Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Wisconsin at a transportation “fork in the road”

Wisconsin has reached a critical crossroads in transportation.  In one direction (continuing the metaphor) lies the way of widening freeways, starving transit, and enabling sprawl.  In the other direction?  Repairing the legacy system, building a real 21st century system, and meeting the real challenges and needs of the future.
Leading the way toward the 21st century solution is WISPIRG, which has put out a series of reports pointing out the changed travel patterns of Wisconsinites (especially Millennials) and advocating that WisDOT take the bundle of money it is planning to spend on four megahighway projects and put it to better use (see their Fork in the Road report here).  One of these projects (full disclosure: I am helping them out on this one) is a major widening – including a double-decker section – of I-94 in Milwaukee.  A real 1980s solution!
Fortunately, WISPIRG is getting traction in their campaign.  See director Bruce Speight’s interview on the state’s top talk show here.

Congrats to Bruce and WISPIRG for providing a much-need “turn signal!”

Monday, September 29, 2014

John Sheridan, RIP

Those of us involved in New Jersey transportation suffered a tough blow this weekend with the tragic death of John Sheridan, former Commissioner of Transportation, and his wife Joyce in a fire at their home.
For me, John was a friend, a mentor, a standard of excellence.  He was one of the most all-round competent people I have ever known, and demonstrated that public service could be a noble, exciting, and rewarding pursuit, despite its many frustrations.
I worked with John very closely on two projects back in the day: a battle with the feds over designated truck routes in the state (doesn’t seem like a big deal today, but was then) and (better known) the birth of the New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund.  One of my contributions to the latter project was to suggest calling it the “New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund” rather than the original working title of “New Jersey Transportation System Improvement, Operations, and Maintenance Fund” – although technically, at least in the minds of some, it wasn’t really a trust fund at all.  John agreed with me.
In these and other projects I was continually impressed with his leadership.  He was always composed and thoughtful, a master of both strategy and tactics, accommodating when he could be, hard-nosed when he had to be, and always a gentleman.

We will miss him.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

And Pennsylvania gets a new EV corridor!

I recently mentioned that New Jersey is getting new Tesla Superchargers for electric vehicles (link here), providing a key north-south network link.  Pennsylvania also has a new EV corridor – from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh – installed this summer (story here).
Pennsylvania’s new corridor was implemented through a public-private partnership, with state funding support for fast chargers operating at Sheetz convenience stores.  The locations (Harrisburg, Mechanicsburg, State College, Altoona, Blairsville) provide fast charging along a corridor parallel to the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which hopefully will have its own fast chargers soon.  The Sheetz chargers use the Chademo design, meaning they work with the Nissan Leaf and other Japanese-design electric vehicles. 

Networks are good!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Tesla brings NJ closer to a real EV network

Tesla has reached agreement with the New Jersey Turnpike Authority to install Superchargers at two rest areas on the turnpike, on Tesla’s nickel (story here).  This is a big step forward for those of us trying to encourage the building of fast chargers on major highways, especially in the densely populated Northeast.  Most EV travel is local, and owners can charge up at home overnight or at work during the day.  But when you need to take an EV any distance, you need to recharge.  Conveniently spaced “fast” chargers (as in half an hour, not several hours) can make these longer distance trips doable.
Of course Tesla uses one of three incompatible fast charging systems (head slap), but will make some of their infrastructure available to the other systems.  Tesla is the only group so far really committed to intercity travel.
New Jersey, as a “corridor” state, really needs to be in the game, and the Turnpike is a key link in the whole Northeast Megalopolis transportation system.  Last year saw the first (Nissan and Japanese EV friendly) fast charger to be installed in New Jersey (my posting here).  Let’s hope there are more to come!

BTW, why the long time in approving Tesla’s no-cost deal?  You would have to appreciate byzantine New Jersey politics to understand.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Congrats and Good Luck Jamie Fox!

In a surprise announcement (to put it mildly) New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has just nominated former DOT commissioner Jamie Fox to take his old job back (story here).  Fox is a Democrat with a capital “D” so I don’t think he was on anyone’s short list (or long list for that matter) for the job.  This will keep New Jersey’s political establishment buzzing for a while!
Fox was a fair, thoughtful, and decisive leader at NJDOT, and I have no doubt folks there will be happy to have him back.  Perhaps more importantly for the long run, the fact that he is (1) a Democrat and (2) a consummate political tactician suggests that maybe the governor will put forward a serious plan to get bipartisan support for replenishing the state’s Transportation Trust Fund – which will need a tax increase of some sort.  The Trust Fund is now leveraged to the hilt and by June of next year the revenue going into it will no longer be able to back new bonds or to provide pay-as-you-go funding.
Perhaps coincidentally, the governor’s announcement came two days after a major publicity launch by a coalition, Forward NJ, that has been set up to promote Trust Fund renewal (link here).

Good luck Jamie!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Educated Millennials on the Orange Line

A new real estate study lists the top zip codes for college-educated Millennials.  Where are the top two?......The Arlington, Virginia neighborhoods of Clarendon, Court House, Virginia Square, Ballston, and Rosslyn (Arlington story here).  Do these names sound familiar?  They are also the names of stations on the Metro Orange Line and showcases for successful transit oriented development.  A coincidence?  I think not!

The Redfin Research report (here) doesn’t talk about transportation, but a quick look at the list suggests, unsurprisingly, that Millennials are clustering in areas where they can use non-auto means of getting around (transit, walking, biking).  More evidence that we need to reorient our thinking on urban mobility!