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SHOT FROM THE FRONT OF A STREETCAR
The Dallas metro region now has 72 miles of light rail, 55 stations, and an average of about 60,000 riders per weekday. 36.4 percent more people rode Dallas Area Rapid Transit's light rail in the third quarter of 2011 over the year before
@fmlappe - 50,000 fewer cars in Boston since 2008.
A study finds that 37.9 percent of households in D.C. did not own a car in 2012. Out of the 30 largest U.S. cities, Washington is only behind New York, where 56.5 percent of households don't have cars. The report also found that 9.2 percent of U.S. households were without a car in 2012, compared to 8.7 percent in 2007.
@Harpers - Percentage change in the past five years in the share of new U.S. cars sold to people between ages 18 and 34: 42
According to transportation writer Eric Jaffe, 88 percent of Germans live within a kilometer (a bit over a half mile) of public transportation. The comparable figure for Americans is just 43 percent.
Fox News - The typical driver in Sioux Falls will go 13.5 years between collisions; that's more than two and a half times as long as the 5.1 years for Washington, D.C. drivers. The results are part of Allstate's fifth annual "America's Most Improved Driving City" report, which ranks the 200 largest U.S. cities based on collision frequency. Among the most-improved cities were Alexandria, Virginia; Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky; and Arlington, Texas. . . The Safest Driving Top Ten: 1. Sioux Falls, SD 2. Fort Collins, CO 3. Chattanooga, TN 4. Cedar Rapids, IA 5. Knoxville, TN 6. Fort Wayne, IN 7. Lexington-Fayette, KY 8. Eugene, OR 9. Boise, ID 10. Colorado Springs, CO. . . Bottom of the List - Riskiest Driving Cities: 1. Washington, D.C. 2. Baltimore, MD 3. Glendale, CA 4. Hartford, CT 5. Newark, NJ 6. Philadelphia, PA 7. Elizabeth, NJ 8. Providence, RI 9. San Francisco, CA 10. Los Angeles, CA
Rural Blg- The Highway Trust Fund is running out of money, and no immediate solution is in sight; the Senate seems unlikely to accept House Republican leaders' idea to end Saturday mail (except for packages) and use the savings to replenish the fund. So states are delaying construction projects or finding innovative ways to raise money for basic road maintenance and for repairing damaged or dangerous roads, Jon Kamp and Kristina Peterson report for The Wall Street Journal. Payments to states could end "as soon as August unless Congress agrees on a solution. Fuel taxes feed the fund, but they haven't budged in two decades, making revenue from them susceptible to inflation and more efficient cars even as U.S. infrastructure worsens."
Some states are preparing for an end to funds by asking residents to make up the difference by passing fuel-tax increases, the Journal reports.
"In the absence of congressional action, the balance in the fund's highway account will fall to $2 billion by Sept. 30 and its mass-transit account to $1 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That would force the Transportation Department to start delaying payments to states as soon as August to keep the balances above zero, as required by law," the Journal reports. "Meanwhile, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx sounded another alarm," saying, "We find ourselves this summer with a highway trust fund that will become insolvent by August700,000 jobs around our country potentially at risk."
Washington Post With pressure mounting to avert a transportation funding crisis this summer, the Obama administration opened the door for states to collect tolls on interstate highways to raise revenue for roadway repairs.
The proposal, contained in a four-year, $302 billion White House transportation bill, would reverse a long-standing federal prohibition on most interstate tolling.
Though some older segments of the network notably the Pennsylvania and New Jersey turnpikes and Interstate 95 in Maryland and Interstate 495 in Virginia are toll roads, most of the 46,876-mile system has been toll-free.
We believe that this is an area where the states have to make their own decisions, said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. We want to open the aperture, if you will, to allow more states to choose to make broader use of tolling, to have that option available
@Harpers - Percentage of its GDP the United States has spent on transportation infrastructure since 1970: 1.6
An electric car you can fold to fit into a tight space
Hidden parking in Budapest
NY Times - Cincinnati officials are assembling financing for a $132 million system that would connect the city's riverfront stadiums, downtown business district and Uptown neighborhoods, which include six hospitals and the University of Cincinnati, in a six- to eight-mile loop. Depending on the final financing package, fares may be free, 50 cents or $1. The city plans to pay for the system with existing tax revenue and $30 million in private investment. . .
At least 40 other cities are exploring streetcar plans to spur economic development, ease traffic congestion and draw young professionals and empty-nest baby boomers back from the suburbs, according to the Community Streetcar Coalition, which includes city officials, transit authorities and engineers who advocate streetcar construction.
More than a dozen have existing lines, including New Orleans, which is restoring a system devastated by Hurricane Katrina. And Denver, Houston, Salt Lake City and Charlotte, N.C., have introduced or are planning to introduce streetcars.
"They serve to coalesce a neighborhood," said Jim Graebner, chairman of the American Public Transportation Association's streetcar and vintage trolley committee. "That's very evident in places like San Francisco, which never got rid of its streetcar system."
Modern streetcars, like those Cincinnati plans to use, cost about $3 million each, run on an overhead electrical wire and carry up to 130 passengers per car on rails that are flush with the pavement. . .
Streetcar advocates point to Portland, Ore., which built the first major modern streetcar system in the United States, in 2001, and has since added new lines interlaced with a growing light rail system. Since Portland announced plans for the system, more than 10,000 residential units have been built and $3.5 billion has been invested in property within two blocks of the line, according to Portland Streetcar Inc., which operates the system. . .
"In years gone by, people would move to cities to get a job," Cincinnati's city manager, Milton Dohoney, said. "Today, young, educated workers move to cities with a sense of place. And if businesses see us laying rail down on a street, they'll know that's a permanent route that will have people passing by seven days a week."
After looking into streetcar systems in Seattle, Tacoma, Wash., and Charlotte, Mr. Dohoney became convinced that they spur growth. "Cincinnati has to compete with other cities for investment," he said. "We have to compete for talent and for place of national prominence."
A hundred miles north, Mayor Michael Coleman of Columbus, Ohio, has come to the same conclusion and is pushing to build a $103 million streetcar network along the city's High Street connecting Ohio State University with the downtown business district. The loop would be paid for through a 4 percent surcharge on concert tickets, sporting events and downtown parking and a $12.5 million contribution from Ohio State.
THE NEWS BEFORE IT HAPPENS: A 1972 LOOK AT STREET CARS
Sam Smith, DC Gazette, March 1972 - The end of January marked the tenth anniversary of the last streetcar run in the District. Curiously, only Jack Eisen of the Post, the local freeway lobby's favorite journalist, bothered to note the event. The City Council might have commemorated the occasion were it not engrossed in hearings on how to get DC Transit's O. Roy Chalk to remove an estimated 86 miles of streetcar track remaining in the city. Mayor Walter Washington might have joined also, but he was too busy trying to get congressional approval of a bond guarantee for the Metro subway system.
While generally sympathetic to the streetcar as a historical phenomenon, Eisen offered this ex cathedra assurance: "Streetcars as we knew them will never again run in Washington." Why not? Certainly logic does not rule out their return. Streetcars are efficient. Trolleys operating on surface streets can carry nearly ten times as many people per hour as automobiles and fifty percent more people than buses. Streetcars , while not non-polluting (since they require electrical power), at least remove the pollution from where it has its deadliest effect - high density center city areas. Further, streetcars are a pleasure to ride, are devoid of the noxious fumes created by buses and are aesthetically pleasing.
One of the major reasons streetcars went out - and will have a hard time returning - is that they compete directly with the automobile. At the time of their demise, anything that competed with the car was considered unpatriotic, anti-Christian and perhaps even a bit perverted. A decade later, as we wheeze our way through the atmospheric swamp that covers our major cities, we are beginning to view the car with a bit more skepticism. Not enough, to be sure, to do anything serious about restricting its use, but the first glimmers of comprehension are there. A generation that built its foreign policy on faith in Chiang Kai Shek and its domestic policy on faith in General Motors is beginning to doubt its wisdom. Now that Mr. Nixon has gone to China, perhaps his next major journey can be a ride on a trolley.
It is hard to write of streetcars without succumbing to nostalgia and laying oneself open to charges of infantile romanticism. But the reason one feels nostalgia is, after all, because one misses something one thinks was good. And since the choice of transportation modes is in part determined by psychological factors, as any Freudian analysis of the automobile in American society will point out, a system that engenders a certain amount of romantic attachment may also guarantee itself ridership as well.
Recently the city of Toronto reversed itself and decided not to end streetcar servi^ there. Said Ralph Day, chairman of the local transit commission, the streetcars are "liked by all users and detested by all motorists." Day has given us here a capsule criterion for the ideal urban transportation system. If we are to be-serious about building mass transit we must confront the automobile directly.
It is not enough just to provide alternatives to the car; we must put obstacles in its path.
One of the many fraudulent aspects of the Metro subway is that it is really designed not to compete with the automobile. One need look no further, than the freeway plans. The highway lobby hasn't whittled its ambitions one inch because of the prospect of Metro. Every freeway that was planned before Metro is still being pushed by highway builders. . . .
Metro has plenty of other problems as a mass transit system. It costs too much, for one thing. . . As the largest single public works project in the world's history, Metro hardly qualifies as an economy. There is no doubt that DC could get more mass transit for its money by not building a subway and turning instead to a mixture of surface mass transit including rail commuter lines, streetcars, buses and jitneys.
Secondly, Metro has already disrupted many communities in the city and will disrupt many more. Businesses and homes are being lost as Metro reveals its true nature as not merely an underground transportation system, but an aboveground land development scheme. Metro joined urban renewal as a major element in the city's reverse land reform program, which takes land out of the hands of the many and puts it in the hands of a. few. A surface transit system would not have been as amenable to such cynical and deceitful expropriation of land.
Thirdly, Metro is primarily another means of providing safe, fast entrance and egress to DC for non-taxpaying suburban parasites. A streetcar system, along with other surface transit facilities, would be much more orientated to the needs of the local citizenry, as it was when it existed.
Fourthly, Metro is inflexible. Where Metro goes, it will stay. The cost of adding new lines, or abandoning them, would be astronomical. Since a city is always in a state of flux, there is a need for a transit system that can bend to meet changing situations. A surface system is much more adaptable. . .
Let us not forget that we live in the city that, more than any other, has surrendered itself to the automobile. Of course, it began a long time ago. The original L1Enfant Plan of 1791 proposed that 59% of the area of the federal city be set aside for highways. Thanks to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and the Congress, the first highway lobby was restrained somewhat, but L'Enfant's successors have more than made up for the loss.
Other cities have shown
considerably more wisdom, and today some of these transit-oriented
towns are taking another look at streetcars. Eisen reports that
"Boston and San Francisco, aided by the U.S. Department
of Transportation, have agreed upon the specifications for a
new generation of trolleys to equip their remaining lines. .
. San Francisco even has plans - and the promise of federal money
- to expand its electric streetcar system as well as to renovate
its cable car lines." And one of the least nostalgic men
around, DC Transit's O. Roy Chalk himself recently wrote Eisen:
"Maybe the reason passenger losses developed (in the transit
industry) was not higher fares but elimination of trolleys. It
is an interesting concept.
If a streetcar system were built here, there is no reason that it should be a replica of the former one. The reserved lanes suggested by Chalk would be one improvement. Use of cars in tandem, as is done in Boston, is another. The streetcar could be just one element of a rational, flexible, urban-focused, economical transit system. . . The unused commuter rail lines that lead into the District could be turned into mass transit systems. And a range of bus types, from small jitneys (like airport limousines) to double-deckers, could supplement the rail systems, replacing the single-size buses that DC Transit uses on nearly all its routes. It is not likely that the government or business interests will press for these improvements.
It must come from the riders. The whole history of mass transit in this country is one of politics first, riders last. When jitneys started competing with streetcars in the early part of the century, the trolley companies got the courts and state legislatures to drive them out of business.
Later, as Eisen points out, "A national transit holding company allied with bus-manufacturing interests. . . embarked upon a deliberate program of replying trolleys with buses in dozens of cities from Baltimore to Oakland." And, of course, the bus companies got their come-uppance not long after as the auto craze was fostered by a combination of highway builders, car companies, and cooperative public officials.
The other day I saw an official of the Department of Transportation wearing a button that proclaimed: "Mix Your Modes." It's a nice sentiment, but one that has yet to gain credance in local transportation planning. Yesterday's fad was the freeway; today it's Metro. But monomania won't solve our transit problems. We have lots of different places to go and we need a variety of ways to get there. Streetcars should be one of them. Then getting there will no longer be half a pain.
MATHEMATICIANS SOLVE MYSTERY OF TRAFFIC JAMS
PHYSORG - Mathematicians from the University of Exeter have solved the mystery of traffic jams by developing a model to show how major delays occur on our roads, with no apparent cause.
The team developed a mathematical model to show the impact of unexpected events such as a lorry pulling out of its lane on a dual carriageway. Their model revealed that slowing down below a critical speed when reacting to such an event, a driver would force the car behind to slow down further and the next car back to reduce its speed further still.
The result of this is that several miles back, cars would finally grind to a halt, with drivers oblivious to the reason for their delay. The model predicts that this is a very typical scenario on a busy highway (above 15 vehicles per km. . .
THE CASE FOR FREE TRANSIT
DAVE OLSEN, THE TYEE - Why do we have any barriers to using buses and urban trains? The threat of global warming is no longer in doubt. The hue and cry of the traffic-jammed driver grows louder every commute. And politicians are getting the message. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has ordered his staff to seriously examine the costs of charging people to ride public transit. And Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York, recently voiced to a reporter his top dream: "I would have mass transit be given away for nothing and charge an awful lot for bringing an automobile into the city."
Consider this sampling of communities providing free rides on trolleys, buses, trams and ferries: Staten Island, N.Y.; Island County, Wash.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; Vail, Colo.; Logan and Cache Valley, Utah; Clemson, S.C.; Commerce, Calif.; Châteauroux, Vitré, and Compiègne, France; Hasselt, Belgium; Lubben, Germany; Mariehamn, Finland; Nova Gorica, Slovenia; Türi, Estonia; and Övertorneå, Sweden. . .
You have to figure in roads, parking and other infrastructure, tax breaks for car and fuel companies, as well as subsidies for car-carrying ferries and federal income tax reductions and write-offs for companies that use motor vehicles. By some estimates, the government subsidy to each private vehicle owner is about $3,700, while a common cost for providing a single trip by transit is about $5. . .
Done right, fare-free transit can transform society, says Patrick Condon, an expert on sustainable urban development who knows the system in Amherst, Mass. "Free transit changed the region for the better. Students, teens and the elderly were able to move much more freely through the region. Some ascribed the resurgence of Northampton, Mass, at least in part, to the availability of free transit. Fares in that region would have provided such a small percentage of capital and operating costs that their loss was made up for by contributions by the major institutions to benefit: the five colleges in the region," says Condon, a professor at the University of British Columbia.
CREATING TRAFFIC SAFETY BY DOING AWAY WITH TRAFFIC LAWS
RADICAL TRUST - The Dutch have a word for "town free of traffic signs" and it's "verkeersbordvrij. . . Removing regulations to increase safety may seem counter-intuitive, but the method is showing that the less restrictions placed on motorists, pedestrians and cyclists, the more responsibility they take upon themselves to behave in a safe manor. And it's working. A pilot project in Oudehaske (Friesland) which started back in the 1980s has resulted in 8000 cars and 2400 cyclists still sharing the road every day with average traffic speeds dropping by 50%.
The program started when Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman noted that the town's increasing traffic density would soon become a threat to the villagers' idea of small-town living. . . "The many rules strip us of the most important thing: the ability to be considerate." says Monderman. "We're losing our capacity for socially responsible behavior. The greater the number of proscriptions, the more people's sense of personal responsibility dwindles."
CITIES TURNING BIKE
One month after its launch, Paris's Vélib', or "freedom bike" scheme, has turned the city cycling mad. You simply pick up a bike from one of the ubiquitous stands, ride it along for your short trip and drop it back at any random stand at your destination. The first half-hour's pedal-time is free, with charges rising steeply afterwards. Day and night, tourists, commuters and returning party animals cruise by on the chic new machines. People have joyfully discovered the cheap new way of exercising en route to work or getting home drunk after the metro closes, hence a rush of hires after 1am. There's a glut of bikes deposited at stands at the bottom of hills and none left at the top, as people freewheel down from the heights of Belleville and Montmartre.
So huge is the success of the Velib' that Paris is proclaiming a veritable "velorution", reclaiming the streets for two-wheelers. This is not the first scheme to provide bikes for cheap short-hires - Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Oslo got there first, and Lyon was the pioneer in France - but Paris aims to be the biggest. More than 1.6m hires have been registered in the first month from the 800 bike stands around the city. Currently 10,600 bikes are in circulation, but by the end of the year that will double. The unisex bikes are provided by the poster advertising company JC Decaux to Paris city hall in return for ad space in the city, so at no cost to the taxpayer. It's a political triumph for Paris's socialist mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, and his opposite number Ken Livingstone is so impressed that he has ordered a consultation on bringing the scheme to London. . .
ABC NEWS BLOTTER - 20 heavily trafficked bridges may need to be replaced because they are structurally deficient, according to national bridge inspection data. These bridges scored a lower structural integrity rating than the I-35W bridge in Minnesota before its collapse.
According to the 2006 National Bridge Inventory, the Minnesota bridge received a "50% sufficiency" rating. The Federal Highway Administration says any bridge with a rating of 50 percent or lower is considered "structurally deficient" and "may need to be replaced.". . .
Half of the 20 bridges are located in New Jersey and California, including the famous San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge (pictured above).
The New Jersey Route-21 Bridge over the I-80 corridor is the busiest, with more than 518,000 daily commuters and a 49 percent sufficiency rating. The lowest rated bridge is the Raritan River Smith Street Bridge in New Jersey which 208,000 commuters drive across daily. It earned a rating of only 20 percent.
LIST OF DANGEROUS BRIDGES
STATELINE - The tragedy highlights a nationwide problem of deteriorating bridges -- as well as roads -- that states and the federal government are struggling to maintain in the face of fast-rising costs of construction and the shrinking value of gasoline taxes. . . It would cost an estimated $9.4 billion a year for 20 years to bring all of the existing bridges up to date, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. . .
Oklahoma has the highest percentage of bridges rated structurally deficient -- 27 percent. More than half of the bridges in Rhode Island and Massachusetts were rated either deficient or obsolete, according to the federal figures.
Bridges are just one piece of the transportation network strained by long-term neglect, a steady increase in the number of drivers, a stagnant source of funding and rampant inflation of road-building costs, according to a March 2007 study by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
The biggest hurdle to improving roads is that federal gasoline taxes, which pay for more than 45 percent of the nation's transportation infrastructure, have not been raised since 1993 and are not even sufficient to cover the spending in the 2005 federal transportation law. . . Federal gas taxes will fall $11 billion short of planned road projects by 2009, but the gap could be as big as $19 billion the following year, AASHTO found. . .
Instead of raising the federal gasoline tax, U.S. Sens. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) introduced a bill, just hours before the Minnesota bridge catastrophe, to create an independent national bank to provide government financing for major infrastructure projects.
NOW THERE'S BIKE RAGE
MATT VINSER, BOSTON GLOBE - Community leaders who oversee the [Minuteman Bikeway] say its popularity is higher now than in any of the 14 years it's been open, and the Washington-based Rails-to-Trails Conservancy estimates that there are 2 million annual users, making it the second-busiest trail of its kind in the country.
But as thousands each day compete for space on the trail's 12-foot-wide strip of asphalt, passing through meadows, suburban town centers, and manicured backyards, confrontations have become increasingly common. Police have been called out so often to resolve angry, and sometimes bizarre, disputes that they have coined a new term.
"We have road rage," said Arlington Police Chief Fred Ryan. "And now we have bikeway rage." In a 3-mile stretch in Arlington, police have filed 18 reports over the past year -- more than the previous two years combined -- that have ranged from bike-on-bike accidents to a woman who received unwanted sexual advances one afternoon while pushing her baby daughter in a stroller. Some men have been spotted running naked, others urinating in the bushes.
In one instance several years ago, a bicyclist kicked a Jack Russell terrier and yelled at the dog's owner, "Get the [expletive] over to the right!" as he passed by. Police tracked down the bicyclist and, after he apologized to the dog owner, did not press charges.
"It's a good thing that it's used so much," said David Watson, executive director of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition. "But in some ways I guess you can call it a victim of its own success.". . .
There are cyclists in full-body spandex suits, aerodynamic helmets, and titanium bikes that go fast enough to leave road kill in their wake. There are roller bladers, swaying back and forth to music playing on headphones. There are dog-walkers, stroller-pushers, and frequent choruses of "On your left!" screamed by cyclists as they whiz by pedestrians. . .
URBAN CAR FREE ZONES SPREADING
DANIEL B WOOD, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR - Every Saturday starting May 26 through Sept. 30, bicyclists, joggers, and pedestrians will have free rein on almost a mile of John F. Kennedy Drive, the main drag through Golden Gate Park. The usual denizens of the road - autos - will be banned, detoured elsewhere. . . The auto's demotion at Golden Gate Park follows dozens of similar moves in at least 20 American cities in the past three years. It's a trend that is gaining ground rapidly in the US, say urban planners.
- New York is proposing to shut down perimeter roads of Central Park and Brooklyn's Prospect Park all summer long.
- Atlanta plans to transform 53 acres of blighted, unused land into new bike-friendly green space.
- Philadelphia, Cleveland, Chicago, and El Paso, Texas, are planning events to promote car-free days in public parks, most in the hope that the idea will become permanent or extend for months.
"Cities across America are increasingly declaring that parks are for people, not cars, ... and closing roads within parks is one result of that," says Ben Welle with The Trust for Public Land's Center for City Park Excellence, in Washington.
Resistance can be fierce at first, he and others say, because of worries about traffic congestion, parking problems, and loss of visitors for businesses and museums. But studies are showing that traffic problems can be minimized, shops and museums get more visitors, and residents begin to cherish their where-the-action-is location.
Not everyone is convinced, saying the jury is still out on how no-car zones affect neighborhood vitality. In San Francisco, for instance, the de Young Museum has said its delivery schedule must be adjusted because of the new road closure, and it is concerned that patrons with physical disabilities may not be able to get to the museum as readily.
The model city for road closure is Bogota, Colombia, which in 1983 embarked on a program called ciclovia (bike path), in which designated streets were closed to cars every Sunday but open for jogging, biking, dancing, playing ball, walking pets, strolling with babies - anything but driving. One-and-a-half million people now turn out each week for ciclovia. Other cities in Latin America followed suit, closing parts of parks or whole urban districts to cars - some intermittently, some permanently. A result: revitalized neighborhoods and an influx of people.
Smaller US cities, from Davenport, Iowa, to Huntington Beach, Calif., are also starting to create car-free zones, according to Mr. Welle's studies.
FREIBURG'S WALKABLE NEIGHBORHOOD
CHRISTEL KUCHARZ, ABC - Welcome to Quartier Vauban -- a new 2,000-home development on a piece of land formerly used by French military in the medieval town of Freiburg, Germany. It has been the country's ecological capital since the first anti-nuclear, pro-environment movements in the early 1970s. . . Cars are kept on the outskirts of the living quarters, so the narrow streets become playgrounds for the kids and spaces for public interaction. Most of the residents don't even own cars. Those who have a car must buy space in a garage located about a five-minute walk away, and at $25,000 the space does not come cheap.
"Schools, kindergartens, a farmer's market, a shopping center, a good store which sells organic products only, and a recreation area -- you name it, it's all in walking or cycling distance," resident Sabine Burgermeister said. "And it's a much better quality of life here than it is in downtown Freiburg. And if we need to go there, there's always the option to take the tramway."
The free tramway passes generously provided by the city of Freiburg are helping residents of Vauban to become less car-dependent and, if need be, there's also a perfect car sharing service available for those who occasionally do need a car.
The city of Freiburg itself has taken quite a few steps toward a healthier environment for its 215,000 residents. It made its medieval town center more pedestrian-friendly, laid down a lattice of bike paths and introduced a flat rate for tramways and buses. And many residents say they prefer the public transportations system over driving into town.
WEST VIRGINIA'S PERSONAL RAPID TRANSIT
JOE GRATA, PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE Like the "Energizer Bunny," West Virginia University's PRT is an icon that keeps on going. And going. PRT stands for Personal Rapid Transit, a one-of-a-kind, computer-run, electric people mover system whose 73 gold-and-blue transit cars have been whisking riders around hilly Morgantown and the school complex since 1975.
"There are 130 automated systems worldwide, but only one like this," said Lawrence Fabian of Boston, director of the Advanced Transit Association, which deals with futuristic transit programs. "Its characteristics are unique," including on-demand service that takes riders where they want to go, like pressing the buttons on an elevator except that it's a horizontal trip with five stations instead of five floors.
The PRT is so "personal" that fairly often there's only one passenger aboard an 8,600-pound car, moving at speeds up to 30 mph from Point A to Point C without stopping at Point B.
The former Urban Mass Transportation Administration, an arm of the U.S. Department of Transportation, funded development and construction of the PRT in the 1970s, wanting to test the technology in an environment of changing weather and challenging topography.
Often maligned in its infancy as a goofy, unworkable idea and then plagued by technical and operating maladies in childhood, the people mover overcame the stigmas and problems long ago.
The PRT has racked up 20 million miles and carried 60 million riders over three decades. The safety record is impressive. No one has ever been badly hurt on the vehicles, electrified guideway or stations.
A transportation magazine, "The New Electric Railway Journal," has ranked the system above Disney World's Monorail for overall performance.
CHARLOTTESVILLE VA CONSIDERS ENDING TRANSIT FARES
USA TODAY - Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia, is poised to earn another distinction: It's considering joining a handful of cities in the USA that have eliminated transit fares in hopes of spurring ridership on public transportation and relieving congestion. . . Charlottesville Transit Service is a small urban system that records about 1.45 million passenger trips a year, says Charles Petty, program coordinator for the city's transit division.
A much larger transit system also is looking at the idea. San Francisco's transit agency handles about 700,000 passenger trips a day. In March, Mayor Gavin Newsom asked the Municipal Transportation Agency to study eliminating fares on city buses, streetcars and cable cars. If it does so, it would become the only major transit agency in the nation with a systemwide fare-free policy.
Agency spokeswoman Maggie Lynch says the system is already at or near capacity, but the agency is considering the mayor's request.
Many major transit systems offer free travel in their downtown business districts. But it would be difficult for large transit agencies to implement a systemwide fare-free policy because they get up to 30% of revenue from the fare box and demand could overwhelm capacity, says Anthony Kouneski, vice president of member services at the American Public Transportation Association.
A 2002 study by University of South Florida's Center for Urban Transportation Research concluded that "a fare-free policy might work for smaller transit systems but is ill-advised for larger transit systems." The report said free fares on large urban systems caused surges in ridership and higher maintenance and labor costs and drove away existing riders.
BUS RAPID TRANSIT REMAINS AN ORPHAN THANKS TO RAIL LOBBY
[We recommended bus rapid transit as one alternative when DC's hyper expensive Metro was being planned. Besides being the second biggest public works cost overrun in American history, Metro failed to deal effectively with Washington's transportation problem and actually encouraged urban sprawl]
JEFF NESMITH, COX NEWS SERVICE - Advocates of "bus rapid transit" say the country is wasting billions of dollars to build glitzy urban rail systems when people can travel more cheaply and with less environmental impact by bus. Bus rapid transit, or BRT, should not be confused with traditional urban bus systems, its most fervent advocates point out.
Instead of those smoky old mechanical dinosaurs that toil from stop to stop, BRT buses whiz along dedicated roadways, pausing briefly at stations where passengers quickly get on and off without having to pause and feed the driver's coin box. New showcase systems in Los Angeles; Adelaide, Australia; Bogota, Colombia and other cities have been received enthusiastically by commuters. In fact, Bogota's Transmileno is so popular that the mayor who built it, Enrique Penalosa, is often mentioned as a candidate for president.
But in Washington, BRT proponents say they are being out - lobbied. In a report to Congress in February, the Federal Transit Administration said it planned to issue grants worth $18.2 billion to help build rail projects during fiscal 2008, and about $1.4 billion for BRT projects. . .
"The reason the federal government invests in rapid transit in the first place is that it gets people out of their cars," said William Vincent, a former Transportation Department official who is now general counsel of the Breakthrough Technologies Institute, a Washington - based environmental advocacy group.
"You cut down on greenhouse gases. You reduce oil consumption," Vincent said. "You can get the same number of people out of their cars for about one - quarter the cost with a BRT."
According to the institute's calculations, BRT can move commuters with less than a third of the carbon dioxide emissions of light rail, and one - sixth those of private cars.
Vincent said he found the annual operating cost for a rail system was about $933 per average weekday boarding.
That means if an average of 1,000 people board a system each weekday, the annual operating cost would be $933,000.
The average for BRT was less than half as much, $445.
Capital costs for rapid transit systems vary widely. For example, Boston's new Silver Line, a BRT that runs from South Station to Logan Airport, is costing more than $800 million per mile, Vincent said, and New York's Second Avenue Subway will cost $2 billion per mile. But on average, he said, capital costs for the rail plans run $240 million per mile, compared with $66 million for BRTs.
MAYOR OF LONDON DELIGHTED WITH CONGESTION CHARGES
KEN LIVINGSTONE, MAYOR, LONDON - The facts about London's congestion charging scheme are clear. It cut the amount of traffic entering central London by 20%. Each day in 2006, there are were almost 70,000 fewer vehicles entering the charging zone compared to the number that had been entering each day before charging began.
The figures following the extension of the zone westwards show that it is also operating at the expected level. Traffic in the area of the western extension of the zone is down 13%. . .
In addition, road safety has improved, CO2 emissions have been cut, and congestion charging contributed to the growth of cycling with more people than ever before traveling by bike - a 72% increase in the number of cyclists on the capital's major roads since 2000.
Naturally, all these benefits were not only brought by congestion charging itself but by the public transport measures that accompanied it. Bus ridership in London has risen by 2 million a day, and the city has embarked on the largest program of public investment in transport for 50 years. Doubtless, New York will be looking at implications for public transport in the city.
Finally, New York's decision has another implication. It is a final nail in the coffin of the claim by rightwing pressure groups and anti-environmentalists that policies being pursued in London are against the interests of its economy - for the one thing that cannot be claimed against New York is that it is an anti-business city.
In reality, of course, the evidence was already in. Retail sales in central London are far outperforming those in the rest of the country. The West End theatre trade is strong. Tourism is growing strongly. Congestion charging has achieved exactly what it was designed to do - not cut the number of journeys, but shift them from private cars to public transport. It has cut congestion, and cut environmental damage, with the economy continuing to boom.
The next proposed step for the congestion charge is to increase its benefits by enhancing its ability to tackle climate change. This would see the introduction of a L25 charge for cars responsible for the highest CO2 emissions, with reduced charges for cars with lower-than-average emissions, and the greenest cars would pay nothing.
WHY URBAN TRANSIT WORKS. . .AND BUILDING MORE ROADS DOESN'T
RICHARD LAYMAN, URBAN PLACES AND SPACES - In one hour, one road-mile of road-lane can accommodate about 2,000 cars on a limited access freeway, and from 800 to 1,300 cars in various non-freeway situations.
The same lane mile can accommodate 6,750 people riding buses, 10,000 people riding bus rapid transit, a minimum of 15,000 people riding light rail, and up to 65,000 people in heavy rail (subway).
The average suburban household makes 15 trips per day, most by automobile, with limited numbers of additional passengers during each trip. . .
In a city like San Francisco, as many as 60% of daily trips to the Central Business District occur on transit. In Washington, upwards of 700,000 riders take the subway, and about 500,000 additional riders use buses.
In the City of Washington, approximately 40% of resident households do not own cars. (I don't know what the numbers are for Arlington County, but they are probably similarly positive.)
Residents of the City of Washington and Arlington County, Virginia have commuting times at or about the national average, while residents in the other counties in the Washington region have commuting times significantly higher than the national average.
It's reasonable to assume that this occurs in part because in the region, Washington and Arlington enjoy the richest set of non-automobile based transportation and mobility assets--plus in many areas, walkable communities. . .
And while road capacity cannot (for the most part) be increased in a traditional center city, there are many opportunities to increase the capacity and efficiency of the transit and transportation "system".
ALSO: For every 10% increase in road miles, there is a 9% increase in vehicle miles traveled.
LIGHT RAIL RETURNS TO PARIS
STEFAN SIMONS, SPEIGEL - The last Paris tram ground to a halt 60 years ago. Now a new tram line is being introduced with lots of fanfare. France hopes this return to the past will ring in a new era of urban mobility. The tram is quiet, fast and comfortable -- a perfect remedy for traffic jams. . . The new tram signals a change of direction in French public transportation policy -- not just in Paris -- and it may even represent a shift in urban-planning ideas around the world. . .
Arriving every four minutes, the tram will move along the so-called Marechaux, boulevards named after famous generals that gird Paris like a belt -- or strangle it, as residents suffering from excessive car traffic, pollution and noise complain.
The tram is meant to offer relief. The elegant green and white cars will carry almost twice as many commuters every day as local buses -- some 100,000 people. The strips of grass and the reduction in car traffic should improve the quality of life for residents. . .
Broad walkways and bicycle routes, parks with thousands of specially planted trees, and city-commissioned art works all belong to the package. They help turn the new tram line into a showcase for urban progress. "Here we've converted a main artery of automobile traffic to a place of life and a promenade," one of the mayor's assistants explains. . .
The return to collective forms of urban transportation started with rising energy costs and with the car-traffic crisis in inner cities. Eight French cities participated in a government project aimed at bringing new, modern transportation technology to the city centers. After Nantes, it's mainly Strasbourg that has begun to expand its tram network as part of a larger urban vision. The windowed, streamlined coaches, which not only hold plenty of passengers but are also quiet and comfortable, have become a showcase for up-to-date and ecologically correct transportation policies.
WHY LIGHT RAIL WORKS
AS WASHINGTON was building its hyper-expensive subway - Big Dig Junior - your editor was a lonely voice calling for a return of light rail. At the time, for what it cost to build a hundred miles of subway, Washington could have had 1,000 of light rail.
Light rail offers a number of important advantages other than cost:
- It directly competed for space with the automobile. Because it was underground, the subway mainly competed with pre-existing bus service.
- It encouraged integrated communities rather than nodes of development at subway stops. The subway has actually increased street traffic by leading to new development for which it only met a minority of commuting needs.
- It preserved a round-the-clock city rather than making it more easily accessible during working hours to ever more distant suburbanites. It is an irony of the subway is that it encouraged much of what the "smart growth" crowd now complains about.