Stop a Douchebag

Would you stare down the barrel of a gun to defend a sidewalk?

The decline in oil prices provides the opportunity for countries to slash subsidies:

Across the Middle East and much of the developing world, government subsidies make energy cheap and encourage consumption. But governments around the world are beginning to take advantage of plummeting oil and natural gas prices by slashing the subsidies. The cuts are just a small fraction of the global total of annual subsidies, but energy experts say they are beginning to add up.

On Jan. 1, the Indonesian government abandoned a four-decade-old policy of subsidizing gasoline, permitting prices at the pump to rise and fall with global oil prices. As long as oil is cheap, Indonesians will not see much of a difference. Since October, India has stopped subsidizing diesel and raised fuel taxes. Malaysia cut subsidies on gasoline and diesel late last year. Angola, a major African producer, raised gasoline and diesel prices 20 percent in December. Ghana has also acted to remove subsidies, and Nigeria is expected to follow suit after its national elections in February. Iran cut gasoline subsidies early last year.

The US also provides gasoline subsidies, though the NY Times is confused about this:

The United States, like most developed countries, does not subsidize the consumption of energy or put price controls on fossil fuels, although environmentalists point out that oil companies receive tax breaks for exploration. A debate has begun about whether to raise gasoline taxes now to repair roads and bridges, as well as to damp demand for cheap fuel.

Actually, environmentalists would point out that the US provides huge subsidies to build and maintain roads. The gas tax collected at the pump covers only a small portion of cost of the highway infrastructure. If places like Indonesia, Iran, and Ghana can fix the subsidy problem, why can’t the US?

So the Bay Area Council just posted this on their Twitter feed:


This is a great idea, and a long overdue.


40 miles SW of Toronto lies the city of Hamilton. It joins a select group of cities (Liverpool, Berkeley, and Nashville) in turning away bus lanes:

With a Wednesday night council vote, city staff will spend about $100,000 to get rid of the transit lane, which runs from Mary to Dundurn Streets. It was a close vote, with councillors voting 9-7 to get rid of the lane. Coun. Chad Collins moved the motion.

City staff said Thursday morning the bus lane will still be in effect until city staff remove the signage above the lane. City staff are expected meet before the week is finished to formulate a plan to remove the signs and markings.

Council votetd to kill the bus lane, even though it was working mostly Ok:

A staff information report last week had recommended keeping the lane with modifications. The lane added about five minutes to the stretch during afternoon rush hour, its report showed, and carried nearly as many people as the other two lanes. The majority of transit users and drivers liked it, the report said, as well as the 2015 Toronto Pan Am committee. The majority of businesses did not.

The bus lane was to be a precursor to a full blown light-rail line. But now the same City Councilors say they don’t want the light-rail either — even though the LRT is fully funded:

Hamilton’s mayor announced Monday that the province is willing to fully fund the capital costs of light rail transit here, but the news did little to sway the minds of councillors unsure about LRT. Those opposed or uncertain about LRT continued to raise objections and reiterate their opposition Tuesday.

The news didn’t convince Coun. Judi Partridge of Ward 15 in Flamborough, who says she’s uncertain on LRT even if it does get full provincial funding. “There is no change,” she said. “We still don’t have any information. We still don’t have a commitment. We still have confusion, but that’s about it.” Only eight of council’s 16 members confirmed a commitment to a $1-billion LRT system on Tuesday if it’s fully funded. Others say they have questions.

Partridge and Coun. Arlene VanderBeek of Ward 13 in Dundas cited unknown below-ground infrastructure costs as reasons they’re hesitant.

My husband collects train sets. I can tell you that the train and the track are the cheapest part, and that’s just toys,” VanderBeek said. “That’s not the reality of transit for this city, which is so important.”

Is VanderBeek aware of how much the highway infrastructure costs? Automobiles are the cheapest part.

I have a hard time believing drivers in Honolulu are as dumb as merchants make them out to be:

The owner of Brian’s Fishing Supply has had a drop-off in drop-in customers. He blames the bike lane moving metered stalls farther from the sidewalk.

“It almost appears as if your vehicle is sitting in first lane of outside traffic,” Brian Kimata said. “A lot of people are hesitant to park there because they feel like their car is going to get rear-ended.”

Kevin Key works at the King Street Apartment Hotel. A handful of small businesses lease space fronting King St. “Businesses are losing money,” he said. “Even for the vendors who are coming, basically they don’t know where to park or don’t have anywhere to park.”

The city said there’s been no change in the number of parking spaces.

Shop owners also said drivers continue to get stuck behind parked cars. When they see it happen workers in a hair salon now hold up a cardboard sign that reads, “You’re behind a parked car! Yes…it’s parking ahead.”


CHSRA Platform Fail

As you probably know, Caltrain and the CHSRA are supposed to share infrastructure but can’t agree on a common platform height. The CHSRA train specification is for 1295mm (51″) floor height, That is much too high for Caltrain with its legacy 8″ platforms.

If you are wondering where the CHSRA came up with the 51″ number, the answer is that it was mainly a political decision. The FRA wanted California to use HSR rolling stock compatible with the NEC corridor (even though the NEC is thousands of miles away). When that idea proved impractical, the joint bid was dropped. And yet here we are, apparently stuck with the 51″ requirement.

What needs to happen now is for the CHSRA to drop the 51″ requirement from the train specification. Since Caltrain and the CHSRA will almost certainly use European “off-the-shelf” trainsets, the obvious solution is to follow the European platform standard.

In 2002, the European Commission issued a Technical Specification for Interoperability (TSI) that allows for two possible platform heights: 550mm and 760mm. If you do the metric-English conversion, you find that 550mm is 21″, and 760mm is 30″. For comparison, Caltrain’s Bombardier cars have a 25″ floor level. So trains built to either the 550mm or 760mm platform height would provide backwards-compatibility to legacy 8″ platforms while the agency works on rebuilding platforms to the new height.

Following the TSI platform standard is also in the best interests of the CHSRA, because it will ensure the largest number of vendors can bid on high-speed train procurements. In a 2009 white paper, the CHSRA planners tried to argue otherwise, saying that most HSR trains currently in operation fall within the range of a 45″-51″ height. That is certainly true, but they need to think about the state of the market in the year 2024 (when California’s system supposedly begins operation), not the year 2009. It is clear that the next-generation of HSR trains are going to be compliant with TSI accessibility standards.

In fact, most vendors have already made the switch to TSI standards. Talgo, for example, offers two HSR trains with low-floor coaches at the 760mm height:


Talgo 760mm level-platform boarding


Euroduplex 550mm entrance

The new Stadler EC250 is also low-floor. It will operate on new high-speed service between Zurich, Frankfurt, and Milan, though only with a maximum speed of 155mph.

The TGV duplex is yet another train with 550mm level-platform boarding. Even though it is the workhorse of the TGV network, the CHSRA has already ruled out the use of this train, saying it has “unappealing aesthetics”. It is incredible that the CHSRA would so blithely dismiss Europe’s most popular high-speed train.

One HSR vendor that does not offer TSI-compliant trains is Siemens. Siemens does, however, have a train manufacturing facility in Sacramento and has made grandiose promises of local jobs if it wins the contract. This leads to the suspicion that specifications were written to favor a preferred vendor — at the expense of taxpayers and transit riders.

If the CHSRA prevails on using 51″ platform boarding, the implications would be quite bad for Caltrain. There would be no good options for migrating to that platform height. Caltrain would either have to decide on segregated platforms for HSR (limiting its access to the new Transbay Terminal) or else design some goof-ball train with two sets of doors.

Sadly, it appears Caltrain is going with the latter plan. In a presentation last month to San Francisco officials, Dave Couch of Caltrain outlined a plan whereby the new electric railcars would have dual sets of doors. One upper set for stations with 51″ platforms, and a lower set of doors for the legacy 8″ platforms. This is a huge step backwards from what customers have today. At least with the current rolling stock, riders only have to make one (small) vertical transition. The new rolling stock would add yet another — inside a crowded moving train, no less, where there are also bikes and luggage to contend with. To accommodate wheelchairs, some kind of internal wheelchair lift may be needed too. And a train with dual sets of doors isn’t exactly off-the-shelf, so expensive customization would be needed.

This proposal is so ridiculous, it is hard to believe it is being taken seriously. Let’s hope it leads to a re-evaluation of the CHSRA platform decisions.

Insufficient space on the platform for the stairwell.


(Another gem from the CrappyDesign subreddit.)


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