Archive for May, 2012

You may remember Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas. He got international headlines for solving the problem of cars parking in the bike lane by running over them with a tank. His contribution has been recognized with the award of the 2011 Ig Nobel Peace Prize.

Highway engineers may also be interested to learn that John Senders of the University of Toronto won the Public Safety Prize for “conducting a series of safety experiments in which a person drives an automobile on a major highway while a visor repeatedly flaps down over his face, blinding him.”

There is a hilarious youtube video of the visor experiment. It is like that scene in Star Wars where Luke learns to use a light saber while wearing a blast helmet, only in this case it is a driver operating a motor vehicle.

Congratulations to both winners!

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The Rod Diridon Quote of the Day

For once I have to agree with Rod Diridon:

The South Bay’s Rod Diridon, who helped recruit Morales as a project board member two years ago, said Morales is a good fit now that the project is more “political than technical.”

Like other mega-projects, CHSRA decisionmaking is all political.

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Drunk Engineers

I’ve done some of my best work after slamming back a few. So I really don’t see what the problem is:

After reviewing our video, WSDOT Project Director Mike Cotten told me he doesn’t believe it shows any state workers drinking but he is concerned. Cotten says normally WSDOT and private contractors don’t share office space, but that it makes sense because of the complexity of the 520 project. But that raises another questions about people working on this complex project while drinking alcohol.

We asked if there a concern that complicated calculations might be done by people working under the influence? Cotten replied, “I think that’s something that we need to take a look at.”


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Cost of a New BART Railcar

With the custom rolling stock and 60% Buy-America requirement, BART’s purchase price for new rolling stock was a bit of a surprise. Bombardier’s winning bid was just $2.2 million per car. That is considerably less than the original estimate of over $3 million.

Ok 70% more expensive than a New York subway car, but this is BART after all…

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Here is Carmageddon as envisioned in a General Motors commercial (or should I say Truckmageddon?). GM, which spent $4.5 billion on advertising last year, depicts gas-guzzling trucks as the only vehicle to survive the (oil) apocalypse.

In reality, the only functional transport will be the bicycle. Though GM seems to believe otherwise: the commercial opens with a shot a crushed bicycle.

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Well, LA Times reporter Ralph Vartabedian is at it again.

Last month he triggered a false alarm over high-speed rail operating costs. Now he has made new allegations over the “aggressive” construction schedule:

If California starts building a 130-mile segment of high-speed rail late this year as planned, it will enter into a risky race against a deadline set up under federal law. The bullet train track through the Central Valley would cost $6 billion and have to be completed by September 2017, or else potentially lose some of its federal funding. It would mean spending as much as $3.5 million every calendar day, holidays and weekends included — the fastest rate of transportation construction known in U.S. history, according to industry and academic experts.

This is nonsense. Compare to the recently completed TGV-Est line in France. It took the French 5 years to complete a 190-mile project. And that was the whole enchilada, including electrification and signalling. Here we are talking about 4 years to do the track-only portion of a 130-mile project.

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The Sierra Club website says all the right things about livable communities, but try telling that to the local Berkeley Chapter. For over a decade, the Berkeley Chapter (Northern Alameda Group) has opposed everything from bike lanes to infill development. The group even endorsed two BRT opponents for Berkeley City Council.

And now comes the West Berkeley Plan. It envisions mixed-use development, taking advantage of two AC Transit trunk lines. Again, the Sierra Club is against:

“To minimize conflict, to protect inhabitants from noise, odors and pollutants, and to retain and attract recycling/reuse activities, green collar and manufacturing jobs, residential development should not be permitted in the industrial zones of West Berkeley,” said Igor Tregub, speaking on behalf of the Sierra Club.

But proponents of the plan say detractors are creating a smoke screen that is obscuring reality. Housing and industry have coexisted in West Berkeley for decades. “If you look at how West Berkeley was created way back, it was all about housing next to industry, but it was smoke stack industry,” said Michael Goldin, a developer whose home and business, Swerve, is on Seventh Street. “It’s what the neighborhood has been since its inception.” Goldin thinks that the plan’s detractors are the same people who predicted a terrible outcome if Berkeley Bowl West was built. And those predictions proved wrong, he said. There is ample parking and the grocery store has become an integral part of the community.

These West Berkeley parcels are situated along the Bay waterfront. What kind of environmental group proposes using valuable waterfront property for polluting industry?

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The High Cost of Buy-America

The FRA is soliciting bids for a $551 million contract for 130 bi-level railcars. As a condition for the contract, the railcars must be manufactured entirely with American steel and components. If you do the math, that comes to 4.2 million dollars each — double the global market price for a bi-level car.

In other words, the FRA is pissing away a quarter billion dollars. Imagine all the projects that might have been done with $250 million. Imagine all the jobs that might have been created with that money. I’m talking real jobs — not bureaucrats enforcing Made-in-America rules. Jobs like installing new PTC signaling, repairing bridges, or expanding the transit network. You know, things that have tangible benefit to riders.

The really crazy thing is that there is a glut in the passenger railcar market. The last thing needed is yet another product (a hopelessly primitive one at that). And since few operators besides Amtrak will be interested in this railcar, a lot of design and development will just go to waste. And yet, the Commerce Dept. has delusions of making industrial policy:

And this morning, at the Next Generation Rail Supply Chain Forum in Kansas City, Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo spoke about the importance of bringing rail equipment manufacturers and suppliers together so we can make these parts in America, too–helping support even more American jobs. The forum was held by the NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), a Department of Commerce partnership with DOT to help develop a robust domestic supply base to support our nation’s transportation infrastructure. It was a terrific opportunity to connect manufacturers of passenger rail and locomotives with potential suppliers so we can foster an all-American rail supply chain that produces quality goods and puts our friends and neighbors back to work.

Sorry, but the domestic passenger rail manufacturing is gone. And subsidizing obsolete FRA-compliant rolling stock isn’t the way to re-vitalize it.

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Mystery Solved

Mystery solved.

As you may recall, William Grindley, World Bank “expert” and Penninsula NIMBY, issued a scathing report claiming California’s high-speed rail would require large operating subsidies.  The basis for his claim was a paper published by Spanish Banking Group BBVA , which included a table showing operating costs as high as $.40 per passenger mile.

The BBVA data made no sense whatsoever, and someone at the CHSRA tracked down the error:

Rail board member Mike Rossi told a legislative hearing this week that incorrect data undergirds a downbeat analysis of the bullet train’s finances published recently by four Peninsula-based financial experts.

The errors concerned operating costs for European bullet trains, Rossi contended. “The problem is, they picked up the wrong numbers,” Rossi told members of the Assembly Transportation Committee. “The numbers they are showing for operating expenses are actually capital acquisition costs, so the data … just isn’t right.”

The World Bank is notorious for funding  megaprojects of little of benefit, except to the multinationals that build them. Their dam projects have caused immense ecological damage and displaced villagers. Their highway construction schemes are exporting American-style sprawl to the developing world. Now granted, I have no idea what Grindley did for the World Bank, but as a general rule of thumb: when a World Bank Executive gives “expert” advice on transportation infrastructure, best thing to do is Run Away!

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Toronto’s Lunatic Mayor

We are so fortunate in America not to have to deal with angry right-wing lunatics:

Moments after my phone died, the Mayor appeared, wearing a white campaign t-shirt, at the sole entrance and exit to the parcel of property; he had walked around from the front of his house. He appeared extremely agitated.

“Hey buddy,” he yelled. “What are you doing? Are you spying on me? Are you spying on me? Are you spying on me?”

I shouted, astonished, that I was not – that I was writing about his attempt to buy TRCA land. He began to approach me at a brisk walk, asking again, at an escalating volume, if I was spying. I continued to plead that I was writing about the land.

At some point, perhaps 10 or 15 seconds into the encounter, he cocked his fist near his head and began charging at me at a full run. I began pleading with him, as loud as I could, with my hands up, for him to stop. I yelled, at the top of my lungs, something like, “Mayor Ford, I’m writing about the land! I’m just looking at the land! You’re trying to buy the TRCA land!” Instinctually, I also reached into my pocket to grab my dead phone. I then fiddled with my voice recorder, trying fruitlessly to turn it on so that I would have a recording of any physical violence.

At some point, perhaps two metres away from me, the mayor did stop moving toward me, but his face remained menacing, and he continued to cock his fist and shake it. “Drop your phone!” he demanded, shouting louder than I have ever heard him. “Drop your phone! Drop your phone now!”

Every time I tried to sidestep him to escape, he moved with me and yelled at me again to drop my phone. I became more frightened than I can remember; after two or three attempts to dart away, I threw my phone and my recorder down on the grass, yelled that he could take them, and ran.


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