Posts tagged with "transportation":

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Quick Clicks> Coffee, Immobility, Engagement, Hipsters

[ Quick Clicks is AN's guided tour of interesting links from around the web. ] Coffee Break. A fourteen-foot tall neon sign that has been removed from the Knoxville, TN skyline after 50 years is undergoing restoration but needs a new home. Preservation magazine has the story and Knox Heritage has more info on their sign restoration program. Urban Immobility Report? Greater Greater Washington has an update on the controversy of a major traffic congestion report released each year the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) called the Urban Mobility Report (UMR). Last year, CEOs for Cities published a critical analysis of the UMR called Driven Apart pointing out its false conclusions that can distort the congestion level based on the sprawl levels. How will it impact the future of transportation funding in the U.S.? Street Presence. Should urban buildings should put their best face forward? Pointing to a rather uninspiring St. Louis building from the 1980s with its back turned to downtown streets, Urban Review STL argues that a certain level of sidewalk interaction, whether that be storefronts, entrances, or simply windows, should be required through zoning for a more vibrant urban experience. Portlandia? Did you catch the premiere of IFC's new sketch comedy flick Portlandia over the weekend? While it's not quite so much about architecture, it does parody the city that has helped to transform the idea of bikability and the future of the American city. The Oregonian has a roundup of reviews from across the country and Bike Portland has a clip of an upcoming sketch about bike messengers.
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Charge Me Up

As automakers vie to release the next generation of plug-in electric cars, many eco-conscious drivers have wondered about the lack of charging infrastructure in dense urban environments. Unlike in, say, London, where charging points are being planned within one mile of every citizen by 2015, New Yorkers have heard little about curbside electric pumps. Well, if you’re looking for a place to plug in your GM Volt, one company’s vision of the future has arrived. This week, Brooklyn-based sustainable energy company Beautiful Earth (BE) unveiled their new solar-powered electric vehicle charging station, the first in New York and one of just a few in the world. Designed and built by BE from recycled steel shipping containers, the off-grid station sits on a lot near the company headquarters in Red Hook, collecting the sun’s rays with a roof of Sharp 235-watt photovoltaic panels. With a battery bank that stores electricity around the clock, the 6-kilowatt station can charge a car even at night, and could potentially feed unused electricity back into the grid. For now, the new station’s larger impact is more symbolic than practical: It’s only being used to charge BE’s company electric sports car, a BMW Group Mini E (though it would work just as well with any electric vehicle). A full charge gives the Mini E a little over a 100-mile range and takes about three hours, but shorter charging times are well within reach. “As the technology advances, easy charging stations will become increasingly realistic,” said Amanda Cleary, BE’s manager of sustainability.

Wo Ist Mein Cabinentaxi?

The feature that I wrote for issue 20 is about personal rapid transit. PRT, as it is called, is a mass transportation concept that swaps high-capacity trains for small "pod cars." These individualized vehicles run on dedicated tracks from origin to destination, bypassing all other stations along the way. Such a system is currently being installed at London's Heathrow Airport and Foster + Partners is developing a PRT solution for its Masdar City project, but the idea has been around at least since the 1950s. In the late 60s and 70s several prototypes were developed and tested for possible urban application, but—aside from a semi-PRT system installed in Morgantown, West Virginia—none of them were ever realized. The one that came the closest was Cabinentaxi, which was to be rolled out in Hamburg, Germany. A recession in 1980 sank the project, but luckily they made this lovely film before falling into the dustbin of history. Enjoy.
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Back On Board

If there was any question Howard Roberts' resignation yesterday was forced, it can be put to rest, as his replacement atop New York City Transit, the MTA division that runs the subways and buses, was announced today. Thomas Prendergast will be returning to the agency—after a hiatus atop Vancouver's public transit system—where he used to run the Long Island Railroad, and before that was VP for subways. Though only 57, Prendergast has more than 30 years experience in the field, having begun at the Chicago Transit Authority out of college, then the Federal Transportation Authority, before joining the MTA in 1982. While Gene Russianoff, head of the Straphanger's Campaign, said authority hopping is the norm, it is worth noting that like his new boss, Jay Walder, also came from a system outside the country, arguably freer from the culture war that at times dogs mass transit in America. "Tom's work running one of the most technologically sophisticated systems in Vancouver will be invaluable as we take the MTA to the next level in performance and customer service," Walder said in a release. Beyond technology, Prendergast's time in Vancouver may have prepared him all too well for his job at the MTA, where he will be faced by high expectations but a budget crunch. According to local Vancouver radio station News 1130, Prendergast never received the full support or funding for the ambitious projects he and others had proposed during his five years in the Great White North, though the TransLink board member Gordon Price tells the station that his colleagues departure "tragic" is tragic and his "resignation means we can kiss transit expansion goodbye." And already innovative programs are falling away—in a way. At a event yesterday to unveil 311 calling for the MTA, the Times asked Mayor Bloomberg about his plans for transit improvements he touted during his reelection campaign, such as Express F service and, most notably, free cross-town buses. Well...
“I thought it was a good idea, although, the real issue there, there’s two things we’re trying to do: one is to make it easier for people to go back and forth, but two is also to stop the delays from getting on and off the buses,” the mayor said. “That’s another one of these things down the road. I think there’s a whole bunch of things that we laid out that we can explore together."
Good luck, Tom. You're gonna need it.
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Inching Toward High-Speed

The governors of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin today pledged to work together to implement a high-speed rail network centered in Chicago. In recent months, Vice President Biden and Transportation Secretary LaHood have urged such coordinated action, as the region competes against other parts of the country, especially the East and West coasts, for federal funds. The first legs of the system would connect Chicago to St. Louis, Detroit/Pontiac, and Milwaukee/Madison. If all goes according to plan, those first segments could be open in three to five years.
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Path Future

The Path Train has finally entered the 21st Century. Yesterday, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced a number of new additions that have rocketed the rail line out of its luddite solar system and into a whole new constellation of technology. The Path now boasts new, up-to-date rail cars, an upgraded website (be sure to watch the video), and... drum roll... a Twitter page! Next time you have to ride out to Jersey you can forget the hair gel and gold chains and instead grab your favorite PDA and put on those glow-in-the-dark Ray Bans. The future is now.
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Taking Back the Streets x2

Before closing Broadway got her branded a car-hating communist, DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan was already well on her way to transforming the city's streets. One of the most memorable events--and a sign of things to come--was last year's Summer Streets program, which, for three Saturdays last August, closed off a large swath of Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge to 72nd Street, with most of the course running up Park Avenue. (There was also a less publicized closure of Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg.) Never one to stand (or bike) still, Sadik-Khan and the mayor announced today the expansion of the program throughout the summer and across all five boroughs this year. Details after the jump, but first two quick thoughts: Brooklyn, with seven sites, is the obvious winner; and why no Park Avenue this year?
    Bronx
* Bronx Summer Walks – 167th Street between Gerard and Cromwell Avenues, Saturday June 20th, 27th and July 11th, 12 p.m.- 4 p.m., Sponsored by Local Development Corporation of the Bronx.
    Brooklyn
* Williamsburg Walks – Bedford Avenue between North 4th and North 9th Streets, Saturday June 6th, 13th, 20th, and 27th and July 4th and 11th, 12 p.m.- 9 p.m., Sponsored by Neighbors Allied for Good Growth, L Magazine. * Summer Streets on Vanderbilt – Vanderbilt Avenue between Dean Street and Park Place, Sundays in June, 12 p.m.- 5 p.m., Sponsored by Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Coalition. * Summer Plazas, 5th Avenue – 5th Avenue between 48th and 52nd Streets, Sunday July 19th, 26th and August 2nd, 11 a.m.- 6 p.m., Sponsored by Sunset Park BID. * The Sunday Scene on Knickerbocker – Knickerbocker Avenue between Suydam and Starr Streets, Sunday July 19th, 26th and August 2nd, 11 a.m.- 5 p.m., Sponsored by Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council. * Pitkin Saturday Plazas – Pitkin Avenue between Strauss and Thomas Boyland Streets, Saturday September 12th, 19th, and 26th, 11 a.m.- 5 p.m., Sponsored by Pitkin Avenue BID. * Move About Myrtle – Myrtle Avenue between Clinton Street and Emerson Place, Sunday September 6th, 13th, 20th, and 27th, 11 a.m.- 7 p.m., Sponsored by Myrtle Ave Partnership. * Montague Summer Space – Montague Street between Hicks and Clinton Streets, Sunday September 13th, 20th, and 27th, 10 a.m.- 6 p.m., Sponsored by Montague BID.
    Manhattan
* Meet the Street – East 4th Street between Bowery and 2nd Avenue, Saturdays in June, 3 p.m.-8 p.m., Sponsored by Fourth Arts Block. * Stanton Street Summer Sundays – Stanton Street between Allen and Orchard Streets, Sunday August 23rd and 30th and September 6th and 13th, 1 p.m.- 6:30 p.m., Sponsored by Lower East Side BID.
    Queens
* 46th Street Weekend Walks – 46th Street between Queens Boulevard and Greenpoint Avenue, Saturdays in August, 11 a.m.- 8 p.m., Sponsored by Sunnyside Shines BID. * Astoria Water Walk – Shore Boulevard between Astoria Park South and Ditmars Boulevard, Sunday August 9th, 16th, and 23rd, 11 a.m.- 4 p.m., Sponsored by Astoria Park Alliance.
    Staten Island
* Van Duzer Days – Van Duzer Street between Wright and Beach Streets, Saturday August 1st, 8th, 15th, and 22nd, 12 p.m.- 8 p.m., Sponsored by Downtown SI Council.
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Times Square, Slightly Tamed

I’m a Times Square avoider. It’s too crowded, clogged with slow moving tourists, for me to get where I need to go without being so frustrated that I swear to never return. On rare occasions, I succumb to the charm of the lights, but those moments are usually glimpsed from a distance, down a street corridor or out the window of a cab. But yesterday, on my way to an event in midtown, I chose to go through Times Square to see how it had changed since Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan’s recent street closure plan had been implemented. While I don’t think anything will persuade me to visit Times Square with any regularity, the mini plazas created by the closure of Broadway from 47th to 42nd streets go a long way in improving the place (Broadway from 35th to 33rd Streets in Herald Square was also closed). The increase in public space makes it much easier, and more pleasant, to walk through. The cheap lawn chairs—which look oddly right there, though they are already sagging from all the use—give people a place to relax and hang out, so that the square feels like a giant, and highly animated, street party. Sadik-Khan deserves credit for recognizing the potential lying under our feet and tires as well as the pent-up desire for public space in New York. The spaces are not designed—just some orange barriers and the chairs—so it will be interesting to see what DOT will do to make the plazas permanent. DOT is obviously making these improvements with very little money, but I hope that Times Square will get something beyond the standard-issue planters used elsewhere. It is a special place, special enough that I only need to pass through it a few times a year.
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The FiveThirtyEight on Traffic

In a feature for Esquire, number cruncher and future predictor Nate Silver ponders the continuing decline in per capital vehicle miles traveled. Americans are driving less. Significantly less, in spite of major drops in gas prices since last year. Certainly the economy has something to do with this. Fewer people are driving to work since few people have jobs. But Silver doesn’t think the economy explains the decline. He writes, in his typical hot geek fashion:
To sort this out, I built a regression model that accounts for both gas prices and the unemployment rate in a given month and attempts to predict from this data how much the typical American will drive. The model also accounts for the gradual increase in driving over time, as well as the seasonality of driving levels, which are much higher during the summer than during the winter…. The model predicts that given a somewhat higher unemployment rate but much lower gas prices, the lower gas prices should have won out: Americans should have driven slightly more in January 2009 than they had a year earlier. But instead, as we've described, they drove somewhat less. In fact, they drove about 8 percent less than the model predicted.
Silver believes Americans may, in fact, be changing their habits. He looks at recent home values in a variety of cities and sees that more car-dependent cities have fared worse than less auto dependent cities. Still, Silver presents cities as relatively static places, and planning and design are largely absent from his analysis: “In the real world, of course — outside perhaps a half dozen major metropolitan areas — American society has been built around the automobile.” For at least the last decades communities across the country have been employing a variety of means to promote walking and biking, from building mixed use, higher density neighborhoods, to adding bike lanes and light rail lines, to banning cul-de-sacs, to investing in downtown developments. America, in some places at least, is not being built the way it was twenty years ago. Certainly these efforts must have some cumulative effect.
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Stimulating High-Speed Rail

This afternoon, President Obama and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood unveiled a map of possible high-speed rail corridors, with clusters on both coasts, in the North and the South. The plan contains few surprises, and is, in fact, merely a “Vision,” as the Recovery Act includes $8 billion in high-speed rail funding, a tiny faction of what this system would cost overall. Of that, governors are already jockeying for large chunks, including California, which is lobbying for half of the pie and a coalition of Midwestern governors is looking for $3.5 billion for a Chicago-based network. LaHood said that money for individual projects will be doled out at the end of the summer. With airports and highway capacities stretched to the limit, high-speed rail investment seems like a smart augmentation to the national transportation system. Time will tell if we have the will to build such a system. Perhaps the Detroit automakers could be pressed into service building new train cars. Wouldn’t that be the ultimate reversal of fortune?
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Back on the Map

It may not have a marquee name attached to it, but work on the Cortlandt Street R/W subway station is another sign of the slow but increasingly steady progress at the World Trade Center site. Closed since 9/11, the heavily damaged station has stood as an eerie reminder of that day, visible to the thousands of riders that pass by it everyday as the trains creak and twist toward Rector Street. A gray dot on the MTA subway map represent the station’s there-but-not-there quality. The Cortlandt Street 1 train station is also marked with a gray dot. The words “World Trade Center Site” hover over the map in an even lighter shade. Recently, workers on the northbound R/W train platform have been laying concrete block and setting sparkling white tiles. It looks much like any other station undergoing refurbishment. According to a spokesman for the MTA, the northbound platform will reopen in December 2009. It’s a small workaday step toward reintegrating the site into the city fabric, but it also illustrates its complexities involved in construction there. A timeline for the reopening of the southbound platform is being developed. The entire 1 train station will remain closed until an unspecified date, according to the spokesman. To reopen the other platform and the additional station, issues of collaboration, permissions, and access must be resolved between the MTA and the Port Authority. The MTA will alter all the subway maps to reflect the reopening of the northbound platform. UPDATE: The MTA sent this statement clarifying when and why the station was closed.
Following the events of September 11, 2001, the Cortlandt Street R/W Station was reopened on September 15, 2002. The station was closed again on August 20, 2005, to accommodate excavation and construction of the Dey Street underground pedestrian concourse, a component of the MTA's Fulton Street Transit Center project. The concourse will create direct passage between the Fulton Street/Broadway-Nassau subway station platforms, the R & W platforms, the World Trade Center site and its PATH station. The work building the concourse has been completed, but the Cortlandt Street station has remained closed because of a slight settlement that has occurred to the platforms as a result of work being done to rebuild the adjacent World Trade Center site. This settlement is detectable by engineering instruments, but does not significantly affect the overall structural soundness of the station and has not impacted train traffic through the station. Station opening requires that the settlement be repaired, which has been partially completed but requires further work, and that the station finishes and necessary stair and passageway work be completed.
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Shovels in the Ground

Yesterday, President Obama made a visit to the Department of Transportation to applaud them and the rest of the nation for their work spending those stimulus dollars, marking the occasion of the 2,000th infrastructure project to be approved for Federal stimulus money. In his speech, the president joked that something unusual had happened at DOT and throughout the land: "We can utter a sentence rarely heard in recent years: This government effort is coming in ahead of schedule and under budget."
Now, some may have thought it would take months to get to this point. But in part because of the hard work and commitment of the people in this department, we approved these 2,000 projects in just 41 days.
However, what is most impressive--or depressing, depending on your perspective--is just how little contractors are willing to charge for such work:
And that's why I'm pleased to hear that in state after state across America, competition for these projects is so fierce, and contractors are doing such a good job cutting costs, that projects are consistently coming in under budget. The final bid for one road project in Connecticut was $8.4 million less than the state budgeted for. Another one in Louisiana was $4.7 million less. A project at BWI Airport will be completed for $8 million less than expected. Bids for projects in North Carolina have been 19 percent under budget. Colorado is reporting bids up to 30 percent less than they expected. And the officials in California have seen bids that are close to half as much as they had projected. And because these projects are proceeding so efficiently, we now have more recovery dollars to go around. And that means we can fund more projects, revitalize more of our infrastructure, put more people back to work, and ensure that taxpayers get more value for their dollars. [Emphasis added]
The big question to our minds, though, was where, how, and, most importantly, for what will that surplus stimulus be allocated? For example, does California, through its thrifty bidding processes, get to build twice as much as expected? Or does that money go back to the Feds to be reallocated? Neither Governor Schwarzenegger's office nor the Times knew the answer to this question, and the Obama press office did not return calls seeking comment. Still, more money and more work is always a good thing. Now we can only hope its the kind of aspirational work planners and architects have been clamoring for and not just more repairs and repaving. Not that that's a bad thing. The renderings just aren't as sexy.