Archive for October, 2013

Amtrak ADA Fail

The National Disability Rights network has published a report on Amtrak’s accessibility problems. No surprise, the biggest issue is the lack of level-platform boarding:

For decades, Amtrak has stalled and made excuses for its failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Some of the justifications have included: 1) that level boarding is difficult to achieve 2) that it often does not own the stations that it serves and therefore only has a shared obligation to make them accessible; and 3) that it lacks federal funding necessary to make the stations and trains accessible.

Although there may be some challenges to obtaining full accessibility, these are obstacles that Amtrak has had more than two decades to overcome. In fact, Congress recognized these difficulties and that is why Amtrak ended up getting the 20 year compliance extension, the longest of any public service. Amtrak needs to stop making excuses and do the work necessary to come into compliance.

Level-boarding is possible and enhances station usability for everyone.

The problem isn’t a lack of funds. Amtrak received considerable stimulus funding for station renovations, but did little to improve accessibility. The report recommends that Congress include strict accessibility requirements in the next Amtrak re-authorization. I would go further, and recommend that any rail system receiving Federal funds has to comply with accessibility requirements — no exceptions!

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It has gotten to the point that a dude can’t get laid without having his bike stolen.

In all seriousness, Oakland Measure DD has certainly made the Lake a nice place to walk and bike.

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Pittsburgh Update

A plan to re-route buses out of downtown is put on hold. And the story gets a little weirder:

A project to reroute buses in Downtown Pittsburgh, moving them away from the center of town, goes back to March 2012, when the Port Authority quietly amended a contract to include a study of how that might be done.

The agreement with consulting company Parsons Brinckerhoff was amended without being brought to the authority’s board of directors for a public vote. The amendment set forth a detailed plan for analyzing how routes might be realigned, and it created a steering committee of Port Authority, local government and business interests to guide the work.

The original contract was for planning a BRT route. Developing a comprehensive realignment plan as part of a BRT is not necessarily a bad idea. But the lack of transparency is a bad idea:

Pittsburghers for Public Transit have grave concerns about a recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story titled, “Proposal will make Downtown Pittsburgh core totally bus-free: Overcrowding at bus stops frustrates business owners.”  Precedence should not be given to the few businesses that have called for removal of bus stops in front of their establishments, when the greater good of the entire community should be our first public priority. We urge our elected officials and policy planners to invite all major stakeholders to the planning table.

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The FTA has begun rulemaking on crashworthiness standards for transit vehicles. The rule will set forth a one-size-fits-all Federal standard for transit vehicles, in the same manner as the FRA did for intercity rail. However, the FTA insists that it will not repeat the mistakes of the FRA:

Congress stated in the report accompanying the Public Transportation Act of 2010, that they did not intend for FTA to replicate the FRA regulatory model, with highly specific and prescriptive regulations related to public transportation safety. Thus, many of the existing standards that apply to vehicles within FRA’s jurisdiction would not meet the MAP–21 requirement that FTA create minimum safety performance standards for vehicles.

The problem is that Congress also directed the FTA to incorporate recommendations from the NTSB and APTA. Those groups made recommendations consistent with an FRA regulatory model (i.e. specifications for crash posts, crumple zones, etc).

So the FTA has conflicting requirements, but at least they are aware of this:

FTA is aware of existing voluntary consensus based standards for transit vehicles put forward by organizations such as the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). However, FTA understands that many of the standards are prescriptive standards or design standards rather than performance standards. Prescriptive standards and design standards define exactly how to do something—like a recipe. Prescriptive standards and design standards allow little or no flexibility.

Let me suggest that if the FTA were to develop a uniform performance standard, it should have clear cost-benefit. The standards should not close off the US market from global manufacturers. And most importantly, standards should not impact the space available in railcars (or the size of doors) in order to accommodate huge crumple zones, or buff strength requirements.

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The USPS is destroying its entire run of “Just Move” stamps. The President’s Council on Fitness was concerned that postage stamps would encourage kids to go out and do handstands without helmets:

Three of the stamps in the fifteen stamp series raised safety concerns among sports figures on the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition. The stamps in question depicted children performing a cannonball dive, skateboarding without kneepads, and doing a headstand without a helmet. The unsafe depictions came to light after USPS Marketing chief Nagisa Manabe asked Michelle Obama to take part in a first day ceremony for the stamps.

Hopefully, the next iteration will include bicycling as an activity.


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Imagine if they had spent that money on a public transit system:

A recent article in the Financial Times suggests that 15% of America’s regional malls will fail in the next five years. “The mall’s 50-year reign as the ultimate shopping destination appears to be coming to an end,” claims a report by the CoStar Group, a real estate analysis firm.

Many are failing despite significant state subsidies. A local government report found that in the St Louis metro area alone, $4.6 billion has been spent in the last 20 years subsidizing chain stores and malls, which are seen as flagships of regional development. Despite that investment, jobs growth and taxable sales have remained flat in St Louis, and two-thirds of its local governments are in fiscal stress.

According to the article, not a single mall was built in the US between 2007 and 2012. And the latest mall project, New Jersey’s Xanadu, is failing despite $1 billion in subsidies.


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It can take more than a decade for a city to develop a good bus and bike network. And it can all be destroyed in a matter of days by a petrolhead Mayor.

Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson has decided to scrap all 24 of that city’s bus lanes on a “trial” basis. The decision came with hardly any debate or data. His reasons for doing so:

We have a commitment to reduce congestion and the harmful emissions associated with this and to keep the city moving, for the benefit of residents, commuters, visitors and businesses. Ultimately, the evidence we have indicates that bus lanes are not benefiting city as planned – either for buses or cars. This trial is about investigating this further so we can make an informed decision over whether the permanent removal of bus lanes will bring benefits to the city.

Bus lanes are one of the biggest sources of complaints for our highways team. We receive a huge number of objections from motorists who stray by mistake into bus lanes and are hit with a fine of at least £30. We know they are a source of frustration for many people in the city. We have listened – and we are taking action.

The decision will cost the city £700,000 annually in lost revenue. It comes at a time when the Mayor is threatening to close all parks and libraries due to ongoing budget problems.

Liverpool is the most unlikely of places to conduct this “trial”. It has a compact layout where one-third of people walk to work. There is a low rate of car ownership, and parking is expensive. There is an extensive public transit network, with 80 million annual bus passengers. The bus lanes double as bike lanes, so their removal will be devastating for bicyclists as well.


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People who ride buses are total losers, so the businesses in downtown Pittsburgh don’t want them hanging out in front of their properties:

Port Authority has begun working on a plan to remove buses and bus stops from the heart of Downtown Pittsburgh. The plan, backed by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and the city’s presumptive mayor-to-be, Bill Peduto, would relocate routes and stops toward the edges of the Golden Triangle, creating what Mr. Fitzgerald called “a zone in the core of Downtown that is bus-free.”

Mr. Fitzgerald said Downtown building and business owners have been pushing for relocation of bus routes and stops for years to ease traffic congestion and eliminate crowding on sidewalks in front of their buildings. “It’s not just the buses, it’s the bus stops” that are perceived as a problem, he said.

The proposal has broad support in the Downtown business community and is backed by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership and Allegheny Conference on Community Development, Mr. Fitzgerald said.

Public transit has a 38.4% mode share in downtown Pittsburgh. That is pretty good for an American city. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

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You may be surprised to learn that the Roundabout Capital of America is Carmel, Indiana. It is a small town just north of Indianapolis:

The mayor, Jim Brainard, built the first roundabout in Carmel in 1997 after seeing them in Britain. Instead of a four-way intersection with traffic lights, a circular bit of road appeared. It was so successful that today Carmel is the roundabout capital of America, and the mayor plans to rip out all but one of his remaining 30 traffic lights.

One of their main attractions, says Mayor Brainard, is safety. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an independent research group, estimates that converting intersections with traffic lights to roundabouts reduces all crashes by 37% and crashes that involve an injury by 75%. At traffic lights the most common accidents are faster, right-angled collisions. These crashes are eliminated with roundabouts because vehicles travel more slowly and in the same direction. The most common accident is a sideswipe, generally no more than a cosmetic annoyance.

What locals like, though, is that it is on average far quicker to traverse a series of roundabouts than a similar number of stop lights. Indeed, one national study of ten intersections that could have been turned into roundabouts found that vehicle delays would have been reduced by 62-74% (nationally saving 325,000 hours of motorists’ time annually). Moreover, because fewer vehicles had to wait for traffic lights, 235,000 gallons of fuel could have been saved.

You can read more on the city’s webpage.


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