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Archive for August, 2011

“Smart” 2-Year Delay

Remember how FRA-compliant DMU’s would magically avoid regulatory delays for SMART?

When directors of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency meet Wednesday they’ll face the possibility of up to a two-year delay in the launch of commuter service — not because of rising costs but from the gauntlet of government review agencies.

“I doubt we will be operational by 2014,” Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s executive director, said Monday referring top the long-planned start date. “We will work our tail off to try to meet every requirement, but there are things beyond our control.”

The whole point of going with FRA-compliant rolling stock was to avoid FRA red-tape, and to get the FTA “Buy-America” dollars. They still have red tape, and they aren’t getting the FTA grant funding either. So why stick with the overweight, overpriced rolling stock?

Idiots.

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With the BART extension to Livermore planned to run in the I580 median, there is one small problem: the median is just a tiny bit too small to accommodate two tracks.

No problem, says Alameda County, we’ll just widen the median. And while we’re at it, may as well expand the highway too:

The Alameda County Congestion Management Agency (ACCMA) in partnership with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and the Alameda County Transportation Authority (ACTIA) is developing a strategy that will identify and acquire the ultimate right of way along the I-580 corridor from the Hacienda Drive Interchange in Pleasanton to beyond the Vasco Road Interchange in Livermore.

The ultimate right of way will be a maximum of 246 feet wide to include provisions for:

  • A future 46-foot wide median transit corridor.
  • 14-foot inside shoulders in each direction.
  • 12-foot wide high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes with 4 foot outside buffer in each direction.
  • Four 12-foot wide mixed flow lanes in each direction.
  • 12-foot auxiliary lanes and 10-foot outside shoulders in each direction.

Once again, we have a transportation agency working at cross purposes. The new highway capacity will be in direct competition with the billion-dollar BART extension.

Also note that the CA High-Speed Rail Authority rejected the I580 corridor for an Altamont route because….even at 246′ they say the ROW will be too constrained.

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“F” is for…

It was with great fanfare that the White House announced one of those top-to-bottom Regulatory “Reform” efforts. So how is that going over at the FRA?

Comment: [49 CFR Part 229] UP does not believe there is a safety justification for FRA’s requirement that the letter “F” be displayed on each locomotive to identify the front end.

FRA response: FRA is currently engaged in a rulemaking proceeding dealing with the revision of the Locomotive Safety Standards.  An NPRM in the matter was published on January 12, 2011, RIN 2130-AC16, 76 FR 2200.  The subject of the letter “F” requirement was not raised by UP or any other RSAC participant during the development of the NPRM, but to the extent practicable, FRA will consider UP’s suggestion as a late comment to the NPRM in developing the final rule.  The letter “F” requirement is related to safety, because it identifies not only the front end of the locomotive, but also identifies all of the locomotives equipment.

Good thing that locomotive has a letter “F” on it; otherwise, how is one to know it is a locomotive? And for those hoping PTC would mean the end of the infamous FRA weight-penalty, guess again:

Comment: [49 CFR Part 238 ] SRC believes that the crashworthiness standards in Part 238 are detrimental to the use and growth of passenger rail transportation.  According to SRC, the regulation assumes wrecks to be commonplace, which has not been the case, acts to curtail the export of passenger rail equipment to other countries, and results in prohibitive capital costs for passenger rail expansion and startup in the U.S.  SRC states that with the advent of PTC, perhaps the regulation could be revised to enable passenger rail equipment to  compete more effectively with other modes of  transportation.


FRA response: 
FRA’s regulatory approach to passenger equipment safety is balanced and does incorporate both crash avoidance and crashworthiness measures.  FRA necessarily considers the safety of the rail system as a whole,beginning with ways first to avoid an accident, such as through adherence to standards for railroad signal and operating systems (to  avoid a collision) and railroad track (to avoid a derailment).  Yet, FRA is indeed concerned about mitigating the consequences of an accident, should one occur, and crashworthiness features are an essential complement to crash avoidance measures.


Chamber of Commerce types are already blasting the regulatory “reform” as underwhelming. As much as I hate to admit it, they may have a point.

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Free Speech

Berkeley, once famous for its free-speech movement on campus, is now represented by a censor on the BART Board:

BART board president Bob Franklin Monday morning defended the agency’s decision to disable cell service on several platforms last Thursday, to disrupt a planned protest that was to be organized in part, via mobile communications among the participants. Franklin said any inconvenience passengers might have experienced paled in comparison to the potential danger and chaos of a large protest.

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Bike Paths and Other Threats

I continue to be astounded at the hate and bile neighbors have for bike/ped pathway projects. For example, this letter to the Berkeley Planning Commission:

Our kindergarten and 1st grade classes are located…directly adjacent to proposed Segment 1. The youngest and most vulnerable students at our University Avenue campus, i.e., 4 to 6 year old children, will therefore have a front-row seat for, and be exposed to, all the activities and risks that can be expected to occur on.

The letter goes on:

Another major concern is that the current plan calls for paving the entire length and width of the path but does not call for the installation of any shade-providing vegetation. This will result in considerable radiant heating of the kindergarten and first-grade classrooms on the west side of the school. In the afternoons, this radiant heat will result in these classes becoming too hot to safely conduct lessons.

This was not from a random Nimby, but Mitch Bostian. Mr. Bostian is the Head Administrator of an Elementary School in Berkeley.

And what amazing luck for his school to be located directly on a rail-trail! Kids could walk/bike to school, avoiding the huge risks of car transport. But noooo, the trail will expose kids to child rapists and murders.

That is, if the sidewalk death rays don’t kill them first.

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Think of the Children

We live 3 blocks from the hospital where my son was born. Under hospital policy, walking our newborn home was too deemed dangerous and so we were required to drive him home in a car instead.

And if you think that is crazy, consider that many States do not permit parents to bring toddlers on bicycles either. Because, you know, cars and SUVs are sooo much safer.

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ITS != Bike Project

Intelligent Transportation Systems (now there’s a misnomer!) are computer and sensor systems for increasing the automobile throughput of intersections. They are much cheaper and less disruptive than expanding intersections.

But make no mistake, they are just another form of roadway expansion because they increase the capacity of a roadway. And yet in many cases ITS is described as a bike project:

“One of the main complaints we had from cyclists is they would get the green indication, and then start pedaling and then get halfway through the intersection and see it turn yellow and then red on them,” said Pleasanton traffic engineer Mike Tassano.

“I can think of quite a few times when I’ve been stuck in an intersection,” said cyclist Evan Haase.

Haase knows the problem all too well. So-called smart traffic lights seem just a little too dumb to notice a bicycle. Sometimes, they turn red too quickly. Other times, they never turn green.

But in Pleasanton all that has changed. They call it the Intersector and it looks like a big radar gun mounted next to a traffic light. It fires microwaves down into the intersection and when they bounce back, it can tell if it’s looking at a car, a pedestrian, or even a bicycle.

“Once it does, it can then tell the traffic controller there’s a bicycle here and provide the extra time it needs to get across the intersection,” said Tassano.

On a computer screen, there are black numbers for cars and a blue box is put around the number if it is a bike. The computer will give that bike an extra 10 seconds to cross the intersection and if there’s no bike, the computer speeds up the traffic lights to get more cars through.

Cyclists only require signals with sufficient greentime, something that can be accomplished for free by reprogramming the timer. If traffic engineers have a more sophisticated solution involving microwaves to speed things up for cars, that’s all well and good — but should bike/ped funding be paying for it?

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