Items tagged with 'transportation'

Arguing the case for protected bike lanes

madison ave road diet option D cropped

One of the coalition's two preferred options for the road diet.

At some point in the near future the city of Albany will be releasing its plan for the Madison Ave Road Diet, an effort to reshape the traffic flow a long a large portion of the Madison Ave corridor.

Bike lanes are expected to be part of the plan, and exactly what sort of bike lane has become a hot topic -- "regular" bike lanes separated from car traffic by a stripe on the road, or "protected" bike lanes that are separated by some sort of barrier (such as parked cars or vertial pylons).

Listening between the lines this past summer when the city and its consultants presented the options for the road diet, it sounded like the city might be leaning toward regular bike lanes because of concerns about the impact on the number of parking spaces and the costs associated with clearing snow. And ahead of a meeting that had been scheduled for last week (and was then canceled) to release the plan, word was circulating that the city would be heading in that direction.

Perhaps in an attempt to make a pre-emptive case, a group called the Albany Protected Bicycle Lane Coaltion released a report today that attempts to head off some of the arguments against protected lanes.

So, let's have a quick look.

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City of Albany to present Madison Ave Road Diet recommendations

Madison Ave at St Rose

Update: The meeting has been cancelled, according to the Albany Police Department (traffic engineering is part of the APD), and will be rescheduled. [APD FB]

The city of Albany has a public meeting lined up for Monday, November 9 to present the recommendations for the Madison Ave Road Diet. The meeting is at the College of Saint Rose's Lally School Building (1009 Madison Ave) from 6-7 pm.

The Madison Ave Road Diet is a project to reconfigure the lanes on the busy thoroughfare with the aim of calming traffic and making the street more friendly to pedestrians and cyclists. That could involve reducing the number of traffic lanes from the current two in each direction, to one in each direction with a turn lane.

The part of the project that's gotten the most attention lately is the possibility of the addition of protected bike lanes to the corridor.

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A few more thoughts about the push for Uber, Lyft, and similar services upstate

uber app sample screenshots

Sample screenshots from the Uber app.

The ongoing campaign to open the way for taxi-app services such as Uber and Lyft to operate in Upstate New York got another push this week when Uber publicly backed the campaign at the Capitol, framing it in part as a jobs and economic development issue. [NYT]

A bill that addresses insurance and regulatory issues for these sorts of "transportation network" companies has been floating around the state legislature since last session. Lyft has been pushing for legislation like this since at least this past spring. And this past summer Andrew Cuomo made comments that sounded like he supported some sort of statewide regulation. [NYS Senate] [NY Observer]

We touched on the taxi service/Uber/Lyft situation a bunch of times already. So here are a few more bits and thoughts prompted by Uber's actions this week...

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When bikes weren't just something on the side

1900 New York State bike map Albany area crop

A 1900 map of "side paths" -- bike paths -- around the greater Albany area.

That recent post about the "great popularity of cycling" in Saratoga Springs around the early 1900s and the all the discussion of late about building protected bike lanes in Albany got us looking into the history of bike paths. And, as so often is the case, the past seems like a completely different place.

For example: There was once a law in New York State that allowed a group of just 50 bicyclists to petition for the formation of a commission that would be tasked with building bike lanes.

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Where the commuters are from

albany commting inflows map clip

The city of Albany draws commuters from a wide area.

Each weekday in the Capital Region a large tide of people wash into the area's urban centers for their work days, and then stream back home. So large is this tide for the city of Albany that its daytime population during the week rises by 2/3.

So, where do all these people come from? Well, thanks to some recently released Census data, we can some sense of an answer to that question. And to extend the water metaphor a bit further, we can map out the "commuter sheds" that drain into each of the Capital Region's urban centers each weekday.

So let's have a look.

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Options for the Madison Ave Road Diet

Madison Ave at St Rose 2015-07-29

Could it stand to lose a lane or two?

Can Madison Avenue in Albany's Pine Hills neighborhood be a better version of itself, one that both moves cars along but also provides a safer, more comfortable experience for cyclists and pedestrians?

That's the question at the heart of the proposed Madison Ave Road Diet, one of the region's most interesting transportation projects -- and a high-priority focus for cycling advocates pushing for protected bike lanes. Wednesday night at the College of Saint Rose city officials and consultants unveiled the menu of proposed options for reconfiguring the thoroughfare.

"It's most important that we get it right," Albany mayor Kathy Sheehan told the crowd Wednesday in emphasizing the importance of public feedback on the project. "We're really going to have one opportunity and then this will become the model for what we do in other parts of the city."

Here's the menu of options, along with a few thoughts...

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Three thoughts about the push for protected bike lanes in Albany

protected bike lane rally

The rally in Albany this week for protected bike lanes.

This Wednesday is a big day for one of the most interesting transportation projects in the Capital Region because the city of Albany will be publicly presenting options for the Madison Ave Road Diet. The range of options will be on display, and public comments collected, at the College of Saint Rose Wednesday at 6 pm.

The project is aiming to make the popular thoroughfare through Albany's Pine Hills neighborhood safer by reducing the number of lanes in an effort to "calm" traffic. It's a notable example of how the thinking about the way people get around is evolving from a perspective that places a high, almost sole, priority on cars, to an approach that intends to be more friendly to pedestrians and cyclists.

The Madison Ave Road Diet is also potentially important because it could end up including the first protected bike lane in the city of Albany -- that is, a lane designated for bikes that's protected from car traffic by some sort of barrier. Cycling advocates have been pushing for such an amenity, and see it as a significant step towards more bikeable city.

Here are three thoughts about the push for protected bike lanes.

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To Athens by ferry

Hudson-Athens ferry composite

By Duncan Crary

Ahead of the Rail, River, Hudson II tour this coming weekend, we have a series of posts focusing on the Hudson River this week.

Last summer, in anticipation of AOA's Rail, River Hudson trip, I made the case that "How you get there matters, because getting there is half the fun." This time around, I'll add that getting there by boat will make any location feel more exotic.

Here in the Capital Region we have a few cruise boats that offer roundtrip sightseeing and/or party cruises (like the Dutch Apple II in Albany, The Captain JP II in Troy and the The Caldwell Belle in Schuylerville). These are all great ways for the public to experience our rivers by boat. But except for special events, these local cruisers are rarely used for commuting between destinations. And while there's been a lot of talk over the years of bringing water taxis to Albany, we're still waiting to see that happen.

You don't have to go too far downriver, though, to find public water transit. For the past three years, the Hudson-Athens Ferry has been carrying people between that city and village, across the Hudson River.

Two weeks ago, I finally made it onboard with a fellow traveler from Troy. Here are a few notes from our adventure...

River Week is sponsored by: Albany County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Downtown Albany BID, Dutch Apple Cruises, Harmony Mills, Hudson River Greenway, Nine Pin Cider, Sweet Sue's, and Downtown Troy BID.

River Week in-post ad Dutch Apple

River Week in-post ad Hudson Valley Ramble

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Four takeaways from the kickoff for the study about the future of I-787

787 study public event visioning map

A large map was laid out so members of the public could annotate with ideas.

The planning project for the future of I-787 -- and the waterfront -- got off to its public start Wednesday with presentations at the Albany Public Library.

The I-787/Hudson Waterfront Corridor Study is sponsored by Capital District Transportation Committee, the state Department of Transportation, and the city of Albany. Its focus extends from the Port of Albany along the riverfront north to Watervliet. And its aims include helping develop strategies for improving waterfront access and guiding future transportation planning.

We stopped by for the early presentation (the same presentation was to be repeated in the evening), and took some time to check out the various posters and other "visioning" materials.

Here are four impressions/takeaways...

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The Purple Line

The idea of dedicated road for the proposed BusPlus "purple" line along the Western/Washington corridor has come up here a few times. And, if you're anything like us, it's easier to get a picture what that could look like by... actually seeing a picture.

So, check out the video embedded above -- it's a CDTA promo video that shows how the dedicated busway through the Harriman State Office Campus, UAlbany uptown campus, Crossgates would work.

The purple line is one of two new BusPlus routes for which CDTA is trying line things up -- the other is the "blue" line, which would run between Albany and Waterford along the river. CDTA recently announced it's moving ahead with detailed planning for the new lines.

By the way: Watching that video about the dedicated busway, we couldn't help thinking that maybe it'd be possible to build a protected bike lane alongside that corridor.

[via TSTC]

Earlier on AOA:
+ Planning for how we'll all get around the Capital Region in the future
+ A few more bits about the proposed BusPlus Washington-Western line

Planning for how we'll all get around the Capital Region in the future

google self driving car prototype 2014

If our future overlords will be self-driving vehicles, it's probably a good idea to have a plan fo them. (If only so we can properly welcome them.) / photo: Google

A bit of follow-up to that discussion about trends that are shaping the way people get around the Capital Region: The Capital District Transportation Committee has a couple of public meetings this week to go over the draft version of its New Visions 2040 Plan -- this is the map (of sorts) for thinking and planning all sorts of regional transportation stuff, including roads, bridges, traffic congestion, CDTA, bike lanes, car sharing, road diets, even stuff like self-driving cars.

The meetings are:

+ Tuesday, June 16 at the Empire State Plaza (Meeting Room 6, Concourse Level) from 6:30-8:30 pm

+ Thursday, June 18 at Niskayuna Town Hall from 6:30-8:30 pm

The full draft plan is online if you'd like to have a look (there's also an executive summary and listing of key recommendations.) If you're curious about any of the topics mentioned above, you'll probably find at least a few interesting bits.

After a quick read through, here are a handful of things that caught our eye:

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Workshops on the future of I-787

Google Map of 42.645,-73.75

The planning project for the future of I-787 -- and the waterfront -- has a pair of public workshops lined up for later this month. As the flyer for the events says: "Help Us Visualize the Future of the Corridor."

Expanded blurbage:

Join us at one of two public workshops on June 24th in Albany or June 30th in Watervliet to discuss the future of the I-787/waterfront corridor. The purpose of the workshops is to introduce the study and its objectives, to share information on existing land uses and the transportation system and to provide opportunities for input on short and long term transportation and land use strategies.
Along with a brief presentation, workshop attendees will be able to view study area maps and data, can offer initial input on strategy and evaluation criteria and can participate in a hands on "map your ideas" station.

The first workshop is June 24 at the Albany Public Library main branch on Washington Ave from 4-7:30 pm (with presentations at 4:30 pm and 6:30 pm).

The second workshop is June 30 at the Watervliet Senior Citizen Center (1541 Broadway) from 5-7:30 pm (presentation at 5:30 pm).

The I-787/Hudson Waterfront Corridor Study is sponsored by Capital District Transportation Committee, the state Department of Transportation, and the city of Albany. Its focus extends from the Port of Albany along the riverfront north to Watervliet. And its aims include helping develop strategies for improving waterfront access and guiding future transportation planning.

Whenever we ask people here at AOA about things they'd like to see changed about area, 787 gets mentioned. A lot. So this could be a good opportunity to get your concerns and ideas on the record with planners.

Furthermore: A lot of cities have been facing the issue of what to do with their urban (often elevated or waterfront) highways. Just down the Thruway, Syracuse has been trying to sort out what to do with I-81, an elevated highway that runs right through the middle of downtown, a process that's included conflict between the city and its suburbs. (Here's the latest on the I-81 storyline.)

As part of the planning process for the next I-81, the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council put together a bunch of case studies about how other cities have handled remaking urban highways -- it's worth a look if you're interested in the topic.

Speed bumps for Washington Park?

Google Map of 42.6567118,-73.7717265

Alison emails with a question that's not exactly an Ask AOA question so much as an idea:

Should there be speed bumps in Washington Park? People often fly through there like it's the highway, which is really unsafe for everyone who uses the park. A couple years ago, I was there when a dog ran into the street and was hit by a car going way too fast. The dog should not have darted out in front of traffic of course, but in a park these things can happen, and wouldn't it be best if people were driving like they were in a crowded park full of kids, bikers, walkers, and pets?
The 'driver must stop' signs in the crosswalks aren't really working, and drivers often speed up to avoid having to stop when they see someone trying to cross. So, speed bumps in the park...friend or foe?

Alison's idea reminded us of something Albany Bagel floated earlier this year (in addition to speed bumps): car-free Saturdays in Washington Park.

For whatever reason, car/pedestrian interactions have been a frequent topic of discussion in Albany in recent years. (Whether that's a result of increased issues or increased awareness is a good question.) And city leaders have said the push for red light cameras grew out of hearing neighborhood groups consistently express concerns about traffic safety issues.

So, thoughts on whether this is a step in a good direction?

A few facts, controversies, and quirks from the Northway's history

Twin Bridges

As you know, the Twin Bridges' official name is Thaddeus Kosciusko Bridge. (Kosciuszk-who?) / photo: Nicholas Hepler at Wikipedia (CC-BY-2.5)

As noted by Albany Archives, the section of the Northway from Albany to around Glens Falls officially opened this week in 1961 (that is, Nelson Rockefeller cut a ribbon).

That got us rummaging through the history of the Northway -- ahem, excuse us, The Adirondack Northway -- and here are a few bits you might finding interesting...

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How to reliably arrange transportation for a small group of people?

luxury mini bus interiorChris emails (emphasis added):

With all the talk these past few weeks about Uber/Lyft and the state of cab transportation in the region, I have a more practical question. We live in Albany, and we have tickets for the Capital Region Brewcycle Tour in Troy. It looks great and we can't wait to check it out! We want to enjoy it AND get home safely. A DD is always the responsible default option but we're comfortable leaving a car in Troy overnight. All told, there will be 6 of us needing to get back. There would be one pick-up sometime around 12-1230 [at night] in Troy and 1 or 2 stops for drop off in Albany.
If I know when and where I need a pick up a week in advance, exactly how many people I have to transport and where we need to go, what is the best option out there? Is there a private car service that readers have used and would recommend? What was the cost? Is the state of cabs in Troy any better than Albany? Is there a good one that could accommodate 6 people?
Basically we're looking for a service that would get us home:
1- safely- not too interested in some some dude with a van who has a lot of free time
2- reliably- don't want to be stuck waiting on a street corner for someone to show up eventually
3- economically- I know a limo would work, but it seems terribly excessive and expensive for what amounts to about 25 minutes and 10 miles of driving.
With the advantage of being able to make arrangements in advance I'm hopeful we can find something reasonable. I'd be willing to leave a deposit or pay in advance to secure something.
Any advice would be much appreciated. Thanks!

Got a suggestion for Chris and friends? Please share!

Trains great and otherwise

amtrak engine in RensselaerOver at National Journal there's an interesting article looking at why the state of passenger rail service in the US is often underwhelming. Here's a clip that reminded us of a lot of discussions regarding public infrastructure here in the Capital Region:

The Gulf situation is a miniature version of the chicken-and-egg question that bedevils Amtrak as a whole: Is it a waste of money because there isn't sufficient demand for trains? Or is there insufficient demand for trains because we haven't spent the money to create a great rail system? Outside of the Northeast Corridor, the tracks Amtrak uses are almost all owned by freight railroads. CSX, Union Pacific, and a handful of other behemoths naturally hog them, which contributes to Amtrak's chronic tardiness, which in turn dissuades passengers from taking Amtrak. As a result, Congress cites Amtrak's low-ridership numbers as a reason not to grant it larger subsidies, which of course are exactly what Amtrak would need in order to purchase its own train tracks. Commenting on the vicious cycle, [former Amtrak chairman] John Robert Smith says: "You can't disinvest in something and then beat it to death because it doesn't perform."

There's already relatively strong demand for train service in the Northeast, and Albany-Rensselaer is one of the busiest stations in the whole system. But if you could hop a high-speed train from here and reliably arrive at New York-Penn in, say, an hour and a half -- what might that do for ridership?

And the same goes for other sorts of transportation systems. What if the Capital Region had a bus rapid transit system that was truly rapid and worked more like a subway system than a bus? What if people felt good about the state of local taxis? How would that affect demand for those modes?

Anyway, that National Journal article includes some interesting bits about funding for Amtrak, some floated proposals for private high-speed rail in other parts of the country, and how political support for trains is maybe a bit more nuanced than you might expect.

Earlier on AOA: Thinking about high-speed rail in New York

[via MeFi]

People are riding the bus more often

CDTA bus in downtown Albany

CDTA announced this week that is had more than 17 million boardings in the fiscal year that ended this past March -- that's the highest total in the transit org's history. And it's the second straight year that CDTA's ridership number has set an all-time record.

The org reports that ridership is up 23 percent over the last five years. And a large chunk of its ridership now falls under "universal access" agreements it's struck with local colleges and employers during the last few years. CDTA says riders using the system under these agreements represented more than 4 million boardings last year.

So, put simply, people are riding the bus more often.

We were curious for some historical context, so we got a hold of CDTA ridership numbers over its history and did a few comparisons...

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Albany red light camera program set to start soon

albany red light camera intersections final

The previously announced intersections that are set to get cameras.

The city of Albany's red light camera system will start operating within the next two months, the Albany Police Department said Friday as part of an announcement about the selection of vendor for the system.

The city has picked GATSO USA to provide the equipment for the 20 intersections that will get cameras as part of the new system.

A couple of key details from the announcement:

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Alongside the push for Uber

uber app screenshots

Screenshots from the Uber app.

The open letter that Matt Baumgartner and Vic Christopher released Tuesday calling on local mayors to help bring Uber to the Capital Region has been getting a lot of attention in the local media. And that makes sense. Baumgartner and Christopher are both prominent local business figures, and it's no secret there is ample frustration with local taxi services.

But the taxi issue in the Capital Region has been simmering for a while (Baumgartner and Christopher first reached out to Uber more than a year ago.) And there are a handful of important to angles to keep in mind...

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Charting a return for steamship trips on the Hudson

S.S. ColumbiaA group is aiming to bring back steamship service on the Hudson River between New York City and Albany by restoring a century-old ship. From the New York History Blog:

Although the S.S. Columbia is a newcomer to the Hudson - it plied the waters of the Detroit River for much of the 19th century - its history is strongly linked to New York City. The Columbia was designed by naval architect Frank Kirby and artist Louis O. Keil, who together built the celebrated Hudson River Day Line steamers Hendrick Hudson, Washington Irving, and the Robert Fulton.
Built in 1902, the S.S. Columbia included an array of design, engineering and aesthetic innovations. At just over 200 feet in length and 60 feet at the beam, the boat was designed to carry 3,200 passengers on her five decks. She was adorned with mahogany paneling, etched and leaded glass, gilded moldings, a grand staircase and an innovative open-air ballroom. Restoration of these features is expected to begin when the ship in New York. The Columbia will be powered by its rare and intact 1200 horsepower triple expansion steam engine; the massive engine is viewable by passengers.

The S.S. Columbia is currently in Toledo for repairs. The plan is to move it to Buffalo this summer, and then eventually up the Saint Lawrence Seaway and down the Atlantic Coast to New York City in 2016. According to the New York History Blog, the project is trying to raised $300k to get the boat to NYC. The whole project will ultimately involve $10 million, according to its website.

The ship is pretty rough shape now -- you can follow along with the repairs view the project's Flickr stream.

There's a long history of people taking day cruises along the Hudson, which Duncan wrote about last year here at AOA.

photo via S.S. Columbia Project

JetBlue starting service out of ALB in December

JetBlue ALB service map 2015-04-06

JetBlue's service map for ALB, clipped from its website this afternoon.

Announced today: JetBlue will start service out of Albany International Airport on December 10.

The airline will be flying direct routes from ALB to Orlando (MCO) and Fort Lauderdale (FLL). From there it's possible to transfer for a handful of destinations out west and the Caribbean and South America.

When word first got around last year that JetBlue would eventually be flying out of ALB, officials -- specifically Chuck Schumer -- said increased competition from the service would help keep fares down here in Albany. And the Senator reiterated that idea today.

So, what are some of the initial fares? Some ranges we picked up off the airline's website this afternoon:

ALB-MCO: $258-$470

ALB-FLL: $316-$462

Also: JetBlue is offering a one-day-only $16.86 one-way fare deal for Albany on Monday -- we didn't include that.

Update: For some context, we pulled federal airfare data for flights between Albany and a handful of Florida markets -- let's have a look.

A Lyft for Albany?

lyft app screenshots

Screenshots from the Lyft app. / images: Lyft

Officials from the taxi-app company Lyft were in Albany recently to meet with city officials.

Matthew Peter, chief of staff for Albany mayor Kathy Sheehan, told us this week that representatives from Lyft had been in for a meeting "about two weeks ago." Peter described the meeting as a "very generic introduction" and said Lyft was currently in the process of introducing itself to cities. He said the Sheehan administration is looking into the topic and doesn't have a position on it.

"We're talking to cities across the state to see if there's a need for increasing safe and affordable transportation options," Lyft spokesperson Chelsea Wilson said to AOA this week when we asked about the meeting. "And we've heard that people want options like Lyft."

Lyft -- and competitors such as Uber -- have become key players in the taxi ride market in many cities around the country, all while pushing against what the companies say is outdated regulation and critics charge they're using unfair advantages.

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Short commute, small footprint


Among the benefits to living near the Capital Region's urban core: on average, your household probably will have a lower greenhouse gas footprint.

The above map caught our eye while we were flipping through the docs for that Capital District Transportation Committee draft plan for the area's transportation future. It depicts the estimated average greenhouse gas footprint -- for both transportation and household use -- for households in each municipality. (After the jump, we've also clipped the map that depicts estimated greenhouse gas footprints just for transportation.)

The map is probably what you'd expect -- if a municipality, like the city of Albany, hosts a lot of jobs then its residents are more likely to not have to commute far, and as a result, won't have as large a greenhouse gas footprint. (And you'd probably expect the inverse, too.) In fact, that map matches up pretty well with maps for both daytime population swing and average commute time in the region.

We were curious about the estimates behind the map, so we dug out a Capital District Regional Planning
Commission report about a regional greenhouse gas inventory
. The estimates are explained on p. 19. And the report also includes more, and larger, maps on the topic.

One highlight from those additional maps: An estimate of energy costs by municipality (p. 23). The difference between the low and high end is about $8,500 per year.

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Four trends shaping the way people will get around the Capital Region in the future

google self driving car prototype 2014

Google's prototype self-driving car. / photo: Google

Sometimes it's a good idea to take a step back and ask, "Where are we going?"

That's exactly what the Capital District Transportation Committee is doing right now for the Capital Region with its draft New Visions 2040 plan. It's trying to map out where we're all going (figuratively) and how we're all (literally) going to get there.

So, what does this sort of plan include? Roads, bridges, traffic congestion, CDTA, bike lanes, car sharing, road diets, all that stuff -- and things that are even farther out (both in the future and, like, whoa), such as self-driving cars.

CDTC has a bunch of public meetings coming up at which it's hoping people will speak up about their concerns and hopes for transportation in the future Capital Region. (Details are after the jump.)

So we thought it'd be interesting to talk with CDTC executive director Mike Franchini this week about four trends he thinks will influence how we'll get around in the future.

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CDTA Navigator

CDTA Navigator Card

CDTA shared a few more details today about the fare payment system that's in the works. The transit org will be pilot testing the system this year, and could start rolling it out by the end of 2015.

A few bits about the upcoming "Navigator" smart cards:

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Not in the driver's seat

car steering wheel

An increasingly uncommon spot?

A theme that's popped up often in recent years among developers, planners, cultural observers, whoever: more people -- younger adults (the Millenials), especially -- don't like to drive. You see it mentioned in national articles, and we've had developers and planners mention it to us locally.

We had that idea in mind this week when we came across some numbers about vehicle use over the last few decades, both nationally and here in New York State. One thing led to another and we ended up calculating driver's licenses per capita for counties around the state. (Because of course.)

A few interesting bits floated by along the way. Among them: Of New York State counties that are not part of New York City, Albany County has one of the lowest levels of driver's licenses per capita in the state -- and the rates for all of the Capital Region core counties in 2013 were down compared to 2007.

Here are a few quick graphs, and a few thoughts.

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Albany red light camera intersection map

albany red light camera intersections final

There's a larger clickable map after the jump.

The Albany Police Department released the final list of intersections for the city's new red light camera system Friday. There are 20 intersections in all.

Here's the list with some crash stats, along with a clickable map, and a few quick things and thoughts.

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The Capital Region's vehicle arteries

capital region traffic density mapbox

Map gawking: Check out this map of traffic volumes on major roads around the Capital Region. It's like an angiogram of the area's vehicle arteries.

The map is a clip from a national map created by Mapbox using data from the federal Highway Performance Monitoring System and OpenStreetMap. Here's a zoomable version over at the Mapbox site.

The data is limited to roadways, marked in yellow, that are eligible for federal aid. The wider the yellow line, the higher the daily average volume.

The relative volumes probably won't be much of a surprise -- you know, it's not unexpected that I-90 through Albany and I-87 from Albany north to Saratoga County are the most-traveled arteries (each averages more than 100,000 vehicles per day).

But one thing that did strike us about the map is the way it highlights the degree to which the Capital Region sprawls northward much more than any other direction. We've always been a little curious why areas such as, say, southern Rensselaer County and southern Albany County haven't been built up like southern Saratoga County.

[via @omarjpeters]

Earlier on AOA: The busiest Thruway exits

South End Bikeway Link

south end bikeway proposal diagram clip

Here's an interesting idea: The South End Bikeway Link -- a proposal to connect Albany County Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail with the Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike Trail and Albany waterfront.

A coalition of local bike, rail trail, and neighborhood group is supporting the idea. And there's a public meeting this evening (Wednesday) at the Albany Public Library main branch at 6 pm to share info and rally support.

Press release blurbage:

The proposed bike link would extend the existing Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike Trail further south and tie into the new Albany County Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail. This much-anticipated "Rails to Trails" route will stretch 9.3 scenic miles to the Village of Voorheesville from the South End. The link will be wildly popular with bicyclists, runners, and walkers when the final Bethlehem-South Albany segment opens in late October 2015.

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The busiest Thruway exits

Very busy.

Holiday travel around Thanksgiving got us curious about the busiest Thruway exits.

So we looked it up.

And it turns out one of the exits here in the Capital Region is the busiest toll exit on the Thruway. Exit 24 -- at I-90 and I-87 -- averaged more than 26 million Thruway vehicle entrances and exits between 2008 and 2013. In fact, it was wayyyy ahead of the #2 exit.

Are there rankings? Is there a clickable map? As if you have to ask...

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Surveying Albany taxi experiences

albany cvb taxi service survey

A screengrab from the survey.

Updated at 2:24 pm

The Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau is aiming to start a conversation about tax service in the Albany area via a new online survey collection taxi customer experiences.

As Schuyler Bull, the Albany CVB's director of marketing, said to us: "It's a large conversation to be had."

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CDTA now offering realtime bus info

iride realtime bus info

From the iRide app.

CDTA officially announced today that it's now offering realtime info for regular route bus arrivals.* The functionality has previously only been available on BusPlus. Blurbage:

Customers will be able to access real time transit information for CDTA fixed route services through the free CDTA iride mobile application for Apple and Android devices, through Google Maps' mobile apps and, through the trip planner on its website ( or by speaking with a customer service representative at CDTA's Call Center. Customers will now see a gray clock icon near a route that indicates real time information is available. Real time is currently not available on Northway Xpress service. ...
CDTA tracks its vehicles using GPS devices to report bus location data back to its servers. This information allows CDTA to estimate when the buses will arrive at a stop. If a bus goes off its regular route, the system may not be able to fully predict accurate arrival times.

Here are screenshots of the realtime info display on both Google Maps and the CDTA website.

As long as the realtime info is accurate, the function is a nice addition. In our experience, some CDTA routes and stops tend to have reliable arrival times -- and others less so. (Yep, we're looking at you #10. We know it's not totally your fault what with all the traffic lights and riders. But you've interpreted the concept of a "schedule" very loosely.)

By the way: If you ride the bus, even just occasionally, and you have a smartphone -- definitely get the iRide app if you don't have it already.

* This function has been at least partially active for at least a few days. Thanks to the person who pointed this out to us last week.

CDTA was a sponsor of the Rail, River, Hudson tour.

Where to rent a passenger van?

car steering wheelEva emails:

I'm looking to rent a 7+ passenger van for 24 hours. Everything I'm looking at is too fancy - it just needs to be functional for short-distance transportation, not the newest Dodge SUV. Ideally I would like this to be a recurring rental (once or twice a month), so I'm hoping to find someone reliable. Any leads?

We're curious if there are options beyond the typical rental companies.

Got a suggestion for Eva? Please share!

Thinking about red light cameras

red light intersection western ave

Talk to a lot of people in Albany about red light running and you'll probably get many stories about drivers blatantly blowing through lights. It is, anecdotally at least, a pervasive and persistent problem.

In an attempt to address the issue, the city of Albany is considering an ordinance that would allow it to place red light cameras at 20 intersections around the city. It's an interesting topic because the situation surrounding red light cameras ends up being a bit more complicated that you might at first think -- and because of the way the issue is pushing a lot of buttons for people. Opinions seem to span a range of something like "yes, the city needs this" to "no, this is a very bad idea."

Here's a walk through of the issue...

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A bit more about protected bike lanes in Albany

madison ave protected bike lane schematic

A few bits of follow up on last week's post about the Capital Region bikeshare:

Protected bike lanes
We mentioned that one of the ideas to make parts of the Capital Region more bike friendly are protected bike lanes -- generally speaking, these are bike lanes that are separated from car traffic by some sort of barrier. These sorts of lanes are said to be safer for cyclists, and they may help more casual cyclists feel better about using a bike for transportation.

As it happens, there's a group organizing to support the creation of protected bike lanes in Albany, specifically as part of the redesigned Madison Ave (the "road diet"). The group's FB page is posting information about protected bike lanes and other bike-friendly ideas.

Also, a proposed Madison Ave redesign that incorporates protected lanes floated our way. The design is above -- here's a large-format version. It was created by Lorenz Worden of the Albany Bicycle Coalition. And it provides an easy-to-understand layout of how redesigned Madison Ave could maybe work.

We gotta admit we're not totally sold yet that protected lanes will prompt a significant number of people to start cycling more often. But the idea looks promising and it's worth a shot. Madison Ave seems like as good a place as any to try it.

Bikeshare recap
Over at the TU, Tim O'Brien has some numbers from the Capital Region bikeshare now that the pilot has ended: there were more than 250 participants, who averaged 2.8 rides during the trial period.

Taking the Capital Region Bikeshare for a spin

capital region bike share bikes

The Capital Region Bikeshare pilot is finishing up this week in Albany after week-long stints in Schenectady, Troy, and Saratoga Springs. The test run finishes up this Saturday, August 16.

We were curious about the program, so on Thursday we registered and took one of the bikes for a spin. Here are a few thoughts about the program, and about cycling in Albany generally...

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Info sessions on new CDTA smart cards and mobile payments

CDTA new farebox illustrationPay by mobile phone to ride the bus?

CDTA isn't there, yet -- but it hopes to be by next year. This week the transit org is starting a series of public outreach sessions to discuss its plans for new smart card and mobile ticket options. The fare payment options are made possible by the new fare boxes that have been popping up on buses.

The transit org says the proposed new system won't affect base fares -- they're focused on prepayment options.

The first meeting is this Wednesday in Clifton Park. There will be five other meetings during August at various spots around the Capital Region. Schedule is at that first link.

CDTA was a sponsor of the Rail, River, Hudson trip.

How you get there matters, because getting there is half the fun


Part of the Albany riverfront was once known as Steamboat Square (shown here in 1921), where people would board steamships for travel along the Hudson River. / photo from Library of Congress via Wikipedia

By Duncan Crary

By now, you probably know "The New York City People" have arrived in Hudson. Or as one writer for the BBC put it, the place has become "a far north weekend colony of New York City."

Like most Upstaters, I'm not impressed by people simply because they're from "New York." But I am impressed by how they come from New York to Hudson. They take the train, for two hours.

Not only does that demonstrate the appeal of Hudson, it demonstrates the appeal of traveling by train. Or any car-free and easy travel, really. The key word being easy.

Hudson Week 2014 in-post ad Olde Hudson

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Park South redevelopment plan gets final OK

Park South renderings

A rendering of the mixed use buildings along New Scotland Ave.

Updated with newer renderings

The plan to clear and redevelop two whole blocks in Albany's Park South neighborhood got approval to move ahead from the city planning board Thursday evening. Phased demolition of the existing buildings will be starting soon, and construction is slated to begin this October.

The $110 million project -- a collaboration between Albany Medical Center and Tri-City Rentals -- includes more than 265 residential units, retail space along New Scotland Ave, a large medical office building, and a parking garage. Much of the plan has been met with enthusiasm and support by city leaders and community members, but the garage -- and its size -- has been a frequent target of criticism. And Thursday evening was no different.

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Capital CarShare launching soon

capital carshare logo wide

The Capital Region is just a few weeks away from the start of its first independent car sharing operation.

Capital Car Share is aiming to start around the end of June, marketing and outreach coordinator Nnenna Ferguson told us today. The org will begin with 8 vehicles available for per-hour use, distributed at 8 "parking hubs" around the city of Albany.

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How the Albany metro area ranks for pedestrian deaths -- and ways it could be safer


A clip from an interactive map posted as part of the report. You can pick a point and the map will report nearby pedestrian deaths over a given time period.

There were 88 pedestrian deaths in the Albany metro area between 2003-2012, according to a recent report from the org Smart Growth America. The Albany metro area's rate of pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people was 1.06, which ranked in the lower middle of metro areas in New York State.

A handful of bits from the report -- which details some of factors in pedestrian deaths, and calls for changes in how roads are designed -- are after the jump.

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How people get to work in the Capital Region

share the road bicycle sign

The way to get to work? Not for many, but it is for some people.

This Friday, May 16 is Bike to Work Day, which seemed like a good excuse to take a look at how people get to work in the Capital Region. And, thanks to the Census Bureau, there are some numbers that can give us some sense of that.

So, let's have a look -- at how people get to work, how long it takes them, and when they leave...

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A miniature version of Troy and its past

Troy Union Station model

Troy's former Union Station as it once was -- and still is, in miniature.

By Lauren Hittinger

Of all the things you might expect to find in the basement of a college dorm, a meticulously-built recreation of 1950s Troy is probably not one of them.

Yet in the basement of RPI's Davison Hall the Rensselaer Model Railroad Society has been constructing a to-scale version of the city and other spots around the region that were connected by rail. The work has been going on for more than three decades -- and it's a sight to see.

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CDTA sets annual ridership record

CDTA #10Transportation fact of the day: CDTA recorded 16.49 million boardings during its last fiscal year* -- a new annual record, according to the transit org. The previous all-time record was from FY 1983.

CDTA's on a remarkable upswing in ridership over the last few years. It's seen increases each of the last three years. And the just-ended fiscal year is up more than 2.5 million boardings compared to 2010-2011 -- an increase of almost 20 percent. (ridership totals via CDTA Historical Performance Data)

A question we're curious about, though it probably can't be answered with great accuracy via the data: How many individual people rode the bus during that year? It'd be interesting to see if the bus is appealing to more people, or the people who are already riding it are riding it more often.

As we've said before, riding the bus can be a good experience, and not just because you don't have a car or some other sort of transportation option. In some cases it can be a superior experience to driving because you don't have to deal with parking, the stress of traffic, and you can just zone out or read along the way. The CDTA system isn't without flaws -- anyone who rides the bus regularly will have their frustrations, we know we do. But we suspect there's a not-insignificant chunk of people who might enjoy/prefer riding the bus regularly -- they just don't know, yet.

* CDTA's fiscal year runs from April-March.

Push for car sharing in Albany revs again

capital carshare logoThe campaign to start a car sharing org in the Capital Region has surfaced again and is looking for support.

Capital CarShare is aiming to raise $20,000 by the first week of June via crowdfunding. The drive is a "flexible funding" campaign on IndieGogo, meaning the the org will get whatever money is pledged, whether it makes the goal or not.

Campaign blurbage:

Capital CarShare (CCS) was developed by a small group of passionate, environmentally-conscious, upstate New Yorkers looking to bring shared mobility to the dense region of Albany. With CarShare, community members will have easy access to a vehicle for use by the hour or by the day. Our goal is to launch a fleet of neighborhood cars by June, but we need your help to #getthere.
We need to raise $20,000 to help us purchase a fleet of eco-friendly vehicles, fund our first advertising campaign, and hire staff members.

The push for car sharing in Albany goes back years. Advocates have pitched it as a way to provide flexible, affordable transportation while addressing parking and environmental issues.

But the plan hasn't made it all the way to implementation here, so far. And apparently that's not uncommon for smaller cities -- though a few, such as Buffalo, have made it work.

A good driving instructor?

car steering wheelBaby Boomer emails:

Could you ask your readers if they could recommend a driving instructor, specifically in Albany, who could teach an older person who is very nervous when learning to drive? I took a few lessons years ago and was very stressed out. I still want to learn before I get too old.

A bunch of years ago we had a question about driving schools, but it was in reference to teens. Things change. And also, we're curious if there are any driving instructors who specialize in -- or just happen to be really good with -- adults who are taking up driving.

Got a suggestion for Baby Boomer? Please share!

Startup Grant Contest update: The Giddy Up Bus

Traci Cornwell Giddy Up Bus

Traci Cornwell's successful Giddy Up Bus was a finalist in the AOA Startup Grant Contest in 2012. (photo: AWASOS Entertainment)

There are just over two weeks left to enter a business idea in the All Over Albany Startup Grant Contest, sponsored by Staff Ciampino & Company P.C., Certified Public Accountants. One winner will receive $1,500 from Berkshire Bank to help start up a new business, or take an existing business to the next level. You should apply. Don't wait!

One of the things we love about the Startup Grant Contest is that not only does it help the winner, it also calls attention to lots of interesting, creative ventures in the Capital Region. Past finalists have gone on to build successful ventures based on the plans they proposed, with a bit of help from the feedback provided by the startup contest judges.

One of those finalists is Traci Cornwell, the entrepreneur behind the Giddy Up Bus, a bus service that runs from Albany to Saratoga and transports people for weddings and special events.

Traci was just 23 years old when she entered the contest and was selected as a finalist. Though she didn't win, she says the feedback from the judges was invaluable. Today she's successfully operating the Giddy Up bus and is considering adding a second bus to the fleet in the fall.

startup contest 2014 sponsor ad staff ciampino

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Scheduled for arrival at ALB: JetBlue

JetBlue airplane tailAnnounced today: JetBlue will begin service out of Albany International Airport in 2015. Chuck Schumer has been pushing for the airline to serve ALB, so he was chuffed about the announcement. Said the peripatetic Senator in a press release from his office:

"This should increase competition at the airport, increase the availability of flights to Albany International's most popular destinations, like Florida, and drive down prices for the average flyer. What's more, it will keep more residents in the area flying out of Albany, instead of traveling out-of-state for cheaper flights. It's a win across the board that will reap benefits for Albany International, JetBlue, and the region's tourism industry for years to come."

The two flights planned for the ALB schedule: Fort Lauderdale and Orlando. Here's JetBlue's current service map. Its slate of upstate-ish cities currently includes Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Newburgh, Westchester, and Burlington.

When word started spreading about JetBlue's impending arrival this morning, we noticed a bunch of people in our Twitter stream hailing the news. To which we ask, earnestly: Why?

We're kind of the thinking that most airline travel is pretty much like any other airline travel these days. Sure, there's some variation -- the Southwest people might be a bit funnier and that airline doesn't charge you for checking a bag. But on price, and many other aspects, there doesn't seem to be a lot of difference. So, aside from the increase in competition, what's the big deal? If you've flown JetBlue, please share. We're genuinely curious about what separates this airline from the others.

Elsewhere: A ranking of nine major carriers by the WSJ released in January pegged JetBlue at #5.

photo: Aaron Gustafson (cc) via Wikipedia

Thinking about high-speed rail in New York

empire corridor high-speed rail map 2014-March

A map detailing some of the options on the table. (Don't squint, here's a bigger version.)

High speed rail in this country is one of those things that always seems to be happening just over the horizon. And for the Northeast -- and the Capital Region specifically -- this somewhere-out-there future holds all sorts of potential. Imagine what it would be like to hop a train at Albany-Rensselaer -- the 9th busiest station in the nation -- and be in NYC in a little more than an hour.

The thing is, for all the talk, we never seem to get closer to actually arriving at high speed rail. But that might be changing. Slowly.

The state Department of Transportation is currently working to sort out plans for higher speed rail service through New York. And there was a public information session Tuesday at the NanoCollege about the options, the first of series of sessions around the state.

We stopped by, checked out the presentations, and talked with one of the people involved in the planning. Here's a breakdown of the state's current route toward high-speed rail.

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An attempt to hail Uber for the Albany area

uber app screenshots

Screenshots from the Uber mobile app.

Whenever the subject of Capital Region taxi services comes up, there are almost inevitably a number of complaints. The dissatisfaction seems to stem from people being a) unhappy with the reliability of service or b) unclear about the vague pricing system or c) both "a" and "b."

But maybe there's a why shake things up for the better. Two of the area's prominent entrepreneurs -- Matt Baumgartner and Vic Christopher -- have started a campaign to attract the service Uber to the Albany metro area. Uber and its fleets of drivers allow riders to order, track, pay, and rate car service by mobile app.

Christopher, the owner of The Confectionery and The Grocery in Troy, told us today that he was "blown away by the genius of this concept" after he and his wife, Heather, had recently tried Uber while traveling through cities out west, including Denver, LA, San Diego, and San Francisco.

"We discovered it while out in Denver, at Ace, a ping-pong noodle bar," Christopher said via email. "It was recommended by our bartender. We downloaded the app, signed up, and hailed our first cab within 3 minutes. ... We used this service many times during our trip, and found the drivers to be professional and personable, 100% of the time. The drivers I met were all thrilled with the program, as they are now working for themselves, opposed to a taxi company. They seem to all share a sense of pride in being their own boss."

Back here in the Capital Region, Christopher said he ran into Baumgartner and found out they shared an appreciation for the service. Explained Baumgartner: "Vic and I started this conversation because I was in Troy and called a cab company to pick me up because there were no cabs available on the street. I waited for 25 minutes, and when the cab showed up, there were 3 people in the back seat. There needs to be a better option than that."

So they decided to reach out to the company together, and start a social media campaign to raise awareness and rally support.

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The Atlantic: The future of urban highways is playing out in upstate New York

syracuse I-81 viaduct study mapOver at The Atlantic Cities today there's a good overview of the situation surrounding the impending replacement of I-81 in Syracuse, which runs right through the heart of the Salt City's downtown. The situation will probably sound very familiar to anyone who's thought about the future of I-787 in Albany. A clip:

City leaders like Robinson, along with downtown developers and advocates for smart growth, would like to see I-81 rerouted around Syracuse and replaced with a landscaped boulevard. But suburban business-owners and many of the 45,000 drivers who use the highway to commute fear that any change could hurt the local economy. It's a debate that goes beyond the immediate question of how Syracuse workers will get to work -- to what kind of city Syracuse will be in the 21st century.
Similar discussions are happening across the United States, says John Norquist, president of the Chicago-based Congress for the New Urbanism, which publishes an occasional list of interstates ripe for demolition. Many urban freeways -- a staple of mid-20th century car-centric development -- are beginning to fall apart, and today cities from New Haven to Seattle (not to mention others around the world) are taking the dramatic step of tearing them down. A former Milwaukee mayor, Norquist oversaw the conversion of an elevated highway to a boulevard there in 2002, following a model pioneered by Portland in 1978 and San Francisco in 1991.
"It's starting to happen all over the place, and there's a reason for it," says Norquist. "Freeways don't add value to cities. They're all about one dimension, which is just moving traffic. It's a rural form, visited upon the city, that destroys property values, commerce and vitality."

The article, by Amy Crawford, is a good overview because it captures many of the tensions of the situation -- between city and suburbs, between walkable and automobile infrastructure, between local and state decision making. And, oh yeah, cost.

As that clip mention, the thing about these elevated highways, 787 included, is that they eventually will reach the end of their lives -- because they will be literally falling apart. That will mean hard choices -- and maybe also big opportunities.

[via @rachbarnhart]

+ In another upstate city, a discussion about an urban highway
+ "The Life and Death of Urban Highways"
+ The Albany 2030 plan included a goal of evaluating possible alternative designs for 787
+ The Stakeholders org released a report in 2011 that imagines the Albany waterfront with a boulevard

map: I-81 Challenge

An updated mobile app for riding CDTA

cdta iride mobile app 2 screenshots

Screenshots from route map and stop info screens.

There's a new CDTA "iRide" mobile app out this week. And after playing around with it for a day or so, we like it better than the old one.

CDTA blurbage on what the new app includes:

The new iRide application offers intuitive searches by route, specific bus stops or Capital Region landmarks. Schedule maps have been updated and turn by turn directions are now included. The iRide app is GPS-enabled and offers the nearest stops by proximity to the actual location.

The new version is currently available for iOS. CDTA says an Android version is scheduled for March.

In our experience the functions we need most from a bus system app are pretty simple: what's the route map, and when's the next bus arriving? And the new app so far feels like an upgrade -- both functions are easy to find and use. The "stop info" screens -- offering the next scheduled arrival times for a stop -- are straightforward and simple (a good thing).

One thing we'd still like to see improved: Better indications about which stops are for which directions on a route. Listing two stops by the same name -- because they're right across the street from each other -- is something less than helpful because you have to figure out which side of the street, and thus which direction, is which. Maybe it's something for the next version.

As we've said before, we suspect there are a fair of number of people who might actually like riding the bus -- they just don't know it, yet. And that's understandable. If you don't ride the bus regularly, switching over is a change in routine and takes a bit of effort. We've found that using a mobile app helps in this regard. So if you've been thinking about giving the bus a shot, the app is a good place to start.

By the way: CDTA says this app is part of its longer term plan to eventually allow riders to pay fares with smartcards or smartphones.

Why Albany is playing a major role in the transportation of oil, and why that concerns some people

The Port of Albany.

There's been a lot attention recently on the Port of Albany's growing role in the shipment of crude of oil -- and the potential dangers involved. More specifically, a company has proposed building a new facility at the port that could potentially open the way for a different type of oil to be shipped through the port, and that's raised some questions.

If you haven't been following this issue -- and we don't really know why you're not thoroughly caught up on petroleum product distribution systems -- here's a Q&A-style breakdown of some of the issues involved -- and why people are concerned.

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A few more bits about the proposed BusPlus Washington-Western line

proposed cdta busplus busway harriman campus

On Wednesday CDTA announced that its board had voted to take another step toward the proposed expansion of the BusPlus bus rapid transit system to the Western-Washington corridor -- AKA, The Purple Line. This bit from the announcement caught our eye (emphasis added):

The [official designation of the preference for this plan] includes construction of a dedicated busway through the Harriman Office Campus and the University at Albany, a transit center at Crossgates Mall, and high-volume stop locations.

The "dedicated busway" was news to us -- and we were curious about what it meant. CDTA's Jonathan Scherzer explained:

We are working with both the University and [state Office of General Services] on the inclusion of a dedicated roadway that would be used exclusively for transit, maintenance and shuttle vehicles. The current design would face the soon to be completed Campus Center on the UAlbany campus while also providing good proximity to the new football stadium to ease traffic.

That rendering above projects what the lane might look like on the office campus (it appears to be the Western Ave side of the campus, near the campus access road).

As we've said before, bus rapid transit is probably the closest this region will come to any sort of light rail-type system in the not-way-distant future. Building this sort of infrastructure -- the busway, the transit center -- looks like a good step toward making BusPlus a real system, something more than just an express bus, which could be key to its longterm success. Because there's a line of thought that making BRT more than "just the bus" is key to it gaining a broader crowd of users.

See also: CDTA chief renews call for downtown Albany transit hub [Biz Review]

After the jump: A bonus rendering of the proposed transit center at Crossgates, and a pdf info sheet about the proposed Purple Line.

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Two new options for Park South

park south parking garage plan comparison

A visual comparison of the two new options against the previous option. (Don't squint, here's a bigger version.)

The evolution of the plan for the $110 million redevelopment of two whole blocks in Albany's Park South Neighborhood -- and the big parking garage that's prompted so much conversation -- continued Friday with two new options presented to the Common Council committee examining the plan.

New renderings, comments, and a few thoughts post jump...

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Thruway wrong way system demo

From a Thruway demo video.

From the Annals of Highway Signage Technology: The Thruway Authority has developed electronic "wrong way" detectors/signs and will be installing them in places where wrong way drivers have caused crashes in the past. The first spots to get the systems: an exit on the Niagara Expressway (I-190) in Buffalo and exit on I-87/I-287 in Rockland County.

So how does an electronic sign "know" that someone is driving the wrong way? Cuomo admin press release blurbage:

These new signs are the latest development in the Thruway Authority's work to ensure that motorists have the highest level of safety while on the 570-mile superhighway. Doppler radar is used to detect vehicles traveling the wrong way and when identified, the sign flashes a customized LED message to alert the drivers of their error and instruct them to pull over and turn around when it is safe to do so. The sign will also trigger automatic alerts to other drivers on the Thruway's variable message sign system, and automatically alert the Thruway's Statewide Operations Center.

Doppler radar? Like the First Alert Storm Tracker Extreme Hype Doppler 10,000 Radar used by TV weather people?

Well, sort of. Doppler radar makes use of the Doppler effect (surprise) to figure out which way things are headed and how fast. (Skipping over the part about an Austrian guy and physics.) You totally know the Doppler effect. It's the reason a fire truck siren or train whistle sounds higher as it approaches, then lower as it moves away. Doppler radar makes use of that change in frequency (using microwaves, instead of sound) to figure out direction and speed.

The Cuomo admin says the sign system was developed by a Thruway engineer, Steve Velicky, and made by a pair of upstate companies. The Thruway's exec director said in a release today that the system will eventually be expanded to other sites around the state.

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What is a reasonable price for a cab ride from ALB to downtown Albany?

generic light up taxi signCarolyn emails with a holiday travel question:

Wondering if you can do a thread on what to expect if you're flying into Albany and trying to get to downtown Albany by taxi. In the past I have had to some strange experiences. I.E. having to share cabs with strangers and then been price gouged for the pleasure.
This year I'm going to try and set a price before leaving the airport but I'm not even sure what's normal here. What is a reasonable amount to pay for a cab from the airport to Albany? Thanks and happy holidays!

Let's just put this way: We don't think Carolyn is alone in having odd Capital Region experiences. We're guessing plenty of people have their own similar stories.

So, got an answer to Carolyn's question -- or even just some local taxi negotiation strategies? Please share!

photo: Flickr user Ben Fredericson (xjrlokix) (cc)

Trolley history lunch at the U Club

albany trolley map 1911Could be interesting: Albany city historian Tony Opalka will be at the University Club December 18 for a talk titled "Transit in the City of Albany: 1862-1946." The talk is part of a noon luncheon that day, tickets are $20 and open to the public (reservations are required).

Yep, a midday event on a Wednesday can be hard to make, but it caught our eye -- because trolleys. Blurbage:

Tony is well known for his popular and informative walking tours of Albany's historic neighborhoods. Currently, he is employed as a historic preservation program analyst for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation. His presentation will feature slides with historic images of transit in Albany, as well as trolley and transit artifacts.
If you wish to start your holiday celebrating a bit early, try an Albany Street Car - the U. Club's spin on the classic Sidecar cocktail. It's made with Quackenbush Still House Original Albany Rum (from the Albany Distilling Company), Cointreau and sour mix - and guaranteed to ring your bell!

There Capital Region once had a robust system of inter and intra-city trolleys. (That image on the right is an old map of the trolley system around 1911.) So rich is the history is that it's almost like something from an alternate timeline.

The U Club luncheon is from noon-1 pm on December 18. Lunch starts at noon, talk starts at 12:30.

map from Trolley Trips Through New England 1915, via Fordham University Libraries Digital Collections

Expanding BusPlus on two lines

busplus proposed expansion map

CDTA released proposed maps for its planned expansion of the BusPlus bus rapid transit system. There's a map above (and a larger version).

The current BusPlus line runs along Route 5 between Albany and Schenectady (Central Ave in Albany and Colonie/State Street in Schenectady). The two proposed lines would run along two corridors:

+ Washington Ave/Western Ave in Albany and Guilderland, serving stops such as UAlbany (both downtown and uptown), Saint Rose, the Harriman state office campus, and Crossgates.

+ The "River Corridor," running from the Port of Albany north through Menands, Watervliet, over to Troy, and eventually in Cohoes and Waterford.

CDTA says Washington/Western (3.4 million annual boardings) and Albany/Menands/Troy (2 million annual boardins) are its 2nd and 3rd most-traveled corridors. The Route 5 corridor tops that chart.

The routes for the new lines are still in the proposal stage. There will be a public "open house" to get public feedback on the Washington/Western line on November 12 at UAlbany's downtown campus (5-7 pm, Milne Hall).

And, of course, there's the matter of money. The first BusPlus took about $25 million in funding to get going. CDTA is hoping to score federal money for the new expansion -- Chuck Schumer was in town to pledge help with that.

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Two things about train travel

amtrak train tracker map screengrab

The trains will keep running
The state Department of Transportation announced today that it's worked out a new cost-sharing agreement with Amtrak for passenger rail service in the state. So what? Well, now the trains won't stop running later this month, as was possible if DOT and Amtrak couldn't work out a deal. (A major public institution stopping service because two sides couldn't work a deal, who ever heard of such a thing? Oh, wait...) [NYS DOT] [TU]

DOT says it costs Amtrak $100 million a year to operate the Empire, Adirondack, Maple Leaf, and Ethan Allen lines -- and the state will be picking up $22 million of that. The Empire Service -- between Albany and NYC -- is among the most-traveled Amtrak routes in the nation, but it's revenues didn't cover its expenses as recently as 2011.

And there they go
Also this week: Amtrak unveiled a new interactive train locator map, in partnership with Google. Blurbage:

The new train location tracking system, available at, provides near real-time train status of more than 300 daily trains, estimates of arrival times and station information - all in the context of the Amtrak national system map. Checking on train status is the second most popular action on, just after purchasing tickets.
In addition to helping passengers plan travel, this new travel resource is an excellent tool for those planning the arrival or departure of family and friends. Users can search for information by train number or name, city name and station name or code.

That's a screengrab above of the Empire Service from this afternoon.

The modern world: rest stops are "text stops"

andrew cuomo text stop signs

The Cuomo administration announced today it has designated 91 "texting zones" along the Thruway and state highways. The zones are already-existing rest stops, parking areas, and park-and-ride lots. (Example: The New Baltimore Thruway service area near Albany.) They're designated by 296 new signs indicating their distance (above).

So, if ever you wondered, "I just got coffee at this Thruway service area, might I also text someone while parked here?" -- you now have definitive signage indicating an answer: Yes, yes you can. Your travels will no doubt be smoother without this question burdening you.

The "texting zone" designations are part of the Cuomo admin's ongoing campaign against distracted driving. In announcing the signs today, Andrew Cuomo also shared some numbers from the state's stepped-up enforcement of mobile talking/texting while driving:

For the period July 4-September

2013 tickets issued: 21,580 (16,027 talking / 5,553 texting)

2012 tickets issued: 5,208 (4,284 talking / 924 texting)

New York State has strengthened its laws against phoning/texting while driving over the last few years -- it's now a primary offense (meaning you can be pulled over for it specifically), and a ticket is now worth 5 points. Also the Cuomo admin says State Police have been using unmarked SUVs to peer into vehicles to see if people are texting while driving.

Distracted driving is an important issue. There's research that indicates using a phone while driving is like having a .08 blood alcohol level, the legal limit. Also: it irks everyone else when you don't start moving at the green light because you're looking down to text.

photo: Cuomo administration

Amtrak: all-time record ridership in July

amtrak engine at Albany RensselaerAmtrak announced this week that it set a one-month ridership record in July with 2.9 million passenger boardings, the most ever in the system's history.

Ridership on the Empire Service -- which runs between Albany/Rensselaer and NY Penn was 99,801 in July, up more than 7 percent during the same month last year. That made the Empire Service the 5th most-traveled short distance corridor in the nation during July. (And it ranks the line 7th for the whole system when you include the Northeast Corridor and Acela.)

Fiscal-year-to-date ridership on the Empire Service through July was 894,616 -- up 1.2 percent compared the same period the year before. That also ranked #5 for most-traveled short distance corridor.

After the jump, ridership numbers by line for July and year to date, sorted by ridership levels.

The bill that authorizes federal funding for Amtrak is up this fall -- and there's expected to be a fight over it in Congress. [The Hill via @RachelBarnhart]

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Transportation options for a group day trip?

little yellow school bus noseJeff, from the American Outlaws Albany Chapter -- the fan group for the US Men's National Soccer Team -- emails:

July 16th the US Men's Soccer Team has a Gold Cup game at Rentschler Field in Hartford. We have plenty of members (Albany AO chapter) planning to go and many have said they're bringing friends. Originally we were just going to carpool but some beer and prodding led to me agreeing to research transit options.
Realistically we would leave around 2 to 3pm and return soon after the game which would end at 10pm.
Freedom to have some "fun" (music/noise and adult beverages) on board is a huge plus, but value is first concern. I have heard good things about a new company recently but can't find them - I believe they ran a bus from Olde English or Barrel Saloon to SPAC for a concert?

Jeff says they're looking at a group of 20-40 (or more).

Got a transportation suggestion for the group? Please share!

Which arrives first? The electric cars, or the places to charge them?

electric vehicle charging station shoprite niskayuna

An EV charging station at the ShopRite in Niskayuna. (photo: Kristofer)

Gina recently contacted us looking to get some help with a situation, which breaks down like this: She and her husband are thinking about getting an electric car. He'd be using the car to commute -- he works at the Capitol. And though he's seen that the ESP has charging stations for electric vehicles, they're apparently not for general use.

As Gina commented in her email to us (link added):

"For all the hype and press releases from the Governor's office about a new network of chargers statewide, the actual process for using them *on state worker territory* is frustratingly opaque."

So we looked into the situation a bit. And we managed to get an answer. But more than anything, their situation highlights one of the challenges facing electric vehicles generally.

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TWD, 5 points

texting while drivingThe state DMV is increasing the penalty for getting caught texting while driving, the Cuomo admin announced today. The penalty for TWD increases from three points on a license to five. And Andrew Cuomo has also directed the State Police to step up enforcement during the summer.

Cuomo is proposing a new law that would include a 60-day license suspension for new/young drivers caught for TWD, and temporary revocation if their caught again within 6 months of having their license restored.

New York has strengthened its law against using a mobile device while driver over the last few years. In 2011 the number of points on a license for texting while driving was increased from two to three, and TWD became a primary offense -- meaning a driver could be pulled over specifically for that. As a result, there's been an upswing in the number of people getting tagged for it.

Distracted driving often gets compared to driving while drunk. And there's research that indicates that using a phone while driving is like having a blood alcohol level of .08, the legal limit. The Cuomo admin shared some stats today in that vein:

+ From 2005 to 2011, there has been an approximately 143% increase in cell phone-related crashes in New York State. In that same time period, there has been an approximately 18% decrease in alcohol-related crashes in New York State.
+ In 2011, there were 25,165 fatal and personal injury crashes involving distracted driving in New York, compared to 4,628 caused by alcohol-related driving.
+ In New York State, the number of tickets issued for texting-while-driving (30,166) approached the number of DWI/DWAI arrests (43,954) in 2012. In fact, between 2011 and 2012, there was a 234% increase in the number of tickets issued for texting while driving. In the same time period, there was a 4% decrease in the number of DWI/DWAI arrests.

The NYT produced a good series about distracted driving a few years back.

Right, so, points on a license... how's that work? Points are assessed by the DMV based on violations such as speeding (3-11 points, based on how far above the limit) or running a stop sign (3 points). Rack up 11 or more points in an 18-month period, and it's license suspension.

photo: Flickr user mrJasonWeaver (cc)

In another upstate city, a discussion about an urban highway

syracuse I-81 viaduct study map

Syracuse's I-81 viaduct.

Related to the I-787 discussion that pops up now and then: There's an interesting situation in Syracuse regarding what to do with the the elevated portion of I-81 that cuts right through the middle of that city. The thoroughfare is falling apart, so something has to be done -- and the options have been narrowed down to either: turn the stretch into a six-lane boulevard through the city, or completely rebuild the elevated highway. [I-81 Challenge] [Syracuse Post-Standard]

Some of the numbers involved in the decision are eye-popping: both the boulevard and reconstruction of the 1.4 mile stretch could cost as much as $900 million, according to the Syracuse Post-Standard article linked above. Other options -- such as burying the road -- have been dismissed because they'd cost in the $1.5 billion range.

The situation in Syracuse has ended up polarizing along city/suburb poles, with the county legislature and developers opposing the boulevard because of concern it would make it harder for suburban commuters to get in and out of the city. In a recent op/ed, David Rubin -- a former dean at Syracuse University, which sits right along I-81 -- called the project "the most important civic decision of the past 60 years or more" and argued for the boulevard plan. [Syracuse Post-Standard] [Syracuse Post-Standard]

Case studies: The state Department of Transportation and the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council have collaborated on an ongoing public discussion about the project called "The I-81 Challenge." It produced a report that includes a bunch of case studies of how other cities have dealt with the reconstruction or reconfiguration of urban freeways. If you're interested in the future of 787, the case studies are interesting reading.

+ "The Life and Death of Urban Highways"
+ The Albany 2030 plan included a goal of evaluating possible alternative designs for 787
+ The Stakeholders org released a report in 2011 that imagines the Albany waterfront with a boulevard
+ The removal of 787 in downtown Albany was on Martin's urban wish list

map: I-81 Challenge

CDTA: Ridership at highest level in three decades

CDTA Bus 10

There were almost 15.7 million passenger boardings on CDTA buses during the fiscal year that ended in March -- that's up 5 percent from the year before. And the transit org says it's the highest level in three decades.

CDTA attributes the rise to the introduction of the BusPlus service between Albany and Schenectady. Ridership is up 20 percent along that corridor since the bus rapid transit system started. Another program pushing ridership: deals with colleges and businesses to provide students/employees with unlimited bus ridership.

There's a lot to like about riding the bus, especially on shorter trips within cities. We like being able to hop on the bus and not worry about finding parking wherever we're going. And it's nice to just be able to zone out or read along the way. It can actually be kind of relaxing. Or to put it another way: the opportunity cost of driving is probably higher than most people realize -- especially when you have a smartphone -- and riding the bus is way to cash in on that.

Earlier on AOA:
+ A few things about riding the bus
+ The not-so-rapid rise of bus rapid transit

Token of history

albany trolley token

A quick follow up to last week's post about the history of trolleys in the Capital Region: Andrea mentioned to us that she once found an old trolley token outside her apartment in Albany. And she sent along pics. One for each side is above.

The United Traction Company operated the trolleys in Albany for almost five decades. UTC was formed in 1899 by the merger of the Albany Railway, the Troy City Railway, and the Watervliet Turnpike and Railway Company. Its headquarters were at the Columbia and Broadway in downtown Albany -- the building is still there. The company switched over to buses when the trolleys stopped, and was later folded into CDTA during the 1970s.

If you'd like to see what an untarnished token looked, the New-York Historical Society has a photo.

(Thanks, Andrea!)

Riding the trolley -- everywhere

Madison Avenue looking west 1940s

Madison Ave in Albany sometime during the 1940s. Courtesy of The College of Saint Rose Archives.

There's something about trolleys that lights people up -- even though a lot of people weren't even alive the last time a trolley rolled through Albany. It's been almost 70 years since the lines stopped.

We were thinking about trolleys again this week after seeing this photo from the College of St. Rose Archives. It's Madison Ave at Partridge, facing west, sometime in the 1940s, right about the time the trolleys stopped. We love the way the tracks lead away covered by the canopy of trees.

That photo prompted us to dig through some of the history of trolleys in Albany -- which is like looking through some alternate transit universe.

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Report: Amtrak is really two systems, one efficient -- the other, not so much

Thumbnail image for amtrak engine closerA new Brookings report on Amtrak makes an important distinction on passenger rail service: distance matters. From the report:

The 26 routes traveling less than 400 miles make up the operationally efficient portion of the network. It includes the two most popular Northeast Corridor routes, the Acela and Northeast Regional, which operate between Boston and Washington D.C., including spurs into Virginia and western Massachusetts. The positive operating balance from these two routes--which currently do not receive direct state operating subsidies--were enough to offset the net operating costs of the other 24 short- distance routes. Those other sub-400 mile routes typically enjoy direct state support (even before the federal PRIIA legislation) and always serve at least one large metropolitan area. In total, these 26 corridors carried 83 percent of all system riders in 2012.

In fact, when taken all together Amtrak routes of 400 miles or less actually had a positive operating balance in 2011. The over-400 mile routes were in the red.

That said, some of the short distance routes don't do too well financially. And the Empire Service -- which runs between Albany and NYC -- is one of them. That line -- which doesn't get state support (it will starting later this year) -- had a negative operating balance of $31 million in 2011, almost half the cost of the service. But the Empire Service was the 7th most popular line in terms of ridership in fiscal year 2012, at 1.06 million riders. [TU] [AOA]

The Brookings report also includes ridership numbers by metro area, not just by station. And it reports riders in Albany-Schenectady-Troy metro area to 862,737 in 2012 -- up 39 percent from 1997.

Amtrak had 31.2 million passengers in fiscal year 2012. The Brookings report notes the rail service is the fastest-growing domestic transportation mode over the last 15 years.

Earlier on AOA: An updated vision for high-speed rail

A pledge for pedestrians and drivers

western ave intersection red light crosswalk

By AOA Greg

This has been a bad week for pedestrians. One person was killed on Central Ave in Albany, another hit just up the street during a vigil for the first person. And in North Greenbush, a pedestrian was hit by truck with a snowplow attached. [TU] [Troy Record]

Unfortunately, a week like this isn't surprising. I walk a lot -- because I have a dog, because I prefer it to driving when possible, just because I like it. Rare is the week that I don't have a an encounter with a vehicle that's a little too close. A lot of times it's a result of something a driver did (or didn't do) -- roll through a right on red, not respect a crosswalk, or just not pay attention to what's going on. But I'm also sure there are times I could have been a better pedestrian.

So, pedestrians and drivers need to come to some sort of understanding. And toward that end, here's a pledge for pedestrians and drivers (and municipalities) to do better...

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Driving the new Washington Ave/Fuller Road florcle


The new flyover/circle.

The new flyover/circle at Washington Ave and Fuller Road in Albany opened Monday morning. The final section -- the re-routed eastbound side of Washington Ave Extension north of the new nanotech buidling -- was connected over the weekend. It's an important intersection -- about 30,000 vehicles pass through it each day, according to NYSDOT.

We happened to be out that way yesterday so we gave the florcle a few spins.

A few initial impressions...

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Empire Service continues to be one of the most popular Amtrak lines

Thumbnail image for amtrak engine closerAmtrak says it carried 31.2 million passengers during the fiscal year that ended with September -- a new record for the train org (Amtrak started in 1971). That's up 3.5 percent compared to the year before.

Ridership on Amtrak's Empire Service -- the line between Albany and New York City -- was up 3.8 percent in fiscal year 2012 compared to the previous year. There were 1.06 million riders on the line.

If you count the Northeast Regional service (Boston to DC) and Acela Express (Boston to DC) with the other short distance corridors, the Empire Service was the 7th most popular short distance corridor in the nation in fiscal year 2012.

Amtrak says the Northeast Corridor service (Northeast Regional and Acela combined) -- which runs between Boston and DC -- had its best year ever, with 11.4 million passengers.

A table with the figures for all the short distance corridor totals is after the jump -- we've highlighted all the routes that include a stop at Albany-Rensselaer.

Earlier on AOA: An updated vision for high-speed rail

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Taking away the driver's license of multiple offenders, permanently

police car lightsIf you follow Capital Region news somewhat closely, one of the things you'll notice is how often people get arrested for multiple DWIs (we didn't have to look hard to find those). It seems to happen with depressing regularity.

Of course, this isn't just a problem in this area. Today Andrew Cuomo announced new state regulations that are aimed at keeping repeat drunk and/or drugged drivers off the road (or at least taking their licenses away). The new rules are listed after the jump. In short, they include:

+ The DMV will now be allowed to review the lifetime record of drivers who apply to have their license re-instated.

+ If the DMV determines the person has five or more alcohol or drug related driving convictions in his or her lifetime -- or a combination of three convictions and other offenses -- the DMV can permanently revoke their license. (Permanent revocation wasn't previously allowed.)

+ Allow the DMV to make sure a temporary license revocation lasts the full six months or a year. (Apparently it was possible to get a temporarily revoked license back after as little as seven weeks previously.)

The Cuomo admin says there are currently 50,000 people in the state with with valid or suspended licenses who have three or more alcohol-related convictions in their lifetimes -- and more than a third of them have been involved in crashes that killed or injured someone. It figures the new rules will permanently revoke -- or delay -- the licenses of 20,000 people this year.

Not mentioned in the announcement: treatment. Some people who get stopped for DWI just made a stupid mistake and probably won't repeat it. But others -- and we suspect a lot of the repeat offenders fall into this category -- have an addiction that needs treatment. When you show up drunk to a STOP-DWI Victim's Impact Panel, you probably have a serious problem. We're curious if there's a way to better help these people.

In other news: computers apparently can drive cars pretty well. [WSJ]

photo: Flickr user davidsonscott15 (cc)

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Sharing cars, sharing bikes

philly car share car

A car share car in Philadelphia. / photo: Flickr user glokbell (cc)

Capital CarShare, the group planning a non-for-profit car sharing org for the Capital Region, has put together a very detailed plan for the service. It includes explanations of how the service would work, neighborhoods where it would set, and projected finances.

The report is at the link above. It's also embedded after the jump.

The proposed service would include three membership levels (with discounts for yearly memberships):
+ Basic - $0/month, $9/hour, $0.25/mile
+ Silver - $10/month, $7/hour, $0.25/mile
+ Gold - $30/month, $5/hour, $0.25/mile

The plan also ranks areas in the order of expected roll out of the service over three years:

1. Downtown Albany, Center Square, and University Heights
2. Albany's Park South and Pine Hills neighborhoods
3. Arbor Hill, South End, and Delaware Avenue neighborhoods

There are a lot more details in the reports and it's worth taking a look if you're interested.

Earlier on AOA: Lauren Alpert talked about the car sharing plan on Soapbox back in June.

[via TSTC / thanks, Matthew]

Bike sharing
The city of Albany, Capital District Transportation Committee, bike-planning-famous consultancy Alta Planning and Design are (emphasis added) "conducting a study on what bike route signage is needed in the City of Albany and how bike sharing might be implemented here." There's a public meeting about the study next Monday (September 24) at The Linda at 6 pm. The blurbage says they'll also be looking for public input at the meeting. (Poster embedded after the jump.)

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Multiple-week Fuller Road closure near Washington Ave

washington ave flyover construction 2012-09-03

Florcle construction, as of Monday.

This should keep things interesting at the busy Washington Ave/Fuller Road intersection in Albany: Fuller Road will be closed between Washington Ave and the ramps for I-90 from today until the morning of September 25.* (Fuller will be open from the ramps north to Central Ave.)

If you've passed by there recently, you've probably noticed the progress on the new circle/flyover (we're calling it a "florcle") that's part of the re-alignment of Washington Ave. The road is being moved to open up space for Albany NanoTech.

*The message boards on I-90 yesterday said the road would be closed until September 23. The September 25 date is from NY511 (full text post jump -- it'd be great to be able to permalink stuff there).

Twin Bridges
Speaking of closures: the weekend closure of the northbound side of the Twin Bridges starts this Friday night. Northbound traffic will be routed over the southbound bridge. Both directions will be sharing the same bridge (heartwarming, right). That means there will be one lane for each direction, which will probably mean traffic backups at times.

This weekend is the first of six weekend closures as part of the deck replacement for the bridge. The southbound bridge will get the same treatment next spring.

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The not-so-rapid rise of bus rapid transit

busplus stationThere's an interesting article in Governing on the growing popularity of bus rapid transit systems (BRT) -- like CDTA's BusPlus. A short clip:

Generally, the thinking among U.S. transit officials is that "choice riders" -- those who don't have to take transit but opt to because of its convenience -- are willing to ride subways, light rail and streetcars, but not buses. Advocates of BRT argue that bus service itself isn't the problem; it's the way the service is implemented. Offer riders buses that are fast, clean and safe, they say, and passengers will embrace them. "If you build it right, people will come," says Janette Sadik-Khan, New York City's transportation commissioner. "People aren't going to get on dirty buses that are slow."

The article hits on the potential of such systems, but also their problems and critics -- including those who say that BRT is just a decision to "cheap out" on building more robust systems like light rail.

When transportation issues come up here, people often call out for light rail. But here's the thing: the chances of that ever happening in the Capital Region are very small. Building such a system would cost a ton of money (that Governing article mentions the projected cost of 7 miles of light rail in Cleveland was $1 billion). And it would be a political nightmare -- any worthwhile system here would cross numerous municipal lines, requiring the cooperation (or at least non-opposition) of a long string of county and local governments. It'd be like setting off an atomic NIMBY bomb.

BusPlus isn't perfect -- far from it. CDTA needs to keep adding features and make the system faster in order to at least fulfill its initial promise. And it will have to expand the service to make it more than a Albany-Schenectady express line. There's a long way to go. But it's probably the closest thing we'll get to a transit rail system.

[via @drewbkerr]

So people actually do get stopped for texting while driving

texting while drivingAlmost 21,000 tickets for texting-while-driving were issued by police in New York State over the last year, according to numbers from the Cuomo admin. And, look, county-by-county numbers for the past year (year before that):

Albany County: 539 (75)
Rensselaer County: 163 (21)
Saratoga County: 326 (42)
Schenectady County: 69 (18)

(It appears that Albany County racked up that total thanks in part to a sweep this spring by the county sheriff's office that netted 230 tickets for talking or texting while driving. [Troy Record])

The totals were released to mark one year since the state law making TWD a primary traffic offense took effect. That means police can now pull a person over just for that -- before you had to be doing something else to get stopped (like swerving over the double yellow because you were sending email). And it looks like people are getting pulled over for it.

You might think you can text and drive with no problem -- we're all above average drivers, right (oh, wait...) -- but probably not. There's research that indicates a distracted driver is about as bad as a driver with a .08 blood alcohol level, which is the legal limit for drunk driving. (The New York Times produced a good series about the risks of distracted driving.)

All county totals after the jump, if you're curious.

photo: Flickr user mrJasonWeaver (cc)

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An updated vision for high-speed rail

amtrack high-speed train concept

But those are some sleek trains...

Amtrak has released an updated version of its aspirations for high-speed rail along the Northeast Corridor. The short story: the new set of goals streamlines the plan, it's still expensive ($151 billion), and high-speed rail is still decades away. Transportation nation has a digest of the report.

The Empire Corridor doesn't figure into this plan. And despite whatever strong potential there might be for high-speed rail in the Hudson Valley, seeing Amtrak peg a target date for high-speed service along the Boston-NYC-DC corridor somewhere in the 2030-2040 range puts the chances of Albany-NYC service in perspective.

That said, it doesn't have to be 220 mph or nothing. There are a lot of improvements that could potentially speed up, and smooth out, Empire Corridor service (examples: reducing bottlenecks, upgrading crossings). Higher-speed rail (say, 110 mph) should be a reasonable expectation. And people would ride it -- the Albany-Rensselaer station was the 9th busiest Amtrak station in the country last year. Getting faster service along the Hudson Valley, plus high-speed service along the Northeast Corridor, could make rail travel from here to places like Philadelphia and DC a lot more attractive.

image: Amtrak

A few things about riding the bus

cdta bus downtown albany

Please have your swiper ready when the bus stops.

By AOA Greg

The battery died. That's why I became a semi-regular bus rider.

When the battery finally conked out for good on one of our cars, it was going to be a day or two before I'd be able to buy a new one to replace it. And my wife needed the car the next day -- so I took the bus downtown.

That ride started a mostly unplanned experiment in becoming a one-car household. We had kicked around the idea of not replacing our older car whenever its time came to be donated/junked/Craigslisted. But talking about that and actually doing that are two different things. So, the dead battery was an opportunity to try it out.

We still have the car, but we haven't driven it in about two months. In that time I've become a semi-regular bus rider.

Here are a few things I've learned, remembered, or noted along the way...

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Major construction on Twin Bridges late this summer/early fall

Twin Bridges

The state Department of Transportation announced this week that the $29 million project to replace the decks on the Twin Bridges (ahem, the Thaddeus Kosciusko Bridge) will start this month.NYSDOT says traffic disruptions will be "minimal" during the summer travel season.

The heavy work -- the stuff that sounds like something more than a minimal disruption -- will start in late summer. NYSDOT says the northbound bridge will be closed for six weekends so the decks can be replaced. Traffic will be routed in both directions -- one lane each -- over what would normally be the southbound bridge. The weekend closures won't start until after Labor Day.

The work will then switch to the southbound bridge for six weekends next spring.

The Twins carry more than 100,000 vehicles each day, according to NYSDOT.

Earlier on AOA: Kosciuszk-who?

photo: Nicholas Hepler via Wikipedia (cc)

On the bus. On the phone.

phone on busWe were a little taken a back today when this woman pulled out an old-school phone handset on the bus -- and started having a conversation.

It turned out it the handset was plugged into an iPhone. The woman had what looked like a notebook and pen and other stuff -- just talking on the phone, getting stuff done, like she was in any office.

The bus is often more interesting than driving.

Something to be happy about: traffic

stopped behind van brake lightsWorth pointing out (again): the Albany metro area has a relatively low level of traffic congestion. In fact, compared to a lot of large metros, it essentially doesn't have traffic.

The Albany metro area ranked 78th for traffic congestion during the 12 months that ended in April 2012, according to the traffic data firm INRIX. Trips here on average took 2.1 percent more time because of congestion (down from 3.6 percent during the same period the year before). It estimates that the average driver here wasted 4.1 hours during that period because of congestion.

For some context: the most congested metro area last year was Honolulu, where INRIX figures drivers wasted 58 hours during the year. The Honolulu metro is roughly the same size as Albany-Schenectady-Troy in terms of population (Honolulu is #53, Albany is #59).

The time of the week with the most congestion? Thursday and Friday afternoon rush hour.

INRIX didn't identify any corridor bottlenecks here. The most congested corridor in the nation was a portion of the 405 in LA.

Austin: Q: Why did the semiconductor consortium cross the road to Albany? A: Maybe because it couldn't cross the road in Austin -- the Texas city had the 6th worst traffic congestion in the nation.

We're joking about that. Mostly. But there's research that traffic and commuting make people unhappy -- and that we often underestimate the degree to which it's a downer. [Wired]

Here's the INRIX explainer on methodology. Last year were able to find out which roadways it was tracking in this area -- we can't find that this year. (Last year it was I-87, I-90, I-787, I-890, and Route 7.)

Car sharing in the Capital Region

zipcar portland

Zip Car's car sharing program is popular in other cities around the U.S.

By Lauren Alpert

soapbox badgeI'll admit it -- life in the capital region is a lot easier with a car.

A car makes going on that big shopping trip, going apple picking or going for a hike at Thacher State Park a lot more convenient. While CDTA buses are a good option to get to many destinations, public transit doesn't take you everywhere you need to go, so a car can be a necesssity.

But a car can also be a headache -- and a lot of expense. Think about the amount of time the car you're paying for and insuring sits idle -- just waiting for you to decide to go somewhere.

Bundle your insurance, gas, parking and maintenance costs together into an monthly rate and it can add up pretty quickly. $300 a month? $500?

That's one of the reasons we're working on car sharing in the Capital Region .

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Schumer on board with walkable, bikeable Livingston Ave Bridge

chuck schumer livingston ave bridge

Chuck Schumer near the Livingston Ave Bridge today.

Chuck Schumer was in town today to push for the inclusion of a pedestrian walkway on the Livingston Ave Bridge -- regardless of what direction the project takes (rehab or total replacement).

Said New York's senior senator in a press release:

"For decades, people could easily walk over the Livingston Avenue Bridge and its sister, the old Maiden Lane Bridge, providing an important link between downtown Albany and the Rensselaer waterfront. ... Then all of that stopped, and the gates went up, shutting down the pedestrian link between these great cities. When the new bridge is built, we have a fresh chance to reconnect these two downtowns [Editors: Albany and Rensselaer] and funnel more visitors to key areas on both sides of the river. Failing to include a pedestrian component in this bridge would be shortsighted, and we can't make that mistake. That's why I'm urging everyone from CSX to Amtrak to NYSDOT to climb aboard with this plan, so that every design going forward will link up the biking and walking paths on both sides of the scenic Hudson."

In a Soapbox piece last fall, Martin Daley explained why local transportation planners are pushing for a pedestrian walkway on the bridge -- and the obstacles the idea has encountered:

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Reconfiguration of Washington and Fuller starts

washington fuller rendering overhead closeup

A rendering of the what the reconfigured intersection will look like.

The state Department of Transportation announced today that the realignment of the Washington Ave Ext/Fuller Road intersection has started. (You might have noticed the recent tree clearing around the site.) From the press release:

NYSDOT will realign Washington Ave. Ext. to the north and install a two-lane roundabout at the Fuller Road/County Road 156 intersection. A flyover bridge will be built to carry through-traffic, thereby removing 20,000 cars daily from the intersection and providing improved access to CNSE's Albany NanoTech Complex, which is currently engaged in a $366 million expansion project. Nearly 30,000 vehicles travel through the intersection each day.
Pedestrian and bicycle access will be improved with new sidewalks and a new, 10-foot bicycle lane that will connect to existing bike trails. Reduced congestion will enhance transit schedules; new bus bays on Washington Ave. Ext. will provide safer stopping areas for riders.
Most of the work can be done without impacting traffic. More than 3.5 miles of Washington Ave and Washington Ave. Ext. will be reconstructed, together with a half mile stretch of Fuller Rd.

NYSDOT says it's an $18 million project, funded by the Fuller Road Management Corporation -- a not-for-profit org created to manage the nanotechnology facilities at UAlbany's CNSE -- Albany County, and the state. It says FRMC is picking up 45 percent of the cost.

The project is expected to be "substantially completed" this fall -- with minor work on Fuller Road next summer. The re-alignment will open up more space for Albany NanoTech. (The area under the bridge that currently spans Wash Ave Ext will become a parking lot.)

Large-format renderings are after the jump.

So, what's this intersection called? We were hoping that a flyover bridge over a roundabout had a special name or transpo planner slang -- you know, like SPUI. So we checked with NYSOT spokeswoman Carol Breen -- and, alas, it does not. Of course, that's an opportunity to coin one. Florcle? FlyAbout? Roflyover?

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Like sitting on the handle bars

Check it out: Rob Gierthy emailed us with a video he created of commute home via bike:

I have a small video camera attached to my bike that I record my commutes with. This past Monday was such a surprisingly nice day that I thought I would share it and uploaded the video to YouTube. It documents a slow ride up the sidewalk on Madison (I know I shouldn't be on the sidewalk, but the traffic is so congested there that it seemed safer), down and across Swan to Hudson, and then through Washington Park. It might not be that exciting but for me it is a celebration of the arrival of spring.

There's a surprising zen quality about watching the video. And the images (cinematography? biketography?) are beautiful in spots -- the wide angle lens makes the sky look huge.

A little more from Rob about his commute

I've been commuting by bicycle the two miles to my job at the Empire State Plaza for almost a year now. My initial plan was to keep going until it got too cold and then stop, but a combination of a mild winter and my stubbornness kept that from happening. Covered in wool from head to toe during those cold months I forgot how enjoyable biking actually is. Now that it is suddenly warm enough that I can bike in shorts and sandals it is a revelation. No longer is it a mental and physical struggle to fight the wind and cold. Instead it is fun and liberating. The warm breeze feels great and actually seeing people out reminds me that I don't live in a barren lifeless wasteland.

Here are more of Rob's commutes. A snow-filled commute video is embedded after the jump -- it's speeded up, so it feels a bit like a skeleton run.

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"The Life and Death of Urban Highways"

787 Corning view

Another log for the "tear down 787" fire: The Life and Death of Urban Highways, a survey of why cities around the world have been tearing down urban highways -- and what has happened when they've done so. (Update: That link wasn't working for some reason Tuesday evening, so the report is now embedded after the jump.)

Among the reasons cited by the report that urban highways have fallen out of favor:

+ Costs of reconstruction and repair: Cities are finding out how much it costs to maintain these highways and are deciding the money is better spent other ways.

+ Economic revitalization: Removing the highways, which serve as dividers in the urban landscape, has opened the way for new development of neighborhoods -- and in many cases, higher property values.

+ Making accessible waterfronts: Many urban highways -- like 787 -- parallel waterfronts, and removing them reconnects the waterfronts to the city, again opening the way for parks, development, and higher property values.

The report also includes case studies from cities such as Portland, Oregon, San Francisco, and Milwaukee.

The orgs responsible for the report, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy and EMBARQ, advocacy orgs that both appear to be very much of the Jane Jacobs, pro-public transit school -- just something to keep in mind while reading through the report so grains of salt. It's interesting reading, and it's easy to see how many of the issues brought up could apply to the Capital Region.

The thing to keep in mind about 787 is that there's no "do nothing" option over the long run. If it stays, it has to be maintained -- and that's not cheap. If it goes... that's not cheap, either. So, the question really is: if we (the region/state) are going to spend (tens, hundreds of) millions on this key piece of infrastructure, what do we ultimately want to end up with? And is it worth it to us to spend more upfront to have something possibly better (though not necessarily guaranteed) in the future?

[via @SeanPCollins via Grist]

+ The removal of 787 in downtown Albany was on Martin's urban wish list
+ The Albany 2030 plan included a goal of evaluating possible alternative designs for 787
+ The Stakeholders org released a report last year that imagines the Albany waterfront with a boulevard (it's also embedded after the jump)
+ Syracuse has been considering the removal of the elevated portion of I-81 that runs right through the heart of the city [Streetsblog]

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Yep, gasoline prices have gone up

albany gas prices one year 2012-03-06

The blue line is the reported Albany area average price per gallon, the red the reported national average price.

Today's chart: From, it's a chart of Albany area gasoline prices over the last year.

In what's been painfully obvious if you've been filling up recently, there's a been a steep rise since December -- about 15 percent. But the recent run up follows what was more or less 8 months of declines. In fact, prices are still a bit below last year's high in April.

By the way: There are a handful of stations charging more than $4/gallon, according to's crowd-sourced reports -- including a station in Guilderland reportedly charging $4.16. The lowest price reported today in the core Capital Region was 3.83 in in Ballston Spa.

Taxes: The combined state and federal tax on a gallon of gasoline in New York State is 67.4 cents -- the highest in the nation. California and Connecticut are tied for #2 at 67 cents. [API]

[via @AndyArthur]

Earlier on AOA: March 2011: Everyone's taking a hit on gas prices -- sometimes even the gas stations


A pedestrian mall for downtown Troy?

church street burlington, vermont

Church Street, the pedestrian mall in Burlington, Vermont.

Potentially interesting: Troy mayor Lou Rosamilia has floated the idea of permanently closing some downtown streets to vehicle traffic in order to create a pedestrian mall, the Biz Review reports. [Biz Review]

The most famous recent experiment of this type has been in New York City, which has closed off sections of Broadway in Manhattan. [NYT] [NYT]

But the pedestrian mall isn't a new concept. Kalamazoo, Michigan first tried it in 1959. Many cities followed with their own pedestrian malls -- and a large majority of them failed. (Kalamazoo re-opened part of its mall to vehicular traffic in the late 90s.) There have been some notable successes, though. For example, Burlington's pedestrian mall, Church Street, is great. [Wikipedia] [Indianapolis Downtown Inc. study] [Kalamazoo Public Library]

The thing about a pedestrian mall area is that you need people. Downtown Troy has good foot traffic during the day -- it's maybe our favorite Capital Region downtown in daylight. Will there be enough people the rest of the time to make it worth it? Public spaces without people tend to go the wrong way. If the City Center and City Station projects are successful, maybe. [Governing]

Of course, there are a lot of details that would have be figured out for this idea -- which streets, how to address parking issues, how to address access for shipments to shops and businesses. But it's an interesting idea.

photo: Flickr user redjar

Park and plug in

electric vehicle charging station shoprite niskayuna

The future. Maybe.

Kristofer spotted this electric vehicle charging station at the new ShopRite in Niskayuna. There are four spots in supermarket's parking lot designated for electric vehicles. Apparently Niskayuna town officials requested that ShopRite include the spots as part of its design for the store. [Spotlight]

The ShopRite charger brings the number of EV charging spots in the Capital Region to five, according to Dan Gibson at Our Energy Independence Community. In addition to ShopRite, there are stations at the Holiday Inn Express in downtown Albany, NYSERDA in Guilderland, the Saratoga Technology and Energy Park in Malta, and the HVCC Tec-Smart facility also in Malta.

Here's the thing, though: there are extraordinarily few electric cars on the road. The two currently for sale -- the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf -- are new on the market, and the technology -- especially for batteries -- could use some improvement. Most people probably aren't going to be keen to drive a car with a range of at most 100 miles in ideal conditions -- and much less in normal conditions. (To clarify: the Volt also has a gasoline engine, which can kick in after the batteries run out.) [NPR] [USA Today]

It's interesting/fitting that Niskayuna has an EV charging station made by GE, in an everything-new-is-old kind of way. Ace GE scientist Charles Steinmetz had an electric car all the way back in 1914. He used to drive it to his weekend home.

The Edison Exploratorium in Schenectady still has Steinmetz's electric car. There's video of it embedded after the jump.

(Thanks, Kristofer!)

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Now on BusPlus: wi-fi, text alerts, bus tracking, queue jumping

CDTA announced today that it's added a bunch of digital tools for riders -- and the implementation of an important part of its "bus rapid transit" system.

First, the stuff for riders. Among the features that are part of "BusTime":
+ Predicted arrival times online for the next 2-3 buses
+ Real-time bus tracking on a map
+ Text alerts for bus arrivals

We tried out the tracking map this afternoon. It's kind of fun watching the buses move along the BusPlus route on Route 5.

Also: BusPlus now has wi-fi.

Queue jumping and signal priority

One of the touted advantages of BusPlus is that the buses will move along the Route 5 corridor faster than traffic (rapid, you might even say). And part of the system that theoretically makes that possible are "queue jumpers" and "signal priority." From the blurbage:

Queue jumper and traffic signal priority systems, considered key characteristics of bus rapid transit services, give buses priority at intersections, helping to improve traffic flow and enhance safety. Queue jumpers are short sections of "bus only" lanes that allow transit vehicles to "jump the queue" of waiting cars at congested intersections. The queue jumpers are installed and fully operational along Route 5 at three locations: Wolf Road Westbound, New Karner Road (West Bound) and Nott Terrace (Eastbound.) CDTA's first queue jumpers were introduced to the Capital Region in June 2003, and installed at the CDTA Fulton and 3rd and Fulton and 4th bus stops in Troy, New York.
Traffic Signal Priority employs technology that gives buses an extra 6 second lead-time ahead of other vehicles when running behind schedule. Traffic Signal Priority systems are installed at 44 intersections along the 17-mile corridor between downtown Albany and downtown Schenectady.

The video above demonstrates the queue jumper and signal priority in a virtual Colonie.

If all this stuff works, it should be pretty cool. And it's probably about as close to light rail as the Capital Region will ever get. CDTA plans to eventually expand BusPlus to the Western Ave and Washington Ave corridors.

CDTA route restructuring for Albany County

cdta route restructure map Albany County 2011-11

A clip from the reconfigured system map. A larger version is embedded after the jump.

CDTA is reconfiguring its routes in Albany County, starting on Sunday (November 13). The transit org is touting it as "the largest service change" in the authority's history. From the blurbage about the changes:

Improved Trunk Routes -- CDTA trunk routes operate seven (7) days a week, from early morning until late night. Customers using Routes #6, #7, #12, & #18 will see increased frequency, later night and New Sunday service and consistent trip patterns with no deviations.
New Neighborhood Network -- Neighborhood routes will improve service to destinations outside of downtown Albany by:
+ Establishing additional cross-town service
+ Increasing level of service on streets with high ridership
+ Providing new service to areas with high demand
Improved Commuter Routes -- Provide more direct, peak period connections throughout Albany County to customer-requested locations including Albany International Airport, Corporate Woods, Harriman State Campus, Ohav Shalom and Stonehenge Apartment Complexes along with Patroon Creek Boulevard.

You might have noticed the blue bags over route signs along the road -- this is what those are about.

Here's a listing of the new schedules. A map of the restructured routes is embedded after the jump.

CDTA says routes in Albany County represent "well over 50%" of its ridership. So this is a big deal. Even more so if it actually makes the system more useful to people.

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The NanoBridge over Washington Ave Ext

albany nanotech bridge washington ave ext

We'd say the bridge changes the character of that stretch, but it didn't have a lot of character to begin with.

Washington Ave Extension was closed this past weekend for the construction of a bridge connecting Albany NanoTech to its new building, the "NanoFab Xtension," across the road. For the infrastructure enthusiast, a few more large format photos are after the jump.

The Washington Ave Ext/Fuller Road re-alignment project will move Washington to the north so that it routes around UAlbany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering campus. The bridge will then span a parking lot for the college.

Seeing the bridge spanning the two buildings made us think back to a joke NanoEmperor Alain Kaloyeros made a few years back in Businessweek about expanding the campus so that he could walk to the Starbucks at Stuyvesant Plaza without going outside. What's a few more bridges...

Earlier on AOA: NANOvember

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Amtrak adds wi-fi to Empire Service

amtrak wifi stickerAmtrak announced today that there's now free wi-fi service on its Empire Service route, which travels from Buffalo to Albany to NYC.

The Empire Service is one of 12 routes to get wi-fi today. A few other locally-connected routes are also getting the service, though it will be limited to select cars: Ethan Allen Express (New York City - Rutland, Vermont), Adirondack (New York City - Montreal), and Maple Leaf (New York City - Toronto). Look for the wifi sticker (right) in the cars.

Amtrak already had wi-fi on Acela routes. Has anyone used it? (Update: Benita says she used it yesterday and "it worked just fine.") We're hoping it's better than the often dodgy service on the MegaBus. Amtrak says it makes use of mobile data networks to provide the service, and there's limited bandwidth among many of its routes.

Full press release with more details after the jump.

Earlier on AOA: The best way to get from Albany to NYC?

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What's up at Washington and Fuller?

albany nano building construction 2011-09-13

The nano empire expands.

You've probably noticed there's a lot going on at the super busy intersection of Fuller Road and Washington Ave in Albany. What with the hill that's now gone, and the large structure rising in its place, it's hard to miss -- whether you're driving along Washington, Fuller or the stretch of I-90 along there.

Here's what's up...

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Getting there, directly

southwest jet elevating

Its direct flight to Atlanta may be "direct" -- not direct.

After seeing this week that Southwest is adding a direct flight from ALB to Atlanta, we were curious about how many places we (or you or anyone) could fly directly from the Albany International Airport -- and how much it costs (versus a non-direct flight). [Southwest] [TU]

We're now boarding with the answer...

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South Mall Expressway closed

The state Department of Transportation announced Wednesday night that it was immediately closing the South Mall Expressway -- that's Routes 9 and 20 between the Empire State Plaza and the Dunn Memorial Bridge -- because an inspection found cracks in beams that support the road. The full release -- with suggested alternate routes -- is after the jump.

Also part of the closure: the Madison Avenue off-ramp from I-787 south, the South Pearl Street on-ramp leading to the Dunn Memorial Bridge, and the part of Broadway between the Quay Street Connector and Madison Avenue.

The Dunn is still open, but down to one westbound lane (that is, heading toward Albany). Albany police say they expect backups Thursday morning, maybe as far back as Rensselaer. They're suggesting people use alternate routes if possible.

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How long from here?

mapnificient albany

Fifteen minutes from Lark and Washington on CDTA.

This is somewhat interesting/fun: Mapnificient, an online mapping app, can project how far you can travel on public transit in the Capital District in a given amount of time. A screengrab is above. The easiest way to understand it is to just try it.

Mapnificient is the creation of Stefan Wehrmeyer, web developer in Germany. It reminds of us of similar maps we've seen for London.

Modestly useful in the Capital District? Sure. Fun to play with? Definitely.

[we're sure this is via someone... but we've forgotten... sorry]

screengrab: Mapnificient

The Albany residential parking permit task force recommendations

A totally unofficial estimate of the area to be covered by the parking permit system.

The task force developing the Albany residential parking permit system released its report and recommendations last week. The file that we received from Common Councilman Richard Conti, the task force's chair, is embedded after the jump.

The report includes many of the provisions Conti mentioned when we talked with him about the system in June. But there are few bits that caught our eye -- we've highlighted those.

If you live/work/visit the area around the Empire State Plaza, it's worth taking a look at this report. There will be a public comment period after an ordinance is introduced. There's also lobbying/emailing/stopping your council person on the street to talk about suggestions or changes. (And based on the comments from June, it sounds like people will have suggestions.)

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The one-car household: a car junkie cuts back

By Martin Daley

soapbox badgeI am what you may call a recovering car junkie.

I. Love. Cars.

I've had over 10 of them -- even a couple of classics. And I still pine for the restored 1986 Jeep CJ-7 I once owned.

But a couple of years ago a muffler shop noticed a ton of frame rust on my barely-broken-in Toyota Tacoma and told me about a buyback program created to address the problem. After a month of back and forth, Toyota eventually bought my beloved truck back.

Since then, we've been a single car household.

Here's how it's worked out.

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Pay and display in Albany

albany parking pay and display meter

In a different context, "pay and display" could mean something completely different.

Albany has new parking meters downtown. Or, at least, it will have new parking meters. Right now, it hast just one, on State Street near Pearl -- and that's it above.

Unlike the old meters, the "pay and display" meter covers multiple spots. You pay for the time you want to park, print out a ticket, and then place it on your dashboard on the passenger side so parking enforcement can see it.

A few other bits about these new meters...

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What's up with the Albany parking permit system?

A totally unofficial estimate of the area to be covered by the parking permit system.

It's been just about a year since the state legislature passed a bill allowing the city of Albany to set up a residential parking permit system near the Empire State Plaza. So, where's all that at now?

Albany Common Councilman Richard Conti is heading up the task force in charge of developing the system. We had a chance to talk with him last week about how the system is potentially shaping up...

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Andrew Cuomo would like you to pay attention to the road

texting while drivingThe Cuomo admin proposed legislation that would make it illegal to use any portable electronic device while driving (exception: phone with a hands-free device). From the release:

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced he will introduce new legislation that will crack down on drivers caught using a portable electronic device including blackberrys, iPhones, i-pads, laptop computers, gaming devices and any other portable device, or talking on a cell phone without a hands free device, while driving. The bill would impose unprecedented penalties drivers caught using such a device by adding three points on a driver's license in order to curb the dramatic rise of this dangerous activity. Governor Cuomo's legislation would also make driving while using any portable electronic device a primary, rather than just a secondary offense, meaning that drivers can now be stopped solely if they are found to be using such a device while driving.

As it is now, you can't be stopped specifically for texting or phoning while driving -- you have to be pulled over for some over offense (say, crossing the double yellow because you weren't watching) and then you can be tagged for using your phone.

You might think you can text and drive with no problem -- we're all above average drivers, right (oh, wait...) -- but you're probably wrong. There's research that indicates a distracted driver is about as bad as a driver with a .08 blood alcohol level, which is the legal limit for drunk driving. (The New York Times produced a good series about the risks of distracted driving.)

The Cuomo admin hasn't posted the actual bill, yet, so there are still some questions. Among them: what about dashboard GPS devices (trying to find out where you're going can make you forget about where you're going). And automakers are starting to put dashboard computers into cars.

There's already a bill in the legislature that would make texting while driving a primary offense.

photo: Flickr user mrJasonWeaver

Where to rent a bike?

bike pedal mediumMaya emails:

I wanted to know where I can rent bikes in the capital district region. I live in a small apartment with no balcony. Although I want to buy a bike, there is no space to keep it in my house.

Got a suggestion for Maya -- either for where to rent, or maybe how she might find space to store a bike? Please share!

Earlier on AOA: Where to buy a bike?

Look both ways

pedestrian deaths map capital region 2000-2009

A screengrab from the map of pedestrian deaths in the Capital Region.

There were 92 pedestrian fatalities in the Capital Region from the years 2000-2009, according to a report out this week from a transportation advocacy org.

The Capital Region had one of the lower fatality rates in the state -- 1.1 deaths per 100,000 people. Of the four core counties, Albany had the highest pedestrian fatality rate at 1.3 deaths per 100,000 people.

Transportation America's report also includes a map of the pedestrian deaths. Of the 92 deaths reported in the Capital Region, 13 of them occurred along Route 5, according to the map.

[via @omarjpeters and @AbbyThyme]

map: Transportation America

New York gobbles up rail money Fla gave back

amtrak engineNew York State is getting more than $354 million from the feds for rail upgrades around the state -- including right here in the Capital Region. [US DOT]

The feds are touting the money as funding for high-speed rail. That may be true in some cases -- a section of the Northeast Corridor is being upgraded so trains can travel 160 mph -- but it's probably more accurate to say the money is going to projects that could lead to high-speed rail. Here's the key local bit from the press release:

New York - Empire Corridor Capacity Improvements: $58 million to construct upgrades to tracks, stations and signals, improving rail operations along the Empire Corridor. This includes replacement of the Schenectady Station and construction of a fourth station track at the Albany - Rensselaer Station, one of the corridor's most significant bottlenecks.

The Empire Corridor is one of Amtrak's busiest routes. The rest of the New York State money is going toward funding a bypass in Manhattan intended to clear up congestion there, and a bit is going toward the study for a new station in Rochester.

Today's $2 billion in federal grants come from a chunk of high-speed rail funding Florida gave back last year. Governors from other states -- including New York -- basically said at the time, "If they're not going that eat that, pass it over to us." [Cuomo admin]

Earlier on AOA:
+ Will high-speed money train make a stop here?
+ Albany-NYC: strong potential for high-speed rail?

BusPlus launches

busplus stationCDTA's new BusPlus service is now officially running along Route 5 between Albany and Schenectady.

BusPlus is a "bus rapid transit" system -- it features fewer stops than a regular route and "transit signal priority" at some intersections (that is, it gets to go through traffic lights), and upgraded stops. It's a bit like light rail -- but, you know, without the rails.

CDTA says the new Route 5 BusPlus line between Albany and Schenectady has 18 stops each way, as opposed to 90 stops on the regular line. It says the travel time should be shorter as a result.

The transit org says it picked Route 5 for the first line because it's the busiest travel corridor in the region and accounts for 25 percent of the system's boardings. It says it has plans to next expand the service to Western and Washington Avenues in Albany. There's a lot riding on BusPlus (pun intended) -- the total project cost for BusPlus is estimated to be $36.5 million (more than $16 million is coming from federal stimulus money).

The BusPlus fare will be $2 ($1.50 if you have a swiper card). But it's free the first two weeks. The buses are marked differently than the regular blue CDTA buses -- they're red and silver.

Has anyone tried it out BusPlus during regular service? We'd like to hear about it.

Traffic? That's not traffic.

albany metro congestion by day 2010 inrix

"Travel time tax" by hour and day of week in the Capital Region in 2010

The Albany metro area has nation's 80th most congested traffic, according to the annual rankings compiled by a company called INRIX. Or, as people from most major metros might describe the findings: we don't have traffic here.

The Albany metro scored its #80 ranking despite being the 58th largest metro. This area has just one percent of the peak period congestion as the #1 spot on the list, Los Angeles. INRX figures that congestion caused trips on the Capital Region's major roads to take just two percent longer in 2010 than they otherwise would during free flowing traffic (compared to the 10 percent national average).

INRIX didn't identify any congested corridors or bottlenecks here. (The most congested corridor in the nation: the Cross Bronx Expressway.)

The worst traffic time of the week? Friday between 5:15 and 5:30, where trips take a whopping 7 percent longer than they otherwise would. Yes, you better call ahead to let them know you'll be a little late.

The survey only covered metro area's major highways (I-87, I-90, I-787, I-890, Route 7). Here's more on the methodology.

Earlier on AOA: Traffic lights and ants

graph: INRIX

The highway that was almost buried under Washington Park

mid-crosstown arterial park downtown rendering

What could go wrong?

By Carl Johnson

Ever wondered why the Dunn Memorial Bridge provides a ramp to thin air? Why the Livingston Avenue exit of I-90 is so overbuilt, and ends so abruptly? Why there are extra tunnels underneath the Empire State Plaza? Or why Corporate Woods has its own highway exit?

They're all vestiges of a highway system that was never built.

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Blast from the past

new york central hudson engine

All aboard! Next stop... the future.

We came across this photo today while getting Carl's piece about the Livingston Ave Bridge together. It's a locomotive from the old New York Central railroad -- the railroad organized by Erastus Corning (the great grandfather of the longtime mayor of Albany).

We love the sleek vintage futurism of the locomotive's design. It looks like a rocket ship from an old Flash Gordon flick.

The engines were designed by Henry Dreyfuss, one of the celebrity industrial designers of the 1930s and 40s. Among Dreyfuss' many notable designs is the classic "Lucy" telephone.

This streamlined engine design (the "Hudson") went into service in 1938 after being manufactured in New York Central's huge West Albany yard (the engine under the hood was produced by Alco in Schenectady). The stylish locomotives powered the famous 20th Century Limited line.

If/when New York ever gets high-speed rail, we kind of hope the engines look this.

photo: Robert Yarnall Richie via Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer Library

Will high-speed money train make a stop here?

amtrak engineThe Obama administration announced today its intent to spend "$53 billion over six years to continue construction of a national high-speed and intercity passenger rail network." The announcement is short on details about where this funding will be directed, but during the next fiscal year it says $8 billion will be focused on routes that fit one of these descriptions:

* Core Express: These corridors will form the backbone of the national high-speed rail system, with electrified trains traveling on dedicated tracks at speeds of 125-250 mph or higher.
* Regional: Crucial regional corridors with train speeds of 90-125 mph will see increases in trips and reductions in travel times, laying the foundation for future high-speed service.
* Emerging: Trains traveling at up to 90 mph will provide travelers in emerging rail corridors with access to the larger national high-speed and intercity passenger rail network.
This system will allow the Department - in partnership with states, freight rail, and private companies - to identify corridors for the construction of world-class high-speed rail, while raising speeds on existing rail lines and providing crucial planning and resources to communities who want to join the national high-speed rail network.

We're guessing Albany/New York City would probably fall in the "regional" category.

A planning/policy org recently ranked the Albany-NYC route as being among the top one percent of all routes in the nation with the most potential for high speed rail. (The route is already the fifth-most traveled in the Amtrak system.) The post here on AOA about that ranking prompted some interesting conversation -- including people who weren't necessarily sold that high-speed rail would be a good thing for the Capital Region.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Albany-NYC: strong potential for high-speed rail?
+ The slow line to high-speed rail
+ The best way to get from Albany to NYC?

That frozen slush on the bottom of the car

crusty slush on car


Winter's enthusiastic effort this year has prompted us to consider many issues, among them:

What do you call that wedge of gray, frozen slush that sticks on the bottom of a car behind the wheels?

We've never heard a word for it, but it seemed like one would be useful. For example:

Friend: What are you doing?
You: I'm just kicking the (whatever the word is) off the bottom of the car. I hate that stuff.

So, in search of a name, we asked people on Twitter what's it called. There were many responses...

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Albany-NYC: strong potential for high-speed rail?

america 2050 high-speed-rail scores

It's a hot route.

New York City to Albany ranks as one of the corridors with the most potential for high-speed rail, according to a report from a planning/policy org called America 2050.

The report assigned scores to almost 8000 rail corridors (of less than 600 miles) across the country based on group of factors including population, employment, and transit ridership. The NYC-Albany corridor ranked in the top one percent of all routes in the nation.

For some comparison, Washington DC-NYC was the top ranked route with a score of 20.15. The NYC-Albany route scored 19.29.

The report includes some really delicious transit nerding. Transportation Nation has a further breakdown of the results, including some thoughts on the effect of national politics (and circumstance) on current high-speed rail projects (or, how Florida could end up with the nation's first high-speed rail corridor [or not]).

As we understand the way these scores were calculated, corridors with already strong ridership tend to score best. So it's not surprising that NYC-Albany scored well -- the Empire Service is the fifth most-traveled route in the entire Amtrak system.

So, what could high-speed rail mean for Albany? Well, it could open the possibility of getting from Albany to Manhattan in about an hour (potentially). That's a commute for some people.

(Thanks, Kizzi!)

Earlier on AOA:
+ The slow line to high-speed rail
+ The best way to get from Albany to NYC?

image adapted from "High Speed Rail in America" by America 2050

Leave early

albany airport

ALB is projected to be at or near capacity Wednesday.

Thursday is, of course, Thanksgiving. But Wednesday is The Day of Travel Frustration. A few things to keep in mind:

+ The NYS Thruway Authority says the two busiest days on the system are typically the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after. The peak travel time is noon to 8 pm. Yes, you almost certainly will have to wait at the Exit 24 tolls -- and probably any other major toll plaza.

+ ALB says the airport will be at or near capacity Wednesday -- and is urging people to arrive 90 minutes ahead of their flights' departure time in order to deal with the crush. [TU]

+ Amtrak is expecting Wednesday to be its single biggest day of the year. It says every one of its passenger trains will be in service that day.

So, leave early. Take a deep breath. You'll get there -- eventually.

Traffic lights and ants

traffic signal boxInteresting: Sanjay Goel, a UAlbany professor, has gotten a $378,375 grant to study how traffic light systems might be designed to produce emergent behavior. In other words, could traffic lights self-organize -- like ant colonies -- to enable better traffic flows.

From the press release:

Goel believes that each traffic light, like each ant, should make its own decision to communicate with the next light. That way, a driver crossing the intersection at midnight wouldn't have to wait for long minutes at a red light while there is no other traffic. ...
"The goal is to develop self-organizing algorithms and conduct simulation and modeling that would involve selection of intersections in Albany to test some algorithms," said Goel. "The focus of the study is to understand the limitations of this approach and find out where such techniques can fail or under what conditions we may get bottlenecks or chaos in traffic," he said.
Goel is looking for just the right intersections. "We will pick a variety of places where there is fast-moving traffic in the city," he said.

If someone can figure out how to make the traffic lights on Western Ave work together so as not to induce road-rage-levels of frustration in drivers along that stretch -- well, that person would deserve some sort of prize.

By the way: Have you stood next to one of the old traffic signal boxes around Albany (pic on the right)? If you listen carefully, you can hear the parts moving in there as the lights change.

[via @omarjpeters]

Bumper gawking

license plate lilbeast

It's such a cute beast, though.

Yep, we admit it -- we like to gawk at custom license plates. And we know you do, too.

Here's a new bunch from around town...

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Record year for Amtrak

amtrak engine


Amtrak announced this week that ridership was up 5.7 percent during the fiscal year that just ended compared to the year before. The rail org had a record 28,716,857 passengers.

Here are how some of the routes that pass through the Capital Region fared (rimshot):

The Empire Service gets a lot of traffic -- not just for here, but overall. In fact, it's the fifth most traveled non-Northeast Corridor route in Amtrak's system.

We're big fans of riding the train regionally -- it's our favorite way to get to NYC from Albany. Amtrak says it has a 65 percent share of the air-rail market between Washington and New York and a 52 percent share for air-rail travel between New York and Boston. The Northeast Corridor line had more than 7.1 million passengers last fiscal year.

By the way: Amtrak reports ridership is up 37 percent since FY2000.

Earlier on AOA:
+ The slow line to high-speed rail
+ The best way to get from Albany to NYC?

The slow line to high-speed rail

northeast corridor high speed rail

The proposed high-speed line along the Northeast Corridor.

Sometimes we have this transit fantasy in which the Capital Region is connected to other cities via high-speed rail. Headed for New York City? One hour. Boston? A one-magazine trip. Buffalo? Why? (We kid. Sort of.) It could have a profound effect on this region.

But the more this issue develops (or, you know, doesn't), we're thinking we might be traveling via jet pack before we get high-speed rail here.

Amtrak released a report on its high-speed rail aspirations for the Northeast Corridor yesterday. A few highlights:

Average speed: 140 mph
Washington to Boston: 3 hours
New York to Washington: a little more than 1.5 hours
Cost: $117 billion ($42 billion if it's all plunked down now)
Funding in place: no
Projected completion date: 2040

Yep, 30 years from now. And high-speed rail makes a lot sense along this corridor -- it's jammed with people and a lot of them already ride trains. Even so, the cost, planning and politics make the project a long shot. [The Transport Politic]

And despite all the talk about New York State hopping on board with high-speed rail, that's not looking likely, either.

Of course, things change. The political situation could shift. The economy could (somehow) get a lot better. The price of oil could way up.

Or not. So... where do we get fitted for a jet pack?

image: Amtrak

Visualizing the arteries of the Capital Region

visualization commutes to 12210

Commutes to 12210

This is fun/interesting to play around with: a designer/engineer named Harry Kao has built a visualization of commuting data for metros all across the country. You can sort the data by both zipcode and whether people are commuting from/to the zipcode.

commutes like angiogramIt'll make sense when you see it. For example, here's the map of the data for people who commute to 12210, which is in downtown Albany. And here's a map of the data for people who commute from 12065, which is in Clifton Park. The size of the dot in each zipcode represents the number of people coming from/heading to there.

You can zoom the maps, and view them on different backgrounds. It's kind of cool to view with a blank background -- the network of commuting routes look biological, like you're viewing an angiogram of the Capital Region.

Kao's mashup uses Census survey data from 2000, so it's a bit out of date (and he includes a few other caveats). But it's an interesting rough picture.

(Thanks, Amy!)

visualizations by Harry Kao

40 cent fare on CDTA Thursday

40 centsRides on CDTA will be 40 cents on Thursday. The transit org is offering the special fare to commemorate its 40th anniversary.

The fare is good on CDTA's regular route, STAR, and NX Northway Commuter buses. But to get the special price, you must to have exact change -- neither the drivers nor fare boxes can give change.

The Latham SPUI is now open

latham spui

It's pronounced SPOO-ee.

The new configuration of the Exit 6 interchange in Latham opened today. It's the Capital Region's first single point urban interchange -- or, as its friends like to call it, a SPUI.

We stopped today around 5 pm to check it out. Traffic appeared to be moving through the intersection smoothly. Watching it for a few minutes, the flow has a certain grace to it, as the gently arcing lines of traffic slip past each other.

About that. Driving through the broad open area of the intersection didn't feel weird, but we could see how some people might not feel totally comfortable at first (though, really, it's not bad... just different). The state DOT has posted directions on how to the use the intersection, along with a diagram.

There are actually a few interesting bits in there. For example, the traffic lights on the "slip ramps" are there only for pedestrians (a pedestrian has to push the button to activate them).

The interchange isn't completely finished. But it looks good. More photos after the jump.

Update: Now with hot SPUI video.

(Thanks to Wendy to for the heads-up!)

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For sale: one purple bookmobile

Albany Public Library bookmobile


The Albany Public Library is selling its bookmobile, AKA "The Big Purple Bus." And it could be yours for the low, low price of just $10,000.

Here's the rundown on this very plum transport:

  • Built in 1991 by Thomas, retrofitted by Matthews
  • 3208 Cat engine, 8 cylinders, diesel
  • 200,000 miles and 11,000 hours of use
  • 36 feet long, titled as heavy truck
  • Front and rear entrances
  • Newer generator and 3 air conditioning units
  • Can store up to 3,000 books in custom-built shelving

The APL has retired the bookmobile because it no longer needs it for outreach -- the system opened five new branch libraries over the last year.

Earlier on AOA: The best bang for your library buck

(Thanks, LB!)

photo courtesy of Albany Public Library

Should we punch the ticket for more expensive parking?

troy pay and display parking meterPeople get very passionate about parking and seemingly all things parking-related: paying for it, permits, meters, shoveling. And these conversations almost always revolve around whether there's enough parking -- and whether it's cheap enough.

Well, in a NYT column this weekend economist Tyler Cowen pushes the case that in most places parking should be... more expensive:

Is this a serious economic issue? In fact, it's a classic tale of how subsidies, use restrictions, and price controls can steer an economy in wrong directions. Car owners may not want to hear this, but we have way too much free parking.
Higher charges for parking spaces would limit our trips by car. That would cut emissions, alleviate congestion and, as a side effect, improve land use.

Cowen goes on to talk about the work of Donald Shoup, a UCLA urban planning professor and the author of The High Cost of Free Parking. He continues the discussion on his excellent blog -- and responds to criticism.

Also via Cowen: San Francisco is testing parking meters that change the price based on current supply and demand.

By the way: Troy is considering residential parking permits for three of its neighborhoods. [TU]

Earlier on AOA:
+ Assembly passes Albany residential parking permits bill
+ Meters parked in Troy
+ The ethics of the shoveled parking spot
+ Ask AOA: Parking in Center Square
+ How the rest of us are ticketed

photo: Kim M

How much, where?


One the left, home prices as a percentage of median income. On the right, household median income.

Here's something that might help you kill time until you can leave work get a better picture of the Capital Region.

The Housing + Transportation Affordability Index is an online mapping tool that lets you apply all sorts of filters to local maps -- housing affordability, median household incomes, autos per household, transportation costs and so on. The maps are based on census data.

The index is a project of the Center for Neighborhood Technology, which promotes "more livable and sustainable urban communities." That viewpoint shows up in some of the explanations on the site.

[via Jen]

screengrab: CNT

Driving schools?

sideview car mirrorCarl asks:

I wonder if anyone has any good experiences to share with Albany / Troy area driving schools. Because the do-it-yourself model is not working with my daughter.

We've always thought having your parent teach you how to drive is maybe not the best idea. There's just so much... baggage. (Red light! You don't have to use that tone with me. Brake! I am braking!!)

So, a suggestion here could really smooth the road. Please share!

photo: Naimi Grondin (Flickr user Naimi&virg)

Bumper gawking

Updated with another pic!

As we've mentioned before, we plead guilty to a moving violation for dorkiness.

There are times that not only do we smile or note odd license plates around town -- we actually take photos of them, too.

Here's the most recent batch...

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The car sharing conversation

zipcar portlandIt sounds like Albany common councilwoman Leah Golby is trying to push things forward on car sharing. From an email she sent out on Friday (links added):

If you aren't sure what car sharing is -- the best way to describe it is: short-term car rental. If you've traveled to larger cities, you've likely seen ZipCar -- that's the large for-profit car sharing company. Car sharing is access to a car without the hassles of car ownership. Car sharing helps to reduce gas emissions, promotes use of public transit and can save you $ by (for example) down-sizing from a two-car household to a 1-car household. ...
I happen to be more in favor of locally-controlled non-profit car sharing for the reasons that an Austin group described on the attached.
Momentum for any car sharing company would need to work collaboratively with all of the colleges/ universities leaders from our neighborhoods with parking issues (Center Square/ Hudson Park and Pine Hills), the city's Planning Department and CDTA/ CDTC.

Golby is hoping to prompt discussion via a Twitter hashtag: #ImagineAlbanyCarShare.

Of course, something like this wouldn't have to be limited just to Albany -- there are probably a handful of neighborhoods/areas/centers in the Capital Region that might benefit from car sharing.

Updated July 29, 2010 to include link to the pdf.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Report: car sharing coming to the Capital Region. Sort of.
+ Assembly passes Albany residential parking permits bill
+ From 2008: Not-yet-councilwoman Leah Golby talked about living in the Capital Region without a car

photo: Flickr user Jason Rodriguez

Toy car

toy art car in Colonie Center parking lot

So, what is the preferred glue for sticking a figurine to one's hood?

While we're on the subject of art cars: we passed this car in the parking lot at Colonie Center this past weekend.

It's a compact Nissan with with figurines stuck to the hood. And the trunk was covered in chalkboard paint, with an accompanying bin of chalk. People had written messages all over the trunk (among them: "Freakin epic car dude!!!").

A few more pics after the jump.

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The Vehigloo could be yours

igloo car

The Vehigloo in 2009.

You may have seen the "Vehigloo" driving around town -- it's an art car designed to look like a rolling igloo.

And now the Vehigloo could be yours. The owners have posted it on Craigslist. For free. From their posting:

You will get more attention driving around in this super fun car than if you were driving a Ferrari. Honks, waves, screaming, mooning -- you name it. It is not for the super shy unless you are trying to come out of your shell. We counted that we were photographed 50 times during our 6 hour trip to Baltimore. That is once every 7 minutes! There is a PA system so you can make animal and siren noises. The inside is also decorated/painted including hanging icicles. This car has been in a bunch of parades. ...
We are looking to give this to someone who will either enjoy it as it is or change it into their own style of artcar. You are not going to get this car to look like a regular car again, so don't even think about it! :) PLEASE email me with your plans for the car.

As it happens, the Vehigloo is/was a 1991 Toyota Corolla -- and the owners say it needs some work.

Said Andreas, one of the creators, in a comment here on AOA last year: "I did it just for the fun of it. It is a unique experience to drive in something like this. Sometimes you feel like a rock star, and sometimes like a freak!"

(Thanks, StickFigureMan!)

NY City Bus update

NY City Bus tickets

Still a pretty cheap ride.

The NY City Bus line has raised its Albany-New York City fare to $20 each way. When we talked to a rep this afternoon, he said the $10 fares had been a promotional rate (not entirely surprising... it was really cheap). He said there's now a $5 discount when you book a roundtrip.

Thirty-five bucks to get to and from NYC isn't a bad deal. But it's a lost closer to the Megabus fare (anywhere from a few bucks if you're really lucky, to about $50) and the Dragon Deluxe (running its own $35 promotion right now).

Kalyn recently talked with a few people (among them, Albany Jane) about their NY City Bus experience -- and they sounded reasonably happy. Though, as a few commenters noted, the extra bucks for the Megabus do you get a few extras (air conditioning, wifi).

Good to know: NY City Bus is planning to start service from Saratoga Springs. The fare currently listed on the schedule is $20. The listed pickup point is near the Saratoga Springs Visitor Center on Broadway.

The rep we spoke with said they're hoping start the service August 1, but it could be later. He said their website would have the date when it's confirmed.

(Thanks, Andrew)

Earlier on AOA:
+ What's the new $10 bus ride to New York like?
+ NY City Bus -- competition for the MegaBus?
+ The best way to get from Albany to NYC?

photo: Albany Jane

What's the new $10 bus ride to New York like?

ny city bus inc logo

A cheap ride.

By Kalyn Belsha

As of today, the NY City Bus -- which runs between Albany and New York for just $10 each way -- has been up and running for a month.

So we thought now would be a good time to track down some people who've ridden the bus to give us the scoop...

(there's more)

Assembly passes Albany residential parking permits bill

The approximate area covered by the 3/4 mile radius. Not every spot will be subject to the permits.

The state Assembly has passed the bill that would allow the City of Albany to run a trial residential parking permit program around the Empire State Plaza. From Albany Common Councilman Richard Conti's Facebook status last night:

Albany Permit Parking Bill just passed the Assembly, 80-45! Thanks to Assemblymembers McEneny and Canestrari for their efforts on moving this forward ... now it moves to Governor Paterson for approval.

The bill passed in the state Senate last week.

Among the bill's provisions:
+ The City of Albany would be allowed to "pilot a residential parking permit system with a two year sunset" within a 3/4 mile radius of the ESP.
+ No more than 2,750 spaces would be made available by permit in the permitted area. (The bill figures there are about 9000 spaces total in the affected area.)
+ Permit parking would not be allowed on streets where adjacent properties are zoned for "commercial, office and/or retail use."
+ At least 20 percent of the spaces in the permit would be available for non-residents to use for at least 90 minutes at a time.

(Thanks, Mike and others!)

Update: From a PEF press release:

The New York State Public Employees Federation (PEF) is disappointed state lawmakers have passed the Albany Permit Parking Plan, pandering to a small group of residents while shunning the needs of the general public.

The union is calling for Paterson to veto the legislation.

Earlier on AOA: Is the brake coming off residential parking permits near the ESP in Albany?

Is the brake coming off residential parking permits near the ESP in Albany?

Not every street within the proposed area would be subject to residential parking permits

Via Bob Conner comes word that a bill allowing residential parking permits near the Empire State Plaza is moving through the legislature again.

The bill passed in the Assembly a year ago, but died in the state Senate. Bob reports that Neil Breslin says it looks like there will be enough votes to pass it this time around in the Senate.

Among the bill's provisions:
+ The City of Albany would be allowed to "pilot a residential parking permit system with a two year sunset" within a 3/4 mile radius of the ESP.
+ No more than 2,750 spaces would be allowed in the permitted area.
+ Permit parking would not be allowed on streets where adjacent properties are zoned "commercial, office [and]/or retail use."

(The full text of the bill's provisions is after the jump.)

One possible hitch: the Assembly version of the bill differs from the Senate version in the size of the allowed area for permits -- 3/4 mile vs. 1 mile. Bob reports that CSEA dropped its opposition to the bill because of the reduced radius. Update: Albany common councilman Richard Conti stopped by in the comments to note the Senate bill is identical to the Assembly bill and includes the 3/4 mile radius (it appears the Open Senate entry for the bill hasn't been completely updated, yet).

Jerry Jennings told AOA last October that he wants permit parking -- and would pursue it if the legislature allowed it.

(there's more)

Report: New Yorkers are the least knowledgeable drivers

national drivers test results map 2010

That's quite some company for New York in the slow lane.

A nationwide test/survey concluded that drivers in New York State are the least knowledgeable in the nation.

The test, which was sponsored by GMAC Insurance, asked drivers a series of 20 questions that were taken from state DMV exams. The New Yorkers' average score was a 70 -- the worst of any state (including DC) and just good enough to be considered passing (under 70 was considered failing).

Here's an explanation of the methodology.

This is the second year in a row that New York was ranked last in the nation. Other states near the bottom: New Jersey (shock), DC, California and Rhode Island. The Empire and Garden states have ranked near the bottom for the past five years.

Kansas had the top average score (82.3). The national average score was 76.2.

[via CapNews9]

Earlier on AOA: Listomania: a list of lists which list the Capital Region and New York

map: GMAC Insurance

Exit 6 closed this weekend

Latham Northway exit 6 SPUI rendering

We admit it: we like to say "SPUI."

Just a reminder that Exit 6 on the Northway in Latham will be closed this weekend for construction on the SPUI. The ramps to/from I-87 are scheduled to close at 10 pm Friday night and open back up at 6 am Monday. There will also be lane closures on Route 7.

In other words: avoid, if you can. Here's a list of detours.

This weekend's work on the SPUI "marks a major milestone in the project and the approximate halfway point in this year's work," according to the state Department of Transportation. Barring any "unforeseen issues," the agency is projecting the interchanged will be open in the new Single Point Urban Interchange configuration "sometime in October 2010." The whole project is scheduled to be finished in 2011. Total cost: $41.9 million.

Oh, yeah: Not only does Exit 6 have its own website ( -- it's also a check-in location on Foursquare: Exit 6 Cluster F*ck. (Ouch.) The mayor is Jerry (@derryX).

Earlier on AOA:
+ Talkin' about SPUIs
+ It's pronounced "spoo-ee"

image: NYSDOT

NY City Bus -- competition for the MegaBus?

ny city bus inc logo

A new bus service between Albany and NYC started up today. The aptly-named NY City Bus is selling one-way rides to/from the city for $10.

That's cheap -- even cheaper than the MegaBus in many cases. A round trip ride on the MegaBus this week will cost you $60 if you bought now. (You can get it for as little as $18 if you book the same ride for a month from now.)

We had never heard of NY City Bus until recently, so we did a little bit of poking around -- and it looks like the bus line has a lot of similarities to the DragonDeluxe line. There are so many similarities that we wonder if it's connected to the Dragon. It shares the same pick-up (91 Colvin Avenue and 102 Central Ave in Albany) and drop-off (26 Canal Street and near Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan). And the two services seem to use one of the same operators (All State). The NY City Bus corporation was registered this past March and the listed address in Chinatown in Manhattan is different from that of the company that runs Dragon Deluxe, according to the listing on file with the state.

The Dragon Deluxe fare is roundtrip fare is more expensive -- $40 vs. $20. The NY City Bus site doesn't list the $20 fare as a promotion or sale or anything like that.

The NY City Bus lists a handful of routes around the country. Has anyone ridden it before? Anyone have the scoop?

Earlier on AOA: We broke down the travel options between Albany and NYC by price, time and ease.

image: NY City Bus

The CDTA iPhone app

cdta iphone app screenshots

Screenshots from the app.

CDTA released an update to its iPhone app this week, so we decided to check it out. And it's pretty cool.

The app has four primary functions: map, stop finder, trip planner, advisories. The map alone would be worth a download, but the other functions are helpful, too -- especially if you don't ride the same route all the time or you're not a hardcore CDTA rider.

(there's more)

At the pump

gas prices last year 2010-5

The chart above is from, the crowd-sourced gas prices site. It tracks the average price for a gallon of regular gasoline in the Albany area over the past year. The price has backed off during the last week or so, but it's still just about at the high for the last year.

If you go to the Albany Gas Prices site, you can graph the price against the national average (it tracks pretty closely) and crude oil prices -- and over different time spans, too.

AAA also tracks this data for the metro area, but without the graphs (and who doesn't love a graph).

The federal Energy Information Administration forecasted today that average gasoline prices will increase about four percent over the next year.

[prompted by a tweet from @AndyArthur]

Earlier on AOA:
+ From 2008: Gas hits four dollars and everyone's squeezed
+ How many gallons per mile?
+ Save money on gas... at Price Chopper?

graph: Albany Gas Prices

Can cars and bikes coexist in the Capital Region?

capital coexist tom benware

Tom Benware

By Kalyn Belsha

Tom Benware might have passed you in traffic. On his bike. Which was on the side of a bus.

Tom appears on a CDTA bus as a part of a new initiative launched in April encouraging Capital Region motorists and cyclists to share the road.

In real life, the Delmar resident is a transportation guru, public transit advocate and 1,000-mile-a-year cyclist. He worked at the state Department of Transportation for 14 years and now he's the senior legislative analyst for the New York State Senate Transportation Committee. Just last week he helped advance new legislation that would require New York roads be designed with all users in mind - not just drivers.

I took a moment to talk with Tom about biking in the Capital Region, his favorite places to ride and what it's like to see yourself on the side of a bus.

(there's more)

Report: car sharing coming to the Capital Region. Sort of.

zipcar portland

A Zipcar in Portland, Oregon. The program at UAlbany will be run by Hertz, according to the ASP.

The ASP's Jon Campbell reports that car sharing is coming to UAlbany via partnership with Hertz.

Over the last few years we've heard a handful of people -- online and off -- express their desire for car sharing here in the Capital Region.

(there's more)

A mixed case for street signs

delaware marshall street signs

Also, don't go that way on Marshall.

After D mentioned the new mixed-case street signs on the reconstructed section of Delaware Ave in Albany, B went out a took a photo (you can see the old-style all caps signs in the background of the large version).

Both D and Summer commented that the new mixed-case signs are hard to read. Wrote Summer: "It makes no sense to me, because all you see is a big "D" and the rest is tiny."

As CapHwys noted, mixed-case lettering on street signs is now a standard in the latest edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, the bible for road signs. There's research from as far back as 1950 that using mixed-case, as opposed to ALL CAPS, is easier to read. (Although, the gains from lower case letters apparently drop off when people aren't sure of the word they're looking for.)

Earlier on AOA:
+ Next exit: the correct lettering?
+ Next exit: illegibility

photo: B

Next exit: the correct lettering?

highway signs

It just looks wrong.

It sounds like state Department of Transportation is finally on the case of the rogue typeface on the Northway signs near Exit 6. Said DOT spokesperson Peter Van Keuren in a quote at the TU's Getting There blog:

"... the lettering on these signs is not standard as a result of an error that was made by the consultant," he said. "New signs with the standard font will be installed at no added expense to the state."

What's odd about this situation is that there are clearly defined guidelines about how text should appear on interstate signs. Also, the new signs don't appear to use Clearview, the easier-to-read typeface being used on new interstate signs around the country.

It would be interesting to find out who this consultant is (seemingly not a font nerd) and what other projects they've been consulting on.

(Thanks, Fred!)

Earlier on AOA: Next exit: illegibility

Thruway scheduled to be widened in Albany

View Larger Map

The NYS Thruway Authority announced today that it will be spending $110 million to reconstruct and widen the Thruway from Exit 23 (Albany, I-787) to Exit 24 (Albany, I-87). The plan is add one new lane in each direction -- which would bring to the stretch to three lanes on each side.

A mini-site for the project says construction is scheduled to start in mid-2011, with completion scheduled for 2012. It says no detours are expected -- a temporary lane will be added to the median during construction.

That stretch of Thruway runs along the back of a bunch of residential neighborhoods. The "project is not anticipated to directly impact adjacent land uses," according to the site. It does report that the extra lanes "may increase noise levels." The document says noise will be monitored and some sort of sound mitigation might be an option (example: noise walls).

The Thruway says a 2002 study reported that an average of 48,100 vehicles traveled on that stretch daily. That study concluded that northbound traffic operated at an "unacceptable Level of Service" and southbound traffic was projected to reach that point in... 2008.

Update: The TU reports the project is scheduled to start April 2011 and be finished in the fall of 2013. The project's chief engineer told the Gazette that stretch of Thruway is in "in significant disrepair."

The Thruway also announced today it will be resurfacing pavement on the following stretches:

  • from milepost 121, south of Interchange 21B (Coxsackie) to milepost 141 near Interchange 23 (Albany, I-787)
  • from Interchange 24 (Albany, I-87) at milepost 148.15 to west of Interchange 25 (Schenectady, I-890) at milepost 153.85
  • nearly seven miles of pavement resurfacing and safety upgrades on the Berkshire Spur, from the Canaan Toll Barrier to the Massachusetts State Line, approximately $7.5 million.

Price Chopper gas discount for CDTA fares

cdta fuel advantedge

$50 at PC = $2 off a CDTA pass

Price Chopper has extended its Fuel AdvantEdge gas discount program to CDTA fares.

Here's how it works: This discount is based on 10 cents/gallon up to 20 gallon discount for gas. So for every $50 you spend at Price Chopper (while swiping your AdvantEdge card, of course), they'll knock $2 off the price of an eligible bus pass (31 day rolling, 10 day trip, Star tickets). Spend $100, save $4 on a bus pass. Spend $150, save $6. And so on. (As with the discount for gas, the credits can be used once and expire after 90 days.)

Here's a brochure that lists all the details.

The Chopper and CDTA are touting this program as maybe the first of its kind in the nation. They're running it for a 90-day trial period (now to May), "with the option to continue contingent upon its success."

photo: Price Chopper

How many gallons per mile?

old gas pumpsThere's a bill in the state Senate that would require all new cars sold or leased in New York to come with a sticker that lists the autos' gallons-per-mile. Yep, that's gallons-per-mile -- not just miles-per-gallon.

So, why GPM?

(there's more)

Exit 6 construction delays

Latham Northway exit 6 SPUI rendering

The end product. But, you know, with cars.

The construction of SPUI at Exit 6 on the Northway is set to start back up in March -- and it looks there will be delays. Lots of delays.

The DOT says it will be closing three lanes of the Rt 7 bridge. That should constrict things considerably for the 45,000 cars that pass through that point every day. The DOT is also planning a handful of weekend closures of on/off ramps at the exit, starting in March. [WTEN] [Fox23]

In other words: avoid. The Exit 6 web site includes a list of alternate routes through the surrounding area.

Earlier on AOA:
+ The Latham SPUI now has its own website
+ Talkin' about SPUIs
+ It's pronounced "spoo-ee"

The best way to get from Albany to NYC?

megabus rensselaer

The Megabus wasn't an option the last time we did the math on this.

To New York City and back is a pretty common trip for people in the Capital Region. So... what's the fastest way? What's the cheapest? What's the best?

We ran the numbers almost two years ago -- but things change. So we did the math again, this time with even more detail.

The full breakdown after the jump.

(there's more)

Potholes ahead

pothole art

Think of them as spontaneous transit art.

The condition of roads in the Albany area costs an average driver $1,145 a year, according to a research group called TRIP. The think tank came to that conclusion as part of an overall survey of New York State's surface transportation system.

Here's how TRIP breaks down the cost of the condition of the Capital Region's roads:

(there's more)

Final bicycle master plan presentation tonight

bike plan draft mapThe final bicycle master plan for the City of Albany is scheduled to be presented tonight. From the flyer for the event:

The City of Albany, in partnership with the Capital District Transportation Committee (CDTC) is finishing a Bicycle Master Plan to identify a network of bicycle routes to help make cycling a more viable way of getting around the City. On Tuesday, October 27th, 2009, the final meeting will present the final plan, concept goals and priorities, maps, and detail graphics to clearly and logically incorporate bicycling into the City and region's overall transportation network.

The presentation starts at 7 pm in the large auditorium at the main branch of the Albany Public Library on Washington Ave.

CDTC has some info about past public bike plan meetings posted online, though it doesn't look like there's anything posted for tonight's presentation.

Update: here's the final draft report, via daleyplanit.

(Thanks, daleyplanit!)

Traffic on Route 7 at Exit 6


What the state DOT is calling a "major road work event" began this week on Route 7 near Exit 6 on the Northway. The project has temporarily re-routed Route 7 west of the Northway.

If last night's traffic is any indication, the situation will be a mess all week. The westbound traffic was backed up into the box for the intersection for the off-ramp from I-87N. And people were being less than conscientious about clearing the intersection. There was honking.

You might want to avoid that stretch if you can. Route 155/Albany-Shaker (Exit 4) will take you around the south side of the airport and drop you off beyond the construction on Route 7.

Earlier on AOA: It's pronounced "spoo-ee"

Next exit: illegibility

highway signs

What's that say?

Updated Tuesday evening

While we wouldn't exactly consider ourselves font nerds, we do notice typography. And the interstate signs that have gone up near Exit 6 on the Northway have been bugging us.

(there's more)

On time, most of the time

southwest jet

A few interesting local bits from a Brookings Institution report out this week about air travel delays:

ALB was on pace for about 1.3 million arriving passengers this year. That's down more than 5 percent from last year and almost 6 percent from five years ago. But it's up 42 percent from 10 years ago.

On time
Arrivals at ALB were on pace this year to be on time 78.5 percent of the time. That ranks #54 among the top 100 metros. And it was just about even with the national average (78.9 percent)

The average time of delay for a late arrival was on track to be 54.2 minutes this year -- that ranks 37th best among the top 100 metros.

Brookings also figured out the top 10 air corridors linking to the Capital Region. That list is after the jump...

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CDTA route and stop changes

Thumbnail image for Busatoga.jpgCDTA is in the process of pruning its routes. Some lightly-used lines are being pared back. And some stops are being consolidated to "reduce travel-times and improve on-time performance."

The list of changes is after the jump. It looks like most of the stop consolidations will be in Albany and Troy.

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"Driving" your bike with Tamara Flanders

Tamara Flanders.jpg

Tamara Flanders and her daughter on their tandem bike

We'd like to bike more in the Capital Region. Really, we would. But frankly, we're a bit, well, chicken. OK, maybe not exactly chicken. It's just that riding a bike in an area with few bike lanes and often-inconsiderate drivers seems a bit hazardous.

Which is why Tamara Flanders new class on how to "drive" a bike looked interesting to us. Flanders is a holistic health teacher who added a class for novice adult cyclists to her repertoire this spring.

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Change in the CDTA driver's seat

cdta busWe're still awaiting on official confirmation, but word is Ray Melleady, CDTA's executive director, is resigning at the end of this month to take a job in the private sector. (Melleady has apparently now confirmed this to the Daily Gazette.)

There's been a lot going on at CDTA over the last few years. The single-ride fare went up 50 cents in April. Ridership has been trending upward. And the org is working on its new Bus Rapid Transit system that will run along Rt 5 between Albany and Schenectady.

Melleady's farewell email after the jump.

(Thanks, Anonymous and others)

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On tweeting while driving. And eating babies.

twitter birdFrom Cassie's Twitter stream Tuesday afternoon, a cautionary tale 140 characters at a time:

Tweeting a response to @B_Nut got me pulled over [on Wolf Road]. Telling the officer "I wasn't texting. I was Tweeting." is not recommended.

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Happy Birthday, Thruway

thruway vintage logoThe New York State Thruway was born on this day in 1954 when its first section -- a 115 mile stretch between Lowell and Rochester -- opened.

In honor of the Thruway's 55th birthday, here are a few facts about New York's ribbon of asphalt...

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Ask AOA: car mechanics

car engineUpdate: We collected all the recommendations people posted into a list and map.

Emails Alex:

I've recently started to experience some car trouble. I'm relatively new to the area and none of my friends have been here long enough to recommend a good, independent mechanic. I've overpaid at chain shops for too long and I don't want to go to a dealer--can AOA recommend an honest mechanic!?

Anyone have suggestions?

photo: Flickr user Mess of Pottage

Bus error in your favor

CDTA busWe heard from a few people this morning that their CDTA ride was free because something was wrong with the fare boxes on the buses.

It sounds like this was just a case of the transit rider gods smiling briefly upon Albany. We checked the situation with CDTA's Margo Janack -- she emailed back this afternoon:

The issue occurred this morning (just on Albany buses) while the farebox computer system was being downloaded with updated software. It was fixed within the computer system just a few minutes after the glitch occurred, but the Albany buses were all ready out servicing customers and could not be individually probed until they came back in later this morning. The situation is completely remedied at this time.

(Thanks, Anonymous and others)

The Commuter Contest

commuter contest winner 2008

Willem Heydendael won the contest last year.

The New York Bicycling Coalition is holding its annual Commuter Contest this Thursday. From the org's press release:

This exciting competition pits bicyclists against motorists and transit riders during rush-hour traffic to determine the most efficient means of transportation. This friendly contest is designed to highlight the merits of a bicycle as a form of clean, low-cost, zero-carbon form of transportation. For the past 5 years, the bicyclist has been the winner--join us this year to see if we can make it 6 in a row!

(Results from last year's competition.)

The first 50 people to enter this year's competition will get a free safety light.

The dash starts at the Starbucks on North Pearl in downtown Albany at 5 pm and ends at the Stuyvesant Plaza Starbucks (that's 5.2 miles, according to Google).

Bonus bike fun: There's a showing of Veer, a documentary about Portland's thriving bike culture, at the Madison Theater Thursday night.

Bonus alternate transportation item: that commuter cruise between Albany and Troy is on Wednesday this week.

City treasurer received ghost tickets, it's good to be a lobbyist, problems at the Muddy Cup, Chopper uses AdvantEdge cards to notify of recall, Fallon was quizzed for final credits

Albany city treasurer Betty Barnette has testified that she had no knowledge of the ghost ticket system until she read about it in the news -- but the TU has obtained copies of seven no-fine tickets given to... Barnette. She says she has no memory of receiving the tickets. [TU] [CBS6]

Firms that lobby the state billed their clients almost $174 million last year. NYSUT spent $4.4 million -- the most of any single group. [Biz Review]

Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand are apparently becoming BFF. He's even memorized her mobile number. [NYT]

The Saratoga County towns that had sued to hold up the Hudson dredging over concerns about their drinking water supply have dropped their suit. The dredging project is scheduled to start this month. [Daily Gazette]

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What was with all the traffic?

angelina jolie

Was it her fault?

So, yesterday wasn't exactly the best traffic day in the Capital Region.

Part of Rt 9 was shutdown near the Crescent Bridge during the morning commute because of the Saratoga Winners fire. Salt filming tied up things downtown in the evening -- and apparently Dane Cook's appearance at the TU Center didn't help. I-90 was apparently jammed, too. And Western Ave was backed up.

The downtown tie-ups are understandable. But why I-90 and Western? Anyone know the scoop?

By the way: what we call "traffic" here is what most metropolitan areas call "a few people on the road." Albany/Schenectady/Troy ranked 75th among the 100 biggest metros last year for traffic congestion. The rankings are from a firm called INRX, which uses GPS data to measure traffic. According to their data, Thursday from 5-6 pm was the worst travel hour in the Capital Region in 2007.

Here's what Google's traffic map says a typical Thursday evening commute looks like.

Traffic reports via @rmadeo, @justincresswell, @johnbulmer, @tenner, and @brianzimmel.

photo: World Economic Forum

Western Ave near Winthrop in Albany

pothole art Western near Homestead

Sure, you might call them "potholes."

But we prefer to think of them as spontaneous works of public transit art.

Art on the move

pointilized bus

A few points about all this.

The Central Ave BID and CDTA are looking for artists to create public works for the new Bus Rapid Transit system that's being constructed along Route 5. It sounds like they're open to pretty much anything:

There are many concepts that could meet the criteria and consideration for public art. Public Art could be simply a metal insignia or representational tiles or words as concepts embedded or attched to nearby sidewalks, buildings, the bus shelter or who knows. Art for this project could even be considerd a multi-media interactive projector that displays art on nearby buildings, or it could be music or sounds. It could be tactile pads, buttons, braile or something that you touch or listen to. You are the artists, and therefor in the medium you are familiar with, tell us your ideas.

Other cities have done some really interesting stuff with transit art. The MTA has an ongoing "Arts for Transit" program. And Flickr is full of examples from around the world.

The first deadline for submissions is April 17. There are a bunch of other details posted on the project's site.

Towns sue EPA over dredging, stimulus money headed for local schools, comptroller takes up ghost ticket investigation, big hospital merger, home prices down

A handful of municipalities in Saratoga County -- including the county itself -- have sued to stop the EPA's Hudson River dredging project. The governments argue the feds have not adequately guaranteed people in the county will have a safe supply of drinking water during the project, which is scheduled to start in May. State senator Roy McDonald told a meeting last night that the EPA is "taking advantage of us" and said people should tell the feds to "go to hell." [TU] [Daily Gazette] [Post-Star]

Chuck Schumer says about $50 million in aid for schools is headed to the Capital Region from the federal stimulus bill. The Albany ($6.3 million) and Schenectady ($4.8 million) school districts are getting the biggest chunks of that money. Schumer also says $3 billion is on its way to help New York State cover planned cuts in aid from the state to local schools. [TU] [Daily Gazette] [Daily Gazette]

David Paterson has replaced many of his top advisors. On his new communications director's resume: experience with "strategic and crisis communications work." [NYT] [TU]

The state comptroller has informed the City of Albany that his office will be conducting an audit of the city's "ghost ticket" system. [TU]

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Paterson aide: staff is a disaster, Albany County moves toward texting while driving ban, teacher accused of selling pot, modern dance at SPAC

With poll numbers sliding, David Paterson says he will be addressing "structural problems" on his staff. A "a source close to the governor's staff" tells the TU that Paterson's office is currently a "disaster." Adds an ex-aide: "Under David there was a 'Lord of the Flies' environment where you claim your territory and hold on to it." [AOA] [TU]

The state's leader all agree: the budget gap could top $14 billion. [Biz Review]

Yesterday during the course of a trial for an unrelated case, an Albany police officer testified that he had bought one of the infamous (and illegal) APD machine guns from the head of the Albany Police Officer's Union. [TU]

Albany police say they've id'ed the body found in an abandoned building on Broadway this past weekend as Ruel Torak of Schenectady. Police are treating the case as a homicide -- they say they're not sure if Torak was murdered at the location or taken there afterward. [TU] [Troy Record]

Steven Raucci, the Schenectady School District employee accused of arson and intimidation, was released on bail yesterday -- and then picked by Schodack police on new arson charges related to a separate incident in 2007. [TU] [Daily Gazette]

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High-speed rail? Maybe not so fast.

high-speed train corridors

A system map from the future?

The federal stimulus bill has a lot of people talking about high-speed rail again because it includes $8 billion for such projects. The Secretary of Transportation says high-speed rail could be a "transformational issue" for the Obama Administration.

And one of the regions that supposedly will benefit is Upstate New York.

Great. We'd love to be able to hop a train in Rensselaer and be in NYC in less than two hours. But we're not ready to get our hopes us just yet.

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Take that, Megabus!

greyhound signStop. Before you book that Megabus trip to the Big Apple, you might want to check out the fares at It looks like Greyhound is trying to compete with the low, low Megabus fares.

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Riding the Megabus

megabusThe Megabus started up service between Albany and NYC last month with the promise of (a few) one dollar fares. So how is it? Matthew Loiacono recently tried it out -- and it sounds like it went OK. From his account:

If you are looking for precise arrival times to NYC, this option may not be what you're looking for. For the trip down, the departure was exactly on time: 2:30PM, however the arrival to Penn Station was more like 5:45 instead of the expected 5:15PM. The traffic at that hour was insane, so I'd say it was in no fault to the company or the driver... more of typical NYC travel woes. The ride home was approximately 15 minutes late arriving to the Amtrak station, but one could chalk that up to the fairly inclement weather that dropped upon the northeast that weekend. It's not an exact science yet, so be prepared for a little wiggle-room on the arrivals.

If you're interested in taking the Mega, be sure to read Matthew's whole post -- he has a bunch of tips about taking it.

photo: Flickr user Andrew Ciscel

A note to CDTA

CDTA route board

Helpful? Maybe not so much.

Dear CDTA,

We know how hard you're working to get us to ride the bus in the Capital Region. We appreciate that it's green and all -- and we love the song -- but CDTA, you gotta help us out here.

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Albany's biggest parking ticket scofflaws


Let three of these slip and the city considers you a scofflaw.

So when we were looking up info on the Albany Parking Ticket Amnesty, we noticed a link at the bottom of the Parking Violations page: "CITY OF ALBANY TOP 20 SCOFFLAWS." And what do you know, there are some people who really need amnesty.

The list is after the jump.

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The Megabus arrives


A Megabus in Chicago.

Check it out: a new-to-here bus company is starting up service between the Rensselaer train station and NYC.

And the lowest fares are $1. Yep, just $1

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The guy on the big pink bike

Andrew Franciosa and his big pink bike

We first saw The Big Pink Bike (our name for it) after Jess spotted it back in August. And since then, it seems like we've either been seeing it, or hearing about it, everywhere.

So who is this guy who rides The Big Pink Bike?

His name is Andrew Franciosa. He's a junior at UAlbany. And he was nice enough to answer a few questions we had -- most of all, why?

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Bus fares and inflation


Is $1.50 to ride one of these a deal?

CDTA is currently in the process of examining a proposal to increase bus fares from $1 to $1.50. It would be the first increase since 1995. And CDTA's executive director Ray Melleady has said that when you take inflation into account, "one could argue that a $1.50 fare in 2009 is less expensive than $1 in 1995."

We could argue it -- or we could look it up. So, we did.

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Money reportedly missing from DA's safe, Malta roundabout accidents up, mystery illness killing off local bats, libraries are hot

An audit by the Albany County comptroller has reportedly concluded that as much as $7,000 is missing from a safe in the Albany County DA's office. A 2005 audit of this same safe reported $25k missing -- but it later turned up in a safe deposit box. [TU]

A survey of residents in Albany's West Hill neighborhood, where Kathina Thomas was shot earlier this year, reports that more than half of the people there believe the area is unsafe and growing more violent. Seventy-five percent of the people surveyed had lived in the neighborhood less than three years. [TU]

The number of accidents along the stretch of five roundabouts in Malta is up, according to the state department of transportation. The number of serious injuries is down, though -- and rush hour travel times are a third of what they had been. A DOT official attributed the rise in accidents to people adjusting to the circles. [Daily Gazette]

Attendance for the ballet and orchestra at SPAC this past summer was down 9 percent, leaving the org $375,000 short of its budgeted goal for those performances. (Pop music attendance was up 27 percent.) Ticket sales for the ballet and orchestra don't even cover half the expense of hosting the two series. SPAC did end the season in the black, though, thanks to advertising and endowments. [TU] [Daily Gazette]

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The Troy Bike Rescue

Troy Bike Rescue

The Troy Bike Rescue's new space.

By Jessica Pasko

Sure, it might be getting a little chillier, but there's still plenty of bike-riding weather left. And if you don't have one of your own, the Troy Bike Rescue can help you out with that.

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Fare increase for CDTA down the road?


Unofficial AOA transit correspondent, and official transit-riding superhero, This Quality Life sent along a report on today's CDTA board meeting. The short story: it really does look like fares will be going up 50 cents per ride next spring.

The slightly longer story from TQL:

Just watched today's CDTA board meeting -- the board acted to endorse the deficit reduction plan, they didn't officially vote on the budget (don't have to do that until December, I think) but this way they can move forward with informing the public about the plan to increase fares to $1.50/ ride effective 4/1/09, and again to $2/ ride in 2010, if the financial picture deems it necessary. They do not want to have to increase fares to $2/ ride in 2010, but want to leave the option open.

Apparently, 62% of transit organizations are looking at raising fares, but I wonder how many are raising them 50%??

I think such a steep increase is going to be a real hardship for most of the current bus riders, and I hope there will be plans to offset costs for those whose only reliable form of transportation is CDTA.

Update: Thursday's TU story has a few more details.

(Thanks, TQL!)

The Latham SPUI now has its own website

Latham Northway exit 6 SPUI rendering

Coming to Latham in 2010.

The Latham SPUI cannot be contained. The interchange project now has its own web site, complete with a news section, historical timeline and research documents. The url:

The most interesting part of the site is probably the "visualizations" section. It has a bunch of images depicting how the interchange will eventually look -- and it even has what looks like traffic simulation videos (we couldn't get those to load, though).

And you know what? We think we now know everything we'll ever need to know about SPUIs.

Earlier on AOA:
+ It's pronounced "spoo-ee"
+ Talkin' about SPUIs

image: NYSDOT

Talkin' about SPUIs

SPUI diagramAfter James saw our post last week about the SPUI that's coming to Latham (say "spoo-ee"), he mentioned it to his friend Bill Rusham, who's a traffic engineer and the host of Talking Traffic, a podcast about, well... traffic. (Behold the glory of the interwebs.)

So Bill spent some time on the podcast talking about SPUIs, "the interchange that's shaking things up around the country." Here's a clip from the episode:

So, here you are, sitting at a signal, wanting to turn left onto the cross street. Your light turns green and you proceed into the interesection, but OH MY GOD! WHAT THE HELL IS THAT OTHER CAR DOING! HE'S DRIVING STRAIGHT AT ME!

Oh, no, he's making a left, too. And he's passing to my right. What is this, England?

No. This is a correctly functioning SPUI.

Bill runs through a few of the pros (fewer signals) and cons (requires "enthusiastic" upkeep) of SPUIs. The whole episode is about interchanges -- the part about SPUIs starts at 8:32.

As James emailed us, "I hope this helps... I learned a ton about SPUIs, and hopefully the rest of Albany will too."

(Thanks, James!)

It's pronounced "spoo-ee"

SPUI diagram

It all makes sense when you look at the diagram. Sort of.

As Fred highlighted this morning, the new Rt 7 bridge over the Northway in Latham will feature a single-point urban interchange or SPUI.

A what?

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As if sexy cycling legs weren't enough

neon bikes

Anyone tooling around town on one of these definitely deserves a discount.

By Jessica Pasko

Alright, you know riding your bicycle is good for the earth and good for your physical fitness. Did you know it's also good for getting you discounts?

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Everybody into the iPool?

iPool2 logoIt looks CDTA and a handful of other orgs are getting into the business (so to speak) of helping people to set up carpools with a site called iPool2. Here's how a brochure (.doc) we downloaded from the site describes the service: is an on-line source that allows you to advertise for free for a carpool, find others who are interested in carpooling, and find out information about bus schedules and fares and park and ride lot locations.

One other feature: a guaranteed ride home if plans change.

There's already a site like this, the Capital District Commuter Register. It also offers the guaranteed ride home. It looks like the org behind that site, the Capital District Transportation Committee, is also involved in iPool2.

Maybe everyone's decided to, um, ipool their resources. Hey, the first 300 people to sign up get a free iMug.

Washington Avenue construction

Washington Avenue contruction

The construction signs aren't kidding about "rough road ahead."

The good news: the stretch of Washington Avenue in Albany between Brevator and UAlbany that seemed to be permanently potholed and scarred is being rebuilt. Construction started this week.

The bad news: one of the main uptown/downtown routes is now down to one lane in both directions. And that one lane is not a smooth ride.

If you use that stretch of Washington, it's probably might be a good idea to find an alternate route for the next few weeks. (Or not... see Matt's note!) Fuller Road will connect you to Western or Central just beyond the construction (though Central near Everett is torn up, too). And if you're going to/from downtown, try hopping on/off I-90 at Henry Johnson.

Soares says DWIs should lead to Alive at Five re-evaluation, charity shipments ripped off, CDTA has big plans for Schenectady, more people deciding pet care too expensive, Knicks going to Skidmore, how Marylou exercises

David Soares says Albany should "re-evaluate" the Alive at Five events after a bunch of people were arrested for DWI following last week's event. Thirty-two people were arrested during a four hour sweep following the Thursday night concert. A state police deputy says that's the highest number of arrests he can remember in such a short period of time. [TU] [Daily Gazette]

The CEO of Ellis Hospital says his org wasn't prepared for St. Clare's to be shut down two months ago. The lack of readiness has led to long waits in Ellis' emergency department. [Daily Gazette]

Three men have been charged with ripping off charity shipments from the Target in Wilton that were intended for volunteer fire companies and charitable organizations. [Daily Gazette]

CDTA says it has a plan to revamp service in Schenectady pretty much all ready to go, but it needs about $3 million from the state to make it happen. The transit org figures the expanded service will increase ridership about 40 percent. [TU]

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Tips for riding CDTA

CDTA bus
By ThisQualityLife

We asked ThisQualityLife from Qualities of Life in Albany to share some of her savvy for making a ride on the CDTA a little smoother.

Plan ahead
If you're doing this for the first time, plan well and check the weather. I think if someone tries it in bad weather on their first time out, the likelihood of a second car-free outing will be greatly decreased.

The other day, I was standing out in the pouring rain with thunder and lightning crashing around me. I felt really vulnerable, and proceeded with "Plan B" -- I got my sorry self to a bus stop with a shelter (luckily there was one pretty close by). The feeling of vulnerability lessened, even if the actual level of vulnerability was about the same. If that were my first day traveling without a car, I can't imagine I would try it again.

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The Capital Region without a car

TQL holding a CDTA map

A transit-riding superhero has to protect her identity.

Later on AOA: TQL revealed herself to be Leah Golby.

One of our favorite people in the Capital Region's online neighborhood is ThisQualityLife, who blogs about her adventures navigating the bus system at Qualities of Life in Albany. Gently prodding CDTA to do better, she's become an advocate for people who use public transportation. We think it's great she's taking the time to speak out.

Part of what makes TQL's effort interesting is that she doesn't have a car -- by choice. A little more than a year ago, she decided to give it up. Frankly, we can't imagine getting around the Capital Region full-time without a car. So, we were curious about what prompted her to do that and how it's affected her life. We met up last week to ask her a few questions...

What prompted you to give up your car?

It wouldn't start. (laughs) There was a day where I had all this free time planned, and I went downstairs, and my car wouldn't start. And I was just like, well, I could call AAA and take the time to try to get it fixed -- or I could still enjoy my free time. So, I just kept walking.

And you haven't stopped.

Yeah. (laughs) Yeah, essentially. It's a lot of walking.

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Google Transit makes a stop in the Capital Region

Google Transit example

The downtown Albany to St. Peter's example.

As ThisQualityLife reported in a comment earlier this week, coverage of the Capital Region on Google Transit started today. And it is pretty cool.

You plug in where you're at, where you want to go, and Google figures out which bus to take, how far you'll have to walk, and how long the whole trip will probably last. (Check out this example for a trip from downtown Albany to St. Peter's.) Another interesting feature is the ability to plan/map a trip if you just want to walk. (See that same downtown to St. Peter's trip via foot.)

We can see this being really helpful for bus riders -- especially people who ride only occasionally (it's probably easier than getting a coach). But even if you never ride the bus, it's kind of fun to play around with these maps.

Next stop is where, exactly?

cdta bus at the armoryThe TU recently deployed a group of "intrepid" reporters to ride CDTA buses throughout the region. The short story: the bus isn't so bad, but "a stunning lack" of schedules and signs makes for some confusing rides. Somewhere, Qualities of Life in Albany is probably yelling something along the lines of, "Yes! Exactly! That's what I've been saying!"

The thing that was really news to us was way down at the bottom of the story. Apparently you can schedule "a CDTA travel trainer, who can accompany new customers and help them learn the ropes on the spot."

What? If people need a coach to help them ride the bus, that's probably a pretty good indication that the schedules and signs need improvement.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Local transit info now on Google Maps
+ Trippin' with CDTA

Local transit info now on Google Maps

google maps screengrab

The intersection of State and Pearl in downtown Albany.

Check it out: Google Maps now offers transit info on its maps for the Capital Region. (Zoom in to the third closest level to see it.)

Bus stops are marked with an icon. Click on them and info about all the routes that connect at that stop pops up. Click on one of the numbers and a schedule will pop up. Pretty cool.

Alternate side parking in Albany

alternate side parking signNow means now. Not fifteen minutes ago. Not five minutes from now--but now. At least when it comes to alternate parking rules in the city of Albany. If you live on an alternate parking street in A-Town, it's not uncommon to see folks moving their cars a little early in an effort to avoid a ticket and grab a coveted space near home. But last week residents on one Washington Park side street were surprised to find an officer ticketing them for having moved too early. About fifteen minutes early.

Which prompted us to ask if there's a grace period for alternate parking.

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Gas hits four dollars and everyone's squeezed

4 dollar a gallon gas

At least here you get full service.

So, it's finally happened. Gas prices have crossed the four dollar mark. And while we're pretty sure somebody's getting rich, it certainly isn't the gas station owners.

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Gas prices: it's getting hot in here

gas price map

New Jersey, you taunt us with your cheap prices!

Check out this gas price "temperature" map from Gas Buddy. As you can probably see from the screengrab above, prices are rather warm here.

According to, the average price for regular unleaded here in the Capital Region is $3.915. The national average is $3.791. It could be worse, though. Both New York City and Hartford are over the four dollar mark.


And it's the bike by a mile!

Willem Heydendael, commuter contest winner

Afterward, Willem sipped the sweet, sweet nectar of victory -- which looked a lot like a Starbucks frozen drink.

The bike easily beat out the car and bus in the National Bike Month Commuter Contest yesterday evening. Here are the final times among the various modes of transportation for the Starbucks (downtown Albany) to Starbucks (Stuyvesant Plaza) route, which was about five miles long:

1. First Bike - 15:41 (19 mph)

2. The Smart Car - 21:00 (14 mph)

3. The Bus Riders - 44:00 (6.8 mph)

Willem Heydendael rode the first bike to the finish. He commutes everyday from Troy to Albany Med, where he's a grad student in the neurosciences program. And get this, he says that during the past year he's only driven to AMC from Troy about six times. The rest of his trips were all on the bike.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Does it pay to ride the bus?

National Bike Month Commuter Contest

By Jessica Pasko

What's the quickest way home in rush hour traffic? No, clicking your heels three times doesn't work, we've tried. For the last four years the NY Bicycling Coalition has proved that in A-Town, it's the bicycle. Tonight they'll try and do it again.

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Thruway tolls going up, E-ZPass discount cut

A ride on the NY State Thruway is about to get more expensive. The NYS Thruway Authority voted today to increase tolls by 5 percent in 2009 and another 5 percent in 2010. They also cut the discount for E-ZPass users to 5 percent of the cash toll starting in July (pdf). That means if you're an E-ZPass user, you could end up paying about 28 percent more than you're currently paying.

Here's an unofficial breakdown of how prices will go up for a trip from Albany to the Garden State Parkway:

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Woman charged with starving mother, bus fares probably going up, farmers market staying for now, Rats game goes on and on and on

An Albany woman has been indicted on charges that she allowed her elderly mother to starve to death. [TU]

Facing a budget gap, CDTA says it's very likely that fares will have to go up sometime during the next year. Bus fares haven't increased since 1995. (Does it pay to take the bus to work?) [TU]

The Town of Colonie is close to selling Heritage Park to Albany County for $2.7 million. The money would be used to pay down the town's $18 million budget deficit. [Daily Gazette]

The Troy Farmers Market will be staying in its regular location for at least the first few months of the summer. Construction of a hotel will eventually bump the market someplace else. [TU]

A developer is proposing to build a new five-story office building at the corner of New Scotland and Myrtle across from Albany Med. [TU]

It sounds like a N. Greenbush town "workshop" didn't work very well. The meeting ended with the town supervisor locking himself in a room and the town attorney storming off in his car -- all while a TV reporter chased after them. [Troy Record]

The River Rats lost last night in a game that went to five overtimes. It was the longest game in AHL history. [Daily Gazette]

Does it pay to ride the bus?

cdta bus at armory
The wheels on the bus go... well, you know how they go.

Now that gas prices have reached "Are you frakking kidding me?" levels, we were curious to find out if you could save a few bucks by taking the bus to work. And the answer is yes, sort of, maybe, it depends.

Next stop: the details.

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Getting from Albany to New York City

rensselaer train station interior
Is this the best place to start your trip to NYC?

Update! We ran the numbers in 2010 with updated figures and even more detail!


It's a pretty common trip for people in this area. But what's the fastest way? What's the cheapest? What's the best? We've done the math so you don't have to. The full details, including explanations, after the jump.

(there's more)

Amtrak: Do the trains run on time?

Amtrak logof

OK, you're heading to New York for a show, a game or a meeting, but you don't want to deal with traffic and parking so you opt for Amtrak. Riding the rails from the A-Town to The Big Apple is scenic and more relaxing than driving, but will you get there on time? The trip should take about 2 hours and 25 minutes. Anyone whose taken the train knows you're sort of at the mercy of the rail gods, though. But now there's, aims to give us a little more control (or at least the illusion of control) over when we arrive. The site keeps delay records for Amtrak lines and calculates the the average delay for each train.

So, we did a search for a bunch of trains that run from Albany to New York City. Here's what we found...

(there's more)

Trippin' with CDTA

CDTA trip planner logoOne of the problems with public transportation in Albany has always been the wait. Yes, there were timetables and schedules available, but it felt like you needed a secret decoder ring to read them. And waiting for a bus -- seemingly at random -- in Upstate New York in February is NOT fun. But suddenly, it seems like the folks at CDTA not only want you to take the bus -- they want to make it easy.

First the expanded service to Saratoga and now there's this CDTA trip planner. It's kind of like Expedia, only for buses in the Capital District. You can plan trips anywhere in the CDTA coverage area by either shortest walk, fastest trip, or fewest number of transfers. You can select an intersection or a landmark as your start point or destination. If you want to go to a park in Troy, you select "park" and the names of all the city's parks just pop up. The best part though, is that the trip planner tells you what time to catch the bus, no secret decoder ring required. It looks cool and easy to use. We haven't tried it yet, but a test "ride" is definitely in our future.

(Thanks for the tip, Stephen!)

The Scoop

Ever wish you had a smart, savvy friend with the inside line on what's happening around the Capital Region? You know, the kind of stuff that makes your life just a little bit better? Yeah, we do, too. That's why we created All Over Albany. Find out more.

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