Archive for November, 2013

Washington Metro is trying something new with its Silver Line extension. The suburban stations will not be surrounded by huge parking garages. Instead, the idea is to promote transit-oriented development, and more walking to the station. Quelle Horreur!

That decision has been cheered by “smart growth” advocates, but some residents are concerned that their streets will become de facto Metro parking lots. And some potential Silver Line riders — accustomed to driving to Metro stations to board their trains — wonder how they’ll get to the new rail line if they can’t drive.

“The reason places like Bethesda are popular is because you can drive and park,” said John Lucas, who lives about a mile from Tysons. “Now we have to get in the car and drive past two or three stations to get to where we can park. It’s going to be impossible. There are not alternate forms of transportation that are reliable.”

Mr. Lucas is so lazy he can’t walk 1 mile?



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San Jose has removed some buffered bike lane from Almaden. It had been supposedly striped as part of a road diet plan. But now the city is saying the lane was installed “in error“. John Brazil, San Jose Bike Planner, writes in an e-mail:

That one block of Almaden Blvd bike lanes south of Woz/Balbach was installed in error.

San Jose plans to provide a bikeway connection south under Hwy 280 via 2nd and 3rd Streets since they do not have a freeway interchange. Almaden Blvd at 280 does have a freeway interchange and one-way loop that is very challenging to bikes. In addition, adding bike lanes on Vine and Almaden south of Hwy 280 are not currently funded.

To avoid the Almaden/280 interchange, Almaden Blvd bicyclists will be able to use the Woz/Balbach/San Salvador bikeway (to be implemented this fiscal year) to planned bike lanes southward on 2nd and 3rd street under 280 (planned for next year). This will be a more bike friendly route without an interchange.”

Oh my, this is wrong for so many reasons. First of all, the lane reduction calmed traffic on Almaden. Putting extra car lanes back in won’t be good for neighbors, or for peds crossing the street. Second, there are places on Almaden that bicyclists might want to visit (hasn’t John Brazil heard of Routine Accommodation?). Third, the city will be removing an existing bike facility before the “replacement” is ready.

I’m also baffled by the description of the 280/Almaden interchange as being “challenging” for bikes. The one-way loop is actually an elegant design that has fewer turning conflicts.



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When California voters approved funding in 2008 for their high-speed rail project, one of the promises was that the trains would not be like Amtrak. So here we are 5 years later, and it is Amtrak developing the trains. This will be a joint procurement between California and Amtrak (for its Acela service).

Amtrak just released the Draft Trainset Spec that goes into the things like the interior layout. The (sort of) good news is that the spec does require bike accommodation. California trains will have bike storage for a minimum of 8 bikes per trainset. Those of you on the East Coast will be shit out of luck as the requirement only applies to CHSRA trains:

For the [CA HSR] Authority, a bicycle storage area shall be provided, and designed to accommodate a minimum of 8 bicycles per Trainset. A dedicated bicycle storage area shall be provided, thereby reducing inconvenience to passengers. Bicycle storage areas shall be separate from wheelchair spaces and shall not block or otherwise impede emergency egress and access.

Special attention shall be given to the ease with which bicycles can be placed in the bicycle racks. It is expected that the final design shall include guide rails to help steer the bicycle into the correct position with minimal effort. Bicycles shall be secured as low as possible and designs requiring the lifting of bicycles over fixed objects shall be avoided.

Suitable graphics shall be provided on the exterior of the Vehicle, identifying the doors to be used for bicycle access. Interior graphics shall also provide instructions for using the bicycle racks.

To put in perspective, the existing Amtrak San Joaquin and Capitol Corridor services permit 22 bikes per train. So 8 bikes per train isn’t great, but better than nothing.

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bike_saddleBack in the 1990’s Dr. Irwin Goldstein, a urologist, made his infamous statement: “there are only two kinds of male cyclists – those who are impotent and those who will be impotent.”

It started the myth that biking would cause your dick to fall off.

There was absolutely no basis in the claim whatsoever. But like all zombie myths, it doesn’t go away. The NY Times, for example, has published a gazillion scaremongering articles. And it isn’t hard to see why journalists would run with such a story. Biking is a healthy activity, so nobody would expect it would cause impotence or bone loss.

Regrettably, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) got into the act. The agency, which protects workplace safety, issued official recommendations on bike saddles:

Over the last several years, NIOSH researchers have investigated the potential health effects of prolonged bicycling in police bicycle patrol units, including the possibility that some bicycle saddles exert excessive pressure on the urogenital area of cyclists, restricting blood flow to the genitals, resulting in adverse effects on sexual function. NIOSH worked with several police departments with bicycle patrols to conduct reproductive health research. In these studies NIOSH did more than assess a problem; it also tested a solution and published recommendations.

It is one thing for crackpot researchers and journalists to be making these wild claims. But when the US government is publishing official brochures, that is a big problem. Bicycling is a healthy activity, and the NIOSH should be encouraging workers to ride bikes instead of motor vehicles. One also wonders whether this will expose employers to frivolous lawsuits for providing bikes with the “wrong” saddle design at jobsites.


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Academics Or Parking?

Colorado has made huge cuts to higher education funding. So what does the CSU Administration plan to do about that?

Answer: spend up to $93 million of on three new parking garages!

University officials say the development is not directly connected with the proposed on-campus football stadium a few blocks away, but acknowledge the additional parking would be useful on game days. They say the garages, with space for thousands of cars, would primarily serve the growing campus and the nearby MAX bus rapid-transit service.

A parking garage to serve a BRT stop? And it gets better…two of the garages will be situated in protected wetlands:

The $43 million Bay Farm garage project envisions twinned parking structures with a combined capacity of up to 2,400 cars. The garages would be built in the vacant fields behind the Hilton, in space opened up by this fall’s redesign of the city’s Spring Creek Trail.

Because the area is in a floodway, CSU is limited in what it can build there. Regulations generally bar buildings such as offices, shops or homes from being built in floodways, but parking garages are allowed.

That is one giant loophole which needs to be closed.


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FRA To Re-Visit Horn Rule

Here is some good news. Colorado Senators Udall and Bennet say the FRA will review its train horn rules:

Following months of pressure and numerous requests on behalf of Colorado communities, U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall welcomed the Federal Railroad Administration’s recent decision to review its train noise rules and consider how to cut red tape and make the required train-crossing upgrades more affordable for local taxpayers. The reassessment of the agency’s rules, noted at the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee’s Oct. 31 meeting, will give Colorado communities an important opportunity to weigh in as early as Spring 2014.

Bennet and Udall pressed the Federal Railroad Administration in a recent letter to reopen its rules and give Colorado communities the flexibility they need to confront train noise — which can hurt businesses and residents near crossings — and protect public safety.

“The FRA’s decision to reevaluate their regulations on train horns is encouraging news to local communities. This step demonstrates some Colorado common sense, balancing safety concerns with the desire to revitalize urban areas, promote economic growth, and generally have reasonable peace and quiet,” Bennet said. “We look forward to continuing to work with federal and local officials to develop a responsible solution that will better support these communities.”

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Fort Collins Attempts Quiet Zone Waiver

Fort Collins is one of those old railroad towns where they still have street-running trains. This never used to be a problem, until the FRA horn-rule went into effect — and the horns became louder and more frequent. Because the track runs through the middle of town, any Quiet-Zone implementation would be costly and disruptive. A number of cross-streets would have to be closed, to the detriment of nearby businesses. So the city is going to attempt a waiver:

The city for years has been studying whether it could and should create a “quiet zone” along the Mason Corridor by making a series of intersection changes, including much larger crossing gates. But installing those safety measures would cost about $5 million and make it much harder to get around Old Town.

Now, the city is trying something different.

Instead of closing off some intersections and significantly rebuilding others, the city has decided to ask federal officials for a waiver from the horn rule. The city plans to tell federal officials it will make some smaller intersection changes and offer up other safety solutions. City officials believe they can make the case that because Mason is so unusual, Fort Collins deserves special dispensation. City, railroad and federal officials say Fort Collins is unique because the BNSF Railway tracks run down the center of a city street.

We will see what happens, but the FRA has been rigid in its application of the rule. Even in cases like Fort Collins where the trains travel at very slow speeds.


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Hispanics make up half the population of California’s Central Valley. Los Angeles has 5 million Hispanics (9% of the nation’s population). And 23% of the Bay Area population is Hispanic. So why does Amtrak California struggle to attract Hispanic riders? Hispanic ridership on the San Joaquin service is only 20%.

Larry Miller, who served on the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee, says there are several reasons. First of all, Amtrak has not done much marketing of its services in Spanish. He notes a recent “Companions Ride Free” promotion that had coupons printed only in English:

When I asked about the Spanish versions with coupons in Spanish, we were told that they had only printed these in English. At this point my elected counterpart, Fresno County Supervisor Judy Case, became upset, reminding them that roughly 70% of her constituents were Hispanic.

But the really big problem is the TSA, and the legally-required ID checks:

Amtrak complies with Homeland Security laws, instituted in the wake of 9-11, requiring riders to show government-issued photo identification — very much as airlines do. Amtrak diligently informs ticker buyers of this requirement, even though it intimidates prospective riders who are not legal residents and offends sympathetic friends and family who are legal residents.

This is yet another way that TSA security policies actually make us less safe. By discouraging train travel, it results in more car trips — and more road accidents. Larry Miller hopes that California’s new non-resident driver’s license law will help attract more Hispanic riders. That seems implausible. Travelers afraid of getting deported aren’t going to submit travel plans to a government-run train service. Not when they hear news stories of VIPR and ICE patrols on buses and trains.


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Measure Once, Cut Twice

As the old saying goes, “Measure twice, cut once.” For the new Miami train station under construction, they did the opposite: Measure once, cut twice:

FDOT engineers and consultants blame Amtrak, the federal passenger rail agency, for the design mistake, which means that platforms at the new station will be as much as 200 feet too short to accommodate some of the long trains the service sometimes uses on its Miami routes. Amtrak runs those long trains to Miami up to twice a day during the winter tourism season.

FDOT says Amtrak failed to tell the agency of those longer trains and raised no issues with platform length during extensive design-plan reviews that preceded the start of construction in May 2011 — something Amtrak denies.

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Loud Enough To Wake The Dead

Homeowners are still suffering noise pollution along the NJ Transit RiverLINE. The problem is the FRA’s insane horn blaring rule:

On weekdays, 91 River Line trains sweep north and south between Camden and Trenton, starting about 5:45 a.m. and ending about 10 p.m., when the commuter trains make their final runs.

But peace does not descend on these river towns, even then.

In Pennsauken, Palmyra, Cinnaminson, Delran, Riverside, Delanco, Edgewater Park, and Bordentown, residents living close to the tracks are shaking fists at an unknown Conrail engineer whose long, loud horn-blasts in the wee hours sound “hostile,” they say, and even “spiteful.”

It should be a policy goal to encourage people to live near train stations, not drive them away:

“You can’t have a conversation” when the horns sound, said the wife, who gave her name as Nancy. “And that guy on the freight train is so obnoxious,” she added.

She pointed to a vacant two-story white clapboard house across Woodlane Road, adjacent to the grade crossing. The owner, a widow, “just walked away from it” several years ago, she said, because she couldn’t sell it.

“What good is a house,” she asked, “if you can’t enjoy it?”

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