Saturday, March 19, 2016

Transportation News Round-Up: March 19, 2016

Photo courtesy of Fortune.
This week in transportation, DOT announced the Smart City Challenge finalists, driverless car advocates pleaded for national regulations, and DC Metro shut down for 24 hours. Here are the most important and interesting stories from the past week:

CNET Road Show: $50 million 'Smart City Challenge' finalists announced at SXSW
Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx has announced seven finalists for the 'Smart City Challenge,' which seeks to get midsize cities to implement vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure technologies. Austin, Columbus, Denver, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Portland, and San Francisco will repeat for the top prize, but all seven cities will get federal support for their new programs, which will help to mitigate traffic and improve emergency response times.

USA Today: Self-driving car leaders ask for national laws
Representatives from Google, General Motors, Lyft, and Delphi spoke at a Senate committee hearing about the importance of developing national-level regulations for self-driving cars. The concern here is that in the absence of federal rulemaking, states will adopt their own laws (23 states already have bills pending in their legislatures), resulting in a patchwork of laws that will impede the deployment of driverless vehicles that can be driven across state lines.

Forbes: U.S. big cities now among the most traffic jammed in the world
To nobody's great surprise, U.S. cities have become some of the most congested in the world. According to connected car services company INRIX, American commuters spent eight billion hours stuck in traffic last year, the equivalent of a week's worth of vacation days per driver. Los Angeles is the worst (again, to the surprise of no one), with Washington, DC, San Francisco, Houston, and New York City rounding out the top five.

Dallas Morning News: Editorial- High-speed rail opponents are shortsighted
Once praised for its reliance on private funding alone, the high-speed rail line connecting Dallas and Houston is now under fire particularly from opponents of Eminent Domain. The editorial board of the Dallas Morning News admonished the Brazos Valley Council of Governments, reminding them of the many benefits of the proposed line, particularly the fact that it will relieve traffic congestion and generate tax revenue from the private developer.

Fortune: 3 big lessons from DC's transit shutdown
This Wednesday, the DC metro shut down for 24 hours in the middle of the week so safety inspectors could ensure the kind of electrical system failure that caused a fire on Monday wouldn't happen again. For the most part, people found a workaround, either telecommuting that day or using Uber, Lyft, or Capital Bikeshare to get to work. But the shutdown was a stark reminder of the system's negative feedback loop of declining ridership resulting in lower revenues, meaning less money to fix the safety and service problems that cause the declining ridership.

Happy reading, and happy weekend!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Transportation News Round-Up: March 12, 2016

Photo courtesy of the Associated Press.
This week in transportation, driverless cars got a federal boost, the California bullet train cleared a judicial hurdle, and the House punted on FAA reform. Here are the most important and interesting stories from the week:

ABC News: Judge lets planning, funding proceed for [California] bullet train
A Sacramento County Superior Court judge ruled on Tuesday that the California high-speed rail project does not violate promises made to voters when they approved $10 billion in bonds for the project in 2008. Plaintiffs have argued that the project is no longer on track to meet "promises" on trip times, ridership, and maintenance costs - but none of those metrics were stated in the initiative. Dan Richard, chairman of the board overseeing the California High-Speed Rail Authority, says the train will still be "a fully electric, 200-plus mile-per-hour train that can operate without a subsidy that is designed to operate in 2 hours and 40 minutes between our great cities of Los angeles and San Francisco."

Politico: House settles on 3.5-month FAA extension
After months of debate in the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee over whether to privatize air traffic control services, legislators have agreed on a bill that will extend the FAA's authorization until July 15, giving them an additional 3.5 months to negotiate a longer-term aviation bill. Interestingly, this short-term bill allows the FAA to continue collecting excise taxes until Spring 2017 so that if Congress has to pass another short-term extension in July, that bill can start in the Senate (revenue bills must be originated in the House).

The Hill: Opinion - Infrastructure in a Trump or Clinton administration
This column by Norman Anderson of DC strategy firm CG/LA Infrastructure, lays out the transportation infrastructure policies of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the Democratic and Republican parties' most likely nominees at this moment. It makes the important point that transportation is not the only kind of infrastructure America must invest in, and lays out two "critical requirements" for the new Administration if it is to take infrastructure funding seriously: the establishment of a national infrastructure bank (which I've written about before), and the creation of a White House office focused on "facilitating technology innovation and velocity in project permitting and funding."

Governing: An overlooked transportation alternative: bus rapid transit
Wes Guckert, President and CEO of The Traffic Group, outlines bus rapid transit (BRT) as an alternative to light rail in addressing traffic congestion. According to Guckert, BRT is cheaper, the infrastructure is smaller, it has all the same amenities as trains (Wi-Fi, level boarding, off-vehicle payment), and is more "flexible" (it can leave its lane if there's an obstruction, unlike a train getting off its tracks). Guckert addresses the negative connotations of buses but highlights the impressive economic returns g enerated by some BRT systems, like Cleveland, Ohio's HealthLine.

The Atlantic: A $50 million plan to get cities thinking about driverless cars
The U.S. Department of Transportation is seeking to fix cities' seeming reluctance to incorporate driverless vehicles into their city plans, and it's doing that through the Smart City Challenge. The contest asks mid-sized cities to come up with ideas for improving traffic safety and mobility using driverless cars, intelligent infrastructure, street sensors, and other technologies. Secretary Anthony Foxx will announce the five finalists this weekend, who will be able to use Infraworks 360, a building information modeling platform that uses 3D visualizations and data to plan engineering projects, to refine their proposals ahead of the winner being named in June. Infraworks 360 seems pretty cool:

Happy ready, and happy weekend!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Transportation News Round-Up: March 5, 2016

Photo courtesy of Lucy Wang, Inhabitat.
This week in transportation, the Oculus transit hub opened, San Francisco's new electric busses struggled, and the proposed high-speed rail line connecting Los Angeles to Las Vegas took a step forward. Here are the stories I found most important or interesting this week:

TIME: Take a 360 look inside the Oculus of the new World Trade Center Transportation Hub
After 12 years of planning and construction, the new World Trade Center transit hub, featuring Santiago Calatrava's Oculus design, has opened to the public. There isn't much to do in there yet, as storefronts are still under construction and the actual subway connections won't open for another few months. This article includes a 360 video and lots of photos, so definitely worth checking out.

The Hill: Tax-exempt municipal bonds: a critical tool to repair America's infrastructure
This op-ed from the president and vice president of the National Association of State Treasurers asserts that "tax-exempt municipal bonds are an indispensible tool for overcoming our nation's infrastructure challenges." Bonds are a great way to fund major infrastructure construction projects, as they ensure that future generations who enjoy the infrastructure will also be the ones paying for it, rather than today's taxpayers paying for tomorrow's commuters' infrastructure. And obviously, having these bonds remain tax-exempt would enable more state and local governments to take advantage.

Las Vegas Review Journal: Nevada's delegates launch bill to fast-track high-speed rail project
To help move forward construction of a high-speed rail line connecting Las Vegas to Los Angeles, Nevada's congressional delegation has introduced a bill that will transfer a large portion of the Mojave National Preserve from the National Park Service to the Bureau of Land Management. According to the release, the Park Service lacks a clear process to allow infrastructure development on the land it holds, so this bill is designed to make it easier for the project to get off the ground. The release itself is pretty interesting, as Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) pointed out the benefit to conservation efforts of the land transfer, while Republicans Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Joe Heck focused only on economic opportunities.

San Francisco Examiner: Muni's brand new buses struggle hills, test results show
San Francisco is known for being hilly, and the approximately 100 new electric buses the city has purchased are having a hard time getting up those hills. According to internal testing, it takes the new buses significantly longer to accelerate up steep grades than it took the older buses and - more importantly - than the required speeds from their testing benchmarks. It isn't obvious based on this article whether the buses are slower going up hills because they're electric, or whether those two facts are unrelated.

Hartford Courant: Planner skeptical about Connecticut bullet train ideas
In an age-old case of Not In My BackYard (NIMBY), Francis Pickering, the head of the Western Connecticut Council of Governments, warned of "extensive local opposition" in Western Connecticut if the Federal Railroad Administration moves forward with plans to construct new train tracks from Hartford to Providence. That is actually the least disruptive of several plans the FRA is considering to move more people, more quickly, between DC and Boston. It's an illustration of the importance of communication, transparency, and frankly good marketing on the part of federal and state governments when they're pursuing important but nevertheless disruptive infrastructure projects.

Happy reading, and happy weekend!