. Additionally, the low-flying planes and influx of tourists may damage the sensitive archeological campus. Peruvian art historian Natalia Majluf has started a petition in opposition to the airport, that at the time of writing, has 48,000 signatures. In it, Majluf cites the potential damage to the area’s canals, ritual lines, and agricultural heritage, which is a direct continuation of the Incan traditions and knowledge that originated in the valley. Majluf is appealing directly to Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra to at least reconsider the airport’s location, but according to The Guardian, the government seems committed to the project. “This airport will be built as soon as possible because it’s very necessary for the city of Cusco,” Finance Minister Carlos Oliva said last month. “There’s a series of technical studies which support this airport’s construction.”
A partnership between the state-owned Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE), the London-based architecture and technology firm PLP Labs (the research spinoff of PLP Architecture), and LogistikCentrum have released a new study and report proposing a new direction for public transit. Called NuMo, for New Urban Mobility, the proposed technology allows for highly efficient, electric-powered home-to-destination transit either over existing infrastructure or on new construction. The report claims that most cities rely on a less efficient 19th-century model of public transit, where trains and buses come at times at long intervals or unpredictably and can be either virtually empty or totally packed and uncomfortable. With NuMo, autonomous electric cars would be booked through an app and come directly to your current location. From there they would take off, eventually joining other NuMo cars with passengers or cargo in a “high-speed platoon.” The electric cars could then pull off at any point to pick up more passengers for carpooling, or to bring passengers directly to their destination. One of the central inefficiencies with traditional human-operated automobiles is that they have to be spaced fairly far apart from one another when moving and be given enough horizontal space to account for the inaccuracies and shifts from people operating them. Automated cars in a NuMo platoon would be able to “move within milliseconds of one another,” staying close together, reportedly reducing lane width by over three feet, fitting two cars into a single lane. In a NuMo-designed city, there would be a central control system with automated intersection control and load balancing, as well as vehicle-to-vehicle communication, and the ability prevent stopping and congestion, potentially ending traffic jams and accidents. Within the cities, cars would travel between approximately 20 to 40 miles per hour and outside they could reach speeds of 50 miles per hour. These NuMo cars and platoons could travel on existing infrastructure in specialized lanes, including in currently underused bus lanes or roads. The cars could also accompany the development of new roads over land or underwater, becoming a transit solution and network that, much like earlier subways and bus routes, could reshape how disparate parts of the city relate to one another. Such consolidation and optimization could help return streets to pedestrians and cyclists and, the researchers claim, could result in much greater capacity than current transit options. Open to all autonomous vehicles, NuMo is a protocol designed to be introduced to cities gradually. The researchers developed models for Stockholm and Gothenburg, Sweden, while also considering larger cities like London and New York. They claim that four-person cars set to travel only one second from one another would be twice the capacity of 120 passenger buses running a minute apart, quadrupling transport capacity and reducing travel time by a third while having no extra cost over building comparable traditional transit infrastructure. NuMo’s combination of autonomous electric vehicles, infrastructure overhauls, and efficient sustainable design is, according to Lars Hesselgren, director of research at PLP Architecture, “the next best thing to teleportation.”
Time for an Upgrade
Giant expansion coming to LAX as L.A. prepares for 2028 Olympics
According to a new environmental review document, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is poised for a large expansion that could add up to two new terminals and nearly two dozen new gates to help handle the influx of travelers headed to the city for the 2028 Olympic Games. Urbanize.LA reported that the plans call for attaching the new Concourse 0 terminal and its 11 passenger gates to the east of the existing Terminal 1 structure along the northern end of the LAX complex. A second new terminal, Terminal 9, will bring 12 new gates to the southern end of the airport, where it will be met by an extended run of a forthcoming automated people mover (APM) that is currently under construction. The Los Angeles Times reported that the expansion plans include reconfiguring existing airplane runways, including on the northern end of the airport, where earlier plans to retool runway facilities produced outcry from neighboring communities concerned about noise, pollution, and other negative impacts. The proposed runway changes involve reconfiguring the airport’s road network while maintaining the current distance from those communities. The plans come as Los Angeles World Airports, the entity that runs LAX, works to complete a $14 billion facilities upgrade plan for the airport’s existing roads, terminals, and associated transportation facilities. That plan includes a $1.6 billion Gensler and Corgan–designed terminal that will bring 12 new gates to a mid-field site capable of handling new “super-jumbo” airplanes for long-haul international flights. The project, known as the Midfield Satellite Concourse (MSC) will connect to the existing and recently-expanded Tom Bradley International Terminal via a pair of underground tunnels that will feature moving sidewalks. Along with the APM, L.A.’s transit authority is also at work adding a new light rail station to the airport that will link LAX with the county’s regional transit network. The station is set to open in 2022 and will eventually make the airport accessible via two light rail transit routes, the Crenshaw and Green Lines. Those elements, in turn, will be joined by new consolidated parking, rideshare, and taxi facilities. The preliminary environmental document for the latest round of additions only provides a general timeline for completion that is subject to further review. The plan envisions the improvements being made by 2028.
With the $175 billion New York State budget locked in for 2020, so too is congestion pricing on drivers entering Manhattan below 60th Street. While the specifics have yet to be hammered out, the plan is the first to be imposed in the United States. Charging drivers who enter Manhattan’s central business district (CBD) is expected to have a number of effects: reducing traffic, cutting pollution, and raising money for the beleaguered subway system, managed by the state-controlled Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). That last point had previously caused tension between Governor Andrew Cuomo, who supported congestion pricing as a way to raise money for subway repairs, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who wanted to impose a “millionaire’s tax” on high earning New York City residents. The price that each driver will be charged upon entering or exiting the CBD has yet to be determined, but a six-person Traffic Mobility Board will determine the fee before the plan goes into effect. It should be noted that the board will be composed of one member selected by the mayor, and the rest being residents of areas served by the Metro-North Railroad or Long Island Railroad (LIRR), New York's major suburban train lines, also managed by the MTA. Drivers will only be tolled once per day, through a series of EZ Pass cameras—or, if the driver lacks an EZ Pass, license plate-snapping cameras—mounted in yet-to-be-determined locations. Governor Cuomo’s Fix NYC Advisory Panel, which released its final report in January of last year, had suggested charging personal vehicles $11.52 to enter Manhattan, charging trucks $25.34, and $2-to-$5 for for-hire vehicles. The program hopes to raise $1 billion through congestion fees annually that the state will use to back $15 billion in bond sales to fund repairs to the ailing subway system. While the budget promises to carve out exemptions for lower-income drivers, 80 percent of the funds raised will go towards subway and bus-related capital projects in the city, and the remaining 20 percent will be set aside for the Metro-North and LIRR. Additionally, the program will be set up and administered by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TBTA) part of the MTA, in collaboration with New York City's Department of Transportation.
Handing over the program to the state, and, in particular, Westchester and Long Island in the case of the Traffic Mobility Board, has riled up online transportation activists, who feel the congestion plan was a move by the state to take more control of NYC’s streets. Because the Traffic Mobility Board members are appointed by the MTA, they have the discretion to reject the mayor’s appointees. With so much of the plan still left to be filled in, the earliest that drivers can expect to begin paying is the end of 2020, if not sometime in 2021.
Any way you cut this, the state just got *a lot* of influence, far more than the city, in managing NYC traffic. https://t.co/bt7ZE20F5k— Aaron W. Gordon (@A_W_Gordon) March 31, 2019
Is There A Chance The Track Will Bend?
Canada hops on the Hyperloop train with Montreal-to-Toronto study
Hyperloop routes are spreading all over the world, at least theoretically. The government of Canada is the latest to get on board, as Transport Canada, the national transportation agency, put out a request for proposals (RFP) on March 26 to study the feasibility of building such a system to connect Montreal to Toronto. While no Hyperloop systems have been built yet, despite an endless string of competitions and proposals, the benefits are enticing enough that state and country governments are constantly studying the idea. By digging or elevating sealed, airless tunnels and propelling pods along on electric “skates,” hyperloop systems could hypothetically transport passengers or cargo at over 600 miles per hour. Those kinds of speeds would allow passengers to travel from Toronto to Montreal in only 39 minutes, or Toronto to Vancouver in only three hours. The system promises to be faster, cheaper, and more efficient than high-speed rail or the magnetically-levitated trains found across Asia. To better understand whether the technology can scale, the government is judging proposals on the following criteria:
- The hyperloop concept can be transformed into a viable technology that is safe for passengers and the communities where the tubes traverse
- The hyperloop technology cost is comparable or is significantly more affordable than conventional high-speed rail systems or developing maglev technologies
After the release of a star-studded shortlist last November and the subsequent proposals in January, the city of Chicago has chosen Studio ORD Joint Venture Partners to design the $2.2 billion O’Hare Global Terminal and Global Concourse at O’Hare International Airport. The winning team consists of Chicago’s own Studio Gang, the international Corgan Associates, as well as local firms Solomon Cordwell Buenz and STL Architects. Studio ORD’s proposal is themed around convergence and features multiple elements that join together in geometrically intricate ways. The terminal’s massing consists of three U-shaped ribbed structures that join in the middle, creating a rooftop “island” and central skylight. Each segment peaks at the center, reminiscent of a mountain. Timber will be used heavily throughout the 2.2-million-square-foot building, as Studio ORD has proposed cladding the underside of each rib, and many elements of the interior, such as the escalators, in wood. Additionally, from the video released as part of their proposal, it seems that the terminal’s interior will be well planted. The team has described their terminal as densely programmed, but easy to navigate, and it appears that the central void below the skylight will anchor the scheme. The O’Hare Global Terminal will replace the existing Terminal 2, which was built in 1963. The new building is part of the $8.5 billion O’Hare 21 expansion, which will modernize the airport and expand its footprint from 5.5 million square feet to 8.9 million square feet. Even though Studio ORD has taken home the design competition’s top prize, the remaining four teams are still in the running to design two new satellite concourses adjacent to Terminal 1. The city will decide on the winner in the coming months. The O’Hare Global Terminal is expected to break ground in 2023.
Last week, Atlanta’s Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced the city will be setting up its first-ever transportation department. As one of the largest municipalities in the United States and one with debilitating congestion issues, this is a huge step in bringing more equitable mobility for Atlanta locals. The move is part of the mayor’s One Atlanta agenda, which aims to advance equity, diversity, and inclusion through the creation of a safe and welcoming city with world-class infrastructure, services, employment opportunities, and more. She aims to build a better-connected city through the new DOT, which will oversee the management of Atlanta’s 1,500 miles of streets, as well as its sidewalks and bike lanes. The agency will consolidate the road construction and repair efforts of the City’s Department of Public Works along with the planning department’s Office of Mobility. Capital roadway projects that are currently part of the city’s infrastructure investment program will also be integrated into the new DOT’s list of duties. Janette Sadik-Khan, former head of New York’s DOT and transportation official at Bloomberg Associates, will advise Atlanta in the creation of its own office. “A city’s success begins with its streets, and a dedicated department is critical to putting the transportation pieces together,” she said in a statement. “Atlanta has an unprecedented opportunity to change course on transportation, and Mayor Bottoms is showing the strong leadership that a city needs not to just grow but to make real progress for Atlantans.” The Atlanta Regional Commission estimates the metro region—which consists of nine Georgian counties and 5.8 million people—will increase in population by 2.5 million before 2040. While many working-class families in Atlanta rely on the city’s public transit services, including the MARTA system, it’s still a car-ridden town and organized offices such as the new DOT are expected to boost the region’s connectivity and help with long-term planning. Last December, Mayor Bottoms released Atlanta’s new transportation plan that will concurrently guide the future expansion of the city’s transportation services, increase its access and affordability, and help diminish Atlanta's overall dependency on cars.
New York City’s (and the state’s) first self-driving shuttles are arriving before the end of the second quarter, but they won’t be making life-or-death decisions on Manhattan’s busy streets. Instead, the Boston-based autonomous driving startup Optimus Ride, which was spun off from MIT, will bring driverless shuttles to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The 300-acre industrial campus is seemingly the perfect place to test autonomous vehicles (AVs) within the five boroughs. The yard is isolated, about a 15-minute walk from the nearest subway station (although a shuttle runs between the two), though a new ferry stop will open at the Yard in May. The enclosed Navy Yard also uses private streets, negating the need for city or state approval, and drastically reduces the congestion—both other vehicles and humans—that these shuttles will expect to face. Thanks to the Yard’s relative isolation, the entire area can be geofenced off or mapped down to the slightest detail ahead of the shuttles’ deployment to prevent them from leaving the bounded area. The technology has been used to great effect elsewhere, namely AV testing grounds where every variable can be controlled; the difficulty in expanding the use of self-driving cars has namely been to real-world unpredictability. According to Optimus Ride, the company's shuttles will offer the Navy Yard’s 9,000 employees a convenient way to get around the campus. The vehicles will loop from the new ferry stop and around to the public-facing Flushing Avenue side. While the company hasn’t released details on the model of shuttle it will be using, the company has previously deployed battery-powered vehicles capable of reaching speeds of up to 25-miles-per-hour elsewhere. It’s unclear what this will mean for the shuttle service that already operates on the Yard’s streets. “If this pilot abides by insurance and other non-traffic laws and remains confined to the Brooklyn Navy Yard—which is private—then it can operate,” a spokesperson for the mayor, Seth Stein, told The Verge. “The mayor has voiced his strong opposition to testing a new technology on our busy streets.” Optimus Ride also announced that it would be bringing its self-driving shuttles to the streets of Paradise Valley Estates, a private 80-acre planned community Fairfield, California. The move means that Optimus Ride will have AVs in four states, but for the time being, it seems that only self-contained, wealthier enclaves will benefit as the technology matures.
Diller Scofidio + Renfro beat a crowded shortlist for the Hungarian Museum of Transport
The Hungarian Museum of Transport is on the move, and Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R), alongside local architecture firm Tempannon, has been chosen to design its new home in Budapest. Appropriately enough, the museum will move to a 17-acre site in the Northern Maintenance Depot in Kőbánya, a heavily industrialized area surrounded by both active and historical transportation infrastructure. The museum, one of the oldest transportation collections in Europe, is known for its wide showcase of both scale and full-sized buses, trains, cars, and other vehicles. The current building in Városliget has been closed for two years in anticipation of the move to the new site. The winning DS+R scheme heavily involves the idea of “ground transportation” and carving into the ground plane to afford visitors views from underneath the collection. By carving, lifting, and cutting into the ground, as well as using ample amounts of glass, the new museum will let guests explore the vehicles from every angle while still preserving them. Outside, a “Forecourt” will knit together the existing buildings on the site with the bike and pedestrian paths and railways. An intermingling of paved and landscaped areas, a picnic area, outdoor galleries, a café, and spaces for the nearby Törekvés Cultural Center will allow museum guests to decompress before and after entering. Carriage cars and locomotives will also adorn the Forecourt through a series of “breakout vitrines.” The museum itself will project from the Diesel Hall, a mid-century modern industrial building with nine, 360-foot-long parallel naves. Half of the new Grand Hall will remain in the Diesel building to reinforce the structure, while the other half will lie in the forecourt and create a symbolic bridge between old and new. A “second ground” will sit above the Gallery Hall and house space for special exhibitions, a museum café, and educational spaces, while providing uninterrupted views of the surrounding landscape. The museum's international design competition kicked off in August of last year. According to a statement by DS+R, the firm was selected out of a slew of other well-known practices: 3H Architecture, Amanda Levete Architects Ltd., Atelier Brückner GmbH, Bjarke Ingels Group, Caruso St John Architects, CÉH Zrt. + Foster & Partners, David Chipperfield Architects, Építész Stúdió Kft., KÖZTI Zrt. and Lacaton & Vassal Architects. No estimated completion date for the project has been given yet. As the proposed site sits on a brownfield, environmental remediation will need to be finished before construction can begin.
High Speed, High Stakes
Elon Musk's high-speed Chicago rail project could hinge on the mayoral election
Elon Musk’s plan to dig 18-mile-long underground tunnels between Chicago’s Loop and O’Hare International Airport was never a done deal, and after the February 26 mayoral election to replace Rahm Emanuel, the project may never be realized. On the surface, Musk’s pledge to fund the $1 billion high-speed train system through the Boring Company at no cost to the city seems like a win-win, but as a new report from The Verge revealed, momentum may be building against the O’Hare Express System. With Mayor Emanuel on his way out, his pet project might not survive. As the Verge noted, Emanuel hasn’t used his veto power once in his nine-year tenure as mayor, and Musk had chosen Chicago for the first practical application of Boring Company technology thanks to the permissive regulatory atmosphere. The plan went public in June last year, but no firm details on what the city has agreed on have come out yet and at least one lawsuit has already been filed to release any public records. It appears that public communication on the project has gone silent, and an official contract between the Boring Company and nonprofit Chicago Infrastructure Trust—a body created to facilitate public-private partnership projects—has yet to materialize. The Boring Company can’t sign a contract with the city until a National Environmental Policy Act review is complete, but the review can’t commence unless the Boring Company releases concrete project details. The tunneling company may be laying low until after the election. Other than the mayor’s departure, the city council has been hit with a set of scandals that have made it reluctant to vote on new projects. Alderman Ed Burke was arrested in an FBI raid last month on charges of extortion—a raid made possible thanks to fellow alderman Danny Solis, who wore a wire for two years as part of the investigation. Now, Solis is retiring and refusing to vote on any development in his district until his replacement is elected, meaning that the council is down two members who have historically voted in lockstep with Mayor Emanuel. Of the 15 candidates on the ballot for mayor, many of them appear opposed to the high-speed rail line. The project was a point of contention at a candidate forum earlier this month, and many of the surveyed mayoral hopefuls told the Chicago Tribune that they would consider quashing the tunnel. Only candidate Bill Daley provided support for the rail tunnel, and even that was measured, as he called for a thorough evaluation of the project's cost. Many of the concerns were about the untested nature of the technology being used, as the Boring Company has only completed one test tunnel thus far, as well as cost and density concerns. While electrically-powered shuttles would be able to move people downtown at 150-miles-per-hour and cut transit times from Block 37 in the Loop to O’Hare to only 12 minutes, the system would only be capable of moving 1,900 people per hour. Tickets could cost up to $25. For comparison, the Blue Line is able to move twice as many people per hour along that same route for only $5.
Why did California Governor Gavin Newsom stir up the proverbial hornets' nest with his vague and confusing comments regarding the state’s high-speed rail (HSR) plans last week? That’s become the $920 million question many are asking themselves now as President Donald Trump has threatened to—perhaps illegally—cancel a sizable grant already allocated to the project following days of confusing debate over the future of the high-speed line. During a “state of the state” speech last week, Newsom provided unclear backing for completing the full project as approved by California voters in 2008 when they passed Proposition 1A, a ballot measure that allocated $9.95 billion in general obligation bonds for the planning and construction of an 800-mile high-speed rail system connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles. During his speech, Newsom said:
The project, as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency. Right now, there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A. I wish there were. However, we do have the capacity to complete a high-speed rail link between Merced and Bakersfield. I know that some critics will say this is a ‘train to nowhere.’ But that’s wrong and offensive. The people of the Central Valley endure the worst air pollution in America as well as some of the longest commutes. And they have suffered too many years of neglect from policymakers here in Sacramento. They deserve better.The comments were widely interpreted as a death knell for the L.A. and San Francisco spurs of the line, a characterization the governor disputed in the aftermath of the speech. Newsom spokesperson Nathan Click, speaking to the press, offered the following clarification: “The state will continue undertaking the broader project—completing the bookend projects and finishing the environmental review for the [San Francisco] to L.A. leg—that would allow the project to continue seeking other funding streams." But by that point, the damage had been done. Speaking via Twitter, President Trump said, “California has been forced to cancel the massive bullet train project after having spent and wasted many billions of dollars,” adding, “They owe the Federal Government three and a half billion dollars. We want that money back now. Whole project is a ‘green’ disaster!" It only gets worse from there. The Los Angeles Times reported that an additional $2.5 billion in additional federal grant funding has been thrown into question as Trump Administration officials are “actively exploring every legal option” for taking the money back in light of slow progress as well as the governor’s statements. The funds are currently being put to use building the 119-mile route that Newsom has pledged to finish. The Times reported further that Ronald Batory, the chief of the Federal Railroad Administration who issued the grants to California in 2009 and 2010, penned a legal analysis of the situation to California High-Speed Rail Authority chief executive Brian Kelly stating that California “has materially failed to comply with the terms of the [grant] agreement and has failed to make reasonable progress on the project.” Batory further alleged that California had failed to deliver $100 million in matching funds for the project that were due in late 2018. Batory’s missive also referenced Newsom’s speech directly, saying that the governor has instigated a “significant retreat from the state’s initial vision and commitment.” Experts disagree whether the federal government can legally take back money that has already been allocated or spent, but that has not stopped President Trump from continuing his attacks on the state’s rail plan this week. Either way, the long-held and hard-fought vision of California high-speed rail has been thrown into doubt. The uncertain news has reverberated across the state, including in San Francisco, where the structurally damaged Salesforce Transit Center sits vacant, with an entire subterranean level laying in wait for a high-speed rail line that now might never come.