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On the list of “low-hanging fruit” for bike projects in Oakland, it is hard to top Joaquin Miller Rd. It is a popular cycling route for accessing parks in the Oakland hills. But the road is grossly overbuilt for the minuscule car traffic it carries — 4 travel lanes, plus parking, and a wide median. As a result, there is a huge amount of speeding. A speed survey found 90% of drivers exceeding the 35 mph speed limit (with 50 mph not uncommon).

A road diet was the obvious solution for reducing speeds and providing improved bike/ped facilities. And so here is the re-striping plan that Oakland’s professional planners came up with:

joaquin_miller

As you can see, the uphill side (shown on the left) retains the two travel lanes. This of course does nothing to slow the speeding. And then there is the mess on the right: they removed one of the travel lanes, but did not use the extra space to create a bike lane. Instead there is a weird median buffer, for what purpose I have no idea.

It is hard to overstate the incompetence shown here. The road is sufficiently wide for buffered bike lanes, or perhaps even parking-protected cycle-track on both sides of the street. Instead we got a useless median buffer. Uphill cyclists are especially vulnerable due to the huge speed differential. And pedestrians will still have to contend with crossing a multi-lane arterial with speeding traffic.

joaquin2

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As reported earlier, Nippon Sharyo has been struggling to complete the contract for new FRA-compliant bi-level trains for California. The project was becoming a fiasco, years late and in danger of being canceled altogether.

To salvage the project, it appears that Caltrans is now going with Plan B; i.e. purchase single-level railcars from Siemens instead:

The Midwest bi-level passenger railcar procurement (Contract No. 75A0362) of 130 bi-level passenger railcars is led by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) in joint agreement with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), which represents the Midwest Coalition.

In order to satisfy its obligations under the Contract, Sumitomo Corporation of America (SCOA), proposed to (1) substitute Siemens Industry, Inc. (Siemens) in place of Nippon Sharyo as SCOA’s prime subcontractor and railcar manufacturer, pursuant to Section SP7.2 of the Contract and (2) manufacture 130 single-level railcars in place of 130 bi-level railcars.

Caltrans/IDOT are reviewing SCOA’s proposal. By moving from bi-level to single level railcars, Caltrans/IDOT will reduce the delivery frame for the railcars from approximately 24-34 months for a single level railcar as opposed to 5 years for a bi-level railcar. In order to proceed, Caltrans/IDOT and SCOA will execute an amendment to the Contract which will accommodate the substitution of Siemens as the manufacturer of 130 single level railcars.

One complication is that the Siemens single-level cars are not low-floor vehicles, and California Amtrak routes have just 8″ platforms. So passengers will have to climb stairs to board, which can be difficult for those with limited mobility, heavy luggage, or bicycles.

 

The World Socialist Web Site is asking the same question I’ve been thinking about: why weren’t trains used to evacuate people from the path of hurricanes Irma and Harvey? The highways were really the only way out of Houston and South Florida, and highways are notoriously inefficient for moving large numbers of people. And that presumes access to a car, which a lot of people don’t have:

For millions, their only way to flee is by car. Gas shortages have spread across the state, and drivers confront extremely heavy traffic that burns through gas with little progress. From southern Florida, there is only Interstate 95 or Interstate 75 to head north, both of which have had extensive delays for days. On Friday, northbound delays covering hundreds of miles were visible on I-75 and I-95 even into Georgia and South Carolina.

This “fend for yourself” method of evacuation presents an enormous inequality, where working people must spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to head to safety, assuming they even have a car. As a retirement destination, Florida also has many residents over 65 years old. This includes residents in nursing care, or with physical or mental impairments, that make them unable to drive or fly.

Why haven’t passenger trains, which could carry a thousand people a time, been sent to Florida to help? Residents without money or the ability to travel by car or plane could be taken to designated points of shelter and food.

Prior to Hurricane Gustav in 2008, there was a small successful example of this, as some 2,000 residents of New Orleans were taken to Memphis, Tennessee on special trains. A worker who participated in the rail operation noted that “At least 50% of the passengers were elderly, many in wheelchairs, on walkers or canes and generally unable to move very well without some assistance.” On a return trip, many passengers brought more luggage, as they could buy essential supplies in Memphis that would have been out of stock or priced-gouged in New Orleans. With baggage cars and plenty of space, the train accommodated this for free—compared to an airline that would charge $50 per bag.

It should also be noted that car evacuations are quite dangerous due to car crashes. It is not unusual for hurricanes to cause as many casualties through car crashes (often hundreds of miles away) as the storm itself.

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Residents fleeing Hurricane Rita

 

BART has kicked-off its transit-village project at Walnut Creek. And as usual, it has a huge amount of parking. Might as well call it a parking-oriented village:

The first preliminary work begins Saturday in the “south permit lot,” where the new 900-stall BART parking garage will be built. It will stand next to the existing multilevel garage, which will remain in service. Ron Heckmann, a spokesman for the project, said the new structure will more than compensate for the loss of the south and north permit lots and the permit lot east of the station to residential and retail development, the net gain being about 100 stalls.

The new garage building is expected to open in late 2018, said Arthur, adding he hopes all the 596 apartments and ground-floor retail spaces will be finished in about five years. Parking for apartment residents and retail patrons will be provided in underground garages below those future buildings.

775 underground parking garage spaces will be built (at great expense) for the 596 apartments — in addition to the 900-stall parking garage.

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Without a hint of irony, the Sierra Club blog discovers the YIMBY movement, and efforts by millennials to build infill housing:

“If you can create a land-use configuration that will encourage people to take transit more often, to bike, and to walk, you’re really making an improvement as far as reducing congestion, reducing vehicle emissions, and reducing energy use,” says Andrew Goetz, a professor of geography and the environment at the University of Denver.

Such policies can lead to tension with those residents—often older, whiter, and more affluent—who don’t want the traffic, congestion, and other effects of urban density, such as shadows from high-rise buildings. The conflicts play out before zoning boards, city councils, and other public bodies where young YIMBYs turn out to support large housing projects. The NIMBYs who oppose them are often progressive, environmentally minded individuals who believe in climate action and recognize that sprawl is unsustainable; they just want to preserve the look and feel of the neighborhoods they call home.

Those “older, whiter, progressive, environmentally minded” NIMBY’s are literally the Sierra Club itself. The YIMBY movement began as a reaction to the old guard Sierra Club leadership who continually oppose infill projects. If the Sierra Club really wants to turn NIMBY’s into YIMBY’s, then step one is to admit the Club has a problem.

Three young men were out walking around 8pm in Ville Platte (La) when they were struck from behind by a truck. But rather than charge the truck driver, the three men were charged with misdemeanors for not wearing reflective clothing:

Police have fined the three for not wearing reflective clothing at night and charged them with obstructing a public passage. Twenty-one-year-old Deonte Williams, 19-year-old Cody Mayes and 17-year-old Tevin Wilson have scrapes, bruises and even staples after being hit by a truck on North Chataignier Street.

What the three find most upsetting is that the driver was not charged and they were.

“For me to find out that this guy gets to just go home, we all get some misdemeanors and nothing happened to him,” Williams explains. “I’m upset about it.”

The crash happened near a neighborhood around 8 p.m. Tuesday night. The area doesn’t have sidewalks.

That this happened in Ville Platte is no surprise. Ville Platte was recently investigated by the Federal DOJ for its practice of criminalizing walking and penalizing the poor. In 2011, the town passed a curfew prohibiting walking outside after 10pm. The curfew only applied to pedestrians. So while it was legal to drive to a nearby store or friend’s house, it was not possible to walk there. The penalty was $200 — or jail for those who couldn’t afford it. According to a complaint filed by the NAACP and ACLU, hundreds of residents were swept up each night for violating the curfew.

The DOJ investigation led to the city dropping the curfew, but other notorious laws remain. Besides the reflective clothing mandate, the Ville Platte fashion police will arrest anyone wearing baggy or sagging pants that fall “more than three inches below the hips causing exposure of the person or the person’s undergarments.”

 

During the Obama Administration, the FRA began work on a NEC Future plan that was to modernize and speedup the Northeast Corridor Acela service. One of the easiest bang-for-the-buck opportunities is along the Connecticut shore, where train speeds slow considerably. The FRA proposed an inland bypass option, which would have solved the problem. But now the local Nimby’s have succeeded in killing it off:

Bowing to local pressure, the Federal Railroad Administration has dropped plans for a controversial new rail line along the eastern Connecticut shore from its ambitious project to overhaul the railroad system in the Northeast corridor.

[The] FRA dropped plans to add new tracks from New Haven to Providence, preferring instead to focus on increased maintenance and repair of the existing rail line and allowing Connecticut and Rhode Island to work with the FRA and other states, including Massachusetts, on a “capacity study” that could include alternatives to the existing route.

This decision means that NYC-Boston travel times will probably never be made competitive. It should also be noted that political opposition came not so much from anti-rail Republicans, but from anti-rail Democrats — i.e. Connecticut Senator Blumenthal and Governor Malloy.

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Senator Blumenthal