Passenger Transport - May 17, 2013
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Buses Crucial to Recovery in Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy; Session Features APTA Leaders, Award Winners

Buses and bus people “came to the rescue” last year after Hurricane Sandy pounded public transportation agencies along the northeastern U.S. coast, according to speakers at the May 5 Opening General Session of APTA’s Bus & Paratransit Conference in Indianapolis.

The panel, “Hurricane Sandy: Managing the Disaster—Managing Resilience,” brought together FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff; Darryl Irick, president, MTA Bus ­Company, New York City; James ­Weinstein, executive director, New Jersey Transit Corporation; and Joseph Casey, general manager, Southeastern ­Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), Philadelphia.
Michael Terry, general manager of IndyGo, conference host system, served as the panel’s moderator after welcoming more than 700 attendees to Indianapolis.

The session also featured remarks by APTA Chair Flora Castillo, NJ Transit board member, and APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy as well as a presentation announcing the winners of the 2013 Bus Safety and Security Excellence Awards. (See related story.)

“Our subway system took the brunt of the damage,” Irick said. “But the backbone of the system is our bus people, and they came to the rescue.”

Irick said his agency kept much of its workforce on the job immediately following the storm, feeding and housing employees so “seven hours after we received the all clear, we were able to bring some bus service back.” He credited mechanics and operators for working nearly around-the-clock shifts.

Weinstein said NJ Transit’s bus system “carried the agency ‘on its back’ for nearly 30 days,” allowing the system to devote resources to getting its extensive and heavily used commuter rail system up and running.

“The Monday after the storm subsided, we relied entirely on our bus system,” he said. “Within 48 hours after the storm, 75 percent of the bus system was functioning in the northern part of the state. That enabled us to have some breathing room and start putting the rail system back together.”

The “prime directive” after securing the system and ­ensuring that riders and employees are safe, Weinstein said, “is to get the system back up and running. It’s part of our DNA.”

Casey said SEPTA did not sustain damages as severe as NJ Transit and the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority: “Compared to New Jersey and New York City, we were extremely fortunate.”

In fact, Casey said, SEPTA was able to loan buses to NJ Transit to help with service recovery, as did other nearby public transit agencies. Even so, he noted, the agency had to deal with eight to 10 inches of rain and winds as high as 80 miles per hour.

Casey said some SEPTA crews were working on system repairs in the middle of the storm: “There’s a lot of pride in getting the system back running.”

Communication with customers about what services were available was a significant challenge for NJ Transit, Weinstein said. “When much of the state was without power—no Internet, no cell phones—all the technological solutions we put in place to communicate with customers—we couldn’t use them,” he explained.

Rogoff also cited the critical nature of constant communications among the agencies and with federal, state, and local transportation officials: “Everyone needed to know the state of the infrastructure.”

The administrator said the lessons FTA learned from Hurricane Katrina served it well in responding to Sandy, particularly the importance of ensuring that emergency funding is quickly accessible.

“We provided $10.9 billion to address the largest public transit disaster in the nation’s history,” Rogoff said. “It was important that we had a program in place that was best to deal with transit—to get dollars in the hands of agencies to fix infrastructure and replace assets and provide resiliency so, when the next disaster happens, we can respond even faster.” (The amount was later reduced by 5 percent because of sequestration budget cuts that took effect March 1.)

The next challenges are the tough conversations that must occur among the public transit agencies, Amtrak, and other stakeholders, Rogoff stressed.

It’s All About the People
Castillo also pointed out the vital role buses play in public transportation. “Buses are the backbone of our industry,” she said. “They take people to work, school, medical appointments, and friends and family, and demand-response vehicles offer riders mobility options that keep them independent. All of you keep these wheels moving.”

Public transportation is “All About the People,” she said, referring to her year-long focus as APTA chair. “The people of public transportation inspire me every day because they are the heart and soul of our industry. They remind us that public transportation isn’t only about buses and trains, routes and rails, or schedules and stations. All of those things are important, but it’s what’s inside that counts—the people we serve and the people we employ.

“It’s also about you,” she told the audience, “the people who work day in, day out to strengthen public transportation in communities across the country.”

Castillo said the future of public transportation has never been brighter. “I’m excited about our future because I’m energized about
our present, especially the important progress we’re making in workforce development,” she said, noting several initiatives:

* White House Women in Transportation Forum, attended by several senior-level women from APTA agency and business members;

* White House, DOT, and APTA discussions to expand public transit’s outreach to the Hispanic community;

* Early Career Program for young professionals, which will kick off at the APTA Rail Conference, June 2-5 in Philadelphia; and the

* Veterans and Military Family Resource Center and a career fair for veterans scheduled the day before the Rail Conference begins.

State of the Industry
Melaniphy’s remarks focused on the wide range of conference programs available, including Maintenance Monday (a new program on the latest bus technology), the International Bus Roadeo and Awards Banquet, Walk and Roll, the Bus Display and Products & Services Showcase, and a general session on teamwork by Indianapolis 500 champion Dario Franchitti in addition to the Hurricane Sandy panel.

“I’m sure you’ll agree we’ve got something for everyone,” he said after noting the numerous opportunities for attendees to learn, share, and network.

Melaniphy also presented an update on the state of the industry, noting that ridership is up nationwide. “Americans took 10.5 billion trips on public transportation in 2012—the second highest annual ridership since 1957,” he said.

He predicted that ridership will continue to grow because voters in many communities passed ballot initiatives to fund public transportation: “In 2012, 49 out of 62 public transit ballot ­initiatives were passed. That’s a nearly 80 percent passage rate.”

Melaniphy said APTA is looking forward to working with the DOT secretary nominee, Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, who is an advocate of public transit. “He’ll have a big agenda ahead of him because MAP-21 expires soon,” he added.

He also encouraged attendees to meet with their members of Congress. “Tell them how your system is helping our environment and making our nation more energy-independent,” he added, citing a recent USA Today article reporting that 35 percent of buses use alternative fuels or hybrid technology.

Melaniphy closed his comments by noting his start in public transportation: “I’m a proud Hoosier who got my start here in Indiana. Many thanks to IndyGo General Manager Michael Terry and his team, and Allison Transmission, for letting me get behind the wheel. We appreciate all that you have done to make this conference a success.”


Opening General Session panelists sharing their post-Hurricane Sandy recovery stories, from left: James Weinstein, Darryl Irick, Joseph Casey, Peter M. Rogoff, and moderator Michael Terry. 

White House Highlights ‘Champions of Change’

DOT Secretary Ray LaHood honored 12 transportation professionals as White House Champions of Change at a May 8 event in Washington, DC. Three of the honorees are APTA members: Jeffrey ­Wharton, president, IMPulse NC, Mount Olive, NC; Akira (Kevin) Koyasu, chief executive officer, Nippon Sharyo U.S.A. Inc.; and Josh Whiton, chief executive officer, TransLoc, Raleigh, NC.

The event, “Transportation Technology Solutions for the 21st Century,” focused on individuals or organizations that have provided exemplary leadership in developing or implementing transportation technology solutions.

Wharton has worked in public transportation for the past 33 years. During his tenure at IMPulse NC, the company has developed new, cutting-edge technology for commuter rail and light rail transit that includes an automated catenary safety monitoring system.

“It is an honor and privilege for IMPulse NC LLC to be recognized by the White House as a Champion of Change for
21st-century transportation technology due to our automated catenary safety monitoring system,” he said.

Koyasu led efforts for ­Nippon Sharyo U.S.A. to open its first U.S. plant in Rochelle, IL, and has created more than 300 direct jobs. The company now has five major contracts to supply “Made in America” passenger rail cars to public transit authorities throughout North America.

“What we have been doing is to revive passenger railcar manufacturing in Illinois,” Koyasu said. “Our strong belief is that we should have a manufacturing base where the market is. We must use local resources for parts and labor, recognized by the people we serve, otherwise there will be no success for us.”

Whiton is the founder of TransLoc, a technology company that pioneered the delivery of real-time public transit information to both ­riders and administrators. The company’s innovative technology displays over the Internet, not just the location, but also the continuous ability to track the movement of an entire public ­transit fleet.

Whiton said, “About 10 years ago we wanted to make the impossible possible: really real-time bus tracking for transit agencies and their riders. . . . Technology was already doing some amazing things; the problem was that it wasn’t doing them in the public transit arena. Someone needed to stand in the intersection of the best available technology and the transit world. I’m glad we gave it a shot.”

The White House created the program to celebrate groups of Americans—individuals, businesses, and organizations—who are empowering and inspiring their communities.

APTA Announces Staff Restructuring To Keep Focus on Member Value

This week, APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy announced a restructuring of APTA staff responsibilities to ensure that the association stays squarely focused on member priorities and provides the best service possible to APTA members. The reorganization aligns with the recently adopted Fiscal Year 2014 budget approved by APTA’s Finance Committee and the Executive Committee.

“APTA staff provide excellent service and value to our members,” said Melaniphy. “It is critical that we continue to evolve our organization and invest in our staff so that we provide world-class service to our members. As a guide for the restructuring, we looked to the recent member survey to be sure that we offer the right mix of services to stay relevant as we go forward.”





Pamela Boswell 

Kathryn Waters 

KellyAnne Gallagher 

Greg Hull 

The reorganization reduces the overall size of the APTA staff while leveraging both technology and the cross-functional utilization of staff resources to gain efficiencies. Administrative and back-office resources are being consolidated and redeployed to bring in new skill sets to adapt to changes in the workplace and the ways members interact with the association. The goal is to expand APTA’s website and technological capabilities, better coordinate member services, and ensure that the association is engaging with its members using the most up-to-date tools.

The major changes include a stronger focus on workforce development, which is key to the industry’s future as members’ needs in this area expand. Pamela Boswell, vice president of workforce development and educational services, and her team will fully devote their time to leadership and career development programs, strategic partnerships, and the American Public Transportation Foundation.

To ensure that APTA continues to provide highly valued conferences and workshops, the planning and logistics functions are being consolidated in the Member Services Department, led by Kathryn Waters, who is being promoted to executive vice president. KellyAnne Gallagher is being promoted to assistant vice president, member programs and services, and will oversee this area, along with the international program and other aspects of member services. Lynne Morsen is being promoted to director of program management and will be responsible for program planning for all conferences.

In addition, APTA’s technical services are also being brought together to ensure the utmost coordination and synergy in these critical areas. Greg Hull is being promoted to assistant vice president-public safety, operations & technical services, and will oversee safety, security, standards, transit operations, and technical services.

Further, recent staff promotions recognize outstanding efforts. They include Michael Hemsley to senior membership specialist, Hai Tran to web content administrator, and Erin ­Cartwright to communications and marketing specialist. Laticia King has also assumed new responsibilities in member communications.

“I believe that this new lean organization structure will serve APTA members well as we advance our association and the public transportation industry,” said Melaniphy.

Injured MBTA Police Officer Continues Recovery

Richard (Dic) Donohue, the ­Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority police officer injured in the April 15 chase of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, appeared on CBS This Morning May 14 from his bed at Mount Auburn Hospital.

Donohue said he will be able to leave the hospital and enter a rehabilitation facility once he is no longer connected to a feeding tube. He has expressed an interest in returning to duty as soon as it is possible to do so.

He earlier released this statement:

“I cannot begin to properly thank everyone involved in my recovery, as many fearless individuals stepped up and acted heroically that night. To start I must thank my brothers from the Transit, Boston, Harvard, Watertown, Cambridge, and [Massachusetts] State Police, as well as fire department personnel and the various other first responders, all of whom put their own lives on the line to save mine. In the midst of a firefight they dropped to the ground and assisted me when I was shot.

“My family got through those first few days through the community’s ­outpouring of prayers and endless support. I am told that when I arrived at the hospital I had almost no blood and no pulse, and the team of medical experts at Mount Auburn miraculously brought me back to life. I am now awake, moving around, talking, and telling jokes (much to my wife’s dismay).

“I am able to walk briefly through the use of a walker. My pain varies day to day and I still have a long road of rehab and recovery ahead, but I am optimistic I’ll recover back to 100 percent. The bullet will remain in my leg as it is not obstructing anything or causing any pain. However, my wife has informed me that the bullet will ultimately cause her the most pain, as I will be using it to get out of things such as mowing the lawn, doing laundry, and painting the deck.”

Donohue also noted that Sean Collier, the MIT police officer killed during the same incident, was a friend of his from the police academy. “There is not a single day we are not thinking or speaking of Sean,” he said in his statement. “And we are certain Sean was watching over me and assisted in saving my life. He could not save himself that night, but Sean could save me.”

MBTA General Manager Beverly A. Scott, Ph.D., added: “I can’t say enough about the courage and professionalism displayed by ­Officer ­Donohue.  His recovery has been ­nothing short of miraculous, and he serves as an inspiration to everyone here at the MBTA.”

The MBTA has established a fund to collect donations. More information is available here.


MBTA Police Officer Richard Donohue in his room at Mount Auburn Hospital. Visible at left is a hockey jersey signed by Patrice Bergeron, who led the Boston Bruins to a come-from-behind victory April 13 in the seventh game of the Bruins’ series against the Toronto Maple Leafs.


CamTran Breaks Ground For New Facility

The Cambria County Transit Authority (CamTran) in Johnstown, PA, broke ground May 3 for its new Operations, Maintenance, and Administration facility in the Woodvale section of Johnstown. It will replace the agency’s current facility, which was built in 1893 and is in poor condition for continued bus operations.

When it opens in fall 2014, the new facility will house the agency’s operations, maintenance and administrative offices. The building will have a 79,115-square-foot footprint with a total of 85,865 square feet occupied spaces and an additional 4,790 square feet of mezzanine space. The location is a reclaimed brownfield site.

“Putting the first shovel in the ground at our new Woodvale site is the start of a new era for CamTran,” said Executive Director Rose M. Lucey-Noll. “When the Johnstown Traction Company opened the trolley barns, in 1893, through today, transportation has played a vital role throughout Cambria County. . . . It is a great day in Cambria County knowing that, in the not too distant future, we will be able to provide a more efficient and effective transit service that will serve the needs of all our customers well into the future.”

Funding for the project included $14.4 million through the federal State of Good Repair program, $3.5 million from the PennDOT Bureau of Public Transportation, and $116,000 from the Cambria County Commissioners.

“The ground-breaking ceremony is a culmination of cooperative efforts by governmental officials, elected and appointed, CamTran staff, and the CamTran Board of Directors, who have been diligent in seeing this to come to fruition. This new facility will bring public transportation to a new level in our community while making our service and administration of public transit be more efficient, safe, and customer-friendly,” added CamTran Board Chairman Ed Cernic Jr.


Breaking ground for CamTran’s new facility in Johnstown, PA, are, from left, Cambria County Commissioner Tom Chernisky; CamTran Executive Director Rose M. Lucey-Noll; Ed Cernic Sr., Pennsylvania State Transportation Commission board member; CamTran board member Tom Gramling; CamTran Board Chairman Ed Cernic Jr.; CamTran board member Michael Noel; state Sen. John Wozniak; and former Rep. Mark Critz (D-PA).

Proterra Names President, CEO

Proterra Inc., ­Greenville, SC, has named Garrett E. Mikita the company’s new president and chief executive officer. He succeeds David Bennett.

Mikita has 25 years of experience in senior leadership roles in Fortune 50 companies. He recently was president of the Defense & Space strategic business unit of Honeywell Aerospace and also served as president of Air Transport & Regional, another Honeywell Aerospace business unit. Earlier, he worked for United Technologies for 10 years in a variety of jobs.

“I am committed to ensuring that Proterra remains the best electric bus company in the world in the eyes of our customers, employees, and investors,” said Mikita.

Ground Breaking for Dallas Streetcar Project

Construction is underway in Dallas on the Union Station to Oak Cliff streetcar project along its future route south of downtown.
Representatives of project ­partners—the city, Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), the North Central Texas Council of Governments, and FTA—recently celebrated with a ceremonial ground breaking also attended by longtime supporter Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX).

When it enters service in late 2014, the line will provide modern streetcar service from downtown Dallas to ­Methodist Dallas Medical Center. The project specifically targets commuters in mixed-use districts adjacent to downtown and helps create a public transit network linking urban areas to multiple transportation alternatives.

Project funding totals more than $48.6 million, including $26 million in federal grants toward the 1.6-mile starter line and two vehicles and additional funding from the city, DART, and regional toll road revenue.

“In this age of constrained budgets, the partnership we’ve forged with the Dallas streetcar project is a great model of how we can bring other important mobility initiatives on line in the future,” said Gary Thomas, DART president/executive director.

The city will contract with DART to operate and maintain the streetcar line.

Longtime San Joaquin RTD Employee Dies

Laurrie Brown, 65, a 40-year public transportation professional who worked since 2008 as director of operations for the San Joaquin Regional Transit District (RTD), Stockton, CA, died May 4.

Brown joined RTD in 2005 as director of transportation and a member of the executive team before being promoted to her most recent position. She retired for health reasons in 2012, but continued to serve the agency on a part-time basis.

RTD General Manager/Chief Executive Officer Donna DeMartino said: “In all her years at RTD, Laurrie demonstrated absolutely consistent, unwavering, uncompromising, and inspirational commitment to RTD’s mission, employees, and customers.”

She began her public transit career in 1974 as a bus operator for the Sacramento Regional Transit District. During more than 20 years with that agency, she progressed to supervisor/dispatcher and ultimately to lead supervisor.


IndyConnect: Central Indiana’s Transit Planning Initiative

Michael Terry, president and CEO, Indianapolis Public Transportation Corporation (IndyGo), opened the Host Session at the APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference by sharing background on IndyGo, and then talked about Central Indiana’s long-range transit planning initiative in collaboration with several partners.

IndyGo’s bus system is currently not meeting the needs of the community, Terry admitted:  “Pressure is on us to operate more efficiently. But there is no additional finding to grow.”  Currently, IndyGo serves Marion County with a fleet of 155 buses. The fleet size, he noted, is half of peer cities.

“The demand is there,” said Terry. And it’s not just about those who ride. It’s also about “those who recognize that through access to jobs, positive economic results occur. We need to modernize to attract and to keep the brightest and the best.”

The IndyConnect Plan, he explained, is designed to connect people with people and take people to places around Central Indiana. It will provide improved public transit options—from local and express buses, to Bus Rapid Transit, to rail rapid transit lines. Ultimately, he said, it will connect people to jobs, healthcare, education, and recreation.

The plan will also increase Central Indiana’s competitiveness and economic development opportunities while improving job growth, quality of life of its citizens, neighborhood revitalization, and the environment, he said.

Anna Tyskiewicz, executive director, Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization, said the process has included more than 250 public meetings and the collection of more than 10,000 public comments. In fact, she said, the American Planning Association’s Indiana Chapter honored IndyConnect as the Best Plan and Best Marketing Program in 2011.

Ehren Bingaman, executive director, Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority, talked about Phase 1 of the plan in Hamilton and Marion counties, which is expected in the next 10 years to double local bus service and create express bus service between counties, circulator service within communities, and five rapid transit lines.

Ron Gifford, executive vice president, public policy, Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, said that while IndyGo may not be “the best system, it certainly is the most studied.”

Indiana legislators are currently considering House Bill 1011, which if passed would allow voters in each county to decide in a public referendum whether to make an investment in public transit in their communities.

“We have to change a culture, a mindset. Our biggest champions are our local elected officials,” Gifford added. “They see it as an investment in their communities. We need to be able to attract business, jobs, talent, and keep those jobs.”

The capital costs to build will be approximately $1.3 billion, with $950 million in construction and $350 million for new vehicles.


Panelists in the May 7 Host Forum, from left: IndyGo President and CEO Michael Terry; Anna Tywkiewicz, Indianapolis MPO; Ehren Bingaman, Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority; and Ron Gifford, Central Indiana Corporate Partnership. 

Rogoff Addresses Safety Initiatives Under MAP-21

FTA Administrator Peter ­M. Rogoff held an informal session May 6 during APTA’s Bus & Paratransit Conference on the safety initiatives included in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) and what they mean to public transit systems. Under MAP-21, FTA has the authority to establish and enforce a new framework to oversee and ensure the safety of public transportation throughout the U.S.

Rogoff told the audience that he knows there is some concern among operators, particularly bus operators, about what FTA “was doing and what it was not doing.”

He said FTA wants to add value without adding a lot of cost or bureaucracy. “There’s a good deal of activity going on at FTA,” he said, although he admitted that sequestration has had a “real hit on FTA” and consequently travel budgets for staff were affected.

However, Rogoff assured the audience that FTA is committed to maximum outreach through many channels, citing social media, video conferencing, brochures, and FAQs on its website as just some of the methods being used.

Rogoff said travel on public transit is 40 to 70 percent safer than getting into a car. Noting that this is an extraordinary record, he admitted that public transit systems will nevertheless face challenges such as aging infrastructure, the growing retirement numbers among skilled professionals, financial stresses, and rising operating costs.

“We want to take a safe industry and keep it safer,” Rogoff said.

FTA will develop a national safety plan that captures “all the good work everyone is already doing,” he noted. Rogoff said FTA realizes that there is no “one size fits all” solution: “For instance, different light rail systems may have ­different safety challenges.”

Rogoff reminded members that FTA is required to post regulations in the Federal Register and invited the public to comment. He urged the audience to take notice, saying, “We need you to help us.”

Public Transit Joins Effort To Fight Human Trafficking

Almost 27 million men, women, and children are held against their will in America and trafficked into forced labor or prostitution.

The perpetrators use our trains, buses, ships, planes, and trucks.

DOT, APTA, and many other stakeholders have joined together as part of the Transportation Leaders Against Human Trafficking Initiative.

This initiative was the focus of a session at the APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference moderated by Bryna Helfer, Ed.D., director of ­public engagement, DOT; Kristen Joyner, executive director, South West Transit Association, Fort Worth; and Robin O’Hara, director, TAP Customer Experience, Regional TAP Program, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Each talked about ways ­public transit system operators can identify potential victims and call authorities for assistance.

More details on this partnership will be forthcoming in a future issue of ­Passenger Transport.

Components of the joint effort include:

Exchanging ideas and best practices;
* Measuring progress;
* Coordinating activities;
* Sharing training programs and materials; and
* Building the transportation sector initiative against human trafficking.

Helfer urged every public transit system and every CEO or manager to join in DOT’s efforts, saying it’s “everyone’s responsibility,” and called for messaging on every mode of transportation. O’Hara talked about her agency’s outreach efforts on buses and through brochures. Joyner talked about how the victims are “hiding in plain sight” but added that there are clues and signs that should help people identify a person in trouble.

Information about this effort is available here.




Bryna Helfer, Ed.D. 

Kristen Joyner

Robin O'Hara

Panelists Debate Procurement Processes and Job Growth

Public transportation is an economic engine in its communities, but the links among the  procurement process, business development, and job growth are increasingly complex, especially regarding emerging procurement evaluation methods, said the panelists at “Creating New American Jobs through Public Transportation Investments,” a well-attended session at the APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference.

Panelists discussed how to include U.S. job creation in evaluating procurement proposals, the difficulty of determining net job growth in rolling stock procurements, and FTA requirements restricting geographic preferences.

Richard Wieczorek, department manager of procurement, San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART), discussed the agency’s “marketplace-driven approach” to procurement. “We wanted a new strategy,” he said, citing outside pressure to “do more” than the FTA-mandated 60 percent stipulated in Buy America and the BART Board of Directors’ desire to create more U.S. jobs and support the development of technology in the country.

Members of the panel also discussed Los Angeles Metro’s use of a U.S. Employment Plan (USEP) in its bus and rail procurements that gives credit for new jobs created. FTA has approved USEP for use in “best value” requests for proposals.

David White, executive vice president of sales and marketing, New Flyer, which won Los Angeles Metro’s contract for building up to 900 compressed natural gas-powered buses, said that Buy America rules impact the entire supply chain and thousands of suppliers. “Like bus [Original Equipment Managers], all suppliers have built their business to comply with current requirements,” he said. “To comply with increased Buy America or regional content, time is needed to design, source, integrate, test, and validate.”

Madeline Janis, national policy director and co-founder of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, an advocacy organization that promotes economic and community development, questioned the efficacy of Buy America.

“Federal rules restrict an agency’s ability to incorporate local jobs and economic development as part of a procurement because geographic preferences are prohibited,” Janis said. Consequently, she said, the Buy America program, which requires that public transit purchases made with federal funds include 60 percent U.S.-manufactured content, allows high-value production to leak overseas.

“Public transit bus manufacturing in the U.S. is not a growth business,” White said. “It’s replacement-driven and cyclical, which makes jobs very difficult to sustain. Building buses puts Americans to work, but if you want to put more Americans to work, you have more money to build more buses.”

SEPTA Takes Top Honors at Bus Roadeo

Philadelphia’s Southeastern ­Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) received the Grand Champion Award for the highest combined score in the 2013 APTA International Bus Roadeo. SEPTA’s maintenance team of Joseph Miller, Eugene Bonner, and William Beirn placed first, while operator Zenon Rinylo took third place among drivers of 40-foot buses.

The roadeo competition was held May 5. Winners received recognition at a May 7 banquet during the APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference in Indianapolis.

Two drivers for Ben Franklin Transit, Richland, WA, were honored in the operators’ competition: Gabriel Beliz, first place, 35-foot bus, and Daniel R. Schmidt, second place, 40-foot bus.

Second place among maintenance teams went to Patrick Courchaine, Frank Amparan, and Everette Booe, representing the Orange County Transportation Authority, Orange, CA. The Los Angeles Metro team of Joseph Acuna, William Heiller, and Watana Don Reiwtavee placed third.

Paul Klimesh of the Ames Transit Authority (CyRide), Ames, IA, took first place among operators of 40-foot buses. Among operators of 35-foot buses. In the 35-foot bus category, Julian Carranza Jr., Corpus Christi Regional Transportation Authority, placed second and ­Howard Yoder of the Central Ohio Transit Authority, Columbus, was third.

Bill Webb, Delaware Transit Corporation, won the Customer Service Challenge.

Competitors in this year’s Bus Roadeo represented 28 states and three Canadian provinces.


Representatives of SEPTA accepting the Grand Champion Award include operator Zenon Rinylo, third from left in the front row, and maintenance team members, front row from third from right, William Beirn, Joseph Miller, and Eugene Bonner. APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy is at far right in all roadeo winner photos. SEPTA General Manager Joseph Casey is eighth from left in the back row.



SEPTA placed first in the maintenance competition. Team members are, all in the front row, William Beirn, second from left; Joseph Miller, second from right; and Eugene Bonner, right. SEPTA General Manager Joseph Casey is second from left in the back row.



Gabriel Beliz of Ben Franklin Transit, third from right, took first place among operators of 35-foot buses. BFT General Manager Timothy Fredrickson is second from left.


First place among operators of 40-foot buses went to Paul Klimesh of CyRide, third from right.


A Standout in Customer Service

Bus operator Bill Webb of Delaware Transit Corporation poses with APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy after winning the Customer Service Challenge. This year’s event featured three scenarios of customers boarding a bus, providing a range of challenges for the operator. They included people using the bus as their personal moving van, carrying boxes and chairs on board; a clown who acts unruly; and a father-to-be who catches the bus on his way to meet his wife at the hospital and insists that the driver speed up, run lights, and skip stops so he can get there faster. The competition judges operators on their professionalism, customer service skills, and problem-solving creativity.

APTA Presents Bus Safety & Security Awards

APTA Chair Flora Castillo and President & CEO Michael Melaniphy announced the winners of the 2013 APTA Bus Safety and Security Excellence Awards during the Opening General Session of the Bus & Paratransit Conference.

The awards recognize the North American bus systems with the top safety and security programs and provide value to the industry by benchmarking successful programs. The four award criteria are effectiveness, benefit level, innovation, and transferability.

The top honor is the Gold Award, given to organizations with the best overall bus safety or bus security program. A Certificate of Merit goes to organizations in recognition of exceptional achievement in safety or security. This year’s winners include the following:

* Bus systems with fewer than four million annual passenger trips: Gold Award for Safety, SouthWest Transit Authority (SWTA), Eden Prairie, MN; Certificate of Merit for Security, SWTA.

* Bus systems with more than four million and fewer than 20 million passenger trips annually: Certificate of Merit for Safety, Capital District Transportation Authority, Albany, NY; Certificate of Merit for Security, Transit Authority of River City, Louisville, KY.

* Bus systems with 20 million or more passenger trips annually: Gold Award for Security, Societe de Transport de Montreal (STM), Montreal, QC; Gold Award for Safety, Metro Transit, ­Minneapolis/St. Paul; Certificate of Merit for Safety, Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet), ­Portland; OR; Certificate of Merit for Security, MTA New York City Transit.

* Private companies providing contracted transportation management and services: Certificate of Merit for Safety, National Express Transit–Westmoreland County Transit Authority, Greensburg, PA.


APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy and APTA Chair Flora Castillo present the Gold Awards for Safety and Security. Representing SWTA, from left: Jon Donovan, vehicle maintenance manager; Steve LaFrance, director of maintenance and facilities; David Jacobsen, chief operating officer; and Len Simich, chief executive officer.


Representing STM, from second from left: Rene Leonard, drivers’ union; Marie France Duguay, vice president, drivers’ union; Marc Vendette, director-bus source delivery; and Michel Lefebvre, director-human resources.


Jan Homan, center, deputy chief of operations-bus, Metro Transit, accepts his agency’s Gold Award from Castillo and Melaniphy.



Franchitti: Individuals Win Races, Teams Win Championships

What do buses and racecars have in common? They both rely on teamwork to operate safely and efficiently. Dario Franchitti, four-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, the featured speaker at the Closing General Session of APTA’s Bus & Paratransit Conference, talked about this subject.

Ryan J. Larsen, president, IntelliRide Division, Veolia Transportation, sponsor of the session, welcomed the crowd. Then APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy and Franchitti chatted about the role of team building, excellence, and performance in contributing to the success of their respective industries.

Referring to a video of Franchitti’s 2007 win at Indy that played at the opening of the session, Melaniphy asked the driver how he celebrates a win with his team.

“My favorite part of winning is not crossing the finish line,” said Franchitti. “It’s pulling into Victory Lane and seeing friends, family, and my team. You realize how hard they work, the hours and sacrifices they’ve had to make. But we’re all living our dream. To share that is special.”

In response to a question about management style, Franchitti replied that team owner Chip Ganassi “puts the right people in the right positions and lets them get on with it. He doesn’t micromanage the team. He lets them do their job.” This, he said, provides the motivation the team members need.

A successful team, Franchitti said, has a certain attitude: “Each person must hold up their own end of the bargain. Nobody want to be that weakling in that chain; you want to operate at a high level at all times.” There’s no better environment than a competition, he said, to get the best out of people.

Melaniphy noted that, in racing, decisions have to be made literally in milliseconds. He asked Franchitti to talk about the pressure this creates for a team and how to handle wins and losses.

Franchitti agreed that “massive amount of the pressure builds” right before a race, and spoke about learning from losses. “We all make mistakes,” he said. “But it’s how you recover that matters. And you know not to make that mistake the next year.”
He emphasized that—whether it be in public transit or in racing—individuals have to do their jobs to the best of their ability.
“You have good days and bad days. But what you do as a leader is what ultimately brings that team back,” he said. “My way is, tell the guys, ‘You’ve won before; I know you can do it again. Go back to what you do best.’ I try to build the guys up again. These guys have the desire to be the best. They are perfectionists. Part of teamwork is making sure the right people are in the right job.”

Melaniphy talked about the importance of logistics in the transportation industry and Franchitti recounted some stories of how bad weather shut down planes that were carrying the racecars, yet the cars made it to the track three hours before the race. He also mentioned one time  team members had to throw out their clothes to make room in their luggage for priceless shock absorbers. “We do whatever it takes,” he said.

Technology plays a critical role in public transportation, and Melaniphy asked Franchitti about its importance in his field. “Safety is always something to keep ahead of,” he added. He related how technology is so refined in his field that “they can tell when I take a drink of water in my car. My weight is checked just as every movement of my wheel is documented. The more details they have, the faster they can make the cars go.”


Dario Franchitti, center, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, pictured with some audience members onstage following his remarks at the Closing General Session.

Scenes from the 2013 Bus & Paratransit Conference



110 exhibitors presented a variety of products and services at the Showcase. 

Conference participants had an opportunity to tour 27 vehicles in the Bus Display at White River State Park, across the street from the conference hotel. 



The conference provided many opportunities for attendees to network with their peers. 

Contestants in the Customer Service Challenge demonstrated their interpersonal skills through a series of real-life scenarios. 



APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy, right, took the wheel of an IndyGo bus during the International Bus Roadeo. At left is Napoleon Jones, retired from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and a member of the International Bus Roadeo Committee. 

APTA Chair Flora Castillo spoke at a local media briefing featuring IndyGo GM Michael Terry, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, and Melaniphy. 



APTA's business members gathered to share information about their companies at the Business Member Networking Breakfast. 

Again this year, APTA partnered with Easter Seals Project ACTION to host the "Walk and Roll" event for pedestrians and wheelchair users in downtown Indianapolis to promote greater access to transportation for people with disabilities. 


Meet Frank T. Martin!

Frank T. Martin
Senior Vice President, Transit and Rail
Orlando, FL
Member, APTA Business Member Board of Governors
Member, Sustainability, High-Speed & Intercity Passenger Rail, Business Member Programs, and Business Member Small Business

How many people are employed at your business?
Atkins is one of the world’s leading global engineering and architectural corporations, with approximately 3,000 employees in North America and 17,500 globally. The firm has about 300 offices worldwide. It’s been ranked one of the top three engineering firms in the U.S. and one of the top 10 firms in the Middle East, among many other honors. And it’s been around for awhile. We’re celebrating our 75th anniversary this year.

How long have you worked in the public transportation industry?
I have worked in public transportation for 39 years. My career has encompassed many aspects of public transportation: planning, adminis­tration, operations, and maintenance; analyzing program systems and processes; and developing business plans and strategies.

I began my career in public transportation in 1974 as a mass transit planner with the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council. Since then, I’ve served as a general manager or chief operating officer for several top public transit systems and have served in an oversight capacity for the implementation of programs from South Florida (South Florida Regional Transportation Authority) to Northern ­California (Altamont Commuter Express, Caltrain, and Capitol ­Corridor) while working as the chief operating officer for the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.

How long have you been an APTA member?
I have been involved with APTA since 1978. In fact, the first APTA meeting I attended was my first year as a member. It was the Annual Meeting in Montreal.

What drew you to a career in public transportation?
I actually became involved by accident. My master’s thesis was a study of the impact of the I-40 interstate highway on the local bus routes in north Nashville, TN. Little did I know that, some three years later, my first professional promotion from a local assistance planner to a mass ­transit planner would be the springboard to a career in public transportation. As a ­resident of north Nashville, I was concerned about how the interstate highway system impacted the neighborhood I grew up in.

What have you found to be the most valuable APTA benefit or resource—which one helps you do your job?
Over the years, APTA has been the go-to organization for any information on public transportation. The wealth of information and resources has been invaluable. As a manager on a public transit property, you always have a colleague somewhere who is willing to share information or a best practice. The relationships are second to none within this organization.

Please explain why or how this has helped.
It helps because you only have to make one call to find a potential solution or answer to a question—not spend days trying to connect to the right person.

What do you like most about your job?
In my current job, I get the opportunity to assist ­clients in solving their problems. Having served as a general manager and chief operating ­officer for several agencies on the operating side of the business, I understand what it takes to get service on the streets on a daily basis.

What is unique about your business?
This is a relationship business. But more importantly, we all are doing what we do to serve our customers—the riding public—by making sure they have a clean, comfortable, convenient, and safe ride to their destination. At the end of the day, that’s what is most important. We must always keep that as our focus.

What would readers be surprised to learn?
I love photography, I enjoy serving the communities in which I live, and I’m heavily involved in higher education. For many years, I served on the board of governors for the 350,000-student State University System of Florida, and I currently serve as a member of the board for Florida Polytechnic University, the newest university in the state, focusing on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics degrees. I became involved in higher education because I am concerned about the lack of training programs to fill the gap of baby boomers set to retire in the next five to seven years. We must have adequate educational systems and programs to train our future industry leaders.


Meet Darnell Grisby!

Darnell Grisby
Director-Policy Development & Research
Policy Department

What are the job ­elements you focus on the most (your primary responsibilities)?

I manage APTA’s research connected to the Research, Communications, and Advocacy program and direct the Transit Cooperative Research Program’s J-11 research program, Quick-Response Research on Long-Term Strategic Issues. Those are the two main research programs at APTA.

APTA also collects statistics on the public transit industry that can advance the industry’s policy objectives. We’ve published reports on ridership, fare collection and fare levels, infrastructure, and management compensation. The primary focus of all these efforts is to help our members promote their role in driving economic development and access to jobs in communities around the nation.

Our research is both for public consumption and for internal industry intelligence. It helps public transit agencies ask stakeholders for resources that can put enhanced service on the street.

Do you have direct ­contact with APTA ­members? If so, please talk about the most recent times you’ve helped out a member.

Indeed. In fact, a recent APTA member survey showed that information and research are important to members because they help make the case for public transit. I would like to find a way to magnify that impact.

For example, one large agency asked us for feedback on the uses of some innovative financing mechanisms for both operating and capital expenditures.

Public transit agencies are looking for opportunities to highlight their good work and show the benefits that future investments can provide to their communities. APTA research can help them make that case.

What initiatives, projects, or programs have you worked on at APTA that you have taken particular pride in completing?

One was our recent report titled The New Real Estate Mantra: ­Location Near Transit. We conceived this research project to show that communities located near public transit stations fared 41.6 percent better during the last recession than those located further away.

APTA developed a partnership with the National Association of Realtors to show the impact we can have on their members’ ability to serve their customers. The report shows that investment can lead to positive results for communities around the country. Our plan is to reach out to additional constituencies, such as retailers and commercial property ­owners, to show that APTA ­members are important to their efforts.

I was also excited to help develop a new online center for funding revenue issues: a member resource offering a one-stop location. The website will be the core of the center, but we also plan to present webinars and feature other benefits.

How did you “land” at APTA? How long have you worked here?

I’ve worked here since November 2011.

I grew up in a working-class family and was raised by my grandmother for a number of years. Public transportation was our lifeline. As I grew older, I realized that public transit also could provide a tool to bridge racially and economically divided communities and promote economic growth.

Both as an undergraduate and a graduate student, I focused my college studies on the connection between that kind of growth and investment in public transit.

Have you held other jobs in the public ­transportation industry (besides working at APTA)?

Prior to joining APTA, I worked as a legislative staffer in California for the chairman of the state Assembly Transportation Committee. I then became a lobbyist for the insurance industry and also worked for a think tank that promoted transit-oriented development.

What professional affiliations do you have?

I’m a member of the ­Conference of Minority Transportation Officials and Young Professionals in Transportation.

Could you tell us something about yourself that might surprise us?

I love weightlifting and nutrition. I think the interplay between the two elements is the “fountain of youth.” I don’t compete as a weightlifter, but it’s something I spend a lot of my personal time doing. I also love chatting about it. I started in college as a sophomore and, by the beginning of my senior year, my weight increased from 150 pounds to 200 pounds.

Make sure you see Darnell Grisby's video, now that you've read this!


June Rail Conference Features New Sessions, Industry Experts

The 2013 APTA Rail Conference, June 2-5 in Philadelphia, features several new speakers and sessions.
FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff is a newly added speaker at the Opening General Session and panelist on “Getting Your Rail Safety Program on the MAP,” both on Monday, June 3.

Rogoff is also the keynote speaker for a Mineta Transportation Institute-sponsored workshop, “How Can the U.S. Strengthen its Position as a World Leader in Transportation,” which will address the acceptability of various transportation financing options, funding successes, public-private partnerships, equity, and legislative strategies. APTA President & CEO Michael ­Melaniphy also will speak at the workshop, set for June 1, the day before the Rail Conference opens.

Two conference sessions address international issues. “International Developments in High-Speed Rail” on June 3, will present new service models, challenges, innovations, and improvements. Among the presenters is Timothy Fischer, former deputy prime minister of Australia and member of the Government of Australia HSR Advisory Committee based in Sydney.

The second international session, Tuesday, June 4, is “Contracting for Services—New Business Models.” It features presentations on maximizing public-private partnerships and examining new models emerging worldwide.

The International Rail Rodeo on Saturday, June 1, features a new team competition in the afternoon for agencies that send both an operator and a maintenance crew.

The Rail Conference schedule features workshops and technical sessions on rail operations, technology, safety, security, planning, finance, capital projects, and the technical aspects of providing all modes of rail service. For details and to register, click here.

APTA Partners with Australian Association

APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy, left, and Michael Apps, executive director, Bus Industry Confederation (BIC), the association representing the Australian bus and coach industry, signed a Memorandum of Understanding during the APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference in Indianapolis. Under this agreement, APTA and BIC will cooperate on programs and projects of mutual benefit.

Castillo Honored for Transit Leadership

APTA Chair and New Jersey Transit Corporation board member Flora Castillo (right) received an award for her outstanding leadership in transportation from the Newark Regional Business Partnership (NRBP) on May 13 during its annual Transportation Awards Breakfast. NRBP, a broad-based membership organization that serves businesses in New Jersey’s largest city, cites transportation as vital to the region’s economic vitality. NRBP member Ileana Ivanciu, vice president of Dewberry, a national architectural and engineering consulting firm, presented the award to Castillo.


Fort Worth Opens Transit Plaza

The Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T) recently held dedication ceremonies to open the Sierra Vista Transit Plaza, the first bus transfer center in southeast Fort Worth, TX.

The facility—named for a nearby neighborhood—­features a wide bus lane, four large bus shelters with colorful glass panels and roofs, benches, ­landscaping, and a security fence.

Subsequent to the opening of the transit plaza, a city-selected artist will begin installing artwork in front of the transit plaza and on a retaining wall.

“The Sierra Vista Transit Plaza will provide a safe off-street transfer and boarding area for riders in an ­aesthetically pleasing setting with bright lighting, shelters, seating, and a large route map to other transit ­connections throughout Fort Worth,” said The T President Dick Ruddell.


Cutting the ribbon to open The T’s Sierra Vista Transit Plaza are, from left, T Board Secretary Andre McEwing; Marie Love, president, Glencrest Civic League Neighborhood; Bishop Kenneth Spears, First St. John Baptist Church; Blas Uribe, FTA Region VI deputy regional administrator; Fort Worth City Planner Don Koski; Fort Worth District 8 Councilmember Kelly Allen Gray; and T Board Chair Scott Mahaffey.

Metro-North Completes Renovations, Installs Art at Two Stations

MTA Metro-North Railroad recently completed major renovations at two stations on the Hudson Line—Peekskill and Croton-Harmon—that include the installation of new, site-specific art work at each location. Both stations received much-needed upgrades to platforms, canopies, staircases, and overpasses.

Artist Joy Taylor created “Jan Peeck’s Vine” for the Peekskill Station, which serves 1,400 customers each weekday. This work translates natural forms into steel sculptures that echo structural elements of the existing station, but frees them to run riot in a flowing, whimsical vine overhead. Elements of this sculpture recur in the two Peekskill monograms atop the elevator entrances and in railing inserts on the northbound platform.

At Croton-Harmon, the busiest station on the Hudson Line serving 3,700 customers each weekday, artist Corinne Ulmann’s laminated glass panels present a series of landscapes depicting views of Croton trees passing through the seasons. The imagery of the work pays tribute to the Hudson River School painters and their establishment of the romantic landscape.


"Jan Peeck's Vine," a series of steel sculptures by Joy Taylor, decorates the roofline of MTA Metro-North Railroad's Peekskill Station. 

Honolulu Seeks Station Art

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) has created a $5 million program for public artworks at its future rail stations and operations center as part of the Honolulu rail transit project. HART will accept applications until June 20.

The program will highlight work ­created by artists who have a strong understanding of and affinity for Hawaii’s history and culture. Entrants are being asked to submit their qualifications and demonstrate their understanding and knowledge of Hawaii’s history, culture, and traditions.

Station artwork opportunities will range from paving and floor designs to wall murals, grille work and architectural fencing, to glass work and integrated sculptural elements.

FTA Names 10 Participants In Environment Program

FTA has selected 10 public transportation organizations in the U.S. and Northern Mariana Islands to participate in the fourth round of its Environmental Management Systems (EMS) Training & Technical Assistance Program for Transit Agencies.

The participating agencies are:

* Commonwealth Office of Transit Authority, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands;
* City of Fort Lauderdale, FL;
* Greater Cleveland Regional Transit District;
* Golden Empire Transit, Bakersfield, CA;
* Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, Tampa, FL;
* Kitsap Transit, Bremerton, WA;
* Lane Transit, Eugene, OR;
* Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, San Jose, CA;
* Tri Delta Transit, Antioch, CA; and
* VIA Metropolitan Transit, San Antonio, TX.

An EMS is a set of management processes and procedures that allows an organization to analyze, control, and reduce the environmental impact of its activities, products, and services, and to operate with greater efficiency and control.

These agencies will receive technical assistance and training in the development and implementation of an EMS based on the 14001 Standard of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The ISO 14001 standard is a toolbox of management techniques to minimize harm to the environment.

FTA provides assistance through training workshops, on-site technical support visits, electronic materials and resources, and consultation, working with the services of the Center for Organizational and Technological Advancement at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) in Roanoke, VA. The Environmental Protection Agency recognizes Virginia Tech as a Public Entity Environmental Management System Resource Center, specifically designed to aid local, county, and state entities that are considering implementing EMS.

More information about the program is available here.

TRB Seeks Nominations for Sharon D. Banks Award

The Transportation Research Board (TRB) is seeking nominations for the Sharon D. Banks Award for Humanitarian Leadership in Transportation. The deadline is Aug. 31.

The award, inaugurated in 2002 and presented biennially, will be presented at the TRB 93rd Annual Meeting in January 2014.

Banks was the general manager of AC Transit, Oakland, CA, from 1991-1999 and served as chairwoman of the TRB Executive Committee in 1998. She was an active member of APTA and served on the Legislative Committee. She died in 1999.

Banks was nationally known for her personal integrity, nurturing and mentoring young transportation professionals, and bringing together people of diverse backgrounds and commitments. This award honors others who exemplify her ideals of humanity and service.

TRB established the award with the encouragement and support of DOT. Other contributors to the award include APTA, AC Transit, the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials, and the California Transit Association.

For award details, click here.

Kawasaki Rail Car Celebrates 25th Anniversary in U.S.

Kawasaki Rail Car (KRC), a global manufacturer of commuter rail and light rail cars, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Kawasaki entered the U.S. market in 1979 and initially complied with Buy America requirements using the manufacturing facilities of its partners or temporary facilities. KRC was created in 1989 as a permanent U.S. manufacturing facility to serve the American market. KRC has its U.S. corporate headquarters and a manufacturing facility in Yonkers, NY, where it has been located for several decades.

In 2002, Kawasaki expanded and established a plant in Lincoln, NE, as a state-of-the-art rail car shell manufacturing facility, the first in the U.S. with the capability of building different types of rail cars. The rail car plant added more than 600 jobs to the passenger rail car manufacturing industry.

Over the past 30 years, Kawasaki has been awarded contracts to supply more than 4,300 new rail cars, which means that the company has replaced more than 20 percent of U.S. passenger rail cars. Currently, one in every five passenger rail cars in the U.S. is made by Kawasaki.

KRC is part of Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd. (KHI), headquartered in Kobe, Japan.

Jazzing Up the Afternoon Rush Hour

The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) recently invited jazz musicians to perform in MARTA stations on Monday afternoons during the Atlanta Jazz Festival’s 31 Days of Jazz. Through a partnership with the city of Atlanta, MARTA gave its riders an opportunity to hear live music free and spin a prize wheel for a chance to win a smartcard. Shown is saxophonist Eric Thomas, who played at the Lindbergh Station.


American Futures: Greener, Safer, More Compact?


What will our cities look like by mid-century as America’s ­population expands a projected 36 percent to about 440 million?

Will they be more livable, green, vibrant? Can we do away with our tons of city-based industrial wastelands and remake our low-grade strip commercial roads into attractive boulevards?

One vision is that the distinction of city and rural will fade as suburbs become more urban, densely occupied and town-like. And that we’ll see robust expansion of such phenomena as “micro flats” near city workplaces.

That’s a vision of my Seattle planner friend Mark Hinshaw, who surprised me in 1985 by predicting that ­Bellevue, a quintessential post-World War II suburban growth town across Lake ­Washington from Seattle, could become a true urban place on its own. I picked up on his idea—the possibility that Bellevue, alias “car city,” all strip commercial, no sidewalks and “potentially terminal boredom,” might turn itself into a Class A center with high-rise buildings, plazas, parks, cafes.

Today Bellevue is precisely that. And across the country, growing numbers of close-in suburbs are undergoing the same transformation, from dullsville to walkable and inviting places.

Looking forward from today, ­Hinshaw foresees many more people working at home, even in “cottage industries”—perhaps even home 3-D printing workshops. And he hopes some Americans might adapt the form of a neighborhood he’s visited on the western edge of Amsterdam:

“Very few people have cars, but some do. The street is essentially a shared garden that cars pass through, albeit very slowly. It’s so narrow it’s like a bike lane that cars occasionally use. Everyone’s front room and yard is different—in some places a living room or kitchen/dining area, in others even a store, small cafe or repair shop. The setting is quiet, serene and green, but it’s loaded with choices.”

But what about standard suburbia? Infill, and connecting separated places (residences, shopping, offices), will be the wave of the future, June Williamson predicts in a new Island Press book, Designing Suburban Futures. She reports there is progress in turning growing numbers of “ghostboxes, dead malls, dying commercial corridors and aging office parks” into “re-greened,” more transit-accessible places—including more walking and biking opportunities.

Suburbs do face obstacles: the last 60 years’ accumulation of spread-out development standards, plus fears of “the wolf of urbanism.” But from growing numbers of accessory (“mother-in-law”) dwelling units to steps that revitalize suburban downtowns, the overall signs are brightening.

A radical “green” and “safe” prescription for building and rebuilding streets, both city and suburban, is presented by Enrique Penalosa, former mayor of Bogota, Colombia, in an article for the March-April edition of Urban Land magazine. Before the arrival of the automobile a century ago, Penalosa notes, pedestrians crossed streets wherever they wished, and let their children play there. But then came the motor age, taking more than 200,000 people’s lives in the United States alone by the 1920s.

“What had been a marvelous human environment—the city—became not only noisy and unpleasant, but also dangerous to human life, particularly to children’s lives,” Penalosa writes. Dangerous streets, he suggests, were one reason tens of ­millions of ­Americans, especially after World War II, moved into low-density suburbs that actually required long car trips to reach jobs, shops and often schools. Without someone offering a ride, both children and the very old are effectively marooned.

Penalosa proposes a radical remedy: cities with generous numbers of auto-free streets, greenways reserved for pedestrians and bicycles. He challenges us to imagine a Manhattan—or other city—“where alternate streets and avenues are reserved for use by pedestrians and bicycles, with a few of those streets, green with trees, also allowing trams or buses on narrow busways.”

The result would be a network of pathways free from competition with autos and trucks except at every-other-street intersections. It would constitute a return, in major aspects, to the safer pedestrian walkways and life of the pre-auto era.

And where this is not possible, ­Penalosa would have us at least consider limiting the car’s occupation of space: “Curbside parking is not a constitutional right. Would it be better to eliminate curbside parking and instead have larger sidewalks and protected bikeways?”

Without question, smart urban planning could advance the Penalosa vision. The predicted U.S. population rise means we’ll need to build about 75 million new homes by 2050. The smart place to put them, to avoid massive new infrastructure costs and reignited sprawl, is in multifamily units in underused city and suburban areas. Networks of greenways would reduce auto dominance, create safe spaces for youth and the elderly, promote biking and public transit, and restrain heat impacts and carbon emissions.

Sounds revolutionary. But we need to think ahead and ask ourselves: “Why not?”

E-mail Neal Peirce.
© 2013, The Washington Post Writers Group