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Archive for April, 2010

One year after passage of California’s “hands-free” cell phone law, State Senator Joe Simitian is taking credit for reduction in highway fatalities:

Recently released collision and fatality data from the California Highway Patrol (CHP) confirms that California’s streets and highways are safer following the implementation of California’s “hands-free” cell phone law.

CHP certified numbers from the first six months of the law’s implementation show a 20 percent reduction in fatalities and collisions in California when compared to the same six month period over the past three to five years.

Sounds pretty good, right? Not so fast…

At the same time the hands-free law went into effect, CHP was greatly increasing its staffing and enforcement levels:

In 2006, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vowed to increase CHP patrol positions by 1,000 officers. The Governor’s promise marked the first time in 40 years that the CHP had been provided an increase in officer positions intended strictly for patrol responsibilities. To date, 540 new officers have been hired and are actively patrolling in commands throughout the state.

While preliminary numbers show fatal collisions are down approximately 29 percent, enforcement and services to the public have increased, meaning a quicker response to collisions and roadway hazards and a higher level of assistance to motorists who call for help from the CHP. While statewide, officers issued 8 percent more citations, they also gave 74 percent more verbal warnings to motorists. Motorist services increased 13 percent, according to CHP statistics.

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Between December 18-19, an unprecedented five Eurostar trains failed in the Channel Tunnel. The widespread disruption interrupted holiday plans of nearly 100,000 travelers, and was a major embarrassment for the operator. The Governments of France and the UK set up an Independent Review panel, which has published some interesting findings.

As background, the report states:

The design of Eurostar power cars is based on other members of the TGV family, but the trains are more complex machines. They have the most powerful and sophisticated electrical systems of any TGV, but within a much smaller space than other TGVs. Given their small size (for compatibility with the British loading gauge) and low weight, they are the most powerful power cars in current use – much more so than TGV motor units, since two units pull 18 cars.

Contrary to perception of Eurostar being a TGV or TGV-derivative, the design of the Eurostar locomotive is globally unique. Major modifications were required to accommodate British loading gauge — proving once again that custom rolling stock invites unexpected problems.

As compounding factor, there is no redundancy in Eurostar trainsets. This is by design:

Because the Channel Tunnel safety committee wanted Eurostar sets to be divisible into two parts, the two motor units are independent and do not have a high-voltage connection like those of a traditional TGV. As a result, if one motor unit has no high-voltage power because its pantograph is not working, it cannot obtain this from the other pantograph, so its motors are unusable.

Another problem: test and debug procedures for the Eurostar design did not accurately model conditions in the tunnel. Instead, designers used the winterization measures from standard TGVs, which do not encounter anything like the 12km Channel Tunnel:

The environment in the Channel Tunnel is warm and humid. The temperature in the middle, 12 kilometres from either end, is around 25°C and the air, as well as being close to total saturation, is heavily loaded with suspended particles of concrete and metal dust from the brakes of trains using the Tunnel. In winter, trains suck in large quantities of very cold outside air, sometimes containing snow, before they enter the Tunnel, which cools all the structure and components. As the cold metal comes into contact with the warm, damp and dusty air inside the Tunnel, this causes condensation. The snow melts extremely quickly, saturating those parts of the power car which it has infiltrated and causing the electronic and other components to malfunction. The warmth, damp and dust also causes arcing and short circuits.

In addition to the 2009 failures, the “specific atmospheric conditions” of the tunnel have caused failures going back to 1996. In almost every winter, Eurostar had attempted various quick fixes to the on-going problem. The Independent Review recommends a “comprehensive overall review asking detailed questions about these recurring incidents and looking at radical ways of preventing them.”

“Damage caused to the inductor as a result of its proximity to the pan well roof”

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SMART Financials

A mere 9% sales tax decline has resulted in a funding gap of at least $154 million for SMART rail project.

But how could that be?

Just over 1 year ago, SMART staff reported numerous built-in safeguards:

In order to ensure that SMART’s revenues are enough to cover its expenses over the next 20 years, SMART and its financial consultants conducted a months-long analysis of finances for the project. Then they subjected their draft findings to a rigorous review by outside experts, including Dr. Eyler and transportation finance professionals from the Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM). Comments from those reviewers, along with suggestions and questions submitted by members of the public, helped SMART finalize its funding plan.

The result is a document that outlines costs, revenues, bonding strategy, financial risk management and a detailed 20-year cash flow analysis for the project. It includes fuel cost, ridership, sales tax collection and inflation assumptions. And, on top of those conservative assumptions, it includes contingencies of nearly 20 percent for each year of operation and all construction costs.

Curiously, SMART staff revealed shortfalls before construction began. Are they not aware that planners only confess to shortfalls in mega-projects until after construction begins. It is so much easier to secure additional funds once a big hole is dug in the ground.

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State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) has introduced State Senate Bill 1475, which would outlaw “broadband communication” on wireless telephone from a vehicle, even if equipped with hands-free device.

Would the texting restriction also apply to cyclists? The language in the bill is unclear, but numerous news reports on the bill state that the texting restriction would apply to cyclists.

How ironic Sen. Simitian represents Silicon Valley, and is not aware of the huge revolution in GPS mobile devices for bicycling? For example:

  • The innovative CycleTracks is being used by San Francisco MTA for sophisticated bike census counts.
  • Online schedules and real-time transit data from BART and other transit operators, beamed directly to mobile phone, allows for more seamless bike-transit intermodal connectivity.
  • Ever expanding number of online bike maps, available on iiPhone and Android, showing location of bike lanes and bike paths.

These are but a few examples. Like most emerging technology, it can be difficult to predict how far it will go. But under Simitian’s vaguely-written bill, the ultimate result could be expensive fines and harassment of cyclists.

If there were a credible safety argument, then perhaps it is warranted. But is there any study that finds cyclists are not using this technology responsibly? There does not appear to be any.

And what about pedestrians? Should they be subject to fine? Crossing the street can be deadly too, if distracted by iPhone.

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UK bicycle planners demonstrate their international reputation for incompetence:

Cyclist Kevin Hughes, 47, said: ‘It’s just hilarious. I saw it as I was cycling past and couldn’t believe my eyes. ‘Obviously nobody could cycle in it because it is so so small. You just have time to get in the saddle before getting off again.’ Mr Hughes, a member of Cardiff Ajax Cycling Club, added: ‘I posted a picture of it on the club forum and it’s started a bit of a laugh.

But it gets worse.

According to the BBC, Cardiff council concedes a mistake was made, and will be sending crews out to rectify the situation by making the road markings smaller.

The original post to Ajax cycle club forum post is here.

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