Heavy snowstorm kills three, snarls travel in U.S. Southeast

An aerial view shows snow over the Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, U.S. in this still image taken from a social media video. Nelson Aerial Productions/via REUTERS

By Rich McKay

ATLANTA (Reuters) – An intense snowstorm headed out to sea on Monday after dumping up to 2 feet (60 cm) of snow on parts of the Southeastern United States, leaving three people dead in North Carolina and some 138,000 customers in the region still without power.

School districts across North and South Carolina and Virginia canceled classes for the day and emergency officials warned that heavy snow and icy roads were slowing their responses to problems such as hundreds of stranded motorists.

The storm dropped its heaviest snow in the appropriately named Whitetop, Virginia, tucked in the Appalachian Mountains along the western end of the Virginia-North Carolina border, the U.S. National Weather Service said. Whitetop received 2 feet of snow, while Greensboro, North Carolina, had 16 inches (41 cm) and Durham, North Carolina, got 14 inches (36 cm).

Slippery conditions on roadways in central and western North Carolina and southwest Virginia were expected on Monday night as temperatures were forecast to drop below freezing, Daniel Petersen, NWS meteorologist, said.

But temperatures were expected to rise later in the week, reaching into the 50s F in North Carolina east of the mountains on Friday, when there is a chance of rain.

There were three storm-related deaths, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper’s office said in a statement. A person died from a heart-related condition while en route to a shelter, and a terminally ill woman died when her oxygen device stopped working.

A motorist also died and a passenger was injured in Matthews in southwestern North Carolina on Sunday when a tree fell on their vehicle as it was traveling, Matthews police officials said in a statement.

The number of customers without power in the Carolinas and Virginia had decreased to about 138,000 by Monday evening from more than 220,000, Poweroutage.us reported.

The storm prompted the cancellation of one in four flights into and out of Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, the sixth-busiest in the country, and other airports across the region, flight-tracking website FlightAware said.

The mayor of Greensboro, North Carolina, Nancy Vaughan, who declared a state of emergency for the city on Sunday, said online that its police and fire departments had responded to over 100 accidents and 450 stranded motorists.

“Stay off the roads if you can,” Vaughan tweeted on Monday.

More than 100 counties across Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia delayed or canceled classes on Monday because of severe weather.

(Reporting by Rich McKay; Additional reporting by Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago, Gina Cherelus and Maria Caspani in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Richard Chang and Peter Cooney)

New York girds itself for Trump’s first visit as president

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to staffers setting up for the Commander in Chief's trophy presentation in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., May 2, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Laila Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York is bracing for President Donald Trump’s first trip back to his hometown since taking office in January in a Thursday visit that is expected to draw protests and snarl traffic in the United States’ most populous city.

The trip could mark a repeat of the chaotic 2-1/2 months between the real estate developer’s Nov. 8 election and Jan. 20 swearing-in, when crowds of protesters and admirers flocked outside his home in the gold-metal-clad Fifth Avenue Trump Tower.

The early days of the Trump administration have brought aggressive rhetoric and moves to crack down on immigration as well as roll back environmental regulations, much of which has ruffled feathers in the liberal northeast city.

Anti-Trump activists, some of whom have organized marches across the country since Trump’s stunning election victory, are planning loud protests to mark the native son’s return.

“A very hot welcome is being planned for Mr. Trump,” said Alexis Danzig, a member of Rise and Resist, an informal group of activists which formed as Trump came to power. “We’ll be out in full force to voice our grievances.”

Trump’s business dealings and romantic fallouts were constant city tabloid fodder in the 1980s and 1990s. His television show, “The Apprentice,” broadcast Trump to the world as the ultimate Big Apple dealmaker during the 2000s.

While the Trump brand is internationally associated with New York, fewer than one in five city residents voted for him.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, both Democrats, have said his stance on immigrants has put him at odds with a city where nearly a third of residents are foreign-born.

Protesters plan to gather Thursday near the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, a decommissioned aircraft carrier where Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull are to have their first in-person meeting. One of the pair’s last exchanges was an acrimonious phone call in January.

New York police declined to provide details of their preparations for Trump’s tour and the protests planned around it.

One lingering issue from the transition period, that of the costs of protecting the president-elect’s building was resolved earlier this week in a proposed federal budget including $61 million to reimburse New York and other local governments for providing Trump-related security.

“That’s good news for our city and the hardworking police officers faced with this unprecedented security challenge,” de Blasio said in a statement.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Scott Malone and Andrew Hay)

Scientists link higher dementia risk to living near heavy traffic

Cars in traffic

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) – People who live near roads laden with heavy traffic face a higher risk of developing dementia than those living further away, possibly because pollutants get into their brains via the blood stream, according to researchers in Canada.

A study in The Lancet medical journal found that people who lived within 50 meters (55 yards) of high-traffic roads had a 7.0 percent higher chance of developing dementia compared to those who lived more than 300 meters away from busy roadways.

“Air pollutants can get into the blood stream and lead to inflammation, which is linked with cardiovascular disease and possibly other conditions such as diabetes. This study suggests air pollutants that can get into the brain via the blood stream can lead to neurological problems,” said Ray Copes, an environmental and occupational health expert at Public Health Ontario (PHO) who conducted the study with colleagues from Canada’s Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences.

Dementia is caused by brain diseases, most commonly Alzheimer’s disease, which result in the loss of brain cells and affect memory, thinking, behavior, navigational and spatial abilities and the ability to perform everyday activities.

The World Health Organization estimates the number of people with dementia in 2015 at 47.5 million, and that total is rising rapidly as life expectancy increases and societies age. The incurable condition is a leading cause of disability and dependency, and is starting to overtake heart disease as a cause of death in some developed countries.

Independent experts said the Canadian study had important implications for public health around the world. Tom Dening of the Center for Old Age and Dementia at Britain’s Nottingham University said the findings were “interesting and provocative”.

“It is unlikely that Ontario has the worst air quality in the world, so the risks might be even greater in cities that are habitually wrapped in smog,” he said.

Chen’s team analyzed records of more than 6.5 million Ontario residents aged 20 to 85 and found 243,611 cases of dementia between 2001 and 2012. Then they mapped residents’ proximity to major roadways using postal codes.

The increase in the risk of developing dementia went down to 4.0 percent if people lived 50 to 100 meters from major traffic, and to 2.0 percent if they lived within 101 to 200 meters. At more than 200 meters, the elevated risk faded away.

The team also explored links between living close to major roads and Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis – two other major neurological disorders – but the findings suggested no increased risk of these from living near heavy traffic.

The scientists said their results could be used to help town and city planners take traffic conditions and air pollution into account as urban areas become more densely populated.

(Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Motorists to hit U.S. roads in record numbers on July 4th weekend

Motorists wait in line to cross the San Francisco-Oakland Bay bridge during morning commute hours in Oakland, California

By Jarrett Renshaw

NEW YORK (Reuters) – With gasoline costing the least since 2005, U.S. motorists will hit the road this upcoming July 4 holiday weekend in record numbers, according to the nation’s largest motoring group.

AAA projects 36.3 million people will drive 50 miles (80 km) or more from home during the holiday period, the third consecutive year of record-breaking forecasts. That is up 1.2 percent from last year, continuing what is expected to be a historic summer driving season.

Despite recent seasonal increases, gasoline prices remain well below the levels of recent years. The national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline is $2.31, which is 47 cents less than one year ago. AAA expects most U.S. drivers will pay the lowest Independence Day gas prices since 2005.

“Spurred by the lowest gas prices since 2005, more people than ever are planning to travel this Independence Day weekend,” said Marshall Doney, AAA president and CEO. ““We are well on our way for 2016 to be a record-breaking year for summertime travel.”

Including airplanes and trains, AAA projects nearly 43 million Americans will travel this Independence Day weekend, the highest July 4 travel volume on record and five million more travelers than over Memorial Day weekend. The holiday travel period is defined as Thursday, June 30 to Monday, July 4.

Americans used an average of 9.72 million barrels of gasoline a day in the four weeks ending June 17, the highest level recorded since the Energy Information Administration started collecting weekly consumption data in 1991.

The most recent data from the U.S. Department of Transportation shows the U.S. road renaissance, spurred in part by the crude oil rout and lower unemployment, remains strong.

U.S. road travel rose 2.6 percent in April, compared with a year ago, according to data released last week by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The April figures mark the 26th consecutive month of year-over-year increases in vehicle miles traveled, according to DOT data, reflecting the surge in U.S. driving activity fueled by low pump prices.

Driving in the United States is closely watched since the country accounts for about 10 percent of global gasoline demand.

(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Number of roadway deaths nationwide on increase while NYC safest year on record

A car is seen driving along Queens Boulevard in the borough of Queens in New York, U.S.,

By Daniel Trotta

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The “Boulevard of Death” is getting a makeover, part of a New York City initiative that made 2015 the safest year on record for traffic accidents even as the number of roadway deaths nationwide shows a steep increase.

Engineers are redesigning a stretch of Queens Boulevard, which earned its notorious nickname due to the 185 people killed on the road over 25 years. Cars, bicycles and pedestrians are being routed into more clearly marked lanes with wider buffer zones between them, more stop signs and smarter parking rules.

Adopting a Swedish program known as Vision Zero, New York City officials are trying to eliminate traffic deaths through more than 100 initiatives that include curbing speed limits, boosting enforcement with speed cameras and high profile ticketing campaigns, as well as driver outreach and education.

Although 18 U.S. cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and Washington already have put in place some form of Vision Zero, states and the federal government have lagged in their coordination and implementation of the latest safety measures, which is frustrating to international experts.

“It surprises many people who are involved in road safety that the richest, most successful nation on earth allows many of its citizens to die because they don’t take advantage of basic engineering,” said Michael Woodford, chairman of the Safer Roads Foundation, which aims to reduce road casualties globally.

Woodford, who was ousted as head of Japanese optical equipment maker Olympus after blowing the whistle on a major fraud case, said he has spent millions of dollars of his own money on the initiative.

He contrasted the immense U.S. sensitivity over airline safety with the relative inattention to the roadside carnage.

“It’s got to become a political issue,” Woodford said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio made New York the first U.S. city to adopt Vision Zero when he launched it shortly after taking office on Jan. 1, 2014.

By 2015, annual traffic fatalities in New York City had fallen to a record low of 231, a 22 percent drop from 2013 and the lowest since record-keeping began in 1910, the mayor’s office said. Pedestrian deaths, which are high in New York City given how may people walk as part of their public transport commute, fell 27 percent over the same two years to a historic low of 134.

Because so many cities are new to Vision Zero, they lack the before-and-after data that New York has, said Leah Shahum, director of the national Vision Zero Network.

Although some drivers inevitably complain about slower traffic and more tickets, there was a “transformative shift in prioritizing safe mobility” under way across the country, Shahum said.

“No one is against zero traffic deaths. That said, the reality is that behaviors can be hard to change. There will likely be more pushback,” Shahum said.


Vision Zero starts from the premise that all accidents are preventable. Traffic engineers and driver safety experts know how to reduce casualties, which are largely related to poor road design, speeding, alcohol and the lack of seat belts.

Still, tens of thousands of people die on U.S. roads every year. The toll fell from 44,599 in 1990 to 32,675 in 2014, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In the agency’s latest report, covering the first nine months of 2015, traffic deaths nationwide rose 9.3 percent versus the same period of 2014.

Experts warn against reading too much into any short-term fluctuation in those national statistics, saying traffic deaths are affected by gas prices, employment and other factors independent of safety standards. But they stress that the main causes can all be addressed through public policy.

“We’ve seen a huge amount of success in the past few decades, but when you look at belts, booze and speed those are some persistent problems,” said Jake Nelson, director of traffic safety advocacy and research with the American Automobile Association (AAA).

In the New York City borough of Queens, officials focused on a 1.5-mile (2.4 km) stretch of Queens Boulevard where 47 people were killed or seriously injured between 2010 and 2014.

Such campaigns are more difficult in rural areas, where narrow highways typically lack a median, are poorly lit at night, and attitudes are more lax about using seat belts or driving while intoxicated, Nelson said.

Road engineering for safety has reduced fatalities in New York City by 34 percent, the city said, twice the rate of improvement at other locations, but it also requires money. The first phase of the Queens Boulevard redesign cost $1.4 million and the price tag for citywide safety related changes planned this year is $115 million.

“Our interstate infrastructure is crumbling. We can’t afford to even fill potholes and repair bridges, which is why Vision Zero is so important because we have scarce resources and we need to invest wisely,” Nelson said.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Diane Craft)