Monday, March 26, 2012

Coolest Performance Measure Ever?

We all know commuting can be stressful.  How about measuring it with physiological measures?  How about measuring it as it changes during the commute?  How about then putting it onto a nifty 3D map of Dublin, comparing the roadway commute with the transit commute using red and green stacked graphics?
The technique looks potentially useful, but whether it is or not, it’s definitely got the cool factor!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Transportation and Livability Conference Papers Posted

The full conference proceedings of last year’s Conference on Performance Measures for Transportation and Livable Communities have now been posted.  The Austin conference, sponsored by the Texas Transportation Institute, showed that we have made some significant progress on this important topic, but still have a long way to go.
My presentation, entitled “Targeted Transportation Programs for Livable Communities: Lessons from Three Pennsylvania Programs,” is found in session 4.  I offered up some of the conclusions I have reached in working on these programs, one sponsored by the greater Philadelphia MPO (DVRPC), one sponsored by PennDOT, and one by the Lancaster County MPO.  All three of these programs have shown that MPOs and state DOTs can get a big payoff from small investments when they carefully target a Smart Growth transportation program.  More of them should really pursue this opportunity!
There were many informative presentations, and I am reluctant to single any out, but I will mention just a few that I personally found helpful.
Forinash (general session) and Zietsman (session 2) gave introductions to the two new guidebooks on the topic, by USEPA and NCHRP respectively.
For some on-the-ground experience with sustainability performance measures, you might look at Appleyard (session 1), Taebel (4), Lane (8), and Tilbury (10).
If you are not familiar with the work being done on accessibility (as distinct from mobility), you should be!  See all the session 7 presentations (Guthrie et al. offers some data on accessibility and transportation equity issues that offered some important new insights).
Those of us that have had to cope with the issue of “main streets” on state highways will benefit from Reeves (session 1).
Congrats to Katie Turnbull and company for pushing some important issues along

Saturday, March 17, 2012

New Fast EV Charger Comes to the U. S.

A new “fast charger” for electric vehicles has just come on to the U. S. market, made by Fuji Electric of Japan.  I got to see the product “launch” in New Jersey a few days ago, and while it’s not my job to review chargers, I can say that this one is pretty cool.   It can fully charge a Nissan Leaf in an hour. 
What are fast chargers and why are they important?  A typical home charger can charge your EV overnight in your garage.  And that’s fine for how most EV owners use (or will use) their vehicles – local use and fairly limited miles.  But what if you have a sudden need to drive to another state?  With fast chargers installed at rest areas, for instance, a driver can “fill up” the battery while stopping for a quick lunch.  A good network of fast chargers can make EV travel viable over wide regions of the country. 
There are issues, of course, starting with cost – say, $50,000 to buy and install one.
The most annoying issue for fast chargers – in my opinion – is that there are two competing, completely incompatible technical standards.  The “CHAdeMO” standard is used by all Japanese-made EVs.  (Fuji Electric – not surprisingly since it is made in Japan – is a CHAdeMO.)  The U. S. and European carmakers are developing a different (“SAE”) standard.  Remember VHS and Betamax?  I can’t believe this is the best way to pioneer new technology.
At any rate, congratulations to Fuji Electric on entering the field in the U. S. and pushing the technology forward.  (The folks at FE say that their plan is to move some manufacturing and assembly to this country as sales permit.  We need it!)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

New VTPI Report on Energy and Emissions Strategies

An excellent report just posted by Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute (“Comprehensive Evaluation of TransportEnergy Conservation and Emission Reduction Policies”) provides some timely help for those of us struggling with policy choices in this area.  As usual, Todd wades into complex and often controversial issues with a reasoned analysis and solid scholarship. 
The gist of this report is the conclusion that many studies overrate “cleaner vehicle” strategies as opposed to “mobility management” strategies (VMT reduction) because they do not use comprehensive evaluation techniques. 
Without repeating the whole argument, I’ll just mention a couple of the points I find particularly powerful:
·      A “liter of fuel conserved through vehicle travel reductions provides about four times the total benefits as the same fuel savings provided by cleaner vehicle strategies, due to additional benefits such as congestion reductions, road and parking facility cost savings, consumer savings, and traffic safety” and
·      The benefits of transit investments tend to be undervalued, and … “Even larger benefits can result if public transit improvements leverage additional vehicle travel reductions by helping create more compact, multi-modal communities where residents tend to reduce their vehicle travel and rely more on walking, cycling and public transit.”

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Maryland Goes for the Gas Tax!

Congratulations to Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley for having the courage to go directly for a gas tax increase to keep the state’s transportation trust fund solvent and moving forward!
Technically it’s not an increase in the excise tax but imposition of a 6 percent sales tax, phased in over 3 years.  The recently introduced legislation (SB 971 and HB 1302) also includes a “braking mechanism” to defer increases during gas price spikes and various provisions to increase the integrity of the fund.
The legislation is based on the report of a Blue Ribbon Commission issued last fall.  A couple of provisions in that report (not in the pending legislation) that I found of interest:
·      The Commission recommended that MDOT incorporate a Strategic Framework for Transportation Investment Decisions into its planning process to reinforce the state’s Smart Growth policies.
·      They also devoted considerable space to encouraging innovative financing.  An idea I had not seen before is the proposal to develop a Value Capture Analysis system that would be added to the department’s project prioritization scheme.
At any rate, Maryland DOT and state government have done, as I always expect, a first-rate job in putting this proposal together.  Good luck Maryland!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Funny Maps and Fragmented Jurisdictions

Kaid Benfield’s recent blog on fragmented borders in Belgium and the Netherlands is a funny look at how some medieval jurisdictional lines have survived into the 21st century.  It’s somehow comforting to know that not all the ancient eccentricities of geography have been “reformed.”
I have just two thoughts to add – one on the light side, one more serious.
On the light side, anyone really interested in imagining the complexities of living in a place with confused and overlapping boundaries needs to read China Mieville’s novel The City and the City – where citizens can be “grosstopically” in two cities at once but officially only in one!  It’s great fun!
Less fun is dealing with fragmented jurisdictions in the real world.  All of us in the transportation planning world have had to deal with.  One problem I’m chewing on now is – I think – pretty peculiar to New Jersey and Pennsylvania: small town centers (“boroughs”) surrounded by suburban “townships,” often leading to bad planning decisions in both jurisdictions.  Maybe we should have a field trip to that sidewalk cafĂ© in Baarle-Nassau (or Baarle-Hertog?) and mull the problem over a Belgian (or Dutch?) beer or two!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Thoughts While Wandering through Suburban Station in Philadelphia

I have occasion to visit center city Philadelphia pretty often and almost always use SEPTA’s very convenient and reliable regional rail service.  Normally I use the Market East station, but a few days ago I got off at Suburban Station, one of the other center city stations (the third station being the monumental Thirtieth Street Station, the Amtrak stop).  If you have never been there, Suburban Station is quite an interesting place.  It’s an underground station with a 1930s office building overtop (art deco, built by the Pennsylvania Railroad) in the center of blocks of modern office towers.  Even underground it retains a certain elegance (unlike the ugly warren of New York’s Penn Station) and convenience.
However, a few critical (hopefully constructive) thoughts:
·      Signage is pretty weak.  I think this is pretty common for stations that cater mainly to commuters, where 99.9 percent of people follow the same path every day.  You can spend a lot of time wandering around if you don’t know where you are going.
·      There is only one restroom in the entire complex, that I could find, and the men’s room was shut down.  I suppose that reduces the homeless population (the reason behind it?) but it’s very inconvenient for out-of-town visitors.
·      Although the Suburban Station underground area is fairly nice, the tunnels leading to other transit connections look pretty sketchy, with low-end shops and a heavy police presence. 
·      Good luck if you don’t know Philadelphia and you’re walking around the neighborhood looking for the station.
My biggest takeaway, however, is a reminder that the Center City Commuter tunnel that was built in the 1980s, tying together a tangle of regional rail lines and funneling them through the three center city stations, was a tremendously successful and underappreciated transportation project.   Could it be built today?  Will we someday soon be able to build the other projects like that that should be built to make our cities and our country succeed and prosper?