Posts tagged with "Mass Transit":

Trump administration releases full $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan

After the draft version of President Trump’s signature infrastructure plan leaked to Axios last month, the administration has now released the full version of the document following the release of this morning's budget outline. The complete plan skews closely to the outline, laying out $200 billion in federal dollars with the expectation that the private market would generate an additional $1.2 trillion in funding. The depreciation model from the draft has been kept, meaning that older or existing projects will face a severe disadvantage when asking for federal money from the $100 billion “incentives program.” The same restrictions on grant funding have also been carried over, meaning that no project could receive more than 20 percent of its funding from the government, a restriction certain to stymie the New York-New Jersey Gateway Project. Funding for mass transit is disproportionately disadvantaged in the final plan. As with the draft, a shift to funding projects via state and private dollars means that projects with a low return on investment, such as public transportation, are likely to be passed over. While roads and highways are worth investing in because of the potential for tolls, trains rarely provide the same money-making potential. As such, the proposal would also roll back federal toll restrictions and allow tolling across any interstate highway. While the bones of the final plan are the same as the earlier version, there are some new surprises. In an attempt to streamline the construction process, all permitting would take only 21 months, with a final decision three months afterward. This two-year process would be stewarded by a single federal agency, which would see the project along from the application to approval phase. Any project receiving federal funding would have two-year milestones set up, and a failure to meet those goals would lead to a voiding of its grant. Environmental groups have already raised the alarm over truncating the permitting phase to less than two years, claiming it would gut environmental requirements and study periods. Judicial reforms proposed later in the document would seem to back this claim up, as the plan, if passed, would curtail the amount, and lengths, of any lawsuits filed against a project. $20 billion has also been set aside for a so-called “Transformative Projects Program,” which would fund “ambitious, exploratory, and ground-breaking project ideas that have significantly more risk than standard infrastructure projects, but offer a much larger reward profile.” Also of note is the proposed expansion of the EPA’s ability to regulate water infrastructure, including a newfound authority over flood risk management, and likely any climate change mitigation measures. It’s worth mentioning that Trump’s plan would drop cross-state licensure requirements for anyone wishing to work on a project that has received federal funding, something that has been a hot button issue for AN’s readers in the past. While the infrastructure bill and accompanying budget released by the Trump administration would reorganize the American economy and privatize much of the country’s infrastructure, it’s extremely unlikely that Congress would pass it. Federal spending for the next two years has already been set after a recent budget deal was hashed out on February 9th, and this bill probably wouldn’t be able to achieve the necessary broad bipartisan support. Read the full text of the proposed infrastructure plan here.

Tristate regional plan proposes more equitable, resilient future with better mass transit

Picture New York, 2040: Buses replace the subway at night, but when they’re open, subways are quieter, wheelchair-accessible, and clean. Everyone’s ditched tiny apartments for cozy mother-in-law units, built into single- family suburban homes. Working in the Bronx and living in Brooklyn isn’t a two-hour slog anymore, because there is rail service from Co-op City to Sunset Park. Craving fresh air? The national park in the New Jersey Meadowlands is a one-train ride from Queens, or there’s a long-haul hike from the Catskills to the Pinelands. This is a sliver of the tristate future envisioned by the Regional Plan Association (RPA), a nonpartisan, nonprofit Manhattan-based organization that periodically analyzes the region from exurbs to downtowns to generate recommendations for a thriving future. When all 782 towns and cities in the tri-state area do their own planning and zoning, true regional planning seems daunting. The almost 400-page doorstopper of a plan, the RPA’s fourth since 1922, contains recommendations on a range of issues, from closing health disparities to fairer school redistricting and property tax reform, to making it easier to reverse-commute or travel from suburb to suburb without a car. The New York-New Jersey–Connecticut area is home to 23 million people, and only a third of them live in New York City proper. With that distribution in mind, the RPA identified four top priorities that affect everyone’s life. The group believes that, for the next 25 years, a thriving region depends on fixing the MTA, constructing more affordable housing to prevent displacement, building equity in one of the most unequal regions in the area, and adapting to rising sea levels. “Our plans carry zero weight of law, but they are very influential,” RPA President Tom Wright told reporters at a November briefing. It’s not possible to analyze all of the plan’s 61 prescriptions here, but there are key takeaways for architects, planners, and policymakers who live and practice in the region. The idea that the subway needs a total overhaul is a no-brainer to anyone who has been late due to massive train delays. To improve the system, the group wants to reconsider around-the-clock subway service. Surface transit would replace trains between 12:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. on weeknights, as only 1.5 percent of daily riders use the service during these four and a half hours, almost 20 percent of the day. Ending 24/7 service, the RPA argues, would allow the beleaguered MTA to make needed repairs faster, now that there are more riders than ever. New Yorkers didn’t take kindly to the idea. Commuters took to Twitter to denounce “the worst idea ever,” and even Mayor Bill de Blasio weighed in, calling full service a “birthright.” If current trends continue, the city’s growth rate from 2015– 2040 will be half of its 1990–2015 rate, but NYC officials say the city doesn’t have enough infrastructure to support more than nine million residents, even though the RPA believes the region (including NYC) could accommodate four million more people and add two million jobs. The organization argues that more and better transit options— and more affordable housing— will prevent the region from turning into California’s Bay Area and make it easier to grow inclusively. Packed trains and sky-high rents reflect many people’s desire to live in the New York City area, but unchecked housing costs could put a damper on growth. Adding more units—two million more— would alleviate the real estate crunch over 25 years. To meet demand, the RPA estimates that changing zoning near train stations could allow 250,000 homes to be created just on surface parking near rail lines while maintaining the neighborhood balance of schools and social spaces. Reforming zoning restrictions could also encourage homeowners to create accessory dwellings units (mother-in-law apartments) within the existing building envelope, while NYC’s 12 FAR cap could be lifted to build up density. Value capture from real estate development, especially those that benefit from big-ticket projects, could fund affordable housing near transit. All housing construction will be in vain, however, if the region doesn’t step up to address the immediate and terrifying effects of climate change. The RPA wants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions via a California-style cap-and-trade plan, and convene a regional commission to help local governments adapt to extreme weather and rising seas. But, according to the RPA, the carbon pricing system we have isn’t comprehensive enough; the region should switch to California’s model, which does more to reduce emissions by covering those from buildings, transportation, power production, and industry. One million people from Connecticut to New Jersey live in areas likely to flood, and municipalities are gearing up to fight Hurricane Sandy-like storm surges. There is less emphasis, though, on the everyday flooding that’s likely to result from sea-level rise in the near future; the RPA says areas that can’t be protected should be gradually transitioned to higher ground. A tristate regional coastal commission would help communities plan for sea-level rise, and a small surcharge on property insurance would be used to fund resiliency measures like buyouts and coastal hardening. The retreat from vulnerable areas is painful for people who have built lives there, but there are opportunities in the changes. A national park in the marshy, industrial Meadowlands would provide recreation space and educate visitors on climate change mitigation. Denser Meadowlands towns like Secaucus, New Jersey, would be protected from sea-level rise, while the Teterboro Airport and surrounding communities would retreat, and nature would take over. To illustrate these recommendations more richly, the RPA applies its thinking to nine sites, imagining what they could be in 2040. In that year, Jamaica, Queens, has capitalized on its rich transit connections and proximity to JFK Airport to become a destination in its own right, while retaining its income and ethnic diversity. Further east, Long Island’s central Nassau County is a “model suburb” thanks to regionally integrated schools and a new North Shore–South Shore rail link that’s made it easier to access job centers in Hempstead and Garden City. “Nothing is off the table,” Wright said.

In fits and starts, Seattle plans for regional-scale urbanism

In recent years, the West Coast’s booming cities have seen significant population growth, resulting in an ongoing and worsening housing-affordability crisis. Though there are many overlapping causes for this crisis, the phenomenon is partially a product of too much success and not enough planning—cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have added tens of thousands of new jobs over the years, but have built comparatively few homes to serve those workers. The result is a dizzying increase in the number of people experiencing burdensome rents and homelessness coupled with an expanded reliance on automobile transit as people are forced to live farther away from their jobs in order to afford housing. This regime is straining urban and civic life as more and more people—including college students, school teachers, and even police officers and firefighters— face increasing difficulties in terms of housing affordability. But just as the overlapping crises of climate change, housing unaffordability, and gridlock threaten to overwhelm these cities, potential solutions may be afoot. Across the region, major cities are beginning to cooperate at the regional level with peripheral municipalities in an effort to rein in carbon emissions, increase affordability and equity, and decrease automobile reliance. By relying on envisioned networks of transit-connected villages to grow up rather than out, entire metropolitan regions have the potential to be remade in the image of multi-nodal urbanism. In the Los Angeles area, the Southern California Association of Governments represents 18 million residents across a six-county region with the aim of helping to reduce sprawl. To the north, the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association aims to unite the region’s 101 municipalities toward measured growth. Of the three major West Coast cities, however, Seattle—nearly 30 years into its own regional planning experiment following the passage of the Washington State Growth Management Act in 1990—is the furthest along in its efforts to articulate a new form of dense regional urbanism centered on regional transit and dispersed density. As it should, the path toward this brave new world begins with high-capacity transit. Though only established in 1993, the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (Sound Transit) is in the midst of a massive, multibillion-dollar expansion plan that will see the transit agency extend a slew of new light rail and bus rapid transit (BRT) lines across the Puget Sound region. Sound Transit has been undergoing vigorous growth since 1996, when the agency published its initial “Sound Move” plan, which has been amended, expanded, and reapproved by regional voters first in 2008 and again in 2016. The most recent version— Sound Transit 3 (ST3)—consists of a 25-year vision aimed at adding an additional 62 new miles of light rail throughout the region with the goal of ultimately creating 116 miles of light rail augmented by expanded commuter rail and new BRT services. Crucially, the expanded system includes increased street bus service, shorter headways between buses and trains, and increased transit capacity via longer train cars and articulated buses. When fully built out, the system will span north to Everett, south to Tacoma, east to Redmond and west to Ballard and serve a projected population of five million. Aside from being a transit plan, ST3 is also part of a dogged, municipally led vision aimed at supplementing Seattle’s downtown core by investing in and redeveloping existing cities and towns across the Puget Sound. The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), a cooperative agency tasked with envisioning equitable growth strategies for the region, leads the effort on the planning side. The organization helps to study and deploy land-use reforms like up-zoning, works to preserve the location and size of existing industrial lands, and pursues transportation and urbanization planning initiatives with the aim of keeping the rural areas, farmland, and forests around metropolitan regions “healthy and thriving,” according to the organization’s website. The council’s Vision 2040 plan—a growth management– focused environmental, economic, and transportation vision for Puget Sound crafted in 2007—aims to provide a blueprint for this transformation. PSRC’s vision seeks to direct urban growth so that it coincides with Sound Transit’s projected transit map for the future, overlaying progressive planning principles atop new transit corridors before the new lines are ever built. The effect is that land can be bought sooner and at cheaper prices, allowing, for example, nonprofit housing providers to maximize their investments long before surrounding real estate appreciates. Vision 2040 aims to create a set of interconnected “regional centers” that concentrate a density of housing, jobs, and civic and entertainment uses along these new transit corridors. According to PSRC, Washington state’s job growth will be three times higher than the national average over the next five years, a phenomenon the group hopes will reshape the Puget Sound region as a whole. The council is currently working to update its regional-centers plan, and it seeks to cluster groups of complementary industries across the region synergistically with housing and other services. Producing this “housing-jobs balance,” Josh Brown, executive director of PSRC said, is a central mission of the organization. Brown explained, “Our plan calls for larger existing cities to accommodate growth so we can achieve a better housing-jobs balance across the region.” Using this so-called Centers Framework, the organization has been able to create a plan for concentrating urban growth in existing urban centers and projects that, by 2040, the region will be served by over one hundred high-capacity transit stations surrounded by a density of mixed uses. PSRC administers and supports various programs to fulfill these goals, including helping to launch the so-called Regional Equitable Development Initiative (REDI) Fund, which helps to capture low land prices in future-growth areas with the intention of developing mixed-use projects that contain full-throated affordable housing components. The REDI Fund was launched by Enterprise Community Partners and regional partners like PSRC in December 2016 and recently closed on its first deal, a project developed with the Tacoma Housing Authority to create 300 to 500 new homes in the city’s West End neighborhood. For the project, at least 150 of the units will be priced for low- and moderate-income households in a bid to provide affordable housing for community college students in danger of falling into homelessness. The project is planned for a site across the street from Tacoma Community College and will eventually sit at the southern terminus of a forthcoming light rail line. The development will help PSRC achieve its interlocking goals of promoting density in existing corridors while also supporting the region’s burgeoning cohort of future workers. James Madden, senior program director with Enterprise Community Partners, said, “Our goal is to get private land into the hands of mission-oriented nonprofits in order to create mixed-income, multifamily housing.” The initiative comes as the region begins to embrace the coming changes. In the city of Lynwood, north of Seattle, for example, a 250-acre site surrounding a forthcoming light rail station is being redeveloped into a district called City Center that will contain mixed-use development and include a convention center and pedestrian- oriented street design. The plan will help Lynnwood grow in population by over 50 percent in coming decades. The eastern city of Redmond—where Microsoft’s headquarters are located—is also pushing forward on new transit-oriented projects, including the city’s Overlake Village, a 170-acre district that will contain 40,000 residents in the future. The first phase of the redevelopment is a 1,400-unit complex called Esterra Park that will also contain 1.2 million square feet of offices, 25,000 square feet of retail uses, a hotel, and a conference center. Taken together, the multifaceted growth plans in place across the Puget Sound region can serve as an example of a potential future for West Coast cities, a vision that is particularly focused on equity, pedestrianism, and dense urban redevelopment.

First look at a leaked draft of Trump administration’s infrastructure plan

Axios has obtained a leaked draft copy of the Trump administration’s much-vaunted infrastructure plan. An initial look at the preliminary plan hints that it would drastically change how public projects are funded. While no concrete figures have been provided, Trump has consistently cited a “$1 trillion” spending figure, with $200 billion coming over 10 years from the plan’s implementation and the remaining $800 billion coming from states and private industry. To meet those goals, the draft plan leans heavily on raising money through user fees, such as tolls, and drastically capping the federal government’s investment in infrastructure projects. While 50 percent of the available funds have been set aside to incentivizing states and cities to invest in infrastructure, the plan favors new projects and diminishes how much funding a project is eligible for based on its age. A requirement that the federal government cap its grant contribution to a project to 20 percent of a project's total cost, no matter how large it is, might spell disaster for the New York-New Jersey Gateway Project if the bridge-and-tunnel plan falls under the bill’s jurisdiction. In general, mass transit projects would find it much harder to win funding from the federal government, as Trump’s plan would give priority to developments that can demonstrate a material return on investment. Other changes proposed in the draft plan include allowing tolls on interstate highways, a practice which is currently heavily restricted, consolidating project approval power across the country to a single federal agency yet to be named, ease environmental restrictions on highway construction, and permitting a greater involvement from private investors. Several changes to the Environmental Protection Agency have also been included in the plan, many of which involve both streamlining the agency as well as potentially expanding its authority to supersede state-level decisions. It’s important to note that this only a draft of the infrastructure plan and the final version may differ significantly. The full draft outline can be read here.

MTA reveals comprehensive L train shutdown plan

Today the city and the MTA released a long-awaited plan to get riders to Manhattan during the L train shutdown. Among the many proposed transit tweaks, Manhattan's 14th Street will be transformed into a bus-only thoroughfare to keep rush hour running smoothy. In both boroughs, new bus routes and bike lanes will help ferry 225,000 daily would-be L train commuters to their destinations. The MTA is also beefing up service on L-adjacent lines, in part by opening up disused subway entrances in Brooklyn and running longer trains on the G line. There will also be new high-occupancy vehicle rules for those driving over the Williamsburg Bride, AMNY reported. The L train's Canarsie tunnel was badly damaged by flooding during Hurricane Sandy and has to be closed for 15 months so the MTA can perform extensive repairs. The closure, which will suspend Manhattan-to-Brooklyn service, is expected to commence in April 2019 and last through June 2020. During the shutdown, the L will run mostly normally though Brooklyn until it reaches Bedford Avenue, the final station before the tunnel. The MTA will increase service on the J, M and Z lines, and bus service along new routes will pick up riders at subway stations to carry them over the Williamsburg Bridge and through lower Manhattan. To carry an estimated 3,800 bus riders per peak hour, the lanes will be restricted to trucks and vehicles with three-plus passengers. The plan should alleviate residents' and business owners' fears over the effects of the shutdown. In Manhattan, a multilane crosstown busway on 14th Street between Third and Ninth avenues will supersede all regular traffic except local deliveries, while 13th Street will get a dedicated two-way cycling lane.

Nashville mayor unveils details of $5.2 billion transit plan

Nashville’s Mayor Megan Barry has announced the ballot language for the city's much-anticipated transit referendum. The referendum, which will be voted on in a May 1, 2018 election, would bring a completely new expansive light-rail system to the city. At a cost of $5.2 billion, it would be one of the most ambitious transit plans in the United States, and the largest single project Nashville has ever taken on. The announcement included the full 205-word ballot measure, a broad overview of the proposed referendum. Those projects would “improve and expand its transit services to include: expanded bus service countywide; new transit lines; new light rail and/or rapid bus service along Nashville’s major corridors, including the Northwest Corridor and a connection through downtown Nashville; new neighborhood transit centers; improvements to the Music City Star train service; safety improvements, including sidewalks and pedestrian connections; and system modernization.” The wording also outlines the city’s plan to raise four taxes, in the form of surcharges, to fund the projects. These include, “a sales tax surcharge of 0.5 percent for the first five years, increasing to 1 percent in 2023; a hotel/motel tax surcharge of 0.25 percent for the first five years, increasing to 0.375 in 2023; a 20 percent surcharge on the business/excise tax; and a 20 percent surcharge on the rental car tax.” The next step for the referendum will be gaining the approval from the Metro Council for the ballot language. The plan includes 26 miles of new light rail, additional bus services, and most dramatically, a rail tunnel that will stretch under the downtown 40 to 50 feet below the street level. The 1.8-mile-long, 60-foot-wide tunnel would contain two tracks, and would cost an estimated $900 million. Above ground, five light rail corridors will run to the downtown from all directions in the city. While the rail portion of the project would take until 2032 to complete, the improvements to other parts of the system could be implemented much quicker. In particular, 25 miles of rapid bus transit and “neighborhood transit centers” would connect the bus system to the future rail network. Another aspect of the proposal is reduced or free transit fares for residents living below the federal poverty line. This consideration would help offset the increased sales tax burden on the poor, who are often disproportionately affected by such taxes. If Nashville residents approve the referendum, the city will join the likes of Seattle, Los Angeles, and Atlanta, who have all recently passed extensive transit plans. Critics of these types of plans question the return on investment of the billions of dollars, while proponents argue that they are needed to attract the types of companies and workers 21st-century cities need. An example often cited is the call from proposals for the Amazon HQ2. Amazon specifically requested a robust mass transit system for its workers, a requirement that many midsize cities are unable to meet.

Las Vegas could get a $12.5 billion light rail system

If stars align, it looks like car-centric Las Vegas will soon place new bets on mass transit. This week state and local officials presented a preliminary plan to construct multi-billion-dollar light rail system in Sin City. The route, which has been in the works for more than two years, would link Las Vegas's airport, McCarran International, to the Strip. A bill under consideration in the state senate would give local officials authority to pursue federal grants or impose tax increases to fund transit, as well as emerging technologies like self-driving cars. Right now, state law forbids local transit commissions from creating "high-capacity" mass transit systems like the proposed railway, the Associated Press reports. Bill sponsor Mark Manendo was one of six elected officials at the meeting who said Las Vegas trails similar municipalities in mass transit development. "If we can lead in the travel and tourism industry—and who can dispute that, accommodating more than 42 million visitors a year—I find it hard to believe our community cannot come together to help build a world-class transportation system," Senator Manendo told the AP. To formulate its plan, the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada looked to light rail systems in Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Denver, and San Diego. In addition to trains, the commission is also considering other mass transit options to connect the city's college campuses, commercial corridors, hospitals, and residential districts. The senate bill, though, doesn't stop at Las Vegas, where a light rail line could cost $12.5 billion and take two or three decades to build. Reno, Nevada, could see transit improvements, as well, if the state's estimated $26 billion plan is approved and fully funded.

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel floats ordinance to fast-track transit-oriented development, reduce parking minimums

This week Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel will push a plan to expand transit-oriented development (TOD) by easing zoning restrictions and releasing certain projects from parking requirements altogether. The city already has an ordinance providing for transit-oriented development and, as AN has previously reported, several projects have rushed to take advantage of it. Mixed-use developments with dozens of new housing units have slashed their parking lots, avoiding a longstanding code requirement that they provide one spot for every unit by building near transit stations. Chicago's Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) gave the proposed changes a favorable preliminary analysis, building off its own “TOD calculator” which the agency released recently in order to spur private developers into building on dozens of properties it labeled “ready for TOD.” Emanuel's new ordinance would give developers of such projects more opportunities to reduce their investment in parking. Here are the changes City Council members will vote on Wednesday, according to the mayor's press office:
• TOD incentives will be available within an expanded radius from a transit station: up to 1,320 feet (1/4 mile) or 2,640 feet (1/2 mile) on a Pedestrian-designated street. • A 100 percent reduction from residential parking requirements if replaced with alternative transportation options, such as a car sharing station on site, or bike parking. • A streamlined process for accessing the minimum lot area, floor area ratio (FAR), and building height incentives by allowing developers to secure these benefits through an Administrative Adjustment from the Zoning Administrator, as opposed to a zoning map amendment by City Council under current law. • For projects that trigger the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO), an additional 0.25 FAR increase (to 3.75) if the development includes half of any required affordable housing units on site, plus an additional 0.25 FAR increase (to 4.0) if the development includes all required affordable housing units on site.
(Metropolitan Planning Council) image-full

Traffic-plagued Dublin institutes a ban on cars in downtown area to reduce city-center congestion

In another radical pushback on the congestion-creating, carbon-emitting automobile, the Dublin City Council and National Transport Authority have proposed to ban private cars from entire sections of the city's downtown core. The capital city of Ireland and prime economic hub ranks tenth globally in terms of traffic congestion, according to a study led by GPS maker TomTom. The proposed restrictions are part of a more than $165 million improvement plan for transit, cycling, and pedestrians, and a buffer against the city’s present incapacity to accommodate a projected 20 percent increase in commuters to the city center by 2023. In 2014, around 192,000 journeys into the city center took place each weekday during the peak morning period (7am-10am) alone, according to the Dublin City Centre Transport Study. By 2023, that number will spike by 42,000. In order to “ensure that Dublin develops into a more liveable city, where the impact of traffic is minimized,” say officials, changes will occur along major routes in the city center east of City Hall, west of Trinity College, north of St. Stephen’s Green and south of River Liffey. The area in front of the college will be converted into a civic space with a greatly expanded pedestrian footpath, while College Green and the north and south quays will be solely accessible by cyclists, pedestrians, and users of public transport. Meanwhile, Suffolk Street and St. Stephen’s Green North will be pedestrianized. To incentivize commuters to defect from private cars, the city is fortifying its public transportation networks, adding a Bus Rapid Transit System (BRT), upgrading the frequency and capacity of the DART, and running new rail passenger services between Kildare and the Grand Canal Dock area through Phoenix Park Tunnel. Meanwhile, D’Olier Street will be outfitted with a new central median with additional bus stops and segregated cycle lanes, while Westmoreland Street will have wider parks and enhanced cycling facilities. “The city can only continue to function effectively if we offer those living and working in Dublin, as well as visitors, more choices in how they access and move around the capital,” Owen Keegan, Dublin City Council chief executive, told The Journal. Given the 40,000-strong influx of new residents anticipated by the Central Statistics Office within 16 years, Dublin’s traffic reduction targets don’t have the luxury of hit-or-miss. At present, 48 percent of journeys into the city center are by public transport, 33 percent by private car, and walking and biking at 16 percent. The Dublin City Development has set a target of 55 percent for public transport, 20 percent by private car, 15 percent by bike, and 10 percent on foot.

Think you can design a high-speed mass transit Hyperloop prototype for Elon Musk?

Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk generated brouhaha in 2013 when he proposed a high-speed mass transit system that could travel at just under the speed of sound. “It’s a cross between a Concorde, a railgun, and an air hockey table,” Musk wrote in a white paper on the so-called Hyperloop, in which he conjectured a reduced-pressure tube design for transporting humans and freight between San Francisco and Los Angeles in just 35 minutes. The paper remained open-source, but neither Musk nor his companies, SpaceX and Tesla Motors, seemed interested in commercially developing the Hyperloop, despite spawning a slew of unaffiliated startups like Hyperloop Technologies and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies. But all that is about to change. SpaceX is hosting a competition for students and independent engineers to build their own transport pod prototypes and try them on a one-mile test track the spacecraft manufacturer is building outside its Los Angeles headquarters. Entrants have until September 15 to submit designs for the competition, which will be held in June 2016. The design brief for the competition is available here. Prior to the competition, there will be a design weekend meetup in January at Texas A&M University for companies to network with entrants and potentially sponsor or contribute funds to the construction of a pod prototype. While the prototypes must be built to human scale, for safety reasons no one is permitted to ride them on the test track competition weekend. In his white paper Musk envisioned an elevated, reduced-pressure tube containing pressurized capsules which are driven by linear electric motors. Air bearings on the inner surface of the tube reduce friction, allowing the contraption to—gracefully—whoosh past at 760 mph. “Just as an aircraft climbs to high altitudes to travel through less dense air, Hyperloop encloses capsules in a reduced pressure tube,” Musk wrote. In the competition brief Musk underlines that neither he nor SpaceX is commercially developing a Hyperloop of its own; the competition, according to Musk, is merely to accelerate the development of a prototype.

With promise and pitfalls, Washington D.C.’s new Silver Line hopes to transform the suburbs

It finally happened. After decades of planning, five years of construction, and months of delays, Washington D.C.'s brand-new Silver Metro line welcomed over 50,000 commuters for its opening weekend. The new 11.4-mile line, which includes five new stations, will ultimately connect the city to Dulles Airport in Virginia. That part of the line is scheduled to open in 2018. The Silver line, though, is more than an attempt to connect a city with its airport—it's the latest, multi-billion dollar effort to expand a rail system, spur economic development, and create more walkable, pedestrian-friendly destinations. So, yes, it's ambitious. And, yes, it was expensive. A host of local and national officials—including Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx—were on hand this weekend to test out the new rails, which were first proposed in the early 1960s. Many of the excited commuters on their inaugural rides told local news crews that the Silver line will significantly cut down their commute time and may even allow them to ditch their car altogether. The Metro predicts there will be 50,000 daily riders on the Silver line by this time next year, and more than twice that by 2025 when the line is connected to Dulles Airport. Of course, building an entirely new rail line comes with significant costs (and significant delays and significant cost overruns). This first section of the project cost $2.9 billion, which is $150 million over budget, and opened six months late. All told, this first phase of the line cost nearly $47,000 a foot. The second phase is expected to cost $2.7 billion. About half of the total cost of the first phase came from increased tolls on the Dulles Toll road. The remaining half is a mix of funds from federal and local levels. In between DC and Dulles is Tysons Corner—an area in Virginia that's trying to shake its reputation as just a collection of shopping malls and office towers. That is no easy task, but the powerful interests in town see the opening of the Silver line as a crucial test of whether that's even possible. “There's not much riding on the Silver Line except the future of the American suburb as we know it,” CityLab recently declared.  “A half-dozen Fortune 500 companies are based [in Tysons],” explained the site. “The area is rife with high-end hotels, restaurants, and department stores; there's even a Tesla dealership coming in. But grocery stores never arrived in any substantial numbers, nor did churches or parks or any of the other sorts of services that could help make a place feel like home for the roughly 19,000 people who live here now.” To achieve that, Tysons is planning new permanent green space, pop-up parks, new trees, overall streetscape improvements, and thousands of new apartments. A key element of the Silver line's planning seems to be perfectly aligned with that goal of a more walkable, urbanistic future. But it's not what the Silver line offers Tysons—rather what it doesn't: parking. The Washington Post reported that there are no parking garages at four of the five stations in Tysons. Walking or biking to one of these stations, though, appears to be a rather hellish experience, according to Ken Archer, who works at a  software firm in Tysons."I've endured the lack of crosswalks in Tysons Corner for years as a pedestrian, but assumed that Fairfax County would add crosswalks before the Silver Line began operation," he wrote on the blog Greater Greater Washington. "The county needs to create safe pedestrian pathways immediately, rather than waiting until someone gets hurt or killed."

“Transit Future” Wish List Tantalizes Chicago Commuters with $20 Billion in Improvements

Here’s something to meditate on the next time you see three Chicago Transit Authority buses leapfrogging one another on a crowded street, or have to shell out for a cab because the trains won’t get you where you want to go on time: a grand proposal called "Transit Future" that seeks to improve the way Chicagoans get around the region. Imagine a South Lakefront line that connects the South Side to the Loop, running through the University of Chicago campus and South Shore. Or a “West Side Red Line” dubbed the Lime Line that would run along Cicero Avenue, connecting the Blue, Green, Pink and Orange Lines, before jogging East and connecting to the Red Line at 87th Street. Or how about a Brown Line extension connecting the North Side to O’Hare International Airport. Those are just some of the recommendations in the “Transit Future” plan unveiled last week by the Center for Neighborhood Technology and the Active Transportation Alliance, two longtime advocates of sustainable development and alternative transit in the Chicago region. The plans also include a bus rapid transit line along Ashland avenue—a work-in-progress that proponents say will energize commerce along the corridor, but detractors say will clog streets—and an extended Red Line that could relieve pressure on the overburdened 95th Street station, which is slated for renovation. Great, you’re thinking, but it will never happen. Transit Future’s backers say the $20 billion wish list could become a reality if Cook County Board officials “create a robust local revenue stream…[that] will open the door to federal and other financing tools that will pay for the rest.” They point out Los Angeles residents voted in 2008 to raise their county’s sales tax by one half-cent, authorizing $40 billion in new revenue for transit lines over 30 years. That measure passed with nearly 68 percent of the vote. Head over to Transit Future's sleek website to read more about the project. Or check out WBEZ's The Afternoon Shift show that discussed the proposal with CNT’s Jacky Grimshaw Wednesday: