Friday, February 28, 2014

Where Do Old Highway Signs Go?

We've all seen them- battered highway signs that have been hit by cars, battered by weather, tagged
by graffiti artists and sometimes even shot by vandals. Or they're just outdated and need to be replaced. So what happens to old highway signs when they're taken down?

Well in Washington, they get recycled. The state has a highway sign recycling program that's reused 529,300 aluminum signs!

The Washington State Department of Transportation blog has some more amazing numbers on the sheer number of signs in the state and how much money that saves us.

Seattle Tunnel Project Can Finish Late But On Budget, According to New Report

A new report from the governor's "expert review panel" says it's possible for the Highway 99 tunnel project under downtown Seattle to be finished late- but still come in on budget.

The report, released yesterday, predicts the four-lane tunnel will be completed in the first half of 2016 and open by mid-November.

The project has been held up for several months now due to equipment problems with the giant drill being used to bore the tunnel.

The Spokesman-Review has more on this projects and why the panel says it late doesn't necessarily mean over budget.

Folding E-Bike Could Make Your Commute Fun

Got a short commute? If the developer can raise enough funds, you could soon be doing it on the URB-E, a folding e-bike that goes 20 miles on one charge, at speeds up to 15 mph. So what's so cool about it? The Urb-E folds up to the size of a rollerboard suitcase for easy handling, and weighs just under 30 pounds making it an easy last-leg vehicle for urban commuters.

The video below shows how it works. Thanks to Charles for sending this to me.



Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Stoned Drivers the Target of New Safety Campaign

Next month the Colorado Department of Transportation kicks off a campaign aimed at driving under the influence called “Drive High, Get a DUI.” So how big is the problem now that marijuana is legal in Colorado and Washington? Nothing appears to have changed in Washington, as you still can't even legally buy marijuana here at this time. In Colorado, where pot stores are doing big business and the system seems to be ahead of ours, a media investigation found that no state agency is currently tracking the impact of marijuana on the roads.

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Amendment Would Put Money Toward Planning Efforts

As we do sometimes, we're proposing another update to the 2014-2017 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), and we'd like your thoughts on it. The TIP is a programming document that identifies projects proposed to be undertaken or constructed during the next four years. The TIP includes project names and descriptions, the jurisdiction sponsoring them, funding attached to each project, and where the funding came from (local, state or federal funds).

 The latest proposed amendment would add a new planning project to the TIP to implement SRTC’s long-range plan, Horizon 2040. Details for the project can be found here.
 
After you take a look, let us know if this is an acceptable use of funds or any other thoughts you may have on it. All comments must be received by 4 p.m. on March 7, 2014. You can submit them by emailing to contact.srtc@srtc.org, mailing to SRTC at 221 W. First Ave., Suite 310, Spokane, WA, or by calling (509) 343-6370.

 

SRTC To Close Most of Thursday For Staff Retreat

We don't just need a staff retreat, we need
a new group photo!
SRTC will be closed most of the day tomorrow, Thursday, February 27, so employees can participate
 in a staff retreat. We will return to, and open, the office around 2 p.m.or a little later and business will resume as normal. Friday office hours are the usual, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Seasonal Weight Restrictions Go Into Effect

Seasonal weight restrictions will begin within the next 1-3 weeks on Spokane County roads and be in effect until further notice.  Roadway surfaces and the structures beneath the surface are weakened by the winter’s cycle of freezing temperatures, followed by warmer temperatures and precipitation.  As a result, roads are vulnerable to severe damage and weight restrictions reduce the need for increased road maintenance and auto repairs later this year.
Seasonal road restrictions usually go into effect in late February or early March and last for approximately 6 weeks.  However, seasonal weather conditions vary from year-to-year and dictate the extent of the restrictions and when they go into effect. 
Effected roads in Spokane County are posted with signs indicating maximum allowable weights.  Typically, these restrictions do not apply to the average car or pickup truck.  However, commercial and construction vehicles may need to lighten their loads in order to comply with the restrictions.  Spokane County commercial vehicle enforcement officers will be on patrol and violators will be fined!  Fines may vary according to the nature of the infraction. 

Spokane City Council to Debate Changing Red-Light Camera Law

The Spokane City Council is debating whether to change the law to allow them to spend red-light camera fines on projects unrelated to traffic safety.

The council already approved a new funding breakdown of red-light camera money for 2014, but the city never changed the law that requires them to spend revenues beyond the cost to maintain the cameras only on traffic safety projects.

The Spokesman-Review has the details.

WSU Prof Researching Better; Cheaper Asphalt

Haifang Wen, a professor in civil and environmental engineering at Washington State University could make my job easier in the future. One thing I hear regularly when out talking to members of the public about local transportation issues is that there must be a better, longer-lasting material with which to pave our roads. Wen is looking into it- researching new ways of making asphalt better and cheaper.

One alternative to traditional asphalt that Wen and the people in his lab are looking into is bioasphalt. Instead of using petroleum, waste cooking oil can be processed into asphalt.  A Spokesman-Review reporter visited Wen's laboratory and tells us what is underway there.

New Oil, Coal Train Info Will Probably Raise Additional Concerns

As more information becomes available, more concerns are surfacing concerning oil and coal trains.
A report released last week estimates that shipping the fuels by rail could bring 82 trains a day through Spokane and Sandpoint in ten years.

At the same time, new data was released that says Federal Railroad Administration inspectors have found 13,141 rail track defects in North Dakota since 2006. BNSF Railway was issued 721 written violation notices based on those defects.

The Spokesman-Review has the details on both reports in the "Getting There" column.

Francis Avenue Construction Project Public Meeting


Construction season begins soon and one of the first projects to start this year for the City of Spokane will be the Francis Avenue rehabilitation project. This project is part of the 10-year Street Bond program and will rehabilitate Francis Avenue from Division to Crestline beginning in mid-March. 

A public meeting will be held by the City to familiarize you with project details on Feb. 27 from 7 to 8 p.m. at Arlington Elementary (6363 North Smith Street).

The project will include the following work:
  • Replace existing asphalt
  • Update ADA ramps to meet current standards
  • Conduct stormwater maintenance activities
  • Install new communication conduit
  • Replace the water main between Perry and Pittsburgh streets.
More information on this project can be found on the City's blog here.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Transportation Technical Committee Meeting Next Wednesday, February 26

The Transportation Technical Committee (TTC) meets next Wednesday, February 26 for their February meeting. The TTC is made up of 22 professionals from various local and state agencies and provides project input and assures a coordinated and well-considered regional transportation system. 

Everyone is welcome to attend TTC meetings. Here's the agenda and packet for next week's meeting. If anything catches your eye, feel free to join us. There's an item on the agenda for public comment and we'd love to hear from you.

Centennial Trail Featured As "Trail of the Month" On National Website

I can't wait until the trail looks like this again.
Congratulations to Friends of the Centennial Trail! The Spokane River Centennial Trail is featured on the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy website as their February "Trail of the Month!"
The article on the website talks about how the trail runs four nearly 40 miles through eastern Washington, then connects with 24 more miles of the trail on the Idaho side.

It also gives the history of the trail and how U.S. Congressman Thomas S. Foley was instrumental in it's creation, and how he crossed party lines to work with Larry Craig (R-Idaho), to secure federal funding for the connecting trail in Idaho. At the time, that was unprecedented.

Here's the article on the Rails to Trails site. It even includes an article from Steve Worley, an Engineer for Spokane Valley and member of SRTC's Transportation Technical Committee (TTC). Turns out, Steve has a way with words that some might not expect from an engineer.

 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Vancouver's Olympics Four Years Ago Continue To Pay Off

Besides entertaining us, spurring patriotism and supplementing local economies, it turns out the
Olympics are also great for infrastructure development and innovation. While the Sochi Olympics are being used as an example of how NOT to do economic development (some say it came with a price tag of traffic gridlock, a decline in tourism and environmental destruction), others are hailing Vancouver, Canada- host of the 2010 Winter Olympics- as an example of how an event like the Olympics can bring projects together.

Vancouver's light rail line is a direct example of infrastructure that resulted from the Olympics, and an example of an extremely succesful public-private partnership.

The Atlantic Cities has the story of how the light rail came about and the risks and rewards involved.

Freight & Oil Shipments Reportedly Causing Amtrak Delays


According to KXLY News, shipments of freight and oil are bumping Amtrak's use of rail lines, causing the trains to detour.
Amtrak uses BNSF Railway Co. lines and says "severe freight train interference" is causing long delays along the Chicago-to-Pacific Northwest Empire Builder route.

In North Dakota, Amtrak trains are reportedly being forced to bypass Grand Forks, Devils Lake and Rugby, areas of heavy oil activity. Passengers in those cities are being bused to either Minot or Fargo to cath west-and-eastbound trains.

For it's part, BNSF says it's investing records amounts of money to expand capacity to help alleviate the problem.

Idaho 21 Avalanche Digout

Obviously Highway 21 is outside of our region but I saw these pics and wanted to share them just cause they demonstrate what could happen on Snoqualmie and other Washington passes.

This is Idaho 21, known as "Avalanche Alley." It reopened yesterday after a nearly weeklong closure due to- well- avalanches.

The 12-mile stretch  between Grandjean Junction and Banner Summit got 25 inches of additional snow during the closure, while crews tried to clean up the already-deep snow, which was strewn with rocks and timber.

Avalanche Alley has about 60 avalanche chutes. You can see more pictures here.

Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2014/02/19/3037653/avalanche-photos-tell-the-story.html##storylink=cpy

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

General Motors Recalls 778,000 Cars

Do you own a Pontiac G5 or a Chevy Cobalt? Well, it may be recalled. General Motors announced a
 recall of 2007 Pontiace G5s and 2005-2007 Chevrolet Cobalts because the front air bags may not go off in the event of a collision.

That adds up to 619,000 vehicles being recalled in the U.S., 153,000 in Canada and 6,100 in Mexico.

Here are the details from the New York Times.

What Could $800 Million Do?

Opinion of the Seattle Transit Blog.
Last week I blogged about how it could be summer before drilling resumes to build a highway under Seattle that will replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, due to issues with the giant drill being used. "Bertha" hasn't moved earth in a couple months and people are starting to worry about how far behind this project could get in the long run and who will pay for budget overages racked up by delays.

Some are even calling for the WSDOT to cut their losses and scrap the project. The folks at the Seattle Transit Blog say the $800 million to be spent on the drilling could be used in other ways that would improve transportation in the area the viaduct. Here are their suggestions.


 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Next TAC Meeting February 24

Next Monday, Feb. 24 is the regularly-scheduled meeting of the Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) at 3 p.m. here at SRTC. We've got a full agenda and a guest speaker from the Spokane Regional Health District to make a presentation on "Spokane Counts 2013," a report on selected indicators that can impact public health and community partners. The presentation will center around the indicators affected by transportation, such as air quality, bike/pedestrian collisions and motor vehicle crashes.

The meeting agenda is here if you want to check it out. As always, all TAC meetings are open to the public so feel free to attend if you can.
 

Meeting Will Tackle Issue Of Maintaining Spokane's "Bike Friendly" Status

On his blog, Spokane City Councilmember Jon Snyder writes that cutting the position of the Bicycle
and Pedestrian Coordinator recently could mean the city loses its designation as a Bike Friendly City. Spokane was awarded a bronze status from the League of American Bicyclists in 2010.

If you are worried about the implications this could have, Mr. Snyder encourages you to attend a meeting of the Bicycle Advisory Board tomorrow night, Feb. 18 at 6 p.m. in the lower level of City Hall at 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd in the Council Briefing Center.

The meeting agenda includes a discussion on the topic.
 

Lots Of Stuff Happening In Transportation In Our Region

The Washington State Department of Transportation announces road construction projects for our region;a state Senate proposal to raise more money for transportation does not adequately address needs by transit agencies, according to the Washington State Transit Association; and a lot of other transportation news for our area.

It can all be found here in the Spokesman-Review's "Getting There" column.

Walking School Bus Program Takes on Chronic Absenteeism


Before it closed, Pratt Elementary in Spokane Valley had a very succesful walking school bus program. In recent years, there has been talk about starting another walking school bus program.

What is a walking school bus? Simply put, it's a group of children walking to school with one or more adults. It can be as informal as two families taking turns walking their children to school to as structured as a route with meeting points, a timetable and a regularly rotated schedule of trained volunteers.

Numbers recently came back from a walking school bus in South Providence, Rhode Island, and it turns out the program has helped to address a chronic absenteeism problem at that school. Many of the children living within a mile of the school have parents who work in the morning or don't have a car, and getting the kids to school each day was a major challenge. With the start of the walking school bus program though, all that changed.

Here's why it made a difference, from the Safe Routes to School partnership.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The History of Road Salt, as Told By National Geographic

Transportation agencies across the country have put down a lot of salt on the roads this winter, due to some severe conditions. Numbers for this year have us on track to use a record amount of salt over the snow/ice season. While some states are scrambling to round up enough salt to meet their needs, others say they have a glut of it; like Michigan, who has a giant salt mine under the city of Detroit. First tapped in 1914, the mine has a facinating history. In fact, the history of salt being used on roads in general is pretty interesting, as evidenced by this National Geographic article on the history of road salt (if anyone can make a potentially dull topic interesting, it's National Geographic).

Some Local Govt. Offices Closed Monday; Some Open

Don't forget that Monday, February 17 is the President's Day holiday, so some local government offices will be closed. It's a mixed bag of who's open and who's closed, so here is what I've been notified of:

- SRTC will be open
- City of Spokane services and offices will be open.

-
Spokane Valley City Hall and offices will be closed.

-
 Spokane County offices will be closed.

Parking meters don’t have to be plugged on Monday either.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

University Road Overpass Study Materials Available Online

If you're interested in Spokane Valley's University Road Overpass Study but couldn't make the January 29 open house, you can view materials used at the meeting online.

The study is looking at options for relieving traffic congestion and improving connections north and south across I-90 in the vicinity of University Road.

The presentation from the open house, updates and background information about the study can be found on the project website at www.university-overpass.com

The presentation includes descriptions of the options examined, including the preferred alternatives, which involve a new southbound lane on Argonne Road as well as modifications to a turn lane and signal on Pines Road.

Study results also suggest there may be potential for a pedestrian and bicycle overpass west of Pines Road from south of Mission northward to Montgomery Drive.

Recommendations from the study will be used by the City Council and Public Works staff members as they determine how they may best meet the transportation needs of the community.

Millions of Child Car Seats Recalled

Almost 3.8 million Graco car seats are being recalled because children can
get trapped by buckles that may not unlatch.

The recall covers 11 models made from 2009 through 2013 by Graco Children's Products of Atlanta. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, it's the fourth-largest child seat recall in U.S. history.

Graco says tests found that food or beverages can make the harness buckles sticky and harder to use. If you have one of these seats, contact Graco toll free at 800-345-4109 or at or consumerservices@gracobaby.com.

Bertha Repairs May Put Project On Hold Until Summer


Poor Bertha. She may be stopped in her tracks for several more months. The giant drill being used to dig below Seattle to build a freeway tunnel needs repairs that could require workers to dig a hole up to 115 feet deep to reach the damaged drive system.

The repairs would require the 630 ton cutter head to be detached and lifted with a crane out of the pit. Either way, the repairs will reportedly take months to complete and the tunnel project is already four months behind. By the time the hole is dug and repairs made, it could be summer before Bertha is moving again.
 
The big question, as delays stacked up, has been who will pay for cost overruns wracked up by delays? And the repairs aren't expected to be cheap either. If a bearing on the drill has to be replaced, it could cost $5 million.
 

Idaho Considers Raising Highway Speed Limits

Having driven to Jackson Hole, WY last week, I can attest that the drive through some parts of Idaho can be a little dull, to say the least. So would getting through the state faster make things better? Possibly.

A senator is proposing to raise the speed limit on Idaho highways and the Senate Transportation committee has already approved it.

KTVB says the speed limit on the interstate may go from 75 to 80 miles per hour and from 65 to 70 miles per hour on state highways. The bill now has to go to the Idaho Senate. Before the Senate makes a decision, the Idaho Transportation Department will have to conduct a study to evaluate the risks of a higher speed limit.
 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Crosswalk That Makes a Statement

A creative Hawaiian pedestrian advocate got a little crazy with the white paint recently and turned a standard "zebra" crosswalk into a statement. The crosswalk now welcomes walkers with the word "Aloha" while letting them know where it's safe to walk. Did officials in Oahu embrace the creative way to personalize their streets though or consider it vandalism?

Where the Sidewalk Starts has the answer.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Find Out About Spokane City Transportation Planning Tonight on Cable 5

Tonight's edition of the City of Spokane's “Council Connection,” television program will focus on the Link Spokane planning process that will create a 20-year vision for transportation and utility infrastructure needs in the City. The show airs live at 6 p.m. on CityCable 5, hosted by Council Member Mike Fagan.

This program is one of a number of opportunities to learn about the Link Spokane process that have been held this week. One great opportunity to get involved is an open house on Friday, Feb. 7, from 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on the street level of River Park Square.

Fagan will accept calls from viewers during the program; at 625-6337.  Interested citizens also can attend the taping in the Council Chambers in the lower level of City Hall, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd.

“Council Connection” is shown live on the first Thursday of the month and is replayed throughout the month. CityCable 5 is the City of Spokane’s government-access cable station; it’s found on channel 5 on the Comcast cable system in Spokane.  


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

1946 Spokane Traffic Survey Reveals Interesting Information About Our Area


A while back, the boss found this Spokane Traffic Survey while cleaning out his office. So it's an old traffic report, big deal- right? I finally just got time to look through it though and it's pretty amazing, considering the times.

Published in 1946 by the City of Spokane Engineering Department Plan Commission and signed by then-Mayor Arthur Meehan, this piece of history shows that, while things have changed, much has stayed the same too.
1946 Land Use Map. Yellow is "first class"
residential neighborhood, dark brown is industrial
area, red is commercial areas and green is
recreational areas.
The report contains many of the same things our current plans and studies have. The Horizon 2040 plan that we completed in 2013 has information on population trends. So does this report, showing a population of approximately 140,000 in 1950 for the City of Spokane. That number is now up to 209,525, according to Census numbers for 2012.

A chart of Motor Vehicle Regstration for 1950 in Spokane County shows the number at about 67,000. A traffic volume survey included in the report that was conducted in 1937 (as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project) predicts a 15-20% increase in vehicle registration over the decade to follow. I couldn't find current number of vehicle registrations to compare to today.

Under the heading of "Traffic Problem Causes" there is a paragraph about how downtown was the main area experiencing traffic congestion in 1946. This is cited as being due to the lack of a by-pass route around the central business district, which forced people to drive through downtown to get to other parts of the city. Narrow streets downtown were also considered a contributing factor to slow moving traffic. The suggested fixes for these issues included constructing an expressway and improving arterial routes. Division is listed as one of the most heavily traveled north-south routes even in 1946.

The plan lists the primary state highway through the area at the time as being US 10. I looked it up and as far as I can tell, this route was pretty much where Sprague Avenue is now.

The maps were also pretty detailed for the time, considering the technology available. The map to the left shows Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho in 1946 and the main economic drivers, such as cattle, apples, mining, and grain growing.

Among things that have changed, the report says the city's street system was made up of "71% graded crushed rock" at the time. Also, the average driving speed on streets in the central business district (downtown Spokane) was 14.1 miles per hour during off-peak hours! Average speeds for arterials is listed as 24.4 miles per hour. That's something we'll never see again.

 

Why the U.S. Is Much More Car-Dependent Than Europe

In my line of work, you hear people citing European cities as examples of good transportation  planning all the time. Many cities across the ocean have great public transit, bicycle and pedestrian systems, and much lower rates of vehicle usage than the United States. As an example, In 2010, Americans drove for 85 percent of their daily trips, compared to car trip shares of 50 to 65 percent in Europe.

Bicyclists in Copenhagen

Considering that the U.S.'s work to retrofit roads and adapt policies starting in the 1920s to accomodate the car served as the model for much of Europe, how did the U.S. end up so much more car-centric than Europe?

The Atlantic Cities says there are nine main reasons for this.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Bluetooth Devices to Help Fight Traffic Congestion


The new tool for fighting traffic congestion in Washington State is- the Bluetooth?? Yep, drivers with Bluetooth devices who use I-5 between Lacey and Tacoma will be tracked in the next couple weeks by the Washington State Department of Tranpsortation (WSDOT).

It's not that the folks at the WSDOT want to listen in on your conversations- nor could they if they wanted to- but the signal Bluetooth devices give off shows where vehicles are located. Gathering data on where cars are will help analysts determine where in the I-5 corridor people are traveling to or from to see if there are alternative roadways that could be built or improved to take traffic off the freeway.

The News Tribune looks at the technology involved and how the tracking will work.

Mayor Releases Statement on Oil Trains

We've been hearing a lot lately about oil and coal trains through our area. Many people are worried about the health impacts of such trains, while here at SRTC we are interested in the impacts to traffic, such as if increased train traffic cause longer delays to vehicle traffic.

Last night, according to KREM TV, Spokane's City Council voted unanimously to regulate the trains that carry crude oil through the city. The resolution calls for more studies of oil trains and protections for the city.
   
The City Council’s vote will force the federal government to include Spokane in its environmental impact statement. Mayor David Condon issued the following statement last night regarding the movement of trains that transport oil through our community:

The safety of Spokane is my top priority. It is our responsibility to understand the risks and potential impacts associated with crude oil rail shipments so that we can plan accordingly. A collaborative, informed approach will yield the best results for our community.

We as a community must urge the appropriate federal agencies, the nation’s tank car owners and manufacturers, crude oil shippers, and freight railroads to adopt fleet standards for cargo movements.

I have taken several initial steps to better coordinate emergency planning and response in our community. Earlier this month, while in Washington, D.C., I had discussions with our federal Congressional staff. Ed Lewis, the new deputy director of emergency management for Spokane County, will join my Cabinet as a liaison to facilitate better emergency planning. I have also requested a briefing for the public safety committee of the City Council, to share information, identify any gaps and discuss potential next steps. And, later this week, I will be meeting with the federal Government Accountability Office to discuss freight traffic through our community.”

 

Super Bowl Celebration Riots Don't Include Jaywalking

If you don't use Twitter, one of the trending hashtags is #howSeattleRiots, and it's basically poking fun at the politeness of Seattlites following their Super Bowl win. Here are a few of the tweets I saw:
Then I saw this video. Even during the chaos of the Super Bowl celebration, Seattle refuses to jaywalk.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Flights Out of Spokane International Drop in 2013


Spokane International Airport saw a small decrease in the number of passengers flying out of the city in 2013.

It may be more of a case of airlines dropping flights than people cutting back purposely on travel though. So if the demand is there, why are airlines reducing the number of flights available?

The Spokesman-Review looks at the situation.

The 1980s Called. It Wants Its Safety Video Back

Props to Delta Airlines for getting creative with their inflight safety video. You can't go wrong with any video that references Alf, Devo hats, Atari and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. That's a pop culture treasure trove!

About SRTC

SRTC is the federally designated Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for Spokane County. Urbanized areas with populations exceeding 50,000 people are required to have an MPO. SRTC was formed to address the county's transportation planning needs. It provides coordination in planning between the public, cities, small towns, the county, the state, transit providers, and tribes.

SRTC offers services including transportation monitoring, transportation modeling, census information analysis, travel demand forecasting, historical traffic count analysis, geographic information systems, and trip generation rates.