National / International News

Highway spending slowed by gridlock in Congress

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-15 02:00

As the House prepares to vote on a temporary measure to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent, the Obama Administration is touting the economic benefits of infrastructure investment.

Paying for roads and bridges is something President Obama is pushing all week. But sometimes, the local road to funding is faster.

Former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood says states are the ones moving boldly to pay for fixes. He points to places like Wyoming, which hiked its gas tax last year.

“The states are not waiting around for the federal government, because the federal government isn’t doing anything,” he says.

“We see this at the ballot box,” says Robert Puentes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. He says in the last couple years, “about 70 percent of the votes to increase investment on the state and local level passed.”

Puentes says, when it comes to transportation infrastructure, part of the difficulty in Congress is that the federal role isn’t as defined as it was, for example, during the interstate highway era.

“We had a program that was designed to build the interstates, to connect metropolitan areas, to get farmers out of the mud,” he says. “There was a clear understanding of the purpose of the program, there were clear economic connections.”

Without that clarity, he says it may be difficult to get sustained federal investment in the nation’s infrastructure.

 

 

Shlepping bike-share cycles in a giant van

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-15 02:00

Urban bike-share programs point to a low-carbon, high-tech urban vision. GPS-enabled bikes dock to solar-powered stations, and riders find them with smartphone apps. However, one of the biggest day-to-day expenses for such systems is a gas-guzzling, low-tech operation: Workers driving big vans, shlepping the bikes where they’re needed. 

One June afternoon, I ride along with Caleb Usry, who has been moving bikes around Chicago since the city's Divvy bike-share program started up, about a year ago.  

"OK," he says, as we buckle our seatbelts. "Let's go where the action is."

We get downtown around 4:30 p.m. "You’re  here at a good time, for doing rush hour," says Caleb. "Monday through Friday, this is basically the same every day— I don’t think this changes as long as the weather is warm."

Our first stop: A docking station in the city’s financial district, to drop a load of bikes.

"People who work in those office buildings," Caleb says, "they’ll come out, they’ll empty ‘em out and take 'em to the train stations. Guys in business suits, they’ll put on their helmets and get over there. You can set your watch to it. Over by the stock exchange, that place will empty out three times between five and six-thirty."

Having dropped more than twenty bikes, Caleb heads to the train station, where bikes come in faster than he can grab them and wedge them, artfully, into the van. He's worked out the optimal number that can be jammed in without making them hard to dig out: "Twenty-five," he says. "Twenty-two back-to-back, and then three up the middle. Yeah, this is a great gig if you have OCD, which I do. I keep telling my bosses: 'Hire guys with obsessive-compulsive disorder— it works out great for everyone involved.'"

Caleb Usry loads a Divvy bike as part of his weekly rounds.

(Dan Weissmann/Marketplace)

Caleb estimates that he’ll touch more than 200 bikes before his shift ends. Mostly, he’ll haul them away from the train station to re-stock hotspots like the financial district.

"But at some point around 8:00, when it slows down, we stop going to pick up at the trains, we let ‘em fill up," he says.  "And the morning guys come in at 6:00 a.m., they do the exact opposite of what you and I are doing right now— they take bikes from the loop back to the train, fill it up."

When Divvy started, the bike-haulers — Divvy calls them rebalancers — conferred from the field by text message to make sure they weren’t all heading to the same spots at once. Now, a dispatcher tracks them from headquarters via GPS, and sends out instructions.

"It’s funny," Caleb says. "Even though we’ve got more stations and more people, the system we’re using now is working better than what we were doing last year."

So, even with 3,000 bikes, the system has only about a half-dozen vans in the field at a time. "With six or seven in the city during the week, we can get by OK," says Caleb. "So we don’t have to worry about the day we’re sitting in traffic like this, and it’s all Divvy vans, I guess is what I’m saying. That would be ultimately ironic, I imagine. Nothing but blue vans in the whole city."

Serendivvity shares Divvy ridership data in the style of a dating site, allowing exploration by romantic interest and neighborhood.

  A sample video of "Sound of Divvy," a web app created by Team Magnani that allows users to watch and listen to all the Divvy rides from three stations on a given day. The action starts about 40 seconds in, at 6 a.m. Play with the full app here.

 

The creators of this graphic calculated that “rebalances”—bikes being schlepped by Divvy staff from station to station—represented about one-fifth of all the trips the bikes made in the program’s first six months.

(Courtesy:Taylor Blackburn and Laura Ettedgui)

 

 

UN 'to help Haiti fight cholera'

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-15 01:51
During a visit to Haiti, the UN Secretary General promises to help fight the cholera epidemic which has killed more than 8,500 people since 2010.

Couple challenge T in the Park move

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-15 01:48
Residents at the new Strathallan site of the T in the Park festival have called on the Scottish government to review the move.

FCA proposes payday loans rate cap

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-15 01:48
Plans for a cap on interest rates on payday loans from January 2015 are announced by UK regulator the Financial Conduct Authority.

Who's who: Tory women tipped for promotion

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-15 01:45
Who's who of the female Tory MPs tipped for promotion

Underwater Meadows Might Serve As Antacid For Acid Seas

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-15 01:37

Marine biologists worry that certain species won't survive the shifts in sea acidity that climate change brings. But research on sea grasses along California's coast suggest marine preserves can help.

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Rocket attack on Libya airport

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-15 01:36
Libya's main airport in Tripoli is hit by a new rocket attack, as the government considers seeking security help from international forces.

Oscar Pistorius in nightclub row

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-15 01:33
South African athlete and murder accused Oscar Pistorius was involved in an argument at a nightclub at the weekend, his spokesperson confirms.

Poulter OK for Open after injury scare

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-15 01:05
Ian Poulter says he will play in the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool despite injuring a wrist last week.

AUDIO: Ken Clarke: Why I quit the cabinet

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-15 01:03
Ken Clarke tells the Today programme's Justin Webb why he stepped down from his role in the cabinet as part of David Cameron's reshuffle.

Author Nadine Gordimer dies at 90

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-15 00:54
South African Nobel Prize-winning author Nadine Gordimer dies in Johannesburg aged 90.

VIDEO: Carney at Treasury Select Committee

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-15 00:53
Treasury Select Committee hearing into the June Financial Stability Report, when the Bank of England introduced limited measures to control growth in house prices.

Councillors late paying council tax

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-15 00:50
Councillors in Derbyshire have been late paying their council tax, a Freedom of Information request finds.

VIDEO: Germany's World Cup victory parade

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-15 00:50
World Cup champions Germany have returned home for a victory parade through the streets of Berlin.

How can England find the new Swann?

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-15 00:49
Ex-England spin bowlers Graeme Swann, Phil Tufnell, Vic Marks and Peter Such on how to resolve England's current spinning issues.

Mental strength is the key at the Open - McDowell

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-15 00:37
BBC Sport columnist Graeme McDowell admits he was caught up in all the hype the last time the Open was staged at Hoylake.

Do friends have similar genomes?

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-15 00:29
A study from US researchers suggests that friends are more genetically similar than strangers - to the same degree as fourth cousins.

Hague quits as foreign secretary

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-15 00:21
Downing Street says William Hague is to stand down as foreign secretary, as part of a cabinet reshuffle which also sees Ken Clarke leave the cabinet.
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