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The NTSB has taken the highly unusual step of actually investigating a bicycle crash:

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the Kalamazoo bicycle crash that killed five people and injured four.

Officials with the NTSB confirmed Friday the agency is investigating the crash, and said its team already is in Kalamazoo.

NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said the team will look at all aspects of the incident, including how it happened and how the truck hit the bicyclists. He said the team will reconstruct the crash and find out if there are any safety issues that could be improved, from the vehicles involved to the road.

Weiss said the NTSB is investigating because the agency has taken an interest in the case, and not at the request of local authorities.

“This is such a singular event that we wanted to look at the issues behind it,” said Weiss, who acknowledged it’s unusual for the NTSB to investigate crashes involving bicycles.

A jury has just award $9.5 million in damages to the family of a man struck and killed in a crosswalk on El Camino:

Caltrans was aware of studies discouraging the marking of crosswalks in busy uncontrolled intersections and was aware of accidents elsewhere along El Camino. But Caltrans refuses to remedy any particular crosswalk until someone has been killed or injured in that location.

This was not the only lawsuit over the lack of pedestrian safety on El Camino. A court awarded $8 million to the family of Emily Liou, a 17-year-old who was struck in a crosswalk on El Camino in Millbrae.

El Camino is notorious for having a large number pedestrian fatalities and injuries. So if this keeps up, it is going to get prohibitively expensive for Caltrans to continue its inaction on ped safety.

San Jose has a $1 billion backlog in street maintenance, and the police department is understaffed. Despite all that, the city tried purchasing a parking garage in order to give away some free parking to Safeway customers:

One of those properties is the 330-slot garage that the Safeway customers use at 88 E. San Fernando Street. The city of San Jose bid $850,000 to buy the garage last year.

Citing state guidelines for the dissolution of redevelopment property, the oversight board rejected the city’s offer, challenging the city’s method of appraising the property. Earlier this year, the board accepted the garage sale to a private operator, MVP REIT Inc., which paid $3.575 million. At that price, the new owners needed to charge more for parking.

Quelle horreur! Charging market-rate pricing for parking — a whopping $4/hr. And for those who can’t afford that, there is a light-rail stop across the street, and the (free!) bike racks.

safeway_sj

 

 

 

Bulb-outs, while useful in most cases, do have a number of drawbacks. They are very expensive to build, and often cause conflicts for bike lanes. It is much better to do these projects as full-blown Protected Intersections — which as it turns out can be much cheaper:

In 2010, Berkeley received a Safe Routes to School grant to add pedestrian bulb outs at this busy intersection. Hundreds of students cross this section everyday, which connects the North Berkeley Branch Library with neighboring parks and schools. Bulb outs shorten crossing distances for walking and place pedestrians where they are more visible to drivers. However, because bulb outs cause water to drain differently on the street, they are costlier to design.

When the project was delayed due to engineering staff constraints, Caltrans threatened to rescind the grant to fix the intersection. To their credit, Berkeley staff jumped into action. They quickly figured that the drainage design challenges are minimized by moving the bulb outs into the street. This move allowed them to maintain existing curb lines and drainage. Then, by moving the bike lane behind the bulb outs – abracadabra! – Berkeley created a protected intersection.

All bulb-out projects should be done this way.

berkeley_protected_inter

 

The SMART Board has decided on a fare structure, and voters are having sticker shock over the high ticket prices:

Critics say the fares are too expensive and won’t entice the North Bay commuters who drive solo — SMART’s primary targeted customer base. Some also argue the charges are an affront to the financial sacrifices taxpayers in the two counties have made, and will continue to make, through the quarter-cent sales tax that supports the rail line through at least 2029.

We failed miserably,” said SMART director Shirlee Zane, who joined fellow Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt in voting against the approved fares. “What we’ve done, in effect — and I want to be clear, I didn’t vote for this — by approving these very high fares, the public has said, ‘We’ve been paying for this train for eight years. It’s public transportation, and now you’re going to turn around and charge us these really outrageous fares?’ ”

SMART director Zane should know better. She was on the Board when it approved the purchase of FRA-compliant DMU’s. These heavy DMU’s are more expensive to operate compared to light-weight DMU’s. The SMART Board had even done a study which quantified the extra expense. It was inevitable that the inefficient DMU’s would require higher fares. Even worse, though, is that they can only afford to run trains during commute hours. There will be just a single midday run, and no weekend service only 6 weekend round-trips.

There is virtually no other transit operation using heavy DMU’s, which really tells you something. California’s two other DMU systems, eBART and the San Diego Sprinter, both use lightweight European DMU’s.  Indeed, it is instructive to compare performance metrics of SMART vs. NCTD Sprinter:

sprinter_smart3

(Click chart to enlarge)

One note about the data: Whereas NCTD provides extensive budget and operations data, it is difficult to obtain any numbers from SMART. Some metrics were calculated based on newspaper reports, so any clarifications/corrections are welcome.

Bank of KDOT

Gov. Sam Brownback is now having to use KDOT highway funds to keep Kansas solvent:

In order to keep funding its government despite dramatically decreased tax revenue, the Legislature has flipped all its piggy banks. One of them is the Kansas Department of Transportation—or what sarcastic Kansans now call “the Bank of KDOT,” for the stupendous quantity of money that has been diverted from its coffers to the Kansas general fund and state agencies.

Kneecapping the agency that builds roads isn’t just a great metaphor for Gov. Sam Brownback’s tenure. Like the cut to the state’s university funding, this damage will be most keenly felt years from now, when deferred maintenance and high debt loads take their toll. An ex-head of the Kansas Turnpike Authority said in December that the practice had created a “long-term disaster for our state highways.”

On Wednesday, Brownback announced that Mike King, the secretary of KDOT, would be resigning this month. King, who was appointed in 2012, has presided over a rather unusual period in Topeka finance.

Since 2011, according to the Kansas City Star, the state has diverted more than $1 billion in “extraordinary” transfers from KDOT. If you include “routine” transfers, from 2011 through the 2017 budget year the total diversion from the Bank of KDOT will amount to more than $2 billion.

There may be a silver lining to this fiasco if it stimulates debate over how much road infrastructure Kansas requires. Kansas, I was stunned to learn, has the nation’s 4th largest road network! Hopefully, Brownback will be successful in permanently cutting back the KDOT budget.

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