Can the Reinvention Commission Recommendations Unite Our Fractured Regional Transit System?

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 7.48.16 PMJust in time to feast on before the Thanksgiving holiday, the final report of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Transportation Reinvention Commission was released today, identifying seven key strategies to help the agency plan, prepare for and fund the next 100 years of transit investments.

While various outlets will focus on the funding, customer service and project delivery overhauls, there are key recommendations that acknowledge the interconnectedness of the MTA with transit systems and facilities in the tri-state region, a region where transit agencies and authorities operate independently of one another otheroften in a vacuum. Given Tri-State’s regional role and our seat at the Reinvention Commission roundtable, we’ve highlighted the recommendations from the report that have implications for all beneficiaries of the MTA’s bus, subway and rail systems in the agency’s three state service territory:

Prioritize new fare media to facilitate seamless travel across the region. [Strategy Three, p.37]
With commuters from all three states using multiple transportation modes and systems, integrating fare media across various agenciesMTA, NJ Transit, PATH, NICE, Bee-Line, Tappan Zee Express, etc.would provide seamless connectivity and ease of transfer.

Increase connectivity between MTA and other regional transportation providers. [Strategy Four, p. 42]
The MTA network operates in a region with other transit agencies and facilities, yet transit planning is often siloed within state and agency jurisdictions. This often leads to fractured approaches to transit needs that impact more than one agency (e.g. capacity/infrastructure constraints at Penn Station; outdated Trans-Hudson tunnels, terminals and tracks)

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We’d Be More Thankful If…

macys-parade-600x450

Photo: people.com

Before we succumb to the increasingly aggressive Christmas creep, we’d like to take a moment to honor another important holiday coming up. No, not National Cookie Day (but that’s coming up on December 4 — mark your calendar). We’re talking, of course, about Thanksgiving.

We’ve got a lot to be thankful for here at MTR, like New York City’s lower default speed limit, the passage of a vulnerable users bill in Connecticut, and New Jersey legislators pushing forward Port Authority transparency. And while some may be thankful for declining Thanksgiving gas prices, it’s worth noting that the number of travelers is skyrocketing.

Yes, there are plenty of reasons to be thankful, but we’d be a lot more thankful if:

Traffic deaths weren’t a requirement for getting safety improvements on our streets — “Let’s wait until someone is struck and killed before we make traffic safety improvements,” said no one ever. But unfortunately, that’s often what it takes to get local governments to fix unsafe street conditions.

New York and New Jersey’s elected officials had to commute via bus or train — We feel pretty confident that if the Port Authority Bus Terminal or Penn Station were part of the daily commute for our states’ leaders, the Gateway Project would be moving forward with real funding, the city’s bus terminals would receive more than a one percent funding priority in the Port Authority capital programand NJ Transit service would be more reliable.

Connecticut cities started acting like cities — Hartford is planning to add over 1,400 new parking spots in the Downtown North district, New Haven’s Route 34 West project looks like something you’d see in a suburban office park, and Stamford’s new Street Smart program doesn’t address the downtown area’s wide arterials that shun pedestrians and bicyclists.

New Jersey drivers were any good at math – We can’t help but add to the pile of disparaging things that have been said about New Jersey drivers. Increasing the state’s gas tax—the second lowest in the nation—by 25 cents per gallon would cost the average driver an additional $292 each year. Last we checked, that’s less than half of what the average NJ driver pays in extra repair costs due to poor roads.

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$1 Billion and Counting: New York’s Non-MTA Transit Capital Needs

NYPTA's New Report Identifies $1 billion in capital needs for non-MTA transit

NYPTA’s New Report Identifies $1 billion in capital needs for non-MTA transit

Yesterday, the New York Public Transit Association (NYPTA) released their report “Five Year Capital Program for Upstate and Downstate Transit” which outlines the critical capital investment needs for non-MTA urban transit systems across the state. While the MTA first issued a multi-year capital program more than 30 years ago, NYPTA’s report represents the first ever comprehensive attempt to develop a five-year capital plan for New York’s non-MTA systems.

And the need is substantial. There are more than 100 systems covering nearly every county in the state, and carrying over 550,000 passengers each and every day. Yet, the projected capital deficit is $577 million. Making matters worse, these system are using capital funds for operations, accelerating the wear and tear on facilities and equipment. The lack of capital investment and dedicated capital and operating funding streams over the years has led to outdated systems that break down, disrupt service and incur higher costs when transit providers attempt to regain a state of good repair. Unfortunately, existing revenues are projected to cover just 43 percent of these identified capital needs.

The report details $1 billion in upcoming infrastructure needs between 2015-2019, with over 80 percent of the identified need going solely to repair and replace existing core system assets. The remaining 20 percent is slated for expansions and upgrades, such as bus rapid transit, to accommodate record transit ridership—for example, the report notes that ridership is up seven percent in the Capital District.

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Connecticut Cities Join — and Climb — the Ranks of Bicycle Friendly Communities

Image: simsbury-ct.gov

Simsbury moved up from Bronze to Silver in 2014’s rankings. | Image: simsbury-ct.gov

Two Connecticut cities were named Bicycle Friendly Communities by the League of American Bicyclists this week. Both New Haven and New Britain received Bronze-level designations, joining Farmington, South Windsor and West Hartford.

The Bicycle Friendly Communities program evaluates communities based on how welcoming they are to cycling from the entry level (Bronze) to all-star (Diamond). Bicycle Friendly Communities often have Complete Streets policies, active cyclists groups, bike lanes, relatively low crash rates, and higher than average percentages of people who regularly bike to work.

New Haven‘s selection as a Bicycle Friendly Community is an obvious one: the Elm City has strong local bike advocates, adopted the state’s first local Complete Streets policy, published its own Complete Streets design manual, and has had visionary leadership in its Department of Transportation for the last several years. Former Director of Transportation Jim Travers launched the City’s Street Smarts campaign and oversaw a tenfold increase in marked bike routes, while his successor, Doug Hausladen, is seeking to speed up the implementation of traffic calming projects and separated bicycle facilities.

New Britain launched a bike connectivity study in 2013 and has been working on promoting its bicycle-friendliness in recent months. With CTfastrak — the region’s first true bus rapid transit system — set to open in 2015, local leaders see the benefit of an improved cycling network in becoming a more multi-modal — and less car-oriented — community.

The Town of Simsbury, which became a Bronze-level Bicycle Friendly Community in 2010, was the only Connecticut town that advanced in the rankings this year, becoming the first in the state to receive the League’s Silver designation.

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Wednesday Winners (& Losers)

A weekly roundup of good deeds, missteps, heroic feats and epic failures in the tri-state region and beyond.

Congresswoman Grace Meng | Photo: Facebook

Congresswoman Grace Meng | Photo: Facebook

WINNERS

New Jersey Assembly – There was not a single vote cast against either of the two Port Authority transparency bills that were passed during last Thursday’s Assembly hearing.

Congresswoman Grace Meng The Congresswoman is supporting the Liao family in their efforts to obtain justice against the driver who killed three year-old Allison Liao.

Central Park users  The City has announced a speed limit reduction to 20 mph for the park, among other safety improvements. Banning cars, unfortunately, is not one of them.

Traffic safety advocates The NYC DOT introduced its new comprehensive, interactive Vision Zero View tool the same day that the NYC Department of Health announced that it has begun making traffic-related bicycle and pedestrian injury data available on its website. Here’s hoping other departments pick up the pace with tracking crashes!

Queens Boulevard users  The speed limit for one of NYC’s most notorious speedways will be dropped to 25mph.

New Haven businesses Some companies in the New Haven area are providing shuttles for employees and staggering work schedules in an effort to alleviate congestion and ease commutes.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal – The Connecticut Senator has renewed his call for a full restoration of the federal commuter tax benefit.

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New Jersey Groups Call for Permanent Fix to State Transportation Problems

The Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee will hold its fourth and final special hearing regarding the state’s Transportation Trust Fund on Thursday morning as part of the 99th Annual New Jersey State League of Municipalities Conference, now underway in Atlantic City.

Navigating the transportation funding debate is complicated. While the public debate has focused primarily on increasing taxes and creating additional revenue streams, this is only part of the discussion. Clear and concise answers to some of the most complex questions regarding bonding, debt, current and future transportation projects are essential to an informed conversation by all stakeholders from the bus rider to the state’s transportation commissioner.

With skepticism and frustration regarding the condition of the state’s transportation assets and systems, a clear explanation of the accounting behind the soon-to-be bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund is required.

For these reasons, Tri-State, along with New Jersey FutureRegional Plan Association (RPA), New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP) and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) New Jersey State Joint Council today released a list of questions to guide a transparent and informed discussion about transportation funding between state lawmakers and the public:

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PATH Riders’ Council Tackles Key Issues, but Concerns about Transparency Linger

Image: panynj.gov

Image: panynj.gov

Next week will mark the third meeting of the recently-formed PATH Riders’ Council, which gathered for a mostly introductory meeting in July, followed by a September meeting where the group began getting down to business. The meeting minutes list the following focus areas, which MTR called attention to in a post published prior to the September meeting:

  • Technology (displays, info, communication with riders)
  • Service (frequency, capacity, expansion)
  • Communications (communication with riders, feedback loop to riders)

The public minutes also reveal an interesting mandate from PATH Director/General Manager Stephen Kingsberry to the Council, who references the MTR post:

Reminded PRC members that they should not be responding to members of the Press directly as representative of PATH and/or divulging sensitive information discussed during closed session meetings; he referenced the article by Vincent Pellecchia, “A Full Plate for the PATH Riders’ Council

To be clear, the “article” referenced was not prepared nor written with input from anyone on the Council, but rather guided and informed via the public meeting minutes from the July meeting and published media coverage of the meeting.

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Wednesday Winners (& Losers)

A weekly roundup of good deeds, missteps, heroic feats and epic failures in the tri-state region and beyond.

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer | Photo: schumer.senate.gov

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer | Photo: schumer.senate.gov

WINNERS

New York City Health Department — The department’s Center for Health Equity released its first report, which recommends ways to increase “active transportation” for students in areas with high obesity rates, such as adding bike racks and creating and expanding bike lane networks.

New York City Councilwoman Margaret Chin — The councilwoman is calling for enforcement of traffic safety laws to protect pedestrians and cyclists, and has also announced legislation calling on the Department of Transportation to perform a study of the safety impacts of major truck routes through the city.

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer — In his continued effort to “restore parity between commuters and drivers,” the Senator is again pushing to expand the commuter tax benefit to those who use mass transit.

Connecticut commuters — Metro-North’s new train schedule went into effect this week, which means more trains more often for those traveling between New Haven and Grand Central.

Port Authority Bus Terminal commuters — There have been some dramatic improvements to bus service operations at the facility, resulting in a 23 percent increase in the number of buses during rush hour and a 50 percent decrease in customer complaints. Still have issues you’d like to discuss with officials? Make sure to attend tomorrow evening’s PABT Commuter Chat session.

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Can We Try to Solve New Jersey’s Transportation Funding Crisis Now?

Assemblyman John Wisniewski proposed

Assemblyman John Wisniewski proposed a bill which would increase New Jersey’s gas tax by at least 25 cents. | Photo: Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-Ledger

The election is over, so the time to buckle down and focus on solving New Jersey’s transportation funding crisis has arrived.

The problem is abundantly clear: Governor Christie’s five-year transportation capital plan failed, and will run dry a year early, which will leave a huge void if a solution is not in place by July 1, 2015, the beginning of fiscal year 2016.

Earlier this fall, to get a dialog going between advocates, legislators and interest groups on how to resolve the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) crisis, the Assembly Transportation Committee held three special hearings in Montclair, Piscataway and Camden. A fourth and final hearing will be held next week in Atlantic City during the annual NJ League of Municipalities Convention.

There are a number of items “on the table” aimed at restoring the solvency of the TTF. The most recent addition to the menu of items is bill A3886, proposed for introduction by Assemblyman John Wisniewski. A3886 would increase the gas tax by at least 25 cents, adding $1.25 billion to the $535 million generated annually by the current 14.5 cents per gallon gas tax. This is a step in the right direction and will at least help cover the roughly $1.1 billion in annual debt payments projected out to 2041.

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Vision Zero’s Biggest Achievement to Date Hits the Pavement Today, but There Is More to Do

drive-25-vz-logoToday marks Vision Zero’s greatest achievement to date: New York City’s default speed limit has officially been lowered to 25 mph. This seemingly small adjustment will have a big impact on improving street safety, as people who are struck by vehicles traveling 25 mph are half as likely to die as those struck by vehicles traveling 30 mph. In a city that’s suffered increasing bicycle and pedestrian fatalities — more often than not in seemingly “safe” scenarios — this speed limit reduction is a welcome first step.

But lowering the speed limit isn’t a panacea. In addition to getting the word out about the new speed limit, New York’s elected officials, community leaders and state and city agencies must now do their part to help change how people think about and interact with our streets and its users. Such an enormous paradigm shift won’t be easy, but it can be done.

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