Archive for November, 2009

Amtrak Capitol Corridor is patting itself on the back for 50% reduction in diesel exhaust.

From the outside, blue and silver Locomotive No. 2015 doesn’t look much different from the half-dozen other Amtrak engines that shuttle commuters between San Jose and Sacramento every day.

But the train is noteworthy for what you can’t see: a nearly 50 percent reduction in diesel exhaust.

Locomotive No. 2015, built in 2001, was retrofitted with high-tech power assemblies, water pumps and radiators designed to slash emissions by up to 50 percent. The project, unveiled at the Amtrak station in West Oakland on Tuesday morning, cost $826,000 and was paid for by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the Sacramento Metro Air Quality Management District and the EPA.

The reason Amtrak locomotives are so polluting isn’t just the lack of clean diesel technology, but the extremely bad fuel economy as result of FRA “safety” regulations. Compared to modern European DMU rolling stock, the Capitol Corridor consumes twice as much fuel. It is literally an SUV on rails.

Back in 1998, LS Transit Systems did a performance study, comparing Caltrain operations to (what was then) modern European DMU. Caltrain (which has very similar equipment and performance characteristics as Capitol Corridor) compared very poorly. A 4-car (560-seat) Caltrain uses 2.23 gallons of fuel per vehicle mile. By comparison, 3 coupled European DMU’s would need 0.99 gallons per vehicle mile. The difference in fuel efficiency is due almost entirely to huge weight penalty of FRA “safety” regulations.

With better power-weight ratio, the European DMUs offer much better braking and acceleration performance, which reduces dwell time at stations. This helps make train travel more time-competitive against the automobile.

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Eminent Domain FAIL

Back in 2005, residents of New London, Conn. fought a famous eminent domain lawsuit all the way to the Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, they lost that battle. The court ruled that cities could seize homes of citizens purely for the benefit of a large real estate developer. That ruling spurred numerous eminent domain bills in State legislatures all over the United States.

So what ever became of the “urban village” planners intended to build on the property?

Pfizer to Leave City That Won Land-Use Case

From the edge of the Thames River in New London, Conn., Michael Cristofaro surveyed the empty acres where his parents’ neighborhood had stood, before it became the crux of an epic battle over eminent domain.

“Look what they did,” Mr. Cristofaro said on Thursday. “They stole our home for economic development. It was all for Pfizer, and now they get up and walk away.”

That sentiment has been echoing around New London since Monday, when Pfizer, the giant drug company, announced it would leave the city just eight years after its arrival led to a debate about urban redevelopment that rumbled through the United States Supreme Court, and reset the boundaries for governments to seize private land for commercial use.

Pfizer said it would pull 1,400 jobs out of New London within two years and move most of them a few miles away to a campus it owns in Groton, Conn., as a cost-cutting measure. It would leave behind the city’s biggest office complex and an adjacent swath of barren land that was cleared of dozens of homes to make room for a hotel, stores and condominiums that were never built.

In the long run, the city may be better off with barren patch of land, a monument to eminent domain folly. Like most Master-Planned “Communities”, the complex of shops and condos the city had intended to build looked to be utterly hideous.

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The 2009 Washington Metro collision, which killed 9 and injured, is an example of what Dr. John Adams calls a low-frequency, high-impact event.

These types of events provoke over-response from political leaders to “do something”. Their counter-productive solution to the “problem” always fails even the most minimal cost-benefit analysis.

The Obama administration will propose that the federal government take over safety regulation of the nation’s subway and light-rail systems, responding to what it says is haphazard and ineffective oversight by state agencies. The proposal would affect every subway and light-rail system in the country, including large systems in Washington, New York, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“After the [Metro] train crash, we were all sitting around here scratching our heads, saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got to do something about this,’ ” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in an interview.

Certainly, there was no doubt that the Washington Metro accident was entirely preventable. Engineers had known for decades that the automatic train control system was faulty. Metro’s grossly incompetent managers failed in their basic duty to protect public safety, even in the face of numerous warnings about flaws in the system.

But just because a single transit agency in the US had ongoing management lapses, does that mean the best solution requires Federal takeover of all safety functions in all transit districts in all 50 states? Is that even feasible, or desirable?

Under the administration’s plan, states would be allowed to maintain oversight of their transit systems as long as they could demonstrate that they have enough fully-trained staff members to enforce federal safety rules.

This plan is similar to how the FRA currently functions; i.e. as classic example of unfunded Federal mandate.

The FTA bureaucrat gets to invent “safety” rule, and the transit agencies are forced to implement — regardless of whether the rule makes sense for a particular operation. The FTA only pays for the safety inspector, and not the costs to purchase new equipment to comply with any screwy new rule.

For older systems using lots of legacy equipment (like New York or San Francisco) it would necessitate billions in new costs with negligible benefit. Imagine having to retrofit a rooftop emergency portal into a cable car. Or replacing 30-year-old NYC subway cars because it does not have FTA-compliant anti-climber attachments.

Given their historic hostility to public transit, how odd to see Republicans on the right side of the issue:

Representative John L. Mica of Florida, the senior Republican on the committee, said he would prefer to see tougher state regulations and more federal financing to help states enforce them. He noted that transit systems vary enormously in size and operations and he questioned whether a single federal agency could or should supervise all of them.

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Speed SignThis is really unprecedented. Caltrans is implementing traffic calming on the Bay Bridge “S-curve” to control speeding.

Caltrans, working together with the CHP has decided to slow traffic down across the new S-curve on the Bay Bridge, by closing one to two lanes of the Bay Bridge’s upper and lower decks during off-peak hours.

Traffic engineering practice in the US is to build roadways wide enough to accommodate peak-hour LOS (level-of-service). The result is that during off-peak hours (which is much of the day in many locations), highways are grossly overbuilt, leading to speeding and dangerous passing.

A relatively simple safety solution is to close off superfluous lanes during off-peak hours, so as to moderate speeds and reduce accidents. This also provides much safer environment for cyclists and pedestrians.

If it can work on the Bay Bridge, it can work anywhere.

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In California, almost anyone can get a commercial trucking license:

Tahir Sheikh Fakhar, 56, was killed when his truck went over the northern side of the S-curve at 3:30 a.m. Monday and plunged 200 feet to Yerba Buena Island.

Court documents show one citation on Fakhar’s driving record, a 1994 ticket issued in Fresno for driving a big rig faster than 55 mph. Department of Motor Vehicles officials say their records also show that Fakhar was in a wreck Sept. 25, 2008, in Stockton, in which he was found to be most at fault. Stockton police and the CHP did not have details Tuesday.

Fakhar had a valid commercial license as well as a hazardous materials permit.


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China Car Production Surpasses US

China is on track to becoming the world’s largest automobile manufacturer.

On the morning of October 20, Changchun, the city of vehicles, was the scene of jubilation when China’s 10 millionth vehicle, a golden orange Jiefang J6 heavy-duty truck, came off the production line at First Automobile Works (FAW) Group Corp. This makes China the third country in the world to annually produce 10 million vehicles, following only the U.S. and Japan. Zhang Dejiang, member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and vice premier of the State Council, sent a congratulatory letter.

By year’s end, China is expected to produce over 13 million vehicles — versus 10.5 million in the US. Just 3 years ago, US auto production stood at around 16 million vehicles per year.

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The link between obesity and the built-environment is well-established. Auto-centric, suburban-style development greatly reduces walking and cycling rates, while increasing waist lines.

The consequences of this obesity epidemic in the US will be catastrophic. The incidence of diabetes and heart disease, even among young people, is extraordinary.

It may also be turning us into a nation of morons:

Obesity may increase adults’ risk for having dementia, according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Their analysis of published obesity and dementia prospective follow-up studies over the past two decades shows a consistent relationship between the two diseases. Obesity increases the risk of dementia in general by 42 percent, Alzheimer’s by 80 percent and vascular dementia by 73 percent, the new review suggests.

The medical finding reminds one of this famous line from the film Repo Man….

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BART has released its Draft EIR for a proposed Livermore extension.

  • Projected Cost: $1.1-$3.9 billion BART bucks 1
  • Projected Ridership: 20-30k new BART riders (2035 projection)

For 2008, Caltrans reports traffic volume on I580 is approximately 220k vehicles per day. 25 years from now, the volumes will be considerably greater.

Conclusion: the BART extension would capture negligible 10% mode share.

The majority of I580 traffic is regional, originating from points well beyond Livermore (Tracy and the greater Central Valley). The extension of BART tracks a mere 10 miles Eastward is not going to attract many customers in the corridor.

So once again, we see how plans by CHSRA to route high-speed rail through Pacheco instead of Altamont will utterly screw traffic in the East Bay for the next quarter century.


1Conversion from BART Bucks to US currency varies from project to project, but is typically in the range of +50%.

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In case you thought America had a monopoly on giant urban expressway interchanges, then see what the Japanese have been up to.

These surreal photos are by Ken Ohyama.

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MADB – Sacramento

Sacramento has joined Santa Rosa in the War Against Drunk Cyclists.

CHP officers last week charged seven bicyclists with riding under the influence during a one-night crackdown in Sacramento.

CHP has received State and Federal grants for this program targeting the Drunk Cyclist Menace.

How serious a problem is this?

When asked whether this was an effective use of police time, Quintero says absolutely.

“You can have severe injuries and or death when you have bicyclists” collide with cars, he says. “When we get these individuals off the streets, we’re also protecting the community.

For police departments looking to ramp up DUI arrest numbers, bicyclists are an easy target. Police know that anyone leaving a bar at 2am on a bicycle is somebody who probably just had his driver’s license suspended for DUI.

In California, the law does not distinguish between bikes and cars. Even though a bicycle weighs thousands of pounds less than an automobile, the violator will still have to pay thousands in court costs to local and State government — making this program a nice revenue generator.

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