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Posts from the "U.S. DOT" Category

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Why Transit Agencies Expand Even When They Struggle to Provide Service

This map shows transit routes in New Orleans that run less frequently than once every 30 miles at peak hour in red. Routes that run at 15-minute frequencies or less. Image: Ride New Orleans via Transport Politic

Frequent transit in New Orleans is scarce: The transit routes in red run less frequently than once every 30 minutes at peak hour, while only the routes in green run at least every 15 minutes. Image: Ride New Orleans via Transport Politic

New Orleans transit is in bad shape, as we reported recently. The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority has never recovered from Hurricane Katrina and service is at about 36 percent of pre-storm levels despite the region’s population rebound.

New Orleans’ frequent service lines have been slashed dramatically. Even newly built streetcar lines are running infrequently.

So why is New Orleans planning a major expansion that would dramatically expand the streetcar system, as well as add light rail and bus rapid transit? As Yonah Freemark recently pointed out at the Transport Politic, despite its inability to deliver frequent along its existing routes, NORTA plans to pour $3.5 billion into construction.

This case, Freemark explains, illustrates problematic incentives embedded in federal policy. Namely, the federal government makes money available for expansion projects but not for day-to-day service:

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How the Federal TIGER Program Revived a Cleveland Neighborhood

The "Uptown" development in Cleveland is part a way of construction that a TIGER grant helped catalyze in Cleveland. Photo: MRN

The “Uptown” development in Cleveland was catalyzed by a TIGER grant that helped relocate a rail station. Photo: MRN

Cleveland doesn’t look like a dying Rust Belt city these days in the Little Italy and University Circle neighborhoods. In fact, it looks like it’s thriving.

At the corner of Euclid and Mayfield, a new mixed-use development — MRN’s “Uptown” — is filling out, hosting a bookstore, a bakery, bars, and new apartments. Just across the street, the new home of the Museum of Contemporary Art sits gleaming, in the words of the New York Times, “like a lustrous black gem.” Another major office, retail, and residential project is planned a stone’s throw away.

biden_train

Vice President Joe Biden was in Cleveland Wednesday urging action to invest in infrastructure and preserve the TIGER program. Photo: Angie Schmitt

It’s hard to understate how remarkable this type of investment is in this area. Cleveland’s decades-long population decline has helped make it one of the weakest urban real estate markets in the country.

But this is a sweet spot in Cleveland. The Cleveland Clinic — Ohio’s largest employer — is less than a mile away. So are many of the city’s renowned cultural institutions — the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Orchestra, and Case Western Reserve University. About 50,000 people work in the area.

Even so, the new developments in Little Italy might never have happened if not for the U.S. DOT’s TIGER program. Greater Cleveland’s Regional Transit Authority received a grant from the third round of TIGER funding in 2011, which provided about $12.5 million to rebuild and move a rail station from a dark, isolated location under a bridge about a third of a mile away to the middle of the neighborhood.

Local leaders in Cleveland had for years hoped to move the station to help build on the nearby assets. When the RTA applied for funding through TIGER, it was one of 828 projects seeking $517 million in funding. Just 46 of those applicants were awarded grants.

Despite the enormous demand for TIGER, it has been under the constant threat of elimination by the House GOP since the program was launched in 2009. A recent proposal put forward by House Republicans would turn TIGER from a multi-modal program that helps cities and metro areas directly access federal funds into a roads program. Meanwhile, the Senate has proposed a new transportation bill that fails to fund TIGER.

And that’s why Joe Biden was in Cleveland on Wednesday stumping for a new transportation bill that would preserve TIGER. ”This is what we should be doing all over the nation,” said Biden.

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Dueling Forecasts: Does the Energy Dept. Know Something U.S. DOT Doesn’t?

Tony Dutzik is a senior policy analyst with the Frontier Group. This article was originally posted on the Frontier Group’s blog.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) — the data and analytical wing of the Energy Department — is out today with a fascinating analysis of changing driving trends and their implications for America’s energy future. The analysis, part of the EIA’s annual package of forecasts called the “Annual Energy Outlook,” reviews recent changes in demographic, economic, technological and other factors affecting the number of miles Americans drive.

It also serves as a telling contrast to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s own recent forecast of vehicle travel, presented in the biennial “Conditions and Performance” report.

We’ve criticized the U.S. DOT before for regularly overshooting the mark when it comes to forecasting vehicle travel, exaggerating the need for spending on highway expansion and maintenance. The EIA report, on the other hand, takes a more nuanced and thoughtful approach to forecasting than the DOT’s reliance on untrustworthy state data and straight-line projections. It also gives us some key indications of what slower VMT growth might mean for our energy future.

DOT is from Mars, EIA is from Venus – Diverging Forecasts

The EIA and DOT have very different thoughts about how the future will play out when it comes to trends in driving. The DOT forecasts an immediate resumption of rates of vehicle travel growth that haven’t been seen for a decade, while the EIA assumes that, while driving might pick up again soon, it also might not, and that, to the extent driving does increase in the future, it is likely to grow way more slowly than it did during the post-war Driving Boom. This is the case we made in our 2013 report, A New Direction.

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Sec. Foxx: Bicycle Infrastructure Can Be a “Ladder of Opportunity”

Sec. Foxx told hundreds gathered for the Bike Summit that he won't stand still and allow bike and pedestrian injuries and fatalities to increase. Photo: Brian Palmer, via the ##http://www.bikeleague.org/content/sec-foxx-shares-support-bikes##Bike League##

Sec. Foxx told hundreds gathered for the Bike Summit that he won’t stand still and allow bike and pedestrian injuries and fatalities to increase. Photo: Brian Palmer, via the Bike League

This morning, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx’s blog post is all about bicycling. He opens by touting the complete streets policy he helped implement in Charlotte (it passed before he was mayor) and the city’s bike-share system — the largest in the Southeast.

His post follows on his speech yesterday to the National Bike Summit, which began with this frank admission: “I’ve got big shoes to fill.”

Foxx’s predecessor, Ray LaHood, became the darling of the bike movement when he stood on a table at the 2010 Summit and affirmed his commitment to safe cycling, later declaring “the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.”

Foxx’s speech was less fiery but showed his commitment to the issue. He mentioned that he himself had been the victim of a crash while jogging in Charlotte, and while he wasn’t hurt, he’s aware how lucky he was that it didn’t turn out differently.

“All across our country, every day, there are accidents and injuries — and unfortunately sometimes even fatalities — that occur among the bicycle and pedestrian communities,” Foxx told the Summit audience. “I didn’t tolerate it as a mayor. And as U.S. secretary of transportation we certainly won’t stand still and allow this crisis to slowly build up over time.”

“Our roads should be safe,” he went on. “They should be easy places to travel no matter how we are traveling on them.”

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Let’s Do the Time Warp Again: U.S. DOT Fails to Get Travel Forecasting Right

The U.S. Department of Transportation seems to be stuck in a bizarre time warp.  For nine years in a row Americans have decreased their average driving miles. Yet U.S. DOT’s most recent biennial report to Congress on the state of the nation’s transportation system, released last Friday, forecasts that total vehicle miles will increase between 1.36 percent to 1.85 percent each year through 2030.

Times have changed. Why hasn't DOT gotten the memo? Image: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/x-ray_delta_one/5124536635/##Flickr/James Vaughan##

Times have changed. Why hasn’t DOT gotten the memo? Image: Flickr/James Vaughan

Just how out of whack is that forecast? Consider the following:

  • Vehicle travel hasn’t increased by even 1 percent in any year since 2004. Yet the U.S. DOT assumes that driving will increase at a rate significantly faster than that every year on average through 2030.
  • The new report uses for one of its two scenarios the same flawed forecasting model that has overestimated vehicle travel 61 times out of 61 since 1999.
  • In a particularly absurd twist, the U.S. DOT forecast doesn’t even get the past right. The report “projects” (based on 2010 data) that Americans drove 5 percent more miles in 2012 than they actually did. To hit the DOT forecast for 2014, Americans would need to increase their driving by 9 percent this year alone.

Why should we care about all this? With transportation funds increasingly scarce — and especially with Congress due to reauthorize the nation’s transportation law — policy-makers need good guidance about where to invest. A sensible approach, especially given the recent decline in driving and increasing demand for transit, would be to plow a greater share of those limited resources into expanding access to public transportation and active transportation modes while focusing highway spending on fixing our existing roads and bridges.

Instead, the U.S. DOT’s travel forecast is used as justification to propose a dramatic increase in highway spending to fund all the new and expanded highways that the DOT presumes we’ll need to accommodate all of those imagined new cars and drivers. The agency asserts that the nation would need to spend between $124 billion and $146 billion each year to maintain and improve the highway system — numbers that are sure to find their way immediately into highway lobby press releases and be repeatedly cited in congressional hearings.

What makes the DOT forecast so bewildering is that the agency — elsewhere in the very same document — acknowledges the strong possibility that many of the factors that have caused the recent drop in driving may be long-lasting. The report states:

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The Revolving Door Spins Again: LaHood Joins DLA Piper

When former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced earlier this month that he was going to co-chair Building America’s Future, I thought, “well that seems like a good place for him, but it’s not going to make his wife happy.” Mrs. LaHood has famously been needling him for years to get out of public office and make some money in the private sector.

Former DOT Secretary Ray LaHood will now be a lobbyist policy adviser at one of the biggest law firms in the world. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Looks like he’s getting right on that. He announced this week that he’s got a second gig lined up — this time, as a senior adviser at DLA Piper, one of the 10 largest law firms in the world. The firm doesn’t do much lobbying on transportation, though over the last few years it’s done $630,000 worth of business with Northeast MAGLEV, a Japanese-backed company that wants to build high-speed magnetic levitation trains on the Northeast Corridor.

Despite his abiding interest in high-speed rail, LaHood will not, apparently, be lobbying his former U.S. DOT colleagues on Northeast MAGLEV’s behalf, since revolving door rules prevent such a thing — though technically, he can lobby his old colleagues in Congress any time he wants.

A spokesperson for LaHood has made it clear that as a policy adviser, lobbying won’t be in his job description.

James Hood at Consumer Affairs rolls his eyes at this, saying President Obama’s ethics rules leave too much room for government officials to use position titles like “lawyer” and “policy adviser” to do lobbying that would otherwise be banned. “You can, in other words, make a big show of closing the front door but it doesn’t do much good if the side door remains wide open,” Hood said.

Joan DeBoer, LaHood’s chief of staff at U.S. DOT, is making the move with him.

NHTSA chief David Strickland is also taking advantage of the revolving door, landing a plum job at Venable, LLP, a lobbying law firm that deals with auto regulation.

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What If There Was No Highway, Transit, or Rail Agency — Just U.S. DOT?

Former UMTA and FTA administrators, from left: Frank Herringer, Bob Patricelli, Ted Lutz, Al DelliBovi, Brian Clymer, Gordon Linton, Jenna Dorn, Jim Simpson, and current administrator Peter Rogoff at the podium. Photo: Tanya Snyder

Former UMTA and FTA administrators, from left: Frank Herringer, Bob Patricelli, Ted Lutz, Al DelliBovi, Brian Clymer, Gordon Linton, Jenna Dorn, Jim Simpson, and current administrator Peter Rogoff at the podium. Photo: Tanya Snyder

“Highway people like highways, transit people like transit, rail people like rail,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said yesterday at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board. “But our transportation system should be greater than the sum of its parts.”

Foxx wasn’t the first to lament the atomization of the various modes at the federal level. Just this morning, in a hearing before the Senate Banking Committee, Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff touted the agency’s efforts at “tearing away federal stovepipes” but said “coordination is still a problem at the federal level.”

Rogoff knows better than anyone that to some degree, those stovepipes are necessary — and that if they’re torn away completely, transit has the most to lose.

After all, just yesterday Rogoff moderated a panel at TRB comprised of eight of his predecessors at the FTA (and its precursor, the Urban Mass Transit Administration). And he asked them whether it made sense to consolidate the modal agencies — presumably not just highways, transit and rail but also aviation, pipelines, the St. Lawrence Seaway, and others.

“Is it time to do away with modal silos?” Rogoff asked.

“Every administration kicks around the idea of combining everything into one agency,” admitted Brian Clymer, who presided over the agency from 1989 to 1993.

The Department of Transportation has only been one, unified agency since 1967, when the various pre-existing modal agencies were brought under one roof. Before that, some were housed under separate cabinet departments like Commerce or Agriculture.

Maintaining separate agencies under one department is probably as much unity as is called for, the former administrators agreed. First of all, whenever you have such technical knowledge, “you’re always going to have some degree of specialization,” Clymer said — and there’s nothing wrong with that. The people who know the sweet spot for streetcar headways aren’t necessarily the foremost experts on warm-mix asphalt. But that doesn’t mean they can’t talk to each other — and it certainly doesn’t mean that planning should happen in isolation.

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Secretary Foxx Pledges to Make Bike/Ped Safety a Priority

Pedestrian crash statistics aren’t just numbers to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. He himself was the victim of one of those crashes once, while out jogging. “I got lucky,” he told a packed room at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board today. “But there are lots of people out there that aren’t so lucky.”

Sec. Anthony Foxx announced his transportation priorities today, including an increased focus on safety for modes that historically get ignored. Photo by Nancy Pierce, ##http://www.bizjournals.com/charlotte/blog/queen_city_agenda/2013/02/anthony-foxx-jerry-orr-share-a-happy.html?s=image_gallery##Charlotte Business Journal##

Sec. Anthony Foxx announced his transportation priorities today, including an increased focus on safety for modes that historically get ignored. Photo by Nancy Pierce, Charlotte Business Journal

He said he saw an uptick in the number of pedestrians and bicyclists injured on the roads while he was mayor of Charlotte — and that these numbers are trending upward not just in that city, but around the country. “So over my tenure as secretary of transportation you can expect me to focus some attention on pedestrian and bicycle safety,” he said.

TRB is a major event that draws several thousand transportation professionals and academics from around the world.

Foxx said that after a recent airplane trip, his 9-year-old daughter brought him her list of transportation priorities (including bigger airplane bathrooms and no ear popping) and he figured if his daughter had already announced her transportation priorities, maybe he should do the same.

One of those priorities is to “look out for modes that traditionally don’t get much attention” like bicycling and walking.

The secretary highlighted equity not just among modes, but among people of different incomes. He said transportation should connect everyone, no matter where they live, to the 21st century economy:

I happen to know what happens when that doesn’t happen. Growing up in my hometown of Charlotte, I saw the indent of a highway loop that separated one part of the city from its central business district, and another highway project that divided a neighborhood in half, creating more stress on already stressed communities.

Foxx also highlighted the power of transportation to shape our communities. “I don’t think transportation should just help us get places better,” he said. “It should help us make places better — and help improve the quality of life of people all across our country.”

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TIGER Funding Gets 20 Percent Boost in Final 2014 Spending Bill

We’re less than a third of the way through fiscal year 2014 and we already have a budget! Well, almost — the president still has to sign it. But the House and Senate unveiled the details of the omnibus budget bill yesterday, and just having a complete bill that both parties and both chambers have agreed to is a pretty big deal.

Senate Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski said the omnibus bill takes the transportation budget and other functions of government off "autopilot" for the first time since 2011. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/nasa_goddard/5613807476/?welcome##NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/flickr##

Senate Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski said the omnibus bill takes the transportation budget and other functions of government off “autopilot” for the first time since 2011. Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/flickr

For the past few years, Congress has been unable to agree on a budget, so funding levels have essentially been frozen in place, and then various deals and sequesters have taken slices out without much strategy or forethought. “For the first time since 2011, no mission of our government will be left behind on autopilot,” said Senate Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski in a statement, noting that all 12 sections of the bill are complete.

The results for multi-modal transportation programs [PDF] are better than we’ve grown accustomed to. TIGER gets a 20 percent jump, from $500 million in 2013 to $600 million in 2014. The $500 million translated into $474 million in grants last year, with some taken out for planning and administration. A staffer said that $20 million of the 2014 amount is earmarked for planning, though some of that could go to help grantee communities with their planning.

Amtrak gets $1.39 billion — about $80 million more than last year, but the money comes with strings attached. The bill includes “policy reforms” for Amtrak, including overtime limits for employees and a prohibition on federal support for routes where Amtrak offers a discount of 50 percent or more off normal, peak fares — except where the loss from the discount is covered by the state and the state participates in setting the fares.

There’s nothing for high-speed rail. The Office of Sustainable Communities and its Integrated Planning and Investment Grants (formerly known as Regional Planning and Community Challenge grants) are also zeroed out.

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NHTSA Chief David Strickland Gets Caught in the Revolving Door

When David Strickland announced last month that he was stepping down as the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, he didn’t give any clues about where he might be going. The news came out this week: The nation’s top auto regulator is going to be a lobbyist at a law firm that deals with auto regulation, raising concerns that he’s going through the revolving door between the public and private sector, more to the benefit of industry than the public.

Will the nation's top auto safety watchdog become a lobbyist for the auto industry? Photo: ##http://www.autoweek.com/article/20110620/carnews/110629985##Auto Week##

Will the nation’s top auto safety watchdog become a lobbyist for the auto industry? Photo: Auto Week

At Venable, LLP — also known for fighting the government moratorium on offshore drilling after the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster — Strickland will work on government relations (a fancy term for lobbying) as part of the firm’s regulatory group, which represents many major automakers on a variety of matters — “including some before NHTSA,” as The Detroit News notes.

In an interview with the LegalTimes blog, Strickland said he’s excited to work on legal issues surrounding self-driving cars and other emerging technologies.

Venable’s Venerable Clients in the Automotive Industry

Venable represents the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the National Auto Auction Association, the National Automotive Finance Association, and other industry groups — and those are just the nonprofits, which are the only clients Venable lists publicly. Consumer Affairs notes that “Venable has billed $1.1 million for its services to Chrysler over the last five years.”

“Venable’s automotive industry attorneys represent auto industry players in litigation and transactions work across the country,” the law firm’s website boasts. “We have been part of the industry for years, and we have worked through every industry issue with every type of industry player.”

The firm claims credit for “winning the 10-year environmental battle to build Utah’s Legacy Parkway,” helping UDOT get wetlands and other permits to build a four-lane highway along the Great Salt Lake despite court challenges by concerned environmental groups.

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