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Trucker in Tracy Morgan Crash: Lay Off, It Was an “Accident”

Kevin Roper, the Walmart trucker who reportedly slammed into a limo bus carrying several comedians early Saturday morning, is having his say on Twitter. He wants the world to know that the crash that killed James “Uncle Jimmy Mack” McNair and critically injured Tracy Morgan and three others was an “accident.”

Roper asserts that he was not drunk or high and that he wasn’t charged at the scene because he wasn’t guilty of any crime. He referred repeatedly to his “ACCIDENT,” underlining the reason why Streetsblog and an increasing number of other publications refer to such events as “crashes” or “collisions.”

Note: The Twitter account under the handle @Kevinmoneytalks describes its user as “Trying to win more than lose! Driving trucks for a living #Walmart,” but we don’t have any independent verification that these tweets were indeed authored by the same person who was driving the truck that hit the comedians’ limo. According to news reports, the Twitter account previously included the phrase, “Move or get hit!” in the description, but that’s been removed.

The sad thing is, Roper is right about one thing: Without the media spotlight brought on by the involvement of celebrities, he probably would have gotten “a few traffic tickets.” As he said, he wasn’t immediately charged with anything. That’s how the justice system views these crashes: unavoidable acts of god, the unfortunate collateral damage of the “freedom” afforded by car culture.

No matter whether Roper was drunk, high, or tired, he failed to notice that traffic had slowed down and slammed his tractor-trailer into another vehicle, and that act caused loss of life. Operating any vehicle — especially one as massive as a tractor-trailer — requires serious attention and concentration.

Although in one tweet he says, “i wish it was me and i can’t express how horrible i feel,” all his subsequent tweets are defensive and exculpatory. After all, killing someone in traffic is just an “accident.”

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As Senate Suspends Fatigue Rules, Trucker Charged in Tracy Morgan Crash

Over the weekend, comedian James “Jimmy Mack” McNair died and Tracy Morgan and three other comedians were critically injured when a tractor-trailer crashed into their limo on the New Jersey Turnpike.

One comedian was killed and other critically injured Saturday morning at an hour when rules had limited truck drivers from driving -- until two days earlier.

One comedian was killed and others critically injured on the New Jersey Turnpike in the early morning hours Saturday. Last week, the Senate suspended rules aimed at limiting late-night driving among truckers.

Truck driver Kevin Roper is expected to appear in court today on one count of death by auto and four counts of assault by auto. He was driving a Walmart truck around 1 a.m. Saturday when he reportedly failed to notice that traffic had slowed. He crashed into the limo bus, which had Morgan, McNair, and stand-up comedians Ardie Fuqua Jr., Harris Stanton, and three others on board, according to officials. The limo driver wasn’t hurt.

According to the criminal complaint New Jersey authorities filed against the truck driver, Roper had not slept for over 24 hours and was operating the vehicle “recklessly.”

That was Saturday. On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee had voted 21-9 to suspend rules aimed at reducing driver fatigue, including rules limiting driving at the hour when the crash occurred.

Sen. Susan Collins said driver-fatigue rules had "unintended consequences."

Sen. Susan Collins said driver fatigue rules had “unintended consequences.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced the successful amendment, which suspended a requirement that truck drivers rest for at least 34 consecutive hours –- including two nights from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. –- before beginning their next work week. The rules also limit the maximum average work week for truck drivers to 70 hours, a decrease from the previous maximum of 82 hours, and require drivers to take a 30-minute break during the first eight hours of a shift.

Collins said the hours-of-service rules had the “unintended consequences” of forcing truckers to drive during the congested daylight hours, rather than the middle of the night, when traffic is lighter. Off-peak freight delivery is often cited as a common-sense solution to reduce truck congestion in cities.

Truckers chafe at the suggestion that the government knows best when they’re tired and when they should rest. We don’t yet know what exactly caused this crash, but driver fatigue is a real problem with deadly consequences. And in urban environments, drivers face far more complex conditions than what Roper found on the turnpike.

The Senate suspended the hours-of-service rules so it could study them. They already have a case study to investigate.

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Trucks and Cities Are Like Oil and Water. Is There a Solution?

This freight truck killed 73-year-old pedestrian Ngozi Agbim in Brooklyn this June. Photo: Daily News via ##http://www.streetsblog.org/2013/06/25/ngozi-agbim-73-killed-by-truck-driver-at-crash-prone-brooklyn-intersection/##Streetsblog NYC##

This freight truck killed 73-year-old pedestrian Ngozi Agbim in Brooklyn this June. Photo: Daily News via Streetsblog NYC

About 350 pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists are killed each year by large trucks in this country. Big freight trucks are incompatible with cities in many ways, bringing danger, pollution, noise, and traffic congestion. They park in bike lanes and have shockingly big blind spots, putting everyone around them at risk. And yet, most cities haven’t found a way to reconcile the need to move goods with all their other priorities.

Meanwhile, as more and more cities prioritize walkability and bike-friendliness, they often neglect the task of reconfiguring freight logistics.

As part of the MAP-21 transportation bill, U.S. DOT convened a Freight Advisory Committee to help inform the creation of a national strategic plan for freight transportation. One of the advisory panel’s six subcommittees focuses on the first mile/last mile problem, but even that one subcommittee is reportedly more concerned with port access than delivery issues at the destination. The interplay between urban freight transportation and smart growth is far from a core focus of the committee.

It should be a top priority for urbanists and complete streets advocates, though. If we don’t help cities plan for freight movement, what we’ll get is unplanned freight movement, and all the chaos that comes with it. About 80 percent of freight in cities is delivered by trucks, and those trucks pose a significant threat to livability.

Loading and unloading slows traffic and takes up street space. When businesses do have dedicated loading docks, they reduce available space for the business and for the pedestrian activity that enlivens urban spaces. Then there’s noise pollution, air pollution, and safety concerns.

And yet, our cities run on the goods these hulking trucks deliver — and the garbage they take away. (Yes, trash pick-up is a freight question too.)

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Streetsblog NYC 11 Comments

Will the Feds Step Up for Ped Safety and Close the Crossover Mirror Loophole?

Albany's law requiring crossover mirrors for large trucks on NYC surface streets doesn't apply to out-of-state trucks. Will the federal government make this safety feature a nationwide requirement? Image: DOT

In February, 7-year-old Amar Diarrassouba was killed while crossing the street in East Harlem. Truck driver Robert Carroll ran him over while turning from East 117th Street to First Avenue. Because Carroll was driving a truck registered out-of-state, the vehicle wasn’t covered by the state law requiring crossover mirrors for large trucks on New York City streets. Community Board 11 recently asked Representative Charles Rangel to introduce a bill that would mandate crossover mirrors nationwide, but federal action seems unlikely in the near future and the loophole allowing out-of-state trucks to skip the safety mirrors remains in place.

From 1994 to 2003, 204 New York City pedestrians were killed and 4,698 were injured in collisions involving large trucks. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [PDF], 71 percent of pedestrians killed by the drivers of large trucks nationwide were first struck at the front of the vehicle.

The mirrors, which cost about $100, are located on the front of a truck’s cab and significantly improve a driver’s visibility directly in front of the vehicle and on the passenger side. The mirrors especially help drivers see children, who are more likely to be within a driver’s blind spot when walking near a large truck.

In 2011, Albany passed a law requiring crossover mirrors for trucks weighing 26,000 pounds or more operating on NYC surface streets, but the rule only applies to vehicles registered in-state, exempting trucks like the one Carroll was driving when he killed Diarrassouba.

After sending its letter to Rangel in July, CB 11 got a response [PDF]. “Your suggestion is timely and significant and deserves great consideration,” Rangel wrote. “Having every driver of a truck, tractor, tractor-trailer and/or semi-trailer use a ‘crossover’ mirror is imperative.” But Rangel’s letter didn’t say whether he would introduce or support legislation making such a requirement law, leaving CB 11 leadership wanting more.

“It’s kind of lukewarm,” CB 11 transportation committee chair Peggy Morales said last night about Rangel’s letter. Streetsblog followed up with Rangel’s office, which said it would get back to us after his legislative director returns to the office next week.

Congress isn’t the only route. U.S. DOT could use its rulemaking authority to set a national standard on crossover mirrors. Streetsblog asked the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration if it had studied crossover mirrors or considered requiring them. FMCSA referred our questions to NHTSA, which said that it had not conducted research on crossover safety mirrors, though it was keeping an eye on the New York law and might conduct research in the future before beginning the rulemaking process.

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How Green Is Grocery Delivery in Cities?

Grocery delivery can cut carbon emissions compared to driving your car to the store and back. But delivery services also replace walking, biking, and transit trips. Image: Transportation Research Forum

In a recent study out of Seattle, researchers Erica Wygonik and Anne Goodchild found that having groceries delivered by truck can cut mileage by up to 85 or 95 percent compared to driving a car. ”It’s like a bus for groceries,” Goodchild told NPR. ”Overwhelmingly, it’s more efficient to be sharing a vehicle, even if it’s a little larger.”

The most efficiency can be squeezed out of grocery delivery when dispatchers can design short routes that serve many people. When customers can choose their delivery times, however, the routes become significantly less efficient.

But in urban areas, where houses are close enough together that delivery might be relatively efficient, not everyone drives to the store. And people without access to a car might be the most likely to use a delivery service. In these locations, perhaps delivery services are replacing walking, biking, and transit trips more than driving trips.

It looks like more research is needed to evaluate the full impact of grocery delivery services on travel choices and carbon emissions. “We don’t have great data about how people get to the store,” Goodchild said in an email exchange. “We also don’t know to what extent these shoppers (bike/ped) might choose to shop online, versus those who drive to the store.”

She said she and her co-author have talked about conducting simulations where they consider biking “but would need to estimate calorie burn.” Yes, calorie burn — but hopefully not “increased respiration.”

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Who Still Likes the House Transpo Bill? Big Oil, Big Truck, and Big Box Retail

The House has finished marking up its transportation bill in what shaped up to be a very Groundhog Day-esque ordeal of unending, repetitive partisan theater (if you missed it, follow coverage on twitter).

Spoiler alert. Photo: TruckinWeb

The centerpiece was yesterday’s/last night’s/this morning’s Transportation & Infrastructure committee markup, where members debated more than 80 amendments for over 18 hours before finally approving Chairman Mica’s bill, 29-24, at about 3:00 a.m. Not one Democrat voted for it, and only one Republican — Tom Petri of Wisconsin — voted against it. Energy and Financing titles were also approved by their respective committees.

Streetsblog has already pointed out that there’s plenty to dislike in the bill, especially for pedestrians, cyclists, city-dwellers, transit riders, and the environmentally-conscious. But believe it or not, there are a few groups out there who still like this bill a whole lot. In fact, at today’s markup in the Ways and Means Committee, Chairman Dave Camp submitted for the record a letter of support from over 50 organizations.

It’s worth noting that the list of supporters is getting smaller. The T&I bill may have enjoyed the support of AASHTO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, but both have now opposed the Ways & Means committee’s financing title. In fact, over 600 organizations have voiced their opposition to that particular bill. However, there are still some hold-outs.

For starters, there’s trucking. Bill Graves, the American Trucking Associations’ CEO, called the bill “a major step forward, not just for trucking, but for all users of our transportation system.” Graves was disappointed when new rules allowing longer, heavier trucks were put off pending further study, saying, “We hope that Congress will see that wasting taxpayer money on further study is not necessary and as this legislation moves forward, enacts these long overdue reforms.”

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Feds Put Off Issuing New Trucking Safety Rules

Federal safety officials missed their own deadline Friday for making new rules about dangerous trucks.

A 76-year-old man in LA county was hit by a truck while riding his bike in 2008. Republicans want to keep current trucking laws in place that Democrats and others say lead to driver fatigue, causing accidents like this one. Photo: Aitken Aitken Cohn

October 28 was the original deadline by which the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration was supposed to announce new hours-of-service regulations for trucking, but in the end, they gave themselves another month to do it.

The pending change is the result of a lawsuit brought by Public Citizen, the Teamsters Union, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and the Truck Safety Coalition against the FMCSA to tighten the standards. The suit resulted in an agreement that the FMCSA would change the current 11-hour driving day and the 34-hour rest period before starting a long workweek to a 10-hour driving day, keeping the 34-hour “restart” but with new restrictions.

The Bush-era rule has been struck down twice before by the courts, but the FMCSA kept reinstating it — first in late 2007 and then about a year later. This time, the agency appears ready to make a change.

The 11-hour rule was a “midnight regulation” made during President George W. Bush’s final days in office, according to the Teamsters. The Bush administration increased the workweek from 60 to 77 hours of driving and reduced the restart period from 50 hours to 34.

The Teamsters say truck crashes cost the nation $20 billion in 2009, and that truck driver fatigue is a major factor in truck crashes. Some statistics indicate fatigue is a factor in 30 to 40 percent of truck crashes, though the FMCSA itself puts the number at 5.5 percent.

“We will continue to push for a rule that protects truck drivers, instead of the greed of the trucking industry,” said Teamsters President Jim Hoffa when the court case was decided two years ago. “Longer hours behind the wheel are dangerous for our members and the driving public.”

The problem isn’t limited to highways. Six percent of pedestrian fatalities and nine percent of bicyclist fatalities in 2009 were caused by crashes with large trucks, according to the NHTSA. Between 1996 and 2005, crashes with large trucks accounted for almost a third of all cyclist fatalities in New York City, according to a joint report by NYC agencies [PDF].

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GAO: Trucking the Least Efficient Mode of Freight Shipping

Freight transportation, which accounts for nearly a quarter of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, doesn’t get as much attention as passenger transportation because most people don’t feel it affects them as much. But more than 15 million trucks deliver 70 percent of the goods this country consumes – and the GAO says that’s a mistake.

Safety is one of many externalized costs of freight trucking. Photo: Truck Accidents 360 Newswire

The Government Accountability Office published a study finding that the costs of freight trucking that are not passed on to the consumer are at least six times greater than the equivalent rail costs and at least nine times greater than the equivalent waterways costs. Many of those are externalized costs passed on to society – like congestion, pollution, and crashes – as well as public costs, like infrastructure maintenance.

These externalized and public costs are just another way that taxpayers subsidize highways. The GAO implies that the country’s highway-centric transportation policy could be damaging the economy.

“When prices do not reflect all these costs, one mode may have a cost advantage over the others that distorts competition,” writes the GAO. “As a consequence, the nation could devote more resources than needed to higher cost freight modes, an inefficient outcome that lowers economic well-being.”

The report goes on to say, “If government policy gives one mode a cost advantage over another, by, for example, not recouping all the costs of that mode’s use of infrastructure, then shipping prices and customers’ use of freight modes can be distorted, reducing the overall efficiency of the nation’s economy.”

The GAO didn’t make recommendations in this report but did say that policy changes that make prices align with the true costs of freight shipping would provide a great economic benefit. Less targeted changes, like charging user fees, subsidizing more efficient alternatives, or applying safety or emissions regulations – could be helpful as well. The report acknowledges that “the current configuration of transportation infrastructure can limit the shifting of freight among modes.”

After all, we’ve been building a lot more highways than railroads lately.

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The Problems With Ports, or Why We Need a National Freight Act

Maybe you commute by train, or maybe you've switched from driving to biking. But your stuff is still traveling the country by diesel truck.

port_of_oakland_noaa.jpgContainers at the Port of Oakland. Photo: NOAA
Nearly a quarter of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions come from freight. The movement of goods from port of entry to a store near you throws enough particulate pollution into the air to shorten the lives of 21,000 people each year, according to the Clean Air Task Force.

The freight sector is lumbering under inefficient and outdated systems that cause pollution, public health problems, safety hazards, and delivery delays. There’s never been a coordinated national approach to solving these problems. And with no deliberate strategy, the default approach is often to build more highways.

As Stephen Davis of Transportation for America writes:

If a port is congested or wants to expand, there’s little available federal money to spend directly on rail or any other mode. Your choices are highways or highways. When a state or port does spend to improve operations, there is no accountability to make sure they’re actually reducing port/freight congestion, moving freight faster, or reducing air pollution in surrounding communities.

Enter the FREIGHT Act. (That’s the Focusing Resources, Economic Investment and Guidance to Help Transportation Act of 2010, with true Capitol Hill acronym panache.) The FREIGHT Act was introduced in the Senate toward the end of July and in the House a week later.

The bill focuses on areas known as "connectors," said Kathryn Phillips of the Environmental Defense Fund. “All the literature and studies say it’s the connector areas, the hubs, where you have the most congestion and environmental impacts.” The bill calls for troubleshooting at these bottlenecks, where products are transferred “from boat to truck to another truck to rail” and everything gets bogged down. Trucks get stuck in traffic; trains sit on the tracks; ships idle at port.

Communities near international ports pay the price. In Riverside, California, traffic gets tied up at 26 at-grade rail crossings 128 times a day when trains pass. Add to that the noise and pollution nearby neighborhoods must contend with.

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Streetsblog NYC 13 Comments

See a Pattern of Deadly Dump Trucks? Don’t Bother Federal Safety Officials

Last Wednesday in Brooklyn, the driver of a private garbage truck ignored a bicyclist riding alongside and crushed him as the truck rounded a corner, according to a preliminary NYPD investigation. Police identified the victim as Eling Rivera, 51, of East New York.

No definitive count is available, but Rivera’s death could well be the hundredth in which a garbage truck ran over a New York City pedestrian or cyclist over the past decade-and-a-half. Twenty-six such fatalities were recorded during a four-year period in the mid-1990s, a rate that equates to between six and seven per year, according to research I directed for Right Of Way in our 1999 report, Killed By Automobile [PDF, see pages 33-34].

With an average of 23.8 peds or cyclists killed per hundred million miles driven, garbage trucks had by far the highest fatality rate in the study, exceeding the all-vehicle average of 1.7 killed per hundred million miles by a factor of 14. Within the garbage truck category, the per-mile rate of killing pedestrians and cyclists was two-thirds higher for private haulers than for NYC Department of Sanitation trucks.

Six hours before Rivera was killed, operators of a Philadelphia garbage barge ignored a radio distress call from a stalled “duck boat” and rammed it, killing two tourists and sending 30 more into the Delaware River, the National Transportation Safety Board revealed yesterday.

Investigators from the NTSB, the federal agency chartered with determining causes of transportation accidents and formulating recommendations to improve transportation safety, are combing the Delaware River for clues in the duck boat-barge smashup. Yet none can be seen in Bushwick, just as no NTSB personnel have looked into any of the 100 or so other garbage truck-related pedestrian and cyclist fatalities dating to the mid-nineties.

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