The Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose (Calif.) State University has attracted to its educational program a diverse group of students and faculty with a vast array of transportation expertise and experiences. Here, students can earn their Masters in Transportation Management (MSTM) and apply that knowledge to their careers.

This blog was created for students, alumni, and faculty, providing a glimpse into the transportation projects and experiences that contribute to the educational quality at MTI. Others with an interest in surface transportation management are welcome to comment or contribute.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What makes a livable city? Vancouver has it all figured out.

What makes a livable city? It isn’t traffic congestion, that’s for sure. Gordon Price, former Vancouver city council member, offered a look at an alternative.

Using historic photographs of several American cities, he showed the differences in street use 100 years ago and today. “Streets had a lot of pedestrians who could use it when they wanted to,” he said, showing a photo of Detroit. The image included people walking freely among the few cars and a horse-drawn wagon. “Now streets are dominated by cars,” he said, switching to a photo of the same location today. “It’s all because of ‘Motordom’ – an alliance of auto clubs, dealerships, and manufacturers that created a socially reconstructed purpose for streets.”

Rather than allow streets to be convenient for people, the alliance repurposed them for vehicles. To do that, they began a campaign to publicize the number of people that could be killed, the number of accidents, the number of jaywalkers, and other statistics designed to worry the population. By the 1920s, streets were transformed as roadways for cars, and the cities were accommodating them.

Then in 1942, a Transportation Planning Handbook was published for transportation engineers. It laid out the standards for “designing an efficient, free, rapid flow of traffic.” It was all about allowing vehicles to move faster, without pedestrians in the way. This was the Utopian vision for the future.

A decade later, the Eisenhower Interstate System became the world’s biggest public works project. These highways were promoted by stating that a driver could go X number of miles without ever encountering a traffic light. In fact, he said, today you can drive from Tijuana up to the Canadian border without hitting light. “The first one is probably when you come into Vancouver,” he said.

With the car came suburbia, which was supported by a network of arterials, cheap energy, abundant service land, continuous safe water, low-cost insured money, and the technology to make it all work. Today, there’s only one real choice for moving around – cars. Urban planning is now automobile dependent, and urban form follows parking! Now, he said, we do sprawl big time.

Gordon challenged the audience to name one urban area where a multitude of cars can exist and still have free-flowing traffic. Have we ever reached that Utopia envisioned in 1942? The fact remains that creating car-dependent communities still has not produced one livable city.

But the city of Vancouver handled it differently. No freeways traverse its urban core, even though they were proposed many times and in multiple configurations. “But not having arterials running through Vancouver has not affected the city’s livability,” Gordon said. “Instead, we induced congestion and made it our friend. It’s not easy to drive around the city. People can do it if they wish, but it becomes so inconvenient that they prefer transit. Pedestrians, bikes, blades, and transit have a higher priority than the single-occupant vehicle.”

Vancouver wants to be pedestrian friendly. Streets move at a walking speed. There’s a transit network of streetcars. Along those trunk lines are jobs and housing. A few cities in the US have had similar success by building along streetcar lines, such as parts of Washington DC and Arlington VA.

To be successful in this endeavor, cities must incorporate sufficient density, a good mixed use with proximity, good design, and transportation choices. In the last five years, Vancouver saw a 13% drop in car use and a 55% increase in alternatives. Counter to what one would expect, commute times have actually dropped.

“We’ve bucked the national trend,” Gordon said. “And we did it without taking away people’s cars. We just gave them more choices.”

In fact, with the 2010 Olympics, Vancouver had a great controlled traffic experiment. Through efficient use of transit and discouraging car traffic in the central district, the city reduced that traffic by 30%, SkyTrain had 290,000 passengers (nearly three times more than the expected 100,000), and other transit systems saw similar spikes. “We blew everything away,” Gordon said. “We proved that Vancouver can be a successful post-Motordom city.”

The concept of Motordom drove out other choices and made cities vulnerable to the vagaries of fuel prices and other factors beyond their control. After the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the ensuing environmental disaster, where can we go? How much more will we sacrifice just to keep our cars running? That’s a question only we can answer as we make our personal transportation choices, as we vote for transportation policies, and as we make use of our public funds.

For more insight into Gordon Price’s ideas, go here

APTA president Bill Millar opens the Rail Conference in Vancouver

After a stand-up continental breakfast, APTA president Bill Millar opened the general session to a packed ballroom at the conference hotel here in Vancouver. He provided a lively “state of the rail industry” address, noting that it was a challenging year – but that it was full of successes to balance it out. For one example, he pointed to the number of commuter rail line extensions around the US, and he praised President Obama for supporting high-speed and inter-city rail. “It’s very important to build links among the urban and industrialized areas,” he said.

He noted that transit ridership is down overall, but not by much. Sixty percent of commuter rides are work-related, and with the economy in trouble, there are fewer jobs. A recent APTA survey showed that 59% of responding businesses had to cut jobs, and that even more were still planning to do so.

Interestingly, Canada is having the opposite trend – transit ridership is up. I personally don’t know why that is so, but I sense that the Canadians haven’t built their economy on the automobile as much as Americans have. So in a time of energy conservation, they already have the transit infrastructure to carry them through. But if anyone has other thoughts, please feel free to post them here.

Bill also mentioned a new Senate bill (S3412) that will provide emergency funding for transit operations. However, it has a long way to go through the legislative process, and if it is passed, it may not end up as originally written.

In the end, APTA’s “Holy Grail” is another transportation authorization to follow the now-expired SAFETEA-LU. “It expired in September and then was extended until December 2010,” he said. “I really don’t expect any movement on a new authorization until next year.”

He would like to see $123 billion invested in public transit to expand and improve systems and to make it easier for people to use.

Mattie “MP” Carter, APTA board chair and commissioner of the Memphis transit authority, emphasized the importance of workforce development so new leaders can replace those who are set to retire in the next few years.

She also noted that British Columbia and the state of Washington have signed a memo of understanding (MOU) to create a cross-border high-speed rail (HSR) system. Already, Canada has expanded its commitment to rail, as evidenced by the cities of Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary (which has a wind-powered transit), and Vancouver (with its driverless SkyTrain).

Peter Rogoff, administrator of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), said that the key to HSR success is to connect the links so it becomes part of an integrated system, along with commuter rail, bus rapid transit, and other modes. “But we must ensure good maintenance as well as expansion of new systems,” he said. “We must provide good transit especially for those who must use it because they have no cars, they don’t know how to drive, they aren’t able to drive, or for other reasons. Without good transit, these people may lose their jobs, their places at day care centers, their schooling, and other necessities.”

He noted that there is a prevalence of transit-dependent populations in central urban areas. Will we respect all those citizens and their right to mobility?

Tomorrow, I'll ride the SkyTrain and report back.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Donna Maurillo Is Writing from the APTA Rail Conference

Vancouver BC is the ideal city for a rail conference. This is a metropolis that loves transit, and I plan to ride the famous driverless Sky Rail tomorrow, which connects much of the city.

Yesterday I attended APTA's High-Speed Rail Committee meeting, which has been renamed the High-Speed and Inter-City Passenger Rail Committee to better reflect its focus on a network of urban transportation systems. The meeting attracted an overflowing crowd of more than 150, requiring that the movable walls be opened into the adjoining room.

Outgoing chair Rod Diridon Sr., who also is executive director of MTI, handed the gavel to the newly-elected board leaders. They include chair Jolene Molitoris, director of the Ohio Department of Transportation; vice-chair Chuck Wochele, a vice president with Alstom Corporation; and secretary Nazih Haddad, COO of the Florida Rail Enterprise, which is part of the Florida DOT.

Karen Rae, deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), addressed the group, telling them that the FRA will focus on building rail capacity much faster and it will streamline its funding process.

APTA president Bill Millar, whose charisma and booming voice always command attention, thanked everyone for working to implement President Obama's simple request to keep high-speed rail (HSR) moving forward. Bill emphasized that HSR requires many ideas, groups and perspectives to carry it to successful implementation. Rod Diridon added that HSR is part of the President's goal to move the USA toward a green transportation policy and to promote environmental issues and sustainable transportation.

A World Congress on High-Speed Rail is set for Beijing from December 6-9 this year. The venue is adjacent to the most recognizable facilities from the Beijing Olympics.

Friday, June 4, 2010

MTI Expert Says Mumbai Derailment Could Have Serious Implications for Rail Security Worldwide

India has suffered the most numerous attacks, but terrorists can take lessons from these and apply them in other countries.

San Jose, Calif., May 29, 2010 –Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) counter-terrorism expert Brian Michael Jenkins says that the Mumbai train derailment two days ago could point to a growing trend in India. But it also could have serious implications for other countries. Terrorists make note of methods, taking lessons from all attempts, whether successful or not. These lessons could be applied to other systems.

At the same time, transportation security and counter-terrorism experts must take their own lessons so they can create safer and more secure systems in their countries.

Sabotage of the rail line sent the Calcutta-to-Mumbai express hurtling off the tracks into the path of an oncoming freight train, killing more than 100 people and injuring scores of others. According to Indian police, a Maoist guerrilla group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Earlier in May, Maoist guerrillas in India’s Chhattisgarh State detonated a mine under a passenger bus, killing 44.

“The threat seems to be growing, with at least 30 deliberate derailments in India since January 2000, almost four times the number of derailments in the 1990s, and 15 times the number of incidents in the 1980s,” said Mr. Jenkins, director of MTI’s National Transportation Security Center of Excellence. “The death toll between 2000 and 2010 is 13 times greater than that in the 1990s, although, owing to two bloody incidents, it is only slightly greater than the 1980s.”

MTI will be examining this case and other recent attacks in India to see what lessons might be learned and how these may be applied to other countries.

According to MTI’s comprehensive database of attacks on surface transportation, this death toll makes the May 28 derailment India’s worst terrorist attack on passenger rail since 2006, and its bloodiest deliberate derailment in decades. On July 11, 2006 terrorists detonated seven bombs on Mumbai’s crowded commuter trains, killing 207 people and injuring hundreds of others. The last comparable derailment occurred in 1989, when sabotage derailed the Bangalore-Delhi Express killing 67.

A recent MTI report on deliberate derailments, Off the Rails: The 1995 Attempted Derailing of the French TGV (High Speed Train) and Quantitative Analysis of 181 Rail Sabotage Attempts by Mr. Jenkins, Bruce R. Butterworth, and Jean-Fran├žois Clair, shows India’s rail system suffering the most terrorists derailments with 42 incidents or 23 percent of the total number of such incidents. According to MTI’s database, India also leads the world in the number of terrorist bomb attacks against train and bus targets with 387 incidents since 1970, or 17 percent of the total.

Mr. Jenkins flew to Mumbai in September 2009 at the invitation of Indian officials to discuss surface transportation security issues, and he will return to India later this year. MTI also briefed Indian officials visiting the U.S. in January 2010.

The report may be downloaded at no cost from this link.

ABOUT BRIAN MICHAEL JENKINS

Brian Michael Jenkins is an international authority on terrorism and sophisticated crime. He directs MTI’s research on protecting surface transportation against terrorist attacks. He is also a senior advisor to the president of RAND. From 1989-98, Mr. Jenkins was deputy chairman of Kroll Associates, an international investigative and consulting firm. Before that, he was chairman of RAND’s Political Science Department, where he also directed research on political violence.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

MTI Presents “Funding the Transportation System of the Future"

Mineta Transportation Institute Presents
“Funding the Transportation System of the Future: What's Possible in the Current Anti-Tax Climate?”

Friday, June 25, 2010
8:30am Continental breakfast
9-11am Panel discussion

Commonwealth Club
595 Market Street
Second Floor
San Francisco

FREE!! It also will be recorded for later broadcast on NPR Radio.

Moderator --
Hon. Rod Diridon Sr., Executive Director, Mineta Transportation Institute

Expert Panel --
- Dr. Asha Weinstein Agrawal, Director, MTI’s National Finance Research Center
- William Millar, President, American Public Transportation Association
- Hon. John Horsley, Executive Director, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
- Hon. Alan Lowenthal, California State Senator

Within the next two decades, the census bureau estimates that the U.S. population will increase by as many as 50 million people, including more than a 25% increase in California’s population alone. This population growth, combined with a growing backlog of overdue maintenance work on roads and transit systems, creates a need for significantly expanded transportation revenues. However, the current political climate is generally unfavorable to tax increases. Given these political realities, what new or expanded revenue sources could be generated for transportation? In particular, what options will be politically feasible in the short and medium term? Our panel of transportation experts, representing viewpoints from the national and state level, will discuss possible revenue options and their likely reception from the public and legislators.

For more information -- http://tickets.commonwealthclub.org/auto_choose_ga.asp?area=1&shcode=1775