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Archive for June, 2017

In 2012, Nippon Sharyo won a contract to build new bilevel railcars for California and the midwest. The railcars were supposed to have gone into use by now, but the project (predictably for the usual reasons) has suffered major setbacks. Last year, the carbody prototypes failed FRA crash standards, forcing designers back to the drawing board. There have been reportedly hundreds of change orders.

In January 2017, Caltrans was supposed to present an update for the “next-generation” bi-level cars at a TRB conference. That presentation was abruptly canceled.  Steven Keck, CalTrans’ interim chief for rail, gave a cryptic explanation that no further information could be given due to ongoing negotiations over the schedule delays. Last month, Nippon Sharyo announced major layoffs at its plant, due to ongoing difficulties with the project:

Nippon Sharyo is cutting its workforce by about 110 employees because of continued complications with a prototype rail car, the company announced Monday. The rail-car manufacturer has laid off nearly two-thirds of its workforce in the past 5 months: It dropped 100 of its 350 employees in January.

“We continue to confront technical complications and delays with the bi-level rail car project that have forced us to evaluate the volume of work and the needs at our Rochelle facility,” the company said in a statement. “As a result, we have made the difficult decision to reduce our workforce.”

The project is funded by $551 million in federal funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. If the company cannot deliver on the contract by Sept 30, the funds revert back to the US Treasury.

lahood_nippon

Secretary LaHood announcing the Amtrak railcar order at the Nippon Sharyo plant, where he said: ” thanks to a standardized design initiated by our Federal Railroad Administration…the parts and components for passenger rail cars and locomotives lowers the costs of production and improves competition. It also makes it easier and reduces costs for operators to maintain equipment.”

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Civil engineers in the US have a blind spot for any work done in foreign countries (especially non-English speaking ones). One example comes from a recent bike safety study done by Georgia Tech.

Researchers in the Ga Tech Civil Engineering Dept. tried to analyze which bike facility provides the most effective safety benefit:

Shared lane markings. Bike lanes painted a bright color. Bike boxes at intersections. Cycle tracks that provide physical barriers between bikes and cars.

Communities have built these and other flavors of infrastructure to try to make it safer for people to ride their bikes along roadways or through neighborhoods. But which ones work best?

The short answer is, we really aren’t sure yet.

That conclusion comes from a group of School of Civil and Environmental Engineering transportation researchers who analyzed studies on the effectiveness of bicycle safety infrastructure. Their work appears in the June issue of the Journal of Safety Research.

“There’s just so little research that we really have no idea how well most of these pieces of infrastructure are working in terms of keeping people safer,” said Kari Watkins, Frederick Law Olmsted associate professor and one of the study’s co-authors.

In fact, we have very good data as to what kind of bike infrastructure works because the Dutch (and Germans and Danes) figured this stuff out decades ago. They have published numerous papers, not to mention design manuals.

So why don’t researchers look at any of the results from Netherlands? Because…

Watkins said researchers may have missed relevant and insightful studies from other countries where much more bicycling infrastructure exists, like Germany and the Netherlands, simply because the work has not been translated into English.

 

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As a bicyclist, this makes me extremely nervous. The Tesla Model X has a convenience “feature” whereby the car door opens itself. It is very gee whiz, until this happens:

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And here is a video taken by a Tesla enthusiast as he discovers this feature:

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Slide-BIKE-SHARE_t180The timing is hilarious.

On June 1st, Baltimore Mayor Pugh announced that the Potomic street cycletrack would be ripped out, and downgraded to a dysfunctional and unprotected bike lane. This was done to placate residents upset over the loss of a couple parking spaces.  The Mayor also wants to “evaluate” other bike projects, which means this could be a precursor to other removals.

A mere 48 hours later, Mayor Pugh released a statement expressing support for the Paris climate accords:

My endorsement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including goal thirteen which specifically addresses climate action related to greenhouse gas reduction, recognizes the complexity of these challenges. As a city we cannot ignore the urgency of these issues.

It is true we have grown accustomed to politicians who lie and say one thing but do another. But even so, you have to wonder what the Mayor and her staff were thinking when they drafted this statement while working to remove a major bike project.

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After Trump pulled out of the Paris climate accords, some 150 mayors throughout the US denounced Trump, and pledged to implement the accords anyway. But really, how serious are they on this?

dingbat

Berkeley Mayor Arreguin

In Berkeley, Mayor Jesse Arreguin spewed out 8 tweets criticizing Trump. This would be the same Arreguin who canceled Berkeley’s participation in AC Transit BRT — a project that removes 19,000 tons of CO2. Arreguin is also notorious for opposing any and all infill development projects.

San Jose has also pledged to abide by the accords. Meanwhile, the city is carving out an enormous parking crater around Diridon station.

The solution to climate emissions is largely achieved through changes in zoning and transportation. This is the one area where Mayors and city councils have more power than the President. But will they use that power to change autocentric policies, or just sit back and score political points?

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