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Infrastructure in the News 7.19.16


The Washington Post: Forget the bells and whistles, what transit riders want is good service

Bells and whistles are nice, but what riders want from transit is just good, reliable service.

Fact Co Design: How Urban Design Perpetuates Racial Inequality—And What We Can Do About It

Cities are complex organisms shaped by myriad forces, but their organization bears the fingerprints of planners and policy makers who have shaped them for decades. At the root of many of these practices is racism, and modern cities bear the legacy of that discrimination.

The Washington Post: Pokémon Go crash is proof texting and driving has gone too far.

So a driver crashed into a tree while  playing Pokémon Go on his smartphone in Auburn, N.Y. No one saw that coming, right?

Grist: Making our cities stronger and greener: A planning guide for candidates

Consider this: The leading presidential candidates this election year have strong connections to our country’s largest metro area (that’s New York, New York), yet they’ve almost completely ignored issues and policy debates that matter to cities. It’s even stranger when you consider that 80 percent of U.S. residents live in a city or suburb. But ain’t that America: a country of suburbanites and city dwellers still largely ruled by their agrarian past, thanks in part to the rural bias of the current primary and caucus system.

US News and World Report: US says autos can meet 2025 fuel economy targets

The U.S. government says the nation's cars and trucks are well on their way to meeting fuel economy and emissions standards set for 2025.

The Wall Street Journal: Regulators Defend Obama Administration’s Fuel-Economy Standards

Government regulators said Monday that U.S. auto makers aren’t on track to meet the Obama administration’s ambitious fuel-economy standards, but added that the industry does have the technical ability to meet them even in the face of cheap gasoline prices.

The Huffington Post (blog): Let’s Return Our Cities To The People Who Live There

“The New American Dream Is Living in a City,” Time magazine declared — just one of the thousands of think pieces over the last few years about why young people today are choosing to live downtown, where they can have diverse experiences, inhabit public spaces and walk everywhere they need to go.

The New York Times (AP): Plans for Self-Driving Cars Have Pitfall: The Human Brain

Experts say the development of self-driving cars over the coming decade depends on an unreliable assumption by many automakers: that the humans in them will be ready to step in and take control if the car's systems fail.


Dallas Business Journal: Rapid growth along I-35 creates new passenger rail options

The Texas Department of Transportation is looking for ways to accommodate for rapid population growth with a new high-speed passenger rail service connecting Oklahoma City, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio and South Texas, all cities along the I-35 corridor.

The Architects Newspaper: Chicago’s proliferating transit oriented developments spark controversy

Transit is getting some love in Chicago, and not just in terms of de rigueur track and station improvements. An estimated 30 new transit-friendly residential projects have been built, are under construction, or are in planning since Chicago adopted its first transit-oriented development (TOD) ordinance in September 2013.

Twin Cities Daily Planet: Prioritizing pedestrians over cars shakes up Minneapolis street design

You are taking a walk around your neighborhood, and then you come upon a busy intersection with four lanes of traffic, lightrail, buses and bikers. And you are a pedestrian. You are at the red light. The lightrail is about to come, cars are passing at the intersection, the walk sign shows you a red hand. Wait, wait. The automatic speaker system warns you to wait. Counting down 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. It’s your turn now. You take a breath, look to your right and left and take a step towards the intersection. There’s a car turning right behind you, waiting for you to pass, you walk a little faster, and you reach the middle of the intersection. The walk signal turns into a red blinking sign, you increase your speed so you can get to the other side. You barely make it to the sidewalk before the light changes. You stop to take another breath.

iNewsSource: Comic-Con uses its super powers to help fill San Diego trolley cars

Taking the trolley to the San Diego Comic-Con might be the worst kept secret for avoiding stop-and-go downtown traffic and high parking fees.

The New York Times: Cuomo Details Redesigned Subway Cars and Major Station Renovations

Imagine your subway train is pulling up to the platform, its wider doors easing the claustrophobic dance between riders struggling to alight as others board. Once inside, you are able to walk freely between cars during rush hour, allowing passengers to find, and create, less-crowded cars.

The Washington Post: Hogan, in Potomac rather than Cleveland, announces funds for I-270

While much of his party gathered in Cleveland for the Republican National Convention, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan journeyed to deep-blue Montgomery County on Monday to announce an additional $100 million in state funding to ease traffic on chronically congested Interstate 270.

The Wall Street Journal (AP): Schumer seeks $18M in federal funds for Port of Albany

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer says he's seeking $18 million in federal transportation funding to upgrade the Port of Albany.

Politico Morning Transportation

By Jennifer Scholtes, Brianna Gurciullo and Lauren Gardner | 07/19/2016 05:41 AM EDT

With help from Andrew Restuccia and Eric Wolff

PLUS ÇA CHANGE: With the Republican National Convention underway, the GOP has released its platform, with plenty of recycled ideas for shifting transportation funding and services to the private sector and overhauling environmental and labor laws.

The platform calls for stripping the Highway Trust Fund of "programs that should not be the business of the federal government," like spending on mass transit. It proposes discontinuing the federal transit program, changing parts of the law governing environmental reviews and repealing the Davis-Bacon Act. The Republicans also come out against an increase in the federal gas tax - a political nonstarter anyway, some members of the GOP would say, despite plenty of red states having hiked their own gasoline taxes. They advocate for privatizing rail service in the country's Northeast Corridor (which also appeared in the 2012 GOP platform), as well as shifting high-speed and intercity rail to private providers.

You down with P3s? The party's platform suggests allowing public-private partnerships to upgrade the nation's aging infrastructure. "Recognizing that, over time, additional revenue will be needed to expand the carrying capacity of roads and bridges, we will remove legal roadblocks to public-private partnership agreements that can save the taxpayers' money and bring outside investment to meet a community's needs," Republicans wrote. And they call for reversing the Obama administration's decision to allow the TSA to unionize.

What's out from the 2012 platform? Thinly veiled opposition to a vehicle-miles-traveled user fee to help fund highway construction.

GETTING TO KNOW PETER NEFFENGER: It has been just over a year since TSA was turned over to the leadership of Peter Neffenger, a quiet and polite guy whose name didn't ring a bell for many in the transportation security sphere upon his nomination. Unlike his chief - the famously sociable Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson - Neffenger isn't known for sharing many personal anecdotes. But the TSA administrator just might be opening up.

'Odd' upbringing: During a discussion at the Wilson Center last week, Neffenger talked a little about his childhood, explaining that he "grew up with an odd set of parents." And the story goes: His pop was a chemical engineer and inventor, whose garage was filled with big vats that could have melted your fingertips or "killed most of the neighborhood," and who "started and lost a couple of ventures." His mom was a musician - a creative spirit who probably never cooked a meal in her life. So Pete (as his friends call him) and his seven siblings "were encouraged to just think differently about things," the administrator said.

Not an SNL skit: Neffenger also joked about some painfully down-to-earth experiences at TSA checkpoints: "All of you have had the same experience I've had. You get in line. It's single-file. ... If you are unlucky like me, you're behind the five people who left their bags there for you. But they're already gone, and you've got to get them to engage the system. If you're also like me, you're behind the guy with the combat boots on and the five gold chains, who didn't think about the fact that he had combat boots and five gold chains on. And he's got to get those off. And you're stuck."

Capitalizing on crisis: The administrator was unlucky enough to assume his role as TSA head right after the agency was outed for failing in 67 out of 70 covert tests. But Neffenger says news of those failures was the fire the agency needed to make some real changes. "You can't allow yourself to just let the crisis die off, wait for the news reports to go away, hunker down and say: 'Well, maybe they'll stop shooting at us soon,' and then slip back into your old ways," he said. "While the crisis is hot, you've got to move a lot of things really fast. And that's what we tried to do."

IT'S TUESDAY: Good morning and thanks for tuning in to POLITICO's Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on all things trains, planes, automobiles and ports. Reach out: or @Gardner_LM, or @JAScholtes and or @brigurciullo.

"I crossed the desert on a dining car, in the spring of '91. I met some people drinking at the bar. They were laughing, having fun."

WHAT OUR INBOX SAYS ON FAA OVERHAUL HOPES: Last week we asked MT readers: Are you hopeful or doubtful about the prospect of enacting an FAA revamp by the new September 2017 deadline Congress just set? And we got some smart answers from some in the aviation world.

A sassy response: From a CEO of one of the nation's international airports: "Regarding the optimism meter, I would offer that unless Rep. [Bill] Shuster decides to have a more open process to continue to develop the concept of an ATC Corporation, that he is just pushing the crash down the runway and we will be no further along at this point next year, one way or the other. Aviation is at its core based on safety, and as a result stakeholders are wired for collaboration. And that is exactly what has been missing in Rep. Shuster's approach. Instead he wants to arm-twist and wheel-and-deal his way through this and maybe that would work in other areas, but not in aviation. This is not like selling cars to people."

The comment period is still open, so tell us how you're leaning: jscholtes@politico.comor @JAScholtes. or @Gardner_LM and or @brigurciullo.

THE CAFE IS NOW OPEN: The Obama administration's ambitious goal of getting cars and light trucks in the U.S. to go farther on a gallon of gas is going to come up short thanks to historically low prices at the pump setting off an SUV-buying frenzy among consumers, Pro Energy's Alex Guillen reports . In a draft technical report released Monday, the EPA and NHTSA project that the mpg target will end up between 50 and 52.6 miles per gallon by 2025, short of the agencies' 2012 goal of 54.5 mpg. Regulators say automakers can still comply with the current standards by making the same types of improvements that have already boosted fuel efficiency throughout the fleet, like improving how engines burn gas and the aerodynamics of the chassis.

Auto manufacturers see a prop: But the report kicks off a midterm review process that could spur changes to the standards for 2022-2025 model year vehicles, and most manufacturers are hoping the report reinforces their arguments for some wiggle room. In a statement, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said the "very aggressive requirements" for 2022-2025 "will be a daunting challenge to meet. ... Absent a vigorous commitment to focus on marketplace realities, excessive regulatory costs could impact both consumers and the employees who produce these vehicles."

RESEARCHERS TOUT BENEFITS OF SEMI-AUTOMATION: Crash-avoidance technology in light-duty vehicles could prevent or reduce the severity of 1.3 million crashes every year, according to researchers at the Carnegie Mellon College of Engineering. The researchers looked at partially automated technologies - collision warning, lane-departure warning and blind-spot monitoring - and found they could stop or mitigate the severity of over 10,000 fatal crashes.

The study compared the price of installing safety technology in cars to a calculated annual reduction in crash costs. By a conservative estimate, the U.S. would see a positive net benefit of $4 billion, or $20 per vehicle, every year. "Although $20 per vehicle is small, the researchers believe that future improvements in technology and lower prices could lead to larger net benefits over time," according to a release about the study, which was funded by Carnegie Mellon's Technologies for Safe and Efficient Transportation University Transportation Center, the National Science Foundation and the Hillman Foundation.

COMING SOON: TESLA MASTER PLAN: Meanwhile, in the Autopilot saga, Elon Musk went on a bit of a tweetstorm (tweet shower?) Sunday night. The Tesla CEO posted: "Promising call today with @BoschGlobal, maker of our radar sensor. Looks like significant improvements possible via OTA software update." He tweeted that MobilEye was also helping and later added: "Tesla customers are v smart & don't want media speaking on their behalf abt Autopilot. Recent poll: 0.0% want it disabled - not 0.1%, 0.0%." He told followers to expect a "Tesla (master) product plan" soon, after a SpaceX launch. (h/t Automotive News)

QUESTIONING CHINESE RAILCAR INVESTMENT: Reps. Peter DeFazio and Randy Forbes are done collecting signatures on their letter calling on the Treasury Department to investigate two Chinese companies trying to acquire a U.S. railcar manufacturer. The document, which is now off to the Secretary Jack Lew, has the support of 55 House lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, who argue that the two Chinese railcar manufacturers are able to underbid private competitors because of their ties to China's government. "In effect, American railcar manufacturers and its associated industries, such as steel, are now competing against the resources of the world's second largest economy," the letter reads.

N.Y., MASS. AGs TO ANNOUNCE VW 'LAW ENFORCEMENT ACTION': New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey will announce a "major law enforcement action" today at 12:30 p.m. A Schneiderman aide told our friends at Morning Energy that the announcement is related to the AGs' investigation into Volkswagen's use of software to cheat emissions tests. Reuters reported late Monday night that those states and Maryland intend to file fresh lawsuits against the automaker today.

VENABLE NABS AUTONOMOUS CAR CLIENTS: Several tech and auto firms have hired Venable to lobby for their self-driving-car interests. Pro Technology's Tony Romm reports that the firm has been tapped to focus on the "development of automated vehicle policies and regulations" for Google, Ford, Uber and other major companies. The Venable team has some NHTSA alums, including former NHTSA Administrator David Strickland and Chan Lieu, who used to be director of government affairs, policy and strategic planning at the agency.

HIGHER-SPEED RAIL - BIGGER IN TEXAS? FRA and the Texas DOT released a draft environmental impact statement Monday of 10 possible scenarios for improved rail service - including higher- and high-speed options - for an 850-mile corridor stretching from Oklahoma City to South Texas. The effort has been launched to address an anticipated population boom and existing congestion along the I-35 corridor that parallels the study area. According to FRA, more than 10 million people live in that region right now, and population is expected to increase by 39 percent in Texas and 25 percent in Oklahoma City by 2035.


- For Want of a Working Coffeepot, Your Flight Is Delayed. The New York Times.

- GM launches new car-sharing service in D.C. The Washington Post.

- Afghan refugee with ax attacks passengers on German train. Reuters.

- Fiat Chrysler Auto Sales Probed by Justice Department, SEC. Bloomberg.

- FAA lifts flight restrictions to Turkey. USA Today.

- Police suspect driver fatigue after truck filled with tomatoes crashes on I-66. DCist.

- Car manufacturers challenge net neutrality rules. POLITICO Pro Europe

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 72 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 437 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 111 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,537 days.


8 a.m. - The U.S. Maritime Transportation System National Advisory Committee meets to discuss recommendations for DOT on impediments to short sea transportation, expanding international gateway ports, using waterborne transportation to increase mobility throughout the domestic transportation system, modernizing the U.S. maritime workforce, strengthening maritime capabilities, and encouraging maritime innovation. FMCSA National Training Center, 1310 N. Courthouse Rd., Suite 600, Arlington, Va.

11 a.m. - Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx delivers the keynote address at the Automated Vehicles Symposium 2016 . Hilton San Francisco Union Square, 333 O'Farrell St., San Francisco.

1 p.m. - The FAA holds a meeting of the Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee. 800 Independence Ave. SW, 10th Floor, MacCracken Conference Room.

Did we miss an event? Let MT know at

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Stories from POLITICO Pro

Vehicle rules will fall short on emissions, fuel savings, agencies say Back

By Alex Guillén | 07/18/2016 04:57 PM EDT

U.S. vehicle efficiency rules won't deliver the carbon reductions or fuel savings President Barack Obama promised in his first term because cheap gasoline has set off a buying spree of gas-guzzling trucks and sport-utility vehicles, according to new government figures released Monday.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and EPA stressed in their draft technical report that automakers can still comply with their rule setting average fuel economy levels through 2025. But as a whole, cars and trucks will fall short of the much-heralded 54.5 miles per gallon goal envisioned under the 2012 rule, meaning the projected carbon dioxide emissions savings will not come to pass.

EPA and NHTSA set a range of standards depending on the size of the vehicle, a method meant to preserve consumer choice while decreasing the fuel consumption of gas-guzzlers like SUVs. But cheap gas has put more SUVs on the road than expected, dampening overall efficiency gains even as each individual vehicle becomes more efficient.

"54.5 isn't a standard, never was a standard and isn't a standard now," a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call. "54.5 is what we predicted in 2012 the fleet-wide average could get to, based on assumptions that were made back then about the mix of the fleet as between cars and light trucks and SUVs.

"We're recognizing the fact that gasoline prices are lower now," the official added. "They will change again, surely, between now and 2025. But right now when we look at the forecast out, we see that the vehicle mix is likely to include more SUVs and light trucks than what we expected in 2012. So when you put that assumption into context with the actual standard ... you're going to get a slightly lower number than 54.5."

In their new report, EPA and NHTSA estimate that target would actually be between 50 and 52.6 mpg by 2025. (Technically, it is a measure known as miles per gallon of gasoline-equivalent, which takes into account electric cars and natural gas vehicles sold each year.)

EPA said in the 2012 rule that the standards would save around 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide over the program's lifetime, the equivalent of more than the U.S. emitted from all sectors in 2015 . Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, said that because the report indicates the average per-vehicle CO2 level is reduced by 3.5 percent to 8 percent, depending on the case, there would likely be an equivalent reduction in the overall savings. That comes out to roughly 200 million to 480 million tons.

The draft report is only the first step in a midterm review process that could culminate in changing the standards for the 2022-2025 model year vehicles. EPA will take comment on the draft technical report for 60 days, and ultimately the process ends in 2018, when EPA could finalize any potential changes to the future targets.

EPA and NHTSA say the 2022-2025 standards "can be met largely through improvements in gasoline vehicle technologies, such as improvements in engines, transmissions, light-weighting, aerodynamics and accessories."

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said in a statement that the fuel economy standards get "a grade of 'incomplete.'"

"To ensure that the vehicle fleet actually reaches or exceeds the bold goal of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 ... the EPA and NHTSA must set even more stringent standards moving forward," Markey said. "The automotive industry can meet these standards with the same technological ingenuity that has made today's cars and SUVs fuel-efficient computers on wheels and that is enabling the self-driving cars of tomorrow."

The report is already providing ammo for automakers looking to loosen the 2020s standards.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said in a statement that market changes since the rule was finalized four years ago mean that "it will be a daunting challenge to meet the very aggressive requirements of the 2022-2025 federal fuel economy and greenhouse gas rule. Absent a vigorous commitment to focus on marketplace realities, excessive regulatory costs could impact both consumers and the employees who produce these vehicles."


House lawmakers pile on in urging Chinese rail investigation Back

By Jennifer Scholtes | 07/18/2016 04:41 PM EDT

Fifty-five House lawmakers have signed onto a letter calling for the Treasury Department to investigate Chinese investment in U.S. railcar manufacturing.

Reps. Peter DeFazio and Randy Forbes began circulating the document last month and are now sending it off with bipartisan support from more than 10 percent of the lawmakers in the lower chamber.

The legislators want the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to "thoroughly" investigate two Chinese enterprises and their involvement in the pending transfer of North Carolina-based Vertex Railcar Corporation.

The foreign businesses in question include state-owned Chinese Railroad Rolling Stock Corporation, which is the largest railcar manufacturer in the world, and Majestic Legend Holdings, which is associated with a state-owned entity.

"Given the ownership and history of these companies, the Chinese government is able to utilize the companies to pursue its international trade agenda," the letter reads. "CRRC in particular is able to access subsidized financing from the Chinese government, which has already enabled the company to underbid private competitors for railcar contracts in Boston and Chicago. In effect, American railcar manufacturers and its associated industries, such as steel, are now competing against the resources of the world's second largest economy."


Robot cars get new human lobbyist Back

By Tony Romm | 07/18/2016 10:38 AM EDT

Google, Ford, Uber and other major companies trying to turn self-driving cars into a reality have hired a new lobbyist in Washington.

The tech and auto firms, which formed the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets this April, have tapped Venable to focus on the "development of automated vehicle policies and regulations," according to a newly filed disclosure report.

Representing the coalition will be Venable's Chan Lieu, whose career includes time as the director of government affairs, policy and strategic planning at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The coalition itself is led by David Strickland, the former leader of NHTSA who's also a partner at Venable - but Strickland has not registered to lobby on behalf of the self-driving car makers.


Car manufacturers challenge net neutrality rules Back

By Chris Spillane | 07/19/2016 05:04 AM EDT

Automakers are pushing for their vehicles to be exempt from net neutrality guidelines in a challenge that seeks to prioritize internet access, according to a letter sent to the European Union's telecoms regulator today.

Automated and connected motor vehicles should have priority to telecom networks when appropriate - like improving road safety and performance - to ensure the reliability of self-driving cars, according to the letter to BEREC.

Connected cars could vastly reduce road accident deaths, cut emissions and expedite cross-border lorry haulage.

"We stress the importance of telecom network providers operating within rules that allow them flexibility to manage their networks appropriately," the European Automobile Manufacturers Association and the European Association of Automotive Suppliers said in the letter obtained by POLITICO. "We are concerned that the current draft lacks the necessary flexibility and predictability."

The next revolution in telecoms is promising self-driving cars and constant health care monitoring through super-fast internet networks with speeds of more than a gigabit per second. Regulators are struggling with how to encourage companies to invest in this technology without harming net neutrality, which is the idea that internet service providers give unrestricted internet access to applications and websites.

Net neutrality helps developers create new products, according to Joe McNamee of European Digital Rights.

Telecom operators "want to act as a gatekeeper, holding new services hostage, unless paid to get to the market. It is bizarre that [auto] manufacturers would want to see innovation in this area restricted like this," he said.

This article first appeared on POLITICO.EU on July 18, 2016.