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Hitting Benchwallmarks

Governor Cuomo presents plan to prevent L train tunnel closure
At a 12:45 p.m. press conference Thursday afternoon, Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled plans to prevent the 15-month-long L train shutdown that was set to begin on April 27. Seated between a panel of engineering experts from Cornell and Columbia Universities and representatives from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), Cuomo repeatedly touted the innovative nature of the proposed solution—as well as his success in building the new Mario Cuomo Bridge. After Hurricane Sandy struck New York City in 2012, the Canarsie Tunnel that runs between Manhattan and Brooklyn was flooded with salt water. The L line, which ferries 250,000 riders a day between the two boroughs, still requires extensive repairs to fix the corrosion caused by the storm. The concrete bench walls lining the tunnel were damaged, as were the wires and other electrical components embedded behind them. The MTA was scrambling to implement alternatives for commuters, including turning an east-west stretch of Manhattan's 14th Street into a dedicated bus lane, but it now looks like the planning was for naught. The new scheme presented by Cuomo, a joint effort between the governor’s engineering team, WSP, Jacobs Engineering Group, and the MTA, restricts the slowdowns to nights and weekends. Instead of removing and rebuilding the tunnel’s bench wall, and the components behind it, only the most unstable sections will be removed. Then, a fiberglass wrapper will be bonded to the tunnel’s walls via adhesive polymers and mechanical fasteners. A new cable system will be run on the inside of the tunnel via a racking system and the old wiring will be abandoned. New walkways will be added to the areas where the bench walls have already been or will be removed. Finally, a “smart sensor” network of fiber-optic cables will be installed to monitor the bench wall’s movement and alert the MTA to potential maintenance issues. Governor Cuomo hailed the move as innovative, saying that this cable racking system was commonplace in European and Chinese rail projects but that this would be the first application in America. He also claimed that the fiberglass wrapping would be a “structural fix”, not just a Band-Aid, and that it was strong enough to hold the new Mario Cuomo bridge together. To increase the system’s sustainability, floodgates would be added to the First Avenue station in Manhattan and the Bedford Avenue station in Brooklyn. After the presentation was complete, Cuomo passed the microphone to MTA acting chairman Fernando Ferrer, who said that the agency would be implementing the changes immediately. Still, skepticism over whether the MTA would be able to implement the plan quickly bubbled up from the members of the press in attendance and on social media. Because this method of tunnel repair has thus far been untested in the U.S., the question of whether the MTA would be able to find skilled workers to implement the plan was raised. Cuomo, for the most part, brushed the concerns off, claiming that each piece of the repair scheme has been conducted individually before. If the L train repair plan proceeds as scheduled, one track at a time will be shut down on nights and weekends for up to 20 months. To offset the decrease in service, the MTA plans on increasing service on several other train lines, including the 7 and G.
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Man vs. Machine

Waymo's self-driving cars in Arizona elicit violence
Residents of Chandler, Arizona, are waging war against the city’s new fleet of self-driving cars. Distraught locals have slashed tires, pointed guns, and thrown themselves in front of Waymo vehicles in order to prevent them from transporting passengers, according to The Arizona Republic. In April 2017, technology development company Waymo started a trial of self-driving taxis in Phoenix, the first of their kind. This past month, the service continued to expand as it launched its first commercial self-driving car service called Waymo One, where people of the Phoenix metropolitan area can request a driverless car through the simple use of a cell-phone app. Since Waymo vehicles took to the streets some two years ago, 21 rioting incidents have been reported to the police, particularly in Chandler, a suburb of Phoenix. While safety concerns seem to have triggered many of the violent outbursts, other locals see Waymo as a threat to their livelihood. People are worried that technology is going to replace them in the workforce. Taxi drivers across the world, for instance, have fought against the rapid dissemination of Uber and other ride-hailing services. Waymo's current controversy is just the latest in a series of incidents where autonomous vehicles or ride-sharing companies are getting into trouble. Last March, the self-driving car industry as a whole suffered the ultimate backlash when a self-driving Uber SUV mindlessly hit and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona.
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Building Bridges

Renzo Piano reveals replacement for collapsed Genoa Bridge
The Italian government has sped up plans to rebuild the Morandi Bridge that collapsed in Genoa this August, and taken up the Genoa-born Renzo Piano on his offer to design the replacement for free. Salini Impregilo, the country’s largest contractor, and Fincantieri, a state-run shipbuilding company, have been chosen to build the new bridge and will be forming a new conglomerate, “PERGENOVA” to do so. During a heavy storm on August 14, the concrete-and-cable-stay Morandi Bridge was hit by lightning and collapsed, killing 43 and injuring dozens more. The bridge originally opened in 1967 to span the Polcevera Viaduct and connected the coastal area with Genoa’s port. The Renzo Piano Building Workshop leaned heavily on steel for the replacement bridge, and Piano claimed in September that, “This will last for a thousand years and will be built of steel,”  and would “have elements of a boat because that is something from Genoa.” The final design seems to bear that out. A 3,600-foot-long main steel deck will run across 20 spans, supported by 19 concrete piers. For the most part, the piers will be spaced out in 164-foot increments, except for a pair that has been placed 328 feet apart on either side of the Polcevera River. The bridge will literally be a shining beacon, as it’s expected to reflect sunlight during the day and use stored solar energy to power its lights at night. Fincantieri will be building the structure’s steel elements at its Genoa-Sestri Ponente shipyard and may spread the work to its other shipyards if necessary. The steel deck will be assembled in parts and welded together on-site to reduce costs and speed up construction. The project is estimated to cost $229 million, and construction is expected to take 12 months once the site is cleared.
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A Subway, But For Cars

Elon Musk unveils prototype Boring Company tunnel under Los Angeles
After over two years of internet-fueled hype and fast-paced construction, erratic billionaire Elon Musk has unveiled a prototype tunnel outside Los Angeles that aims to test his far-fetched vision for a new urban transportation network below the region’s notoriously traffic-choked streets. The so-called Loop project is envisioned as a series of tunnels that could ferry private automobiles, and pods carrying pedestrians and bicyclists at speeds approaching 150 miles per hour. The tunnels, accessible from a network of parking spot-sized lifts, could eventually connect the city’s major landmarks and neighborhoods, according to a preliminary map unveiled last year. https://twitter.com/boringcompany/status/1075318894871470081?s=21 The Boring Company–backed test tunnel took shape beneath a neighborhood sandwiched between a municipal airport and Interstate 110 in Hawthrone, California, where several of Musk’s companies are headquartered. Although the test tunnel debuted with several key design changes—including the elimination of so-called “skate” platforms that private automobiles would ride on and actual travel speeds that barely approached 50 miles per hour—the bumpy debut was met with cautious optimism by observers, according to The Los Angeles Times. With a reported cost of about $40 million, the roughly mile-long test tunnel was built for a fraction of the cost of conventional subway technologies, though that is not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, given the tube’s diminutive size relative to conventional transit routes, the fact that it was not built with unionized labor, and its overall reduced passenger capacity. According to The New York Times, Musk referred to the tunnel as “a real solution to the traffic problem we have on earth,” adding, “It’s much more like an underground highway.” The opening of the test tunnel follows the high-profile setback for Musk’s plan to build a second tube underneath the streets of the City of Los Angeles that came last month. The Boring Company is also working on a tunnel that would connect downtown Chicago with O’Hare Airport as well as a more modest loop that could potentially link L.A.’s existing subway system with Dodger Stadium.
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RIDE OR DIE

Waymo's self-driving taxi service goes live
Self-driving cars are ever inching closer to feasibility, as the Alphabet-owned company Waymo announced the official rollout of its self-driving taxi service today. The launch of Waymo One in Arizona, although only initially available to research testers from Waymo’s research program, is a milestone that critics thought Waymo wouldn’t be able to reach before the end of 2018. This year was a pretty dour period for real-world autonomous vehicle (AV) testing. Uber drew ire and shut down its self-driving car operations in Arizona after a test vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian crossing the street. Federal regulators from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shut down a self-driving school bus program in Florida. And in Chandler, Arizona, just outside of Waymo’s AV testing ground, residents complained that the self-driving cars would regularly stop without warning at a T-shaped intersection and require that the human safety drivers take control. Waymo is starting small with a pool of invite-only riders, but the launch today fulfills a pledge the company had made to get its fleet of AVs on the road before the end of the year. Customers can hail an autonomous vehicle in the Metro Phoenix area through the Waymo ridesharing app in the cities of Tempe, Chandler, Gilbert, and Mesa. Each car will be decked out with touchscreens, where passengers can connect with a Waymo rider support agent to have questions about their trip answered. In-car chaperones will be present during the first phase of Waymo One’s rollout, but moving forward, the company wants to graduate to fully-driverless rides. The early rider program will continue, and test riders will have early access to features that Waymo wants to include in their taxi service. The company is hoping to use the feedback from its Phoenix-area riders to eventually expand the program to other cities and the general public.
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Building Barriers, Not Bridges

People aren't using Kentucky's new $1.3 billion bridge and highway system
To some cross-country travelers, Louisville, Kentucky, is considered the gateway to the East. For Southerners, it serves as a transition into the Midwest. From whichever direction you approach the city, it’s a metropolitan area that grants access to other major cities like St. Louis, Nashville, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh. But it’s not just a pivotal bypass, it’s also a place where people actually live. As the symbolic southern border for Indiana, it’s home to tens of thousands of drivers who cross the Ohio River every day for work and play, making Louisville’s four major bridges vital to supporting the economies of two separate states.  Over the last decade, Kentucky and Indiana spent $1.3 billion on a 12-lane highway widening project that spliced through several new and old neighborhoods in downtown Louisville in an effort to ease congestion that’s long plagued commuters. The plan was part of the massive Ohio River Bridges Project that rehabilitated the I-65/John F. Kennedy Bridge and built out the new, cable-stayed Abraham Lincoln Bridge that stretches northbound over the Ohio River. According to Streetsblog, the project was critical to Louisville’s growth, but since officially reopening in late 2016, the Kennedy Bridge has proven of little use to drivers.  Per a post-construction study released by the State of Indiana, traffic has fallen 49 percent on the Kennedy bridge, which requires drivers to pay up to a $4 toll. Traffic has subsequently increased by 75 percent on the nearby US 31 Clark Memorial Bridge, a 90-year-old piece of infrastructure that’s completely free.  It’s no surprise that people are essentially boycotting the billion-dollar “transportation boondoggle,” as one local urbanist called it. The project received wide criticism from the start. Streetsblog reported that in 2013 a grassroots group got 11,000 people to sign a petition in support of tearing down the highway instead of expanding it. But with backing from two state governments, it was eventually built. Taxpayers will be paying for the project until 2053.  The result is a half-used bridge and a messy mixture of reconstructed roadway known as Spaghetti Junction. Louisville's crisscrossed 64, 65, 264, and 71 interstates were always tricky to navigate and still are despite this recent update. Throughout construction, thirty-three acres of urban forest and 30 storefronts in mostly minority neighborhoods were destroyed. Historic buildings were also leveled for the revamped highway system. In spite of plowing through these surrounding communities, the project has received national accolades. Louisvillians lament that new highways won’t solve the city's congestion problems, though the increased number of options to pass through the city are a bonus for anyone who doesn’t wish to make a pitstop on their way somewhere bigger and better. It’s a classic, tragic story that’s hurt many American cities suffering from mid-century highway build-outs. Some are making concerted efforts to replace aging infrastructure with beautiful boulevards and walkable, shared streets, but others aren't thinking as clearly about how to keep people in town, as opposed to letting them drive on by. Kentucky’s busiest bridge, the Sherman Minton, sits further outside downtown than its counterparts. As the city’s only toll-free link to Indiana, it sees 90,000 drivers per day. The 56-year-old structure is slated to begin a $90 million rehabilitation project in 2021. Time will tell whether or not its partial or full closure during construction will force people to start crossing the newer structures that spew out of the city’s core. The Indiana Department of Transportation and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet just ended a public input period to figure out next steps. A recommendation will be made next fall.
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Catastrophic Failure

Design errors potentially responsible for deadly bridge collapse in Miami
Last week, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) revealed its latest investigative findings related to the deadly collapse of the Florida International University (FIU) pedestrian bridge that killed six in Miami earlier this year. The bridge, which hovered over eight lanes of traffic at an already hazardous intersection at the university, was designed to minimize disruptions to the transportation below, and it featured an amenity deck and bicycle lane for students. Its March 15, 2018, collapse, which completely flattened the cars underneath, could have been the result of errors in its design, according to the NTSB. Within the framework of the NTSB investigation, authorities from the Federal Highway Administration assessed the 174-foot-long, 950-ton span’s construction and found crucial design errors in the north end of the structure, where two trusses were connected diagonally to the bridge deck. According to the reports, the bridge's designers overestimated the capacity of a major section of the bridge and underestimated the load that section would have to carry. Examiners also discovered that the cracks found in the northernmost nodal region prior to the collapse were related to the aforementioned design errors. On August 9, 2018, the NTSB tested the concrete and steel used for the bridge, finding that there were no flaws in either of the materials. The report also included detailed pictures of the cracks at the north end of the bridge, which were minor before the span’s installation but transformed into fissure-like gaps by the time the structure was placed over the busy highway. Investigators believe the gaps contributed significantly to the bridge’s failure. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recognized safety violations on March 15, the day of the collapse, and hired five contractors to inspect the structure and implement repairs, including Munilla Construction Management. However, OSHA issued FIGG Bridge Engineers, a designer on the project, a serious violation with a fine of over $12,000 for putting employees in physical danger by permitting them to work on the bridge after the dangerous cracks were discovered. The NTSB report is preliminary, and investigators are still searching for other design and technical flaws that led to the bridge’s failure.
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Tweet Now, Cry Later

Elon Musk’s planned tunnel for L.A.’s Westside has been cancelled
After settling a lawsuit with community groups in Los Angeles this week, Elon Musk’s Boring Company has agreed to halt its plan to build a 2.7-mile test tunnel underneath the city’s Westside. The lawsuit was filed following a preliminary approval from the Los Angeles City Council that would have shielded the project from stringent environmental review. After the approval, community groups began to fight the project, arguing that rather than building a test tunnel, Boring Company was actually pursuing “piecemeal” approval of a larger transportation project in an effort to minimize the appearance of its impact. The group argued that the City of Los Angeles violated California law in its initial approval. The terms of the now-settled lawsuit are confidential, The Los Angeles Times reported but the parties involved issued a joint statement saying they had “amicably settled” the matter. The Boring Company has agreed to cease planning on its test tunnel and will instead, according to the statement, focus on a recently-proposed plan that would link Dodger Stadium with regional transit via a scheme similar to the one proposed for the Westside. The so-called Dugout Loop would link the isolated stadium to the regional Red Line subway. The plan is supported by Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti and comes as a separate group works to create a gondola line connecting the stadium to Union Station in Downtown Los Angeles. Boring Company has been busy working on another test tunnel in the City of Hawthorne, where the company is headquartered. Musk recently announced that the test tunnel was complete and would open to the public in December. Musk also announced that he would be making good on an earlier promise to use excavated dirt from the tunnel to fabricate bricks for affordable housing projects. To push the initiative forward, Musk launched the so-called Brick Store where blocks will be available for 10 cents apiece to the public. The bricks will be free for affordable housing builders, according to Musk.
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How Boring

The Boring Company completes its first tunnel as Elon Musk sells bricks
Elon Musk’s Boring Company has completed its first tunnel, breaking through the other side of a 2-mile-long test track that began in the parking lot of Space X’s Hawthorne, Los Angeles, headquarters. Musk took to Twitter and posted a video of their tunnel boring machine breaking through the track’s final wall in what will eventually become the “O'Leary Station” for a Hyperloop network, though as Arstechnica notes, the location isn’t exactly where the Boring Company had received approval to build a station. Now that the tunnel is complete, the L.A.–Hawthorne tunnel is on track for its December 10 opening date. Although Musk originally envisioned a Hyperloop-style system that would ferry cars under Los Angeles’s traffic-congested highways at 155 miles-per-hour, he later pivoted toward accommodating bikes, buses, and pedestrian traffic as well. This is the same style of system that the Boring Company was selected to build in Chicago to connect O’Hare and the Loop—though that deal is currently facing an injunction from the nonprofit Better Government Association. But what about the refuse that the Boring Company has excavated? Musk first proposed converting tunnel waste into bricks that could be used for affordable housing back in May, claiming that the stone they were mining was “seismically rated” in California. Then, in September, Musk promised that a “Boring Brick store” would be opening in two months and selling bricks for 10 cents each. Now, it looks like Musk is following through with his promise and has founded The Brick Store LLC. From public documents submitted in October, the Brick Store will open at 12003 Prairie Avenue in Hawthorne, only a mile from the Space X headquarters (and aforementioned Hyperloop tunnel). While it’s uncertain exactly how many bricks the Brick Store will be able to offer, Musk has promised that he’ll give them away for free to affordable housing projects. Before the tunnel officially opens next month, the Boring Company will need to extricate their tunnel boring machine using the access shaft and clean up the rubble left behind. Musk claims that the Boring Company will eventually dig tunnels all the way to residents’ private garages.
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Trendy Traveling

Mecanoo envisions ultra-flexible trains of the future for the Netherlands
The Dutch National Railway Company recently unveiled a series of flexible and modular train configurations that could to adapt to the countless ways commuters like to sit on trains. The company chose Dutch architecture firm Mecanoo and furniture company Gispen to collaboratively develop an idea of what its trains could look like by 2025, and the result may impact the future of transportation. Their goal was to design a train that not only serves a method of transportation, but one that could also be a lounge, office, and space where travelers can enjoy their “own time,” rather than solely wait until they arrive at their next destination. As a result, the train interior design concepts are meant to be flexible to accommodate train passengers’ preferred environments and activities. Mecanoo and Gispen conducted research regarding train passengers’ activities, and they determined that there are six different types of activity zones that passengers prefer, varying from “open and social” to “private and concentrated.” By designing 12 different furniture modules, Mecanoo and Gispen were able to propose a train configuration that facilitates each of these zones. Most importantly, the firms have created a space where every traveler can find a comfortable place to sit, custom tailored to their activity, group size, needs, and travel time. For example, along with the classic two-seat configuration are a U-shaped group of seats that surround a foldable table, single seats that come with a desk, and even a multi-tiered bleacher seating design. The different layouts of the train’s interior make it appear open, comfortable, and hospitable to people from all walks of life. The fabrics are reusable and the module compartments can be disassembled and reconfigured with ease. While the designs are still in their conceptual phase, the project seeks to eventually become real and reinvent become into a comfortable, pleasant, and efficient experience.
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Measure Once, Crack Twice

Transbay Authority orders full structural review of failing transit center
The Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA) board of directors has called for a complete structural evaluation of the Pelli Clarke Pelli–designed Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco after installation crews discovered failing steel structural beams there in September. Now, over a month later, the transit center has been closed for longer than it was open as crews work to discover what went wrong. This week, representatives from TJPA, structural engineer Thornton Tomasetti, contractor Webcor/Obayashi Joint Venture, steel fabricator Herrick Corporation, and material supplier ArcelorMittal are all convening in New York to study material samples that were removed from the failing girders for further analysis. Engineering News Record reported that crews discovered bottom-flange cracks near the midpoint of one of the eight-foot-deep shop-welded girders. A second, more serious fracture was discovered running the entirety of a flange on the second beam.  The two beams run parallel to one another over an 80-foot span running over Fremont Street. At a recent meeting, the TJPA board called for a complete structural evaluation of the 1.2 million-square-foot transit center in order to inspire public confidence in the structure’s safety and design. Ultimately, however, TJPA officials currently have no idea why the beams failed and because the fissures were discovered by accident, it is unknown if other areas are prone to fail, as well. At the meeting, one TJPA board member asked, “Was the engineering done right?" before adding, “We need assurance." The structural review team will now work to understand what happened before making design recommendations for how to fix the problem. Once a consensus is reached regarding on the cause of the girder failures, engineers will design a permanent fix that will also be peer reviewed to ensure its safety, Engineering News Record reported. TJPA projects that repairs will begin in December and take several months to complete.
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Rough Ride

Virgin Hyperloop One hits major bumps in the wake of Saudi controversy
One of the world’s most dogged transportation professionals—and former head of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)—will now head up Virgin’s venture into high-speed rail service. The Verge reported that Jay Walder has left his role as CEO of bike-sharing company, Motivate, in order to lead Los Angeles–based Virgin Hyperloop One, which appears to be in financial trouble after it publicly laid off 40 staff members yesterday. Walder will replace Rob Lloyd, who ran the young company for three years but stepped down for undisclosed reasons. After serving stints in both Hong Kong and London, helping both growing cities overhaul their mass transit systems, Walder comes to Virgin Hyperloop One with serious street cred that largely centers around the financial and physical success at his previous jobs. In his latest position, he led Motivate through a massive upswing, improving and expanding New York's Citi Bike and similar programs across the county. Motivate was acquired by Lyft this summer. During his tenure at the MTA, Walder instigated technological advancements and tried to pull the organization out of its never-ending financial troubles, despite his rocky time there. The news of Walder’s appointment comes as the transportation technology startup aims to spur more investment and build its first fully operational high-speed rail in India. The planned route will take people from Mumbai to Pune in just 25 minutes. Last month, Saudi Arabia nixed a deal to construct a hyperloop in that country after former chairman Richard Branson criticized the kingdom’s alleged killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Saudis announced a $1 billion investment in Virgin Galactic, another venture by Branson, after Branson stepped down as the chairman at Hyperloop. While Hyperloop’s former chief executive Lloyd hasn’t explicitly named the controversy as his main reason for leaving the company, he did refuse to attend Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Future Investment Initiative conference late last month where the organization planned to make the hyperloop deal official. There they aimed to begin conducting a feasibility study on “the Vision 2030 Hyperloop Pod,” which Lloyd and his team unveiled last April. With Branson and Lloyd gone, Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has stepped in as the new chairman. His company, DP World, a UAE-based shipping and logistics group, is now Virgin Hyperloop One’s largest investor. Virgin Hyperloop One is currently testing its latest technology at a site in Nevada’s Mojave Desert and aims to begin construction on a six-mile test segment in India in 2019. It's working on a feasibility study for a Missouri track as well. Because of Walder’s track record of bringing struggling transit organizations into the 21st century and creating financial gains for giants like Motivate, many think his “real world” knowledge will bring tangible momentum to the futuristic Virgin Hyperloop One.