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How Will a New FRA Rule Affect Commuter Rail?

Misguided safety rules from the Federal Railroad Administration are cited as the cause for all sorts of problems, from high-construction costs to pedestrian hazards to, ironically, worse safety outcomes.

Would a new FRA regulation dampen commuter rail expansion across the U.S.? Photo: Richard Masoner via Flickr

Transit observers are concerned that a new FRA regulation may hamper commuter rail expansion. Photo: Richard Masoner/Flickr

Which helps explain why Jarret Walker at Network blog Human Transit is alarmed about a new rule “requiring two-person train crews… for most main line freight and passenger rail operations.” It’s “much too soon to panic,” Walker says, but he was still compelled to send the FRA his concerns about how this might play out for commuter rail:

The language creates a reasonable suspicion you are about to ban one-person crews on urban commuter rail services regulated by the FRA, which usually fall within FRA’s use of the term “passenger rail.” While the text is unclear about what “minimum crew size” standard it proposes for “passenger rail,” it makes no sense that you would need to “establish minimum crew size standards” if the intended minimum were one.

Your release mentions later that the rule is expected to contain “appropriate exceptions.” It would be wise to give the transit and urban development worlds some assurance that you don’t plan to shut down the possibility of one-person-crew urban transit — using FRA-regulated rail corridors — through this rule. Such services — similar to existing commuter rail but with higher frequency and smaller vehicles — are one of the best hopes for cost-effective new rail transit in the US.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Urban Velo reports that Indianapolis is getting ready to launch its bike-share system. Strong Towns gives advice for communities that don’t have much of a biking and walking culture but are trying to change that. And Urban Review STL reports that a new hospital expansion in St. Louis is coming with an immense parking garage.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Daily News Still Won’t Admit That Plazas and Bike Lanes Work
  • Driver of Police Cruiser Seriously Injures Man, 69, Crossing 78th and Broadway (News, Post)
  • Surveillance Video Shows SUV Driver Running Over Crossing Guard on Atlantic Ave Last Week (WPIX)
  • NY-Bound Pulaski Closure Starts Smoothly (AP) But WCBS Still Worried About Carmageddon
  • Unlicensed Wrong-Way DUI Driver Switched Seats With Passenger After Crash, Police Say (News)
  • School Teacher Arrested for DUI on Webster Avenue (News); SI Man Arrested for DUI (Advance)
  • Hit-and-Run Minivan Driver Seriously Injures Woman Crossing Street in East Elmhurst (WABC)
  • MTA Survey Shows Bus-Only Riders Poorer, Older Than Subway Riders (MTR)
  • Maspeth Residents Protest Plan in Congress to Increase Size, Weight of Tractor-Trailer Trucks (Forum)
  • Queens CB 4 Votes to Support Bike Corral on Roosevelt Avenue in Elmhurst (DNA)
  • West Side Neighbors Oppose New Residential Development as Project Nears Finish Line (DNA)
  • NYC’s World’s Fairs Were the Last Unrestrained “Public Celebrations of Automotive Culture” (NYT)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Montreal Judge Awards Bixi Bike-Share Assets to Montreal Furniture Mogul

The path to a more reliable and efficient Citi Bike got a bit more complicated this afternoon.

Bixi's new owner. Photo by Bruno Rodi via La Presse

Bixi’s new owner, Bruno Rodi. Photo by Bruno Rodi via La Presse

A bankruptcy court judge in Montreal has rejected a bid from REQX Ventures, formed by real estate giant Related Companies and its Equinox Fitness unit, for the international operations of the Public Bike System Company, also known as Bixi. The judge said the REQX bid, while higher than the winning bid, came too late and didn’t meet the required deposit.

Bixi, which developed much of the hardware and the buggy software behind Citi Bike, filed for bankruptcy in January. Had the REQX bid been accepted, a logical next step would have been for the company to also invest in Citi Bike operator Alta Bicycle Share, injecting some much needed capital into a bike-share system that needs better software and smoother operations.

Instead, Bixi will be purchased by Bruno Rodi, a Montreal businessman who owns a furniture company. Rodi, known for his world travels, rode his bicycle along the 2,100-mile Tour de France route in 2007. It remains unclear what he will do with Bixi. He could try to resell the company, which he bought for $4 million — about $1 million less than the REQX bid — or turn it around somehow. Bixi’s most valuable assets at this point are likely the patents it holds with respect to the design of bike-share bikes and other hardware.

Rodi was not in court today (he was on a boat on the Indian Ocean), and his lawyers did not talk to reporters after the judge’s ruling. REQX representative Jonathan Schulhof also refused to speak with reporters.

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Bike Lanes Don’t Lead to Congestion, But Some of Them Should

johnson-congestion-minneapolis-1

After bike lanes were installed in Minneapolis, there were more cars per unit of road space, but still not enough to meet the threshold for congestion.

Gretchen Johnson and Aaron Johnson have posted a nice debunking of typical “war on cars” rhetoric over at fivethirtyeight.

Johnson and Johnson gathered before-and-after traffic data from 45 miles of streets where Minneapolis installed bike lanes. They also looked at how Brooklyn’s Prospect Park West bike lane affected traffic conditions.

They found, in short, that after the installation of bike lanes, traffic conditions did not meet the threshold of “heavy congestion,” and the impact on space for motor vehicles was moderate enough that drivers’ travel times would likely be unaffected.

None of the 10 Minneapolis streets reached a level where “minor incidents can cause traffic jams,” although the bike lanes did edge two streets into the “mild to moderate” congestion category. The authors, a transportation consultant and aeronautics Ph.D., write that this “mild to moderate” level is “where traffic is still moving smoothly but you might notice that it’s a bit harder to move from one lane to another.”

Meanwhile, on Prospect Park West, NYC DOT reported that there was no evidence that travel times increased after the installation of a two-way protected bike lane. The two Johnsons, after reviewing the data, say “we agree.”

These are the findings you would expect to see when a street redesign converts excess space for cars into room for bikes. Afterward, there’s less wide-open road space encouraging motorists to drive fast, and on Prospect Park West the city observed a big reduction in speeding after the bike lane was installed.

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Klein Backs Off Bill to Restore Flashing Lights on Select Bus Service

Flashing lights on Select Bus Service vehicles are designed to help riders distinguish between pay-before-boarding SBS and pay-onboard local service. After years of operation without issue, Staten Island lawmakers exploited a minor state law to have the MTA turn off the lights 16 months ago. Bills in Albany to find a solution are stuck in committee, and now the bill’s most powerful sponsor is backing away.

State Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein is not interested in reviving his bill to bring back flashing lights to SBS buses. Photo: NY Senate

State Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein doesn’t plan to revive his bill to bring back flashing lights to SBS buses. Photo: NY Senate

State law restricts flashing blue lights to the vehicles of volunteer firefighters. Bills from State Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein and Assembly Member Micah Kellner would allow purple lights, designated for use on buses by the DMV, only on routes that require riders to pay before boarding.

This would exempt the S79, the sole SBS line on Staten Island. But it failed to appease State Senator Andrew Lanza, an SBS critic who opposed the lights with Council Member Vincent Ignizio. The bills failed in Albany last year and remain stuck in committee.

Klein’s office indicated that the SBS bill isn’t on his agenda at this time. “Senator Klein wants to see Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan come to fruition this year and that will be his transportation focus this session,” said spokesperson Anna Durrett. (Streetsblog asked if that means Klein will amend his speed camera bill to allow more cameras and fewer restrictions. We’ll let you know if we hear anything back.)

Meanwhile, Kellner said he would push hard this session to pass the bill in the Assembly and put pressure on the Senate. “I’m going to sit down and talk to Senator Klein, I’m going to talk to Senator Lanza, and see if we can come to an agreement,” Kellner said. “The nice thing about both Senator Klein and Senator Lanza is that they are very reasonable people…If not, we’ll seek another Senate sponsor.”

Kellner added that he has filed a “Form 99″ to push the Assembly’s transportation committee chair to act on the bill during this legislative session, which ends this year. An NYU review of Albany procedure called this tactic “ineffective” because it does not force the bill to be reported out of committee.

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California Endorses the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide

It wasn’t a total surprise, but exciting nevertheless for bicycle advocates gathered at the NACTO “Cities for Cycling” Road Show in Oakland last nightCaltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty announced that the agency will endorse the use of the National Association of City Transportation Officials Urban Street Design Guide, giving California cities the state DOT’s blessing to install modern infrastructure like protected bike lanes.

Received with enthusiastic applause from the crowd of bike advocates, city officials, and planners, Dougherty said:

We’re trying to change the mentality of the department of transportation, of our engineers, and of those that are doing work in and around the state highway system. Many cities around California are trying to be forward thinking in terms of alternative modes, such as bike and pedestrian, as well as the safety of the entire system, and the very least we can do as the department of transportation for the state is to follow that lead, to get out of the way, and to figure out how to carry that into regional travel.

Imagine how this commute on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland would feel with a protected bike lane. Photo by Jonah Chiarenza, www.community-design.com

NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide, launched last September, is the product of collaboration between the transportation departments of its member cities around the U.S. The guide provides the latest American standards for designing safer city streets for all users, incorporating experience from cities that have developed innovative solutions into a blueprint for others to use. It supplements, but doesn’t replace, other manuals such as the Caltrans Highway Design Manual and California’s Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

As the state’s transportation department, Caltrans has control over the design of state-owned highways, but the design of local streets and roads is left to local jurisdictions — with one exception. Bicycle infrastructure throughout the state has been dictated by the car-focused agency because local engineers rely on Caltrans-approved designs to protect local municipalities from lawsuits. As a result, city planners were often hesitant, or flat out refused, to build an innovative treatments like a protected bike lanes that don’t appear in Caltrans Highway Design Manual.

“It’s a permission slip for cities, for engineers and planners, to do the good, well-vetted, proven work that we know we can do to make our street safer,” said Ed Reiskin, president of NACTO and director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. “It’s only a first step — ultimately, we’d like to see the changes in the Highway Design Manual to see it actually integrated into Caltrans documents. But this is a huge step forward, and great leadership from Malcolm Secretary [Brian] Kelly and Governor [Jerry] Brown,” who commissioned a report that recommended Caltrans adopt the NACTO guide.

The guide includes design standards for infrastructure including bike boxes, physically protected bike lanes, contra-flow bus lanes, and even parklets. Although these improvements have been implemented in cities in California and the world, they have been considered “experimental” until now. The NACTO guide has only been endorsed by two other states, Washington and Massachusetts.

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The Weekly Carnage

The Weekly Carnage is a Friday round-up of motor vehicle violence across the five boroughs. For more on the origins and purpose of this column, please read About the Weekly Carnage.

Kelly Gordon was hit by two cab drivers on the Upper East Side. Media reports indicated Gordon was walking against the light but made no mention of driver speed. Photo via ##http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/Upper-East-Side-Pedestrian-Killed-Upper-East-Side-York-Avenue-254854591.html##WNBC##

Kelly Gordon was hit by two cab drivers on the Upper East Side. Media reports indicated Gordon was walking against the light but made no mention of driver speed. Photo via WNBC

Fatal Crashes (9 Killed Since March 28; 52 This Year; 2 Drivers Charged*)

  • Yorkville: Kelly Gordon, 22, Struck by Two Cab Drivers Crossing York Ave. (NewsDNA)
  • Bed-Stuy: Cyclist Angel Torres, 46, Killed in Hit-and-Run (Streetsblog, DNA 1, 2)
  • Riverdale: Ida Rosenblatt, 87, Struck Crossing the Street; No Charges (R’dale Press)
  • East Elmhurst: Fidel Vidal Diaz, 31, Struck by Two Drivers on Grand Central Parkway (DNA, Post)
  • Astoria: Jada Butts, 19; Darius Fletcher, 21; Jaleel Furtado, 20; and Crystal Gravely, 19, Killed After Driver of Car They Were Riding in Struck Curb, Drove Into Creek (DNAPostTL)
  • Canarsie: Nikon Vouyiouklis, 60, Killed in Crash With Drunk Driver Charged With Homicide (PostNews)

A motorist drove onto the sidewalk and hit the News Corp. building in Midtown. Five people were injured, two seriously. Photo: WNBC

A motorist drove onto the sidewalk and hit the News Corp. building in Midtown. Five people were injured, two seriously. Photo: WNBC

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On Safety, New TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi Has Her Work Cut Out For Her

Two cab drivers fatally struck 22-year-old Kelly Gordon last night as she crossed York Avenue with her sister and a friend. Gordon was at least the fifth person killed by a city cab driver in the last 12 months, and the second this year, after 9-year-old Cooper Stock and his father were hit on the Upper West Side in January.

Meera Joshi

Meera Joshi

With Vision Zero a top priority for Mayor de Blasio, and related legislation pending in the City Council, cab driver safety will be a major issue for Meera Joshi, the former Taxi and Limousine Commission legal director who was confirmed by the council yesterday as the new TLC chair and CEO.

“TLC has a critical role in making Vision Zero a reality,”Joshi said last week. She has her work cut out for her. It was reported yesterday that the cab driver who killed Cooper Stock has not driven a cab since, but only because he has chosen not to. The cabbies who killed 5-year-old Timothy Keith and severed the leg of tourist Sian Green also retained their hack licenses. Last year a TLC database snafu kept thousands of dangerous cabbies behind the wheel. Clearly, when the TLC consistently fails to get reckless cab drivers off the streets, its disciplinary protocol is in need of an overhaul.

To help prevent cab drivers from doing harm in the first place, de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan calls for technology to monitor behavior behind the wheel and ensure compliance with speed limits. This week the City Council introduced enabling legislation for a “black box” pilot program.

What’s needed overall, though, is a culture shift. Cab drivers work brutal hours and are under constant pressure to get to the next fare. As we wrote earlier this year, better driver accountability through Vision Zero safety measures could elevate public esteem for the job and lead to improved working conditions. Before her confirmation Joshi proposed a TLC “honor roll” and financial incentives for the safest drivers.

Joshi has the goodwill of driver lobbying groups, for now, but to get cab drivers onboard to the extent that safe drivers set the tone for the fleet, the TLC will have to ruffle some feathers as well.

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Wisconsin DOT Raises the Cost of Fighting Highway Projects

Wasteful and unnecessary.” That’s how citizens of Waukesha and Washington counties in Wisconsin have described a state plan to fill in wetlands for an 18-mile road widening project on Highway 164.

Highway 164 in Wisconsin, as you can see, is in desperate need of widening. Photo: State Truck Tour

Highway 164 in Wisconsin, as you can see, is in desperate need of widening. Photo: State Truck Tour

But the Highway J Citizens Coalition isn’t taking it lying down. Along with an environmental group, they took the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to court and the judge sided in their favor recently, finding that the state’s documentation, studies, and hearings for this project had serious flaws.

James Rowen at the Political Environment reports that now the “tone deaf,” “arrogant” state agency appears to be making it punitively expensive for these citizens to challenge its actions:

The Highway J Citizens Coalition, (HJCG), had won a significant victory in federal court, but despite the ruling and direction it gave to WisDOT legal project construction and planning, WisDOT is picking a further fight with the coalition by charging it more than $10,000 in advance for public records as the case continues.

The coalition says in a major filing Monday with Madison prosecutors that WisDOT is withholding the records in part because it doesn’t like how highway critics have portrayed WisDOT.

Read more…

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Brooklyn Parking Preservation Board Votes Down Bike Corrals

Brooklyn Community Board 1 has had enough of the “war on cars,” and they’re taking it out on pedestrians, cyclists, and local businesses.

Jackson Heights is one of many NYC neighborhoods that survived the installation of bike corrals. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Jackson Heights is one of many NYC neighborhoods that survived the installation of bike corrals. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

The Brooklyn Paper reports that four Williamsburg shops want bike corrals, to provide room to park bikes while keeping sidewalks clear. “We believe it is our responsibility to beautify the area,” said Jason Merritt, co-owner of Tutu’s, a Bogart Street bar. “And it is beneficial to businesses to have safe bike parking that is not on street signs and posts.”

But CB 1 member Simon Weiser, for one, isn’t having it. “Enough is enough,” said Weiser. “They can put it on the sidewalk and stop taking away car parking spaces. We need to keep the parking we have.” As if these four spaces will have any effect in a district with thousands and thousands of on-street parking spots.

You might remember Weiser from 2008, when he was a go-to bike lane critic during the Kent Avenue redesign fracas. Well, now he and CB 1 have drawn a line in the sand. They rejected all four corrals by a vote of 12-7.

Board members who voted against the corrals argued that there is plenty of room on sidewalks for bike parking and that their turf has lost too many parking spaces to the CitiBike bike-share program and the planned de-mapping of Union Avenue in the middle of McCarren Park, which is meant to make the greensward more pedestrian-friendly. Parking is now more difficult than it was a few years ago, Weiser argued.

So, North Brooklyn might have lost out on nicer sidewalks (DOT could overlook this vote) thanks to a few people in a position of power who think curbside car parking is scarce because there’s not enough of it. Not because it’s, you know, totally free.

“It is worrying and confusing to me that any community board would side against alternative transportation and neighborhood beautification,” said Merritt. More than that, CB 1 has sided against anyone whose highest priority isn’t securing on-street parking for their car.