Monday, March 16, 2009

Transportation 2: Electric Boogaloo

This image infuriates me every time I look at it. It was created using Google Earth and Windows Vista's Snipping Tool (very handy).

The red line is NJ Transit's rail operations in New Jersey. To the north is the Northeast Corridor line, operating from Trenton to New York City. To the south is the Atlantic City line, operating from Philadelphia's 30th Street Station to Atlantic City. The squiggly line connecting them is the RiverLINE, a diesel-powered light rail service operating from Trenton to Camden along the Delaware River and operating along existing and operational freight rail lines. The portion of red line off to the right is the North Jersey Coast Line, provided here for reference as to NJ Transit's service footprint in NJ, ending in Bay Head and heading north to connect with the Northeast Corridor tracks just before Elizabeth and providing service into New York City.

The green line is the existing rail service between Camden and Trenton operating in Pennsylvania. This is controlled by Amtrak and leased to SEPTA (South-Eastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority, for those not in "Teh Know") and NJ Transit for commuter rail operations. North of 30th Street Station, Amtrak operates the Northeast Regional (local), Acela (express), and on weekends, ACES (Atlantic City Express Service, stopping only at NYC, Newark and Atlantic City), while SEPTA operates the R7 and R3 services connecting daily commuters with Trenton and West Trenton, respectively (don't be fooled - the two cities are miles apart). To the south of 30th Street Station, the green line is simply the Atlantic City line. Amtrak used to operate daily service to Atlantic City but discontinued this when it was apparent that no one was actually using it on a daily basis (the ACES service is funded exclusively by the casinos in AC, operated with NJ Transit and Amtrak equipment, and tickets are exclusively distributed by Amtrak).

The yellow lines are simply geographic borders that I couldn't turn off in Google Earth, and the light blueish lines are county borders in NJ.

Now let's see... what could all those black lines all over the place be? Take a second and look at all of them.

Those are the rail lines crawling throughout South Jersey. Some are used as freight rail, some are abandoned, some have the last trains that used them still sitting there derelict, housing vagrants, all manner of wildlife, causing damage to surrounding environs and posing health and safety risks for area children, who are extremely likely to curiously play on or around these monoliths to times past, when rail service was privately operated and sprawled everywhere but now sit neglected.

Google searches for abandoned trains in New Jersey or perusing any Weird NJ magazine or related website often turns up pictures of these things. It's disgusting - anyone who claims to value transit in NJ at all should be appalled that the state has thus far ignored these lines and let the possibility for expansion simply die.

Here is another shot from Google Earth, this time showing simply the transit options SEPTA, with all its problems, has provided, compared to the transit options NJ Transit has provided to South Jersey residents. Pretty stark picture, eh? All of those rail lines, everything NJ Transit has done, has thus far centered on New York or Newark, and has ignored South Jersey and left it to rot. It's not that the freight companies aren't willing to work with them - far from it, they're very happy to work with commuter rail systems, as evidenced by the RiverLINE, which must shut down service at 10 PM and start up at 5 AM because it shares rails with CSX, a freight railroad. The expansion of the Newark Light Rail from Branch Brook Park Station to Grove Street Station in Bloomfield is owned by Norfolk Southern (as are the tracks which make up the other future expansion on the table, found at And again, portions of the expansion plan for the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail are currently freight rail lines in use - and I could go on and on with examples of how freight and passenger rail can share lines without any trouble, and still we have wasted rails all over South Jersey.

So really, the question now becomes: what excuse have you, NJ Transit, to not provide service?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Transportation In New Jersey

I've had it up to here with people claiming that the only thing New Jersey needs to solve ALL of its transportation problems is the ARC (Access to the Region's Core) Project.  It is ONE solution amidst a growing number of major problems with transportation in NJ.  

Today I'm pissed off at this moron in the Asbury Park Press claiming that special HOV / single user lanes will somehow solve major congestion issues on the Parkway in the shore areas.  

Let's give some of these things a background, because while transit news and information happens to be one of my hobbies (distilled to me by my incredibly smart, wise, funny and talented uncle, Tim), it certainly isn't the case for the majority of people.  

Currently, if you want to get to New York from most points in New Jersey, you have two options: car (NJ Turnpike, Garden State Parkway) or train (NJ Transit, PATH).  Driving is just fine for some people, but others can't afford the high tolls for the bridges and tunnels, and many can't afford parking in NYC on a consistent basis.  For those people outside the Newark/Jersey City area, the PATH is a partial option - as long as you can find your way to Newark or Jersey City first.  South of the Raritan Tolls, the Parkway has express lanes and local lanes going north and south until exit 105, for Tinton Falls and Long Branch.  The local lanes are three lanes wide and the express lanes are two lanes wide, with almost no stops in between.  After 105, the Parkway is two to three lanes wide on the north and south ends.  It's relatively the same north of the Raritan tolls, with the exception of areas around toll plazas, where lanes suddenly balloon from two to three, up to ten to twelve and then back down.  Yeah it's a frickin nightmare for casual drivers, and the third circle of hell for commuters.  

OK so people coming from South Jersey and Northern-er Jersey can drive straight into the city, park and go to work, or get to Newark, pay for cheap parking and take the PATH, or just take the NJ Transit train closest to them to either New York and be done with it, or Newark or Hoboken and transfer from one of those stops to the PATH into New York.  Fine, great, problem solved.  

Except it isn't.  NJ finally decided it was a good idea to try and fix the problem with traffic jams on the GSP, so they floated a lot of proposals on how to fix it.  HOV lanes, single-driver fees, higher tolls, expanded mass transit, and expansion of the GSP lanes were all fielded.  Only the last two options were actually seriously considered, thanks to NY's horrendous experience on the LIE (if you've ever driven on that road, at any point in the day, you know exactly what I mean.  The second you start with the HOV lanes, you get traffic jams and a freaking solid lane wide open begging for use) and the fact that NJ drivers were probably going to riot if the tolls went up any more.  In addition, NJ Transit's system, while well-put-together and decent for a thirty-year-old system (NJ Transit was formed in the early eighties from the remnants of the major railroads that had passed through NJ, including the Penn Central which makes up today's Northeast Corridor line that passes through New York and New Jersey and gives name to Newark and New York City's major railroad stations), has been showing its age for a while and has had difficulty scaling to meet the increased demand for commuters, the majority of whom are going back and forth to New York, and to a lesser extent Philadelphia, every day.  

NJ Transit just recently upgraded its fleet with double-decker cars from Canada's Bombardier, Inc., and is working with Amtrak and the Port Authority to upgrade many area railroad bridges from one or two tracks to five to eight tracks (They have to work with Amtrak because technically Amtrak owns the actual tracks into New York, as well as the inbound and outbound tunnels connecting New York with New Jersey).  At the moment, NJ Transit and Amtrak share the length of track between New York Penn Station and Trenton's Transit Center (Amtrak shares the tracks from there with SEPTA), and if a train wants to go to New York, it absolutely must use those tracks.  All trains going to New York, every single one of them, must use those tracks.  While PATH uses a separate system entirely and passes under the Hudson River further south, this doesn't help those people who want to just take the train straight into the city without transferring at all.  It also means that if something happens in one of the tunnels, ALL of the trains are stuck using the other one until things are back to normal.  This happens rather frequently - a train, either an Amtrak or NJ Transit train, will get stuck in the tunnel and either need to be towed out or need to be serviced, but in the interim everything is backed up and no one is able to get to where they need to go.  

Enter the ARC project. The central idea is to drill two new tunnels to supplement the two existing tunnels into New York, and to have these tunnels go under the existing Penn Station, expanding capacity and making longer, more frequent trains a reality (in addition to connecting service with the PATH and with fourteen subway lines (A, C, E, 1, 2, 3, B, F, D, V, N, R, Q, W) instead of the current situation which forces commuters up to street level before they can catch those last eight subway lines over a block away).  In addition, the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack, connecting Kearny and Secaucus, will be expanded from two tracks to eight tracks (three south of the current bridge, and three north of it), and the rail lines around Secaucus Junction will be reconfigured so that trains can more easily turn around at Secaucus and head back to New York (very helpful during rush hour) or head off to other tracks that would not normally be possible, such as trains from New York heading to Hoboken or trains from Port Jervis and Spring Valley going to New York (not currently possible, requires changing trains at Secaucus).  

It's a great idea but it's not the only thing that NJ can do to fix its traffic problems.  Expanding the GSP where it's obviously bottlenecking is the best idea - upgrading the transit system is a great start but like it or not, NJ is a state of drivers and drivers actually like their cars.  Taxing the crap out of them doesn't stop them from driving any more than it stops smokers from smoking.  It's a bullshit theory lauded by some idiot who apparently gets paid to sit around and make stupid ideas, because the article I've linked above is full of stupid ideas like "induced demand" - the haughty-man's way of saying, "If you build it, they will come".  Well of course they'll come, genius.  Summer weekend traffic isn't going away any time soon - it's a fact of life in New Jersey.  Rush-hour traffic on the other hand is something we can work with.  HOT/HOV lanes aren't any more of a solution than building more road - in fact they'll work against you because you'll be stuck with a billion drivers paying the higher fee and STILL getting a traffic jam.  There's no way to stop that except to build more, newer roads and expand the ones we already have.  

And what the hell are you babbling about sprawl for?  As if it's a bad thing!!  Having MORE people living in their own homes is a good thing, jackass - not everyone wants to live in an apartment forever and ride their bike to work and be all green and shit.  You sir, FAIL.  Just because you don't like suburbanites and kiddies and soccer moms and schools and lots of people doesn't mean they're inherently bad!  And don't even start with me on overpopulation, because that's exactly the next step for you dolts.  "WAAAAAA people are everywhere we're gonna run out of resources WAAAAAA!!!!!" I challenge anyone with even the slightest hint of a brain in their head who thinks this is the case to A) stop bitching and pull your head out of Algore's ass, and B) go into true Southern New Jersey or true Northern New Jersey, just as an example, and see how long you can drive on non-highways without seeing other people.  The further out you go, the longer it takes to find people - just a matter of fact.  Even in NEW JERSEY, the most densely populated state in the union, you have VAST, WIDE OPEN SPACES.  And with those spaces you have the possibility of new homes for people, and new businesses and new spurs to the economy.  Every family in New Jersey could have ten kids  and we'd still have plenty of space!  As for resources, cut back on that bullshit about global warming or climate change or damn it's getting hot in here or whatever you want to call it and stop limiting private industry.  People will conserve their resources on their own, they don't need Big Daddy Government to do it for them.  

And as for expanded mass transit?  Absolutely!  Let the rest of the state enjoy what Northern and small portions of Central and Southern New Jersey enjoy now, a damned fine rail system!  Expand it! I want trains from Cape May to New Hope, from Cherry Hill to Wall!  I don't care if it's light or heavy rail, I want more trains!  There's abandoned rails all over the state, and if we don't act now, the greenies are going to turn them into friggin "rail trails" for biking and hiking, because you know, we don't have enough of that already!!  Stop pulling up these rails!! STOP, DAMNIT!!  Put trains on them, expand service to all corners of the state!  If you REALLY want people to use mass transit, then make it an OPTION FOR THEM!!! South Jersey residents, all they have are the PATCO Speedline, the RiverLINE and the Atlantic City Line, which are both useless unless you're going to either Philly or AC, and let's face it - people want MORE OPTIONS.  They want to be able to hop on ONE train and take that train to Cape May or to Wildwood or to Delran or Glouscter or Glassboro or Howell or Toms River or any other place in New Jersey. 

Get it together, guys!  Come on now!  

Thursday, March 5, 2009

I Gave Up Facebook, Not The Internet, So Here's What I Think About Our Situation

In a previous post, I discussed what I thought could be done to try and keep the budget from going too far.  Among the things I pointed out at the time were the similarities between computing resources and budget resources; namely, that over time, things creep in which we don't necessarily need and which invariably bog down and grind to a halt our other resources.  With computers, this results in a fairly bad user experience, which requires a lot of time and effort to fix, and if fixed improperly leaves open the door to more and more problems.  With our government, national budget and national resources the situation is practically the same.  We have had almost fifty years of socialist programs that have led almost two generations to believe that they are owed an upbringing by their government, we have had a budget which is overstuffed with programs that have such wonderful intentions but such horrendously destructive results, and billions of gallons of oil, millions of acres of useable woodland, and hundreds of thousands of brilliant minds and capable manpower squandered on such laughable prospects as global warming/climate change when they could be building more and better nuclear/coal/antimatter (wheeeee that would be awesome!) power plants all over our nation.  

I don't need an advanced degree, or anything more than simple math, to tell me that more people taking more pieces of the pie leaves less pie for me.  Mmm pie.  The significant problem, the core of it, is control.  People want to control their own destinies, but other people want to control other people's destinies.  What?  Individuals have the will and the ability to do what they want, when they want it, and would love nothing more than to do it without other individuals having a say in how they do it.  Think about it for just a second.  As a kid, there's nothing more irritating than having your parents order you to go with them to look at houses when really you wanted to spend the weekend riding your bike all over the damned neighborhood.  Yes, we all know it's better to go look at houses, because your parents love and care for you, and want you to tell them what you think of that nice white house two towns over because even though it's a benevolent dictatorship, you'll have to live under that roof too and if you can see something that they might miss, they want to know about it.  Plus, it's better for them to find the crap you'll complain about now (like the place with the one shower for eight or nine people or the place with the basement that reminds you of that ghost story you read last week, the one that made you almost crap yourself, or the place with the one room that looked like it belonged to that liver-eating guy from the X-Files first season) rather than dive into the purchase and have to deal with a bad attitude and misbehavior later on.  Yes it's better for you, but being a kid, you just want to use your free time towards your own ends, like riding through that cemetary and pissing off the caretaker with the black van just because you could, or just relaxing with some mind-blowing 8-bit/16-bit video games.  

The point is, even though you'd be doing what's best for you by going with your folks, you want to go do what you think is the best use of your time.  Now substitute "government" for "your folks," "your money" for "your time," and toss in edicts that have the force of law, and you've got a better idea of what's going on.  


A note about Nadya Suleman.  

Because you know I had to say something about this.  

I don't usually condone the use of IVF because very frequently the eggs and sperm are pared down to one egg and one sperm, and the remainders are, for those who can't afford storage, destroyed.  Doesn't sound too bad except that those are potential human beings - destroyed = killed.  

That being said, for the few who are ready to accept however many children come into the world as a result of either IVF or natural conception, I gladly and happily endorse, encourage and embrace their actions.  To accept such a bountiful and wonderful gift from God despite the hardships one may face takes a courage and a resolve few have ever matched.  Nadya absolutely deserves praise and encouragement for these actions.  

Would I have gone the same route as her, and taken all of this on outside the bonds of marriage, and fitfully declared to the world that I would, that I could, do this alone?  Absolutely not.  There is not a chance in hell that I would've even dared to try something like this on my own.  That's one of the reasons for marriage - to provide support in every form, to mitigate the impact of the crap God chooses to throw at us and to help us come out of it better.  Doing something like IVF while wildly proclaiming self-reliance and independence reeks of either stupidity or severe mental issues.  

All of that taken into consideration, the media has taken this whole situation WAAAAAAY too far.  When you have Entertainment Tonight going on about the 911 calls she's made (none of which have resulted in child services or any other authority showing up at her door), you know things are out of control.  People need to leave this woman alone and let her find her own way out of this situation - rather than coming up with more ways to smear her for having multiple kids.  Really, all she needed was a tsk tsk from her parents - not months of hounding by every media outlet and left-wing anti-life butch-to-the-extreme feminist nutjobs haranguing her for all of her faults.  

Temperence, people.  


I gave up Facebook for Lent, as I'm sure you saw from the title.  

I left the notifications RSS feed in my Google Reader, so every time you tag me I see it - I just don't respond.  Why did I do this?  Isn't that cheating?  

Nah.  It's really really easy to ignore Facebook when I don't have it open all the time and when I've disconnected it from all of my other online presences.  It's harder to stay off of it when the notifications are there, taunting me and telling me that someone superpoked me (and only me).  I'm doing this for the challenge, not so I can avoid being stalked or something.  


I've created a second blog, one solely focused on the Newark Light Rail expansion you're all sick of hearing about.

That site will cover all updates and such, along with the Facebook group (which I don't have the link for and won't put up here because it'd require me to log into Facebook), and it also has a link to the Google Docs version of the proposal.  


That's all for now.  =)