Emergency personnel work the scene of a train wreck, Tue., May 12, 2015, in Philadelphia. | Photo by Joseph Kaczmarek/AP
1. Amtrak Crash Sparks Debate Over Country’s Crumbling Infrastructure
The gist: Last night, an Amtrak train en route to New York City derailed in Philadelphia’s Port Richmond neighborhood. At least six people are dead, according to city officials and a Temple University Hospital doctor. A minimum of 65 are injured. “It’s an absolute disastrous mess,” said Mayor Michael Nutter. “I’ve never seen anything so devastating.” He said the cause of the derailment is currently unknown. “We do not know what happened here. We do not know why this happened.”
Why it matters: More than anything, what matters is that at least six people lost their lives and dozens more were injured. Right now, we have no idea what led to this tragedy, and any speculation to that effect would be irresponsible. Still, last night’s crash has ignited a debate on social media and elsewhere about America’s crumbling infrastructure. That debate is only going to grow louder in the weeks ahead. Congress was already scheduled to consider a bill this week that would cut Amtrak’s funding, even as, according to The Atlantic, “ridership has increased by roughly 50 percent in the past 15 years, and ridership in the Northeast Corridor stood at an all-time high in 2014.” Democrats had previously “been expected to take a run at boosting the bill’s funding for Amtrak, but the debate at Wednesday’s markup is sure to take on more urgency in light of the crash,” Politico reports. The Amtrak derailment may also spur action by state and local officials. After a CSX train derailed in Philadelphia last year, City Council held a hearing on the incident.
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How many in the audience at the 2015 mayoral mobility forum rode bikes to get there? A LOT. | Photo credit: Jim Kenney Twitter feed.
For years now, a lot of the shorthand, sarcastic, political insider criticism of Mayor Michael Nutter has referenced his affinity for bike lanes. As in: “Yeah the poverty rate sucks, but hey, how about those bike lanes!”
Part of that has been driven by a deep-seated conviction (I’d argue it’s a mistaken one) among many elected officials that Nutter cares way more about Center City interests than “neighborhood” ones. But dislike of Nutter doesn’t explain everything. Bike lanes, and really the entire “mobility” agenda—which includes everything from cycling infrastructure, to road paving, to pedestrian accommodations, to traffic enforcement and much more—has long provoked epic eye-rolls whenever raised with the city’s political class. In other words, these concerns have been dismissed by a lot of powerful people as little more than the obsession of entitled Center City millennials, and thus unworthy of City Hall’s attention.
But if Thursday night’s Better Mobility 2015 Mayoral Forum was any indication—and it was—then the political calculus has changed, and City Hall will likely be forced to reckon more seriously with questions of pedestrian and cyclist safety in the future. Read more »
Not helping the commute.
An immensely success pilot program in New York City is forcing cities to rethink how trucks maneuver their streets. Or more specific, when they’re allowed to. NYC’s Off-Hour Delivery (OHD) initiative has successfully shifted many truck deliveries away from peak hours (6 a.m. to 7 p.m.), the time when 95 percent of deliveries had been made in Manhattan. It’s expected to produce economic savings of $100-200 million a year by reducing traffic congestion, lowering fuel consumption and streamlining supply chains for participating retailers like Whole Foods, CVS and Foot Locker. Read more »
Logan Circle. Lovely, but not particularly safe. New-fangled roundabouts are. | Photo from VisitPhilly.com
Roundabouts—those circular intersections without traffic signals—are ubiquitous in many states (the most terrifying ones live in New Jersey), but are relatively rare in Pennsylvania. There’s only about two dozen statewide.
But that’s about to change in a big way. According to an interesting report from the Morning Call, Pennsylvania is on the brink of a roundabout boom. At least 40 new traffic circles are planned across the Commonwealth, the Morning Call reports. “They’re going to start becoming predominant,” state Department of Transportation engineer Thomas Walter told the Morning Call. Read more »
The good news? Gas is pretty cheap these days — as low as $2.02 a gallon in the Philadelphia area, according to one website.
The not-quite-as-thrilling news? The gas isn’t quite as cheap as it could be: Pennsylvania now has the highest gas taxes in the country.
“Pennsylvania has passed New York and California by earning the dubious distinction of having the highest gasoline taxes in the nation, ” Greg Laskoski writes at GasBuddy.com. “Combined with the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon, Pennsylvania’s state tax of 50.5 cpg. brings the combined tax to 68.9 cents per gallon. Californians pay 63.7 cents per gal., New Yorkers pay 63.4 cents per gal., according to the American Petroleum Institute.”
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“Ladies and gentlemen, the next station stop for this train is City Hall station in Philadelphia. Please check your seat and make sure you have all personal belongings with you as you leave the train. Thank you for riding Amtrak.”
At least one Philadelphian would love to hear this announcement. In an essay in the Philadelphia Business Journal yesterday, Bob Previdi, former spokesperson for City Council member Anna Verna, noted that running Amtrak trains through the heart of the city, stopping at a renamed Suburban Station on the way to New York, would offer all sorts of benefits: increased convenience for Amtrak travelers, increased property values for homes and offices now closer to intercity rail service, and even luring New Yorkers to Philly to live, as their commutes and their tax bills would both shrink.
There’s a lot that’s appealing about this idea. 30th Street Station, grand though it is, is across the river from the heart of the city, and Previdi is far from the only person who would love to see restored the city center access that was lost when Broad Street Station was closed in 1952. And he is right to note that this city, like London, has already made a major investment in easy rail access in the form of the Commuter Tunnel.
But in saying that the only thing standing in the way of operating Amtrak service through the Commuter Tunnel is the political will to bring the passenger and freight railroads together to implement the through-tunnel service, he is ignoring one big fact on the ground.
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Darn! I missed National Train Day on May 10th. But in reality I have a lot of train days. That’s because I’ve been using Amtrak frequently over the past few months. And I’m not alone: Amtrak reportedly carries 31.5 million passengers a year and if trends continue, by 2040 ridership could reach 43.5 million. And I’m pretty sure all of those passengers were on the 6:25 Northeast Regional with me last night coming home from New York.
Were you on that train? Well, you snore. And also, please, out of respect for me and all the other 31.5 million fellow passengers, I hope you follow these 10 rules of etiquette.
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In the long, hard slog to secure stable funding for transportation statewide, SEPTA stressed that without it, its system would die a slow, painful death.
So, having now been through that near-death experience, SEPTA’s five-year capital budget proposal wisely avoids talk of new routes or extensions, save for one that was already in the pipeline when the funding crisis hit. Instead, at public open houses Feb. 26, SEPTA presented a five-year capital program that addresses each of the items that would have caused that slow death.
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How the hell did this happen? Read more »
Photo | Jeff Fusco
I recently met someone who lives in Center City and is debating whether or not she should buy a car. Are you kidding me? Driving in Philadelphia is one of the worst ideas ever. Here, the ten reasons why driving in Philadelphia is a really, really positively and utterly stupid idea.
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