Capitalizing on Existing Infrastructure: LIE HOV Potential

LIE HOVLast month, the Long Island Business News included a special section about the Long Island Expressway, analyzing the history of the project, to the land use patterns it fostered along the corridor

The special report examines the history of the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane which turned 20 years old this year. Over the past three decades, the nearly $900 million HOV lane has helped encourage carpooling along the notoriously congested I-495 corridor by requiring cars to have at least two occupants. Additionally, it has encouraged greener vehicle options allowing access to the HOV lane for single drivers displaying a ‘Clean Pass Vehicle’ sticker.

But as we look towards the next twenty years for the HOV lane, how can this nearly billion dollar investment be better utilized?

According to 2013 NYS Department of Transportation data counts at Exit 50 (Bagatelle Road), the HOV2+ lane during the 9 restricted hours (6-10am and 3-8pm) accommodated 31 percent of all people moving along the LIE on 25 percent of lanes designated as HOV.

While this number may seem impressive, what is more heartening is that these lanes can accommodate a much greater percentage of people. While 31 percent of people using the LIE avail themselves of the HOV lanes during restricted times, only 16.6 percent of vehicles are using the HOV lane.

To better leverage the congestion-busting benefits of this existing HOV infrastructure for the next 20 years, NYSDOT should implement the following changes to mitigate congestion and raise revenue for transportation projects on Long Island:

  • Change the lane designation from HOV 2+ to HOV3+: As a way to accommodate even more people in the HOV lane, and encourage even fewer automobiles in the general lanes, NYSDOT can adopt an HOV3+ regulation which would require that any automobile using the HOV lane have at least 3 occupants in the vehicle.
  • Conversion to High Occupancy Tolling (HOT) lane: Converting HOV lanes to HOT lanes allows for existing carpoolers to continue to utilize HOV infrastructure for free, while also allowing single-occupancy vehicles (SOV) to pay a toll as a way to bypass congestion in general use lanes. This in turn achieves time savings for the toll-payer with improved flow for those in general use lanes. In addition, HOT lanes serve as a means of revenue generation that can be used to reinvest in the corridor’s infrastructure.
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NICE Bus Riders Calling for a ‘Fair’ Increase

An anonymous rider, with three children, shares their desire for how they'd like to see their extra 25 cents be invested in the NICE bus system. | Photo: Long Island Bus Riders Union

An anonymous rider, with three children, shares their desire for how they’d like to see their extra 25 cents be invested in the NICE bus system. | Photo: Long Island Bus Riders Union

It took a dire financial deficit in the Nassau Inter-County Express (NICE) Bus budget to finally persuade Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano to increase the county’s contribution to the system from the state mandated minimum. But even a 70 percent increase in the county’s contribution wasn’t enough to protect riders from yet another fare increase to maintain escalating costs of existing service. This past May, NICE CEO Michael Setzer announced that NICE would be implementing a more than 10 percent increase in fares for cash-paying riders to close the funding gap.  Cash paying riders are often the lowest-income riders of a system, usually purchasing fares in small increments due to limited funds. They will now pay $2.50 per ride to get to work, ironically beginning on Labor Day.

The public hearings held by the Nassau County Bus Transit Committee to discuss the fare hike were almost impossible for riders to attend.

In response, the Long Island Bus Riders Union is launching a My FAIR Increase Campaign. In recent weeks the group has been polling bus riders to see how they would like their 50 cents more per day, or $125 more per year, be invested in the system. Those demands will be delivered during a demonstration by riders at NICE headquarters on Tuesday, September 2. They will also be delivered to Nassau County officials during the next meeting of the full legislature on Sunday, September 8.

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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.

New York City Councilmembers Reynoso, Cornegy and Menchaca | Photos: council.nyc.gov

New York City Councilmembers Reynoso, Cornegy and Menchaca | Photos: council.nyc.gov

WINNERS

Antonio Reynoso, Robert Cornegy and Carlos Menchaca - The New York City Councilmembers are part of an unofficial “bike caucus” pushing for “bike forums” with constituents and more bike infrastructure across the city.

Frederick Amoafo - The cab driver was honored as the safest taxi driver in the city as part of the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission’s first-ever Honor Roll. His own son was hit by a vehicle two years ago, which has brought the issue of pedestrian safety home to Mr. Amoafo.

Richard Meurer - The developer of New Jersey’s new solar-powered transit village combined alternative energy with transportation alternatives.

CT Transit riders - Real-time bus data will be available on the agency’s website in the near future, and by next spring, on riders’ smart phones.
» Continue reading…

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For Port Authority Transparency, the Ball Is in New Jersey’s Court

port-authority-logoNothing has so clearly highlighted the need for government transparency as the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal and the subsequent political fallout. Though New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski, co-chair of the special committee to investigate the PANYNJ, continues to probe for answers, the issue of accountability and transparency seems fated to remain well after the “Bridgegate” scandal is resolved.

That is, unless legislation is passed to mandate that the bi-state agency is subject to both the New York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) and New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA).

The New York State Legislature has already taken this step, and a bill subjecting the Port Authority to New York’s FOIL law is awaiting Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature.

But similar efforts in New Jersey have been slow to get out of the starting gate. While a Senate bill to ensure the Port Authority was accountable to New Jersey’s OPRA law passed the full Senate this past June, its Assembly counterpart has yet to move in the Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee.

While New Jersey technically has the remainder of the 2014-2015 legislative session to deliver a transparency bill to Governor Christie for his signature, New York’s legislative session concluded in June and will not resume until January 2015. The pending New York transparency bill might be signed by Governor Cuomo by December; otherwise, the legislation in New York will be withdrawn and must be reintroduced in next year’s session, creating a sense of urgency for New Jersey’s legislators to act. That’s because transparency reform for PANYNJ requires signed legislation from both governors, and New York may yet run out of time.

Assemblyman Wisniewski also chairs the Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee, and laudably has pushed for broader reform of the PANYNJ. But any major reform of the Port Authority has to start somewhere, and this transparency measure can serve as a way to further address needed structural changes at PANYNJ while also achieving tangible transparency results in the short term. Assemblyman Wisniewski should make sure the PA is held accountable and move on this much needed transparency bill.

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Higher Pedestrian Deaths in Poorer Neighborhoods

A recent study by GoverningPedestrian Deaths in Poorer Neighborhoods, compiled locational data on all fatal pedestrian accidents within United States metro areas between 2008 and 2012. The study found that in counties across the tri-state region with more than half a million residentsapproximately 8.5 pedestrians per 100,000 residents died during the study period. Suffolk County, NY had the highest five-year fatality rate: 12.1 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 residents.

The analysis also looked at pedestrian death rates for income-based census tracts within each county and revealed a significant disparity for fatalities rates between low-income (poverty rate greater than 25 percent) and high-income (poverty rate less than 15 percent) communities. For example, Essex County, NJ had the largest fatality disparity by a ratio of 2.8, which means that within the county, people living in poorer neighborhoods were almost three times more likely to be hit while walking than people in wealthy neighborhoods. The map on the left shows the top five counties with the highest five-year pedestrian death rate, while the map on the right presents the top five counties in the region with the largest disparity in the pedestrian death rate with regard to income.

MAPS

This pattern is not limited to the tri-state region—the study found that poorer neighborhoods recorded disproportionately higher rates of pedestrian deaths across the United States. According to the report, the pedestrian fatality rates within low-income metro area census tracts were approximately twice that of higher-income metro area census tracts. Neighborhoods with more than 25 percent of residents living below the poverty line had a rate of 12.1 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people from 2008 through 2012, over two times higher than neighborhoods with a poverty rate below the national average of 15 percent and almost double the national average.

Even though the report didn’t expand upon why this trend is occurring, others have tried. While cities across America have made efforts to improve walkability as a way to spur economic development, typically those efforts focus on a city’s downtown or business district, without considering that low-income residents are often priced out of downtown areas, residing in neighborhoods and suburbs badly in need of pedestrian improvements. Field research conducted by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that “In high-income areas, 89 percent of streets had sidewalks, while only 49 percent did in low-income area,” and that marked crosswalks and other traffic calming devices were also significantly less common in low-income communities.

In order to ensure that pedestrian safety gains and economic development are extended to all regardless of income level, policy makers will need to do more to balance transportation investments to communities with high need, and make certain that low-income residents, who are more likely to rely upon walking, biking and public transportation than wealthier residents, have the safe mobility options they deserve.

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Transportation Advocates Release Connecticut Candidate Bulletin, Call for Debate

Earlier this week, a broad coalition of nearly three dozen transportation advocates, including the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, gathered at New Haven’s Union Station to release their 2014 Candidate Bulletin Moving Transportation Forward in ConnecticutThe Bulletin lists four actions that Connecticut’s elected officials, particularly the gubernatorial candidates, must take in order to develop a safe and reliable system that supports several alternative transportation options:

Protect Funding. Since 2005, $1.2 billion of the state’s motor fuel taxes have gone into the general fund, instead of being used as a down payment on the transportation improvements the state needs. Connecticut must quickly repair this breach of the public trust. Last year, lawmakers passed legislation restricting the use of transportation funds for transportation projects. That’s a good start, but only an amendment to the state constitution can keep the transportation fund in a protected lockbox.

Expedite Projects. Improving ConnDOT’s ability to deliver projects could add thousands of new jobs in Connecticut next year and expedite much needed improvements across all modes of transportation. Authorized funding must turn into designed and constructed projects in a timely fashion, which could have a positive, lasting effect on Connecticut’s workforce, infrastructure, and economy.

Plan for the Uncertain Future. After 2014, Connecticut faces a transportation funding cliff. Federal funding is projected to sharply decline, and authorities estimate that the state could see up to an 87% reduction in federal transportation funds. Connecticut needs a plan for this worst-case scenario, and can look to its peers: While Washington has not addressed the funding challenge, dozens of states – from Wyoming to Massachusetts – have chosen to dedicate more funding to transportation.

Invest Wisely. Connecticut has huge needs, both to repair our infrastructure, and improve the highway and transit systems in key areas. Million- and billion-dollar decisions about how to invest have to be justified and prioritized using cost-benefit analysis.

At the event, the coalition also called for the gubernatorial candidates to hold a debate this fall that focuses on transportation needs in the state, saying “Connecticut’s next governor has two choices: provide safe and efficient transportation, or allow our infrastructure to crumble.” The broad group of advocates and supporters has asserted that it will continue to work together to elevate the discussion of transportation issues during the upcoming campaign season.

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A History of Bridges in Need

U.S. Total Share of Bridges Either Structurally Deficient or Functionally Obsolete, from 1993 to 2013.

U.S. Total Share of Bridges Either Structurally Deficient or Functionally Obsolete, from 1993 to 2013.

A recent study by Governing entitled “How Have Bridge Conditions Changed in Your State?” analyzed 20 years of data from the US Federal Highway Administration National Bridge inventory on bridges in need of repair. The report showed that from 1993-2013, the United States has seen a decrease in the total percentage of its bridges that are considered either functionally obsolete (built using outdated technology and has not been retrofitted) or structurally deficient (already has one or more decaying components).

But in the tri-state region, there is a different picture. The study revealed that as of 2013, there were 7,446 functionally obsolete bridges and 3,216 structurally deficient bridges across New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, compared to 4,536 and 12,134 respectively in 1993. New York and New Jersey have both seen a decrease of more than 50 percent in structurally deficient bridges in the last 20 years, though the total percentage of functionally obsolete bridges has significantly increased in these states. Connecticut on the other hand has only managed to improve its percentage of structurally deficient bridges by 6 percent since the early 90s, with 514 bridges currently in a vulnerable state – a trend that doesn’t appear to be improving.

The national percentage of bridges that are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete has been steadily decreasing since 1993, as seen in the graph above . However, in New YorkNew Jersey and Connecticut, it appears that since the late 1990s, after an initial drop in the total percentage of bridges in need of repair, progress has stagnated.

Congress recently put off a permanent fix for funding transportation until May 2015. But if this report is any indication, elected officials will have to find a long-term fix to the Highway Trust Fund sooner rather than later if the country is to make substantial progress in maintaining bridges in a state of good repair.

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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.

New Jersey Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle | Photo: Bergen Dispatch

New Jersey Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle | Photo: Bergen Dispatch

WINNERS

Mayor Ralph Ekstrand – The Farmingdale mayor insists that the village will be Long Island’s next downtown destination, citing music events and the transit-oriented development project near the LIRR station that will include 154 apartments and 20,000 square feet of retail space.

City Representative David Kooris – In response to Tri-State’s Older Pedestrians at Risk analysis, the newly-elected City of Stamford representative intends to “propose an ordinance next month to require city engineers to include pedestrian-friendly design components” into road projects as a way to improve safety for older citizens.

Bill Lindmeier - Tunnel Vision, a newly-launched app created by Mr. Lindmeier, augments any subway map with interactive data about that subway station and the surrounding neighborhood.

Sunnyside, Queens - After the number of businesses awarded a “bike-friendly” label by Transportation Alternatives topped 70, the advocacy group declared the entire neighborhood to be a bike-friendly business district.

New Jersey Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle - In addition to being the sponsor for a Port Authority transparency bill, the assemblywoman is now working with other state and local electeds to find a long-term solution to protect bicyclists riding along route 9W.
» Continue reading…

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Transitmix: Fun Site for Transit Nerds, Important Tool for Everyone Else

How do you bring meaningful public participation that’s fun and engaging into transit planning? Code for America’s new Transitmix tool may be able to do just that.

While Transitmix may have been created with transit planners in mind, the website allows users of all abilities and backgrounds to design new bus lines and tweak the routes of existing lines (though unfortunately for the region’s transit riders, the ability to tweak existing routes isn’t yet available for New York City or many communities in the tri-state region).

Transitmix-2

Renata Silberblatt designed this route from LaGuardia Airport to Broadway Junction with Maspeth’s transit needs in mind.

There is a lot of useful potential to the tool: transit agencies across the tri-state could use Transitmix to get feedback from riders when planning and modifying existing routes; community groups interested in gathering information on local transit needs and desires could also. Imagine attending a public meeting where participants could collaborate to design bus routes on iPads, or having bus riders design or modify a route while they’re aboard a bus, or redesigning your commute from the comforts of your own home, hitting “submit,” and sending your input directly to your transit agency.

Transitmix also provides the rough operating costs of all user-created, user-modified and existing routes. In designing a route, users can modify the frequency of service and see how that affects the operating cost. This feature is helpful in understanding the costs of one route over another, as well as the financial trade-offs a transit agency faces when prioritizing which routes to modify.

Even in its early stages, Transitmix is growing in popularity. Code for America reports that “Transitmix has been used to generate 30,000 new transit maps for more than 3,600 cities across the world.”

In our region, NYCDOT has been at forefront of soliciting public participation and feedback in innovative ways, including its Vision Zero map and “Tell Us More” function for select corridor improvements, but other agencies in the region have lagged behind in utilizing social media to solicit input on projects or services. Encouraging increased rider participation through this new tool could help the MTA, NJTransit, CTTransit and the region’s suburban bus systems improve service for those who depend on transit as well as those looking for additional transportation options.

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New Jersey’s Bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund: Is Action Finally Underway?

The Kingsland Avenue Bridge in Lyndhurst was the backdrop for Senate President Stephen Sweeney's announcement of his TTF funding tour. | Photo: Myles Ma for NJ.com

The Kingsland Avenue Bridge in Lyndhurst was the backdrop for Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s announcement of his TTF funding tour. | Photo: Myles Ma for NJ.com

The New Jersey State Assembly will “spend the coming months hosting hearings on the problems and concerns surrounding our bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) and what it will take to meet our transportation needs,” Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto announced last week via an op-ed in The Record.  But this is not going to be a “feel-good process done for appearances sakes,” said Speaker Prieto. “Nothing about our current state of transportation affairs should make anyone feel good.”

The problems surrounding the bankrupt TTF should be obvious enough to state legislators. Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Senator Paul Sarlo recently announced a tour of the state’s crumbling transportation infrastructure that aims to draw Governor Christie’s attention to the need to resolve the funding crisis—as though the governor might somehow be unaware of that need. The real problem is that the political will required to address the issue is conspicuously lacking, even while the solutions for funding transportation infrastructure seem to be staring the legislature—and the governor—square in the face.
» Continue reading…

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