Wednesday Winners (& Losers)

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

sweeney_color

New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney | Photo: njleg.state.nj.us

WINNERS

New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney — After several bridge closures, Sweeney declared that “[New Jersey’s] transportation priorities are mixed up,” and is now calling for the creation of a comprehensive transportation plan for the state.

Advocates for Albany reform — The arrest of New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has put the state’s political system under scrutiny, generating widespread calls for reform.

“Gridlock” Sam Schwartz — The engineer and former NYC traffic commissioner has proposed a potential work-around for the 91st Street Marine Transfer Station’s truck traffic problem.

Amtrak — The agency has given cross-Hudson commuters a sliver of hope to cling to for the first time since Governor Christie shut down the ARC plan: Amtrak will be taking its first step toward the construction of two new rail tunnels with an environmental review this fall, and in the meantime they continue to lobby for funding for the Gateway project.

Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano — At least week’s State of Long Island breakfast event, Mangano mourned the loss of the county’s school zone speed camera program, insisting that it was successful while it lasted.

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Will New Jersey Continue Misdirecting What Little Transportation Funding It Has?

Structurally-deficient bridges in New Jersey | Source: NJ Spotlight

Structurally-deficient bridges in New Jersey | Source: NJ Spotlight

Three emergency bridge closures in the past month have renewed the focus on New Jersey’s transportation debt and misdirected transportation spending priorities.

Each year, Tri-State Transportation Campaign reviews and analyzes the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s Capital Program. The most alarming trend: funding for road expansion projects has increased year after year, while funding for keeping roads and bridges in a state-of-good-repair has not. These fix-it-first projects comprised just 32 percent of the FY2015 Capital Program, a greater percentage than in the previous two years, but still a steep fall from 44 percent in 2012.

In 2008, Tri-State released a report which predicted there would be an upswing in spending on road expansion:

“Spending on capacity expansion projects is projected to increase in coming years, threatening to undermine the state’s “fix-it-first” goals. While FY2009 funding for expansion projects remains a sliver of the total capital program at just 1.5 percent, by 2011 the share of total funding slated for widening and new roads is projected to grow to nearly 8 percent.”

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New Amtrak Site Aims to Make the Case for Gateway Project

NEC Tunnel TrafficAmtrak launched a new website last week designed to increase awareness about the importance of the Northeast Corridor (NEC) to this region and its capital needs.

The new NEC website includes informationupdates, maps and infographics, and other resources about several NEC infrastructure projects both under construction and in the planning stage, including the 104 year-old Portal Bridgea key component of the Gateway projectwhich carries 450 trains daily and has been blamed for more than 250 delays in the last two years.

Hands down, the NEC is the region’s economic vitality linchpin, with 750,000 daily trips supporting a $2.6 trillion economy. Here in the tri-state region, the NEC and public transportation go hand in hand in supporting New Jersey’s economy, linking the Garden State to the economic powerhouse of New York City:

  • As of the 2010 American Community Survey, more than 11 percent of all New Jersey commuters used public transit, with Hudson, Essex and Bergen Countiesthe counties closest to New York Cityhaving the highest percentages of commuters using transit;
  • As of the 2000 Census, one in every 15 employed New Jersey residents works in Manhattan, and more than 70 percent of them commute by public transit;
  • NJ Transit ridership continues to grow, with an increase in total ridership between 2013 and 2014 of more than 950,000 riders;
  • Mass transit provides access to higher paying jobs in Manhattan, where average wages were 2.5 times the national average in the first quarter of 2014 and were 60 percent higher than in New Jersey in 2009.

Some have predicted rail ridership will double by 2030, and the Northeast Corridor’s most critical need is additional cross-Hudson rail capacity. Since Governor Christie cancelled the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) project in 2010, the burden to address that need falls on the shoulders of Amtrak. The Gateway Program could potentially satisfy the burden with support from mutiple funding partners, but with the exception of funds for the “tunnel box” under Hudson Yards, the project is still lacking much-needed fundingat least $15 billion is still needed, in addition to “cooperation from local, state and federal agencies controlled by politicians with competing interests.”

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Transit Comes up (VERY) Short in Governor’s Budget

 (John Carl D'Annibale, Times Union)

(John Carl D’Annibale, Times Union)

There is a bumper crop of dollars up for grabs this year in Albany thanks to the state’s sizable bank settlement funds, and after many voices chiming in that our crumbling infrastructure is the fiscally responsible investment for that money, Wednesday was Governor Cuomo’s turn to speak his mind. Unfortunately, the Governor plans to invest only a paltry portion of that on transit.

As the state faces a mind-boggling $33 billion needed for statewide transit systems, it is now up to advocates and legislators to make sure our dollars are spent in a fiscally responsible and sustainable manner. Here’s a quick summary of what we’ve gleaned so far from the transit budget he has proposed:

The Nuts and Bolts of Transit

Ahead of the release of the 2015-16 New York State Executive Budget, statewide transit systems identified $33 billion in capital needs over the next five years ($32 billion for the MTA$1 billion for suburban and upstate transit). Roughly half of that would be funded from a combination of fares, debt, and other revenue sources; transit systems are dependent on the state budget to fill the gap.

The Executive Budget proposes using just $750 million from the settlement funds for MTA capital needs ($150 million a year), which leaves a gaping $14.45 billion ($2.89 billion annually) gap for the MTA. Additionally, in an unprecedented and troubling move, the Governor proposes to take $121.5 million of transit revenues from the Metropolitan Mass Transportation Operating Assistance program (MMTOA) that are dedicated to downstate operating needs, and move it to a new capital account, while simultaneously increasing operating funds for the MTA with $37 million from general funds.

The final sleight of hand in this shell game is another diversion of dedicated funds to pay off state debt, this time $20 million from MMTOA, and a promise to repeat the diversions through 2019. The budget does continue to fulfill the Governor’s promise to make the MTA “whole” with a $309.2 million transfer from the General Fund, a promise made after the 2011 budget deal that had slashed MTA revenues derived from the Payroll Mobility Tax.

For non-MTA transit systems, the outlook is equally bleak. The Executive Budget provides $5 million from the NY Works program for capital needs, leaving suburban and upstate systems with a $95 million annual gap in their five-year capital plans. Operating funds for upstate transit are proposed to be flat—not even a bump for inflation—at a time that upstate ridership continues to climb (despite falling gas prices).

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Connecticut 2014: Looking Back on the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

ct-2014-reviewThey say the only thing more painful than learning from experience is not learning from experience. So now that the 2015 regular session of the Connecticut General Assembly is underway, it’s important to look back at 2014 to see what went well for transportation policy in the Nutmeg State, and shed some light on what did not go so well. We’re just three weeks into the new year, so it’s impossible to know what 2015 will bring. But what we do know is that we won’t see much progress if leaders don’t replicate their successes and learn from their missteps.

The Good

Governor Dannel Malloy reelected — Despite our many criticisms of the Governor during his first term, he did quite a lot of good for Connecticut in 2014, including dedicating $15 million to support transit-oriented development, signing the vulnerable user bill into law, and announcing more frequent service on the Metro-North New Haven Line. Transportation was a key plank of Governor Malloy’s reelection platform in the close race against challenger Tom Foley, who in contrast displayed little knowledge about the state’s transportation challenges, said Connecticut spends too much on transit, and criticized strategies which try to “push people out of their cars and onto mass transit.”

Connecticut’s Streets Safer for All Users — At the state level, the Connecticut Department of Transportation finally caught up with the State’s Complete Streets law by adopting a departmental policy enabling “the alignment of transportation funds to encourage improvements for non-motorized users,” and a long-awaited Vulnerable User Bill became law. And in addition to the establishment of several promising local safety enforcement campaigns, more communities joined and climbed the list of Bicycle Friendly Cities.

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February 3rd in Albany—Join Us

On Tuesday, February 3, New Yorkers for Active Transportation (NY4AT) will be teaming up with New York Public Transit Association (NYPTA) for a lobby day in Albany to discuss pedestrian, bicycling and transit infrastructure. Join us!

In light of yesterday’s State of the State address, now is the time to let your Albany legislators know that sustainable transportation options are important to you. This should be a big year for transportation, with several five-year capital plans that need to be adoptedand funded!for roads, bridges, and transit infrastructure. It is key that legislators hear the message and fill the gap in funding for active transportation.

This year, advocates throughout New York will converge in Albany to meet with policymakers to call for dedicated funding in the state budget for pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure projects, as well as fully-funded capital plans for transit systems across the state.

The day is free, but registration is required. For more information, contact Nadine Lemmon at (917) 767-7698 or nadine@tstc.org

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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.

Photo: Brad Aaron

Photo: Brad Aaron

WINNERS

NYS Administrative Law Judge Sidney Fuchs — The NYS DMV has revoked the license of Ahmad Abu-Zayedeh, the driver who struck and killed 3-year-old Allie Liao in 2013, a decision that “reinforces the importance of DMV safety hearings as a venue to ensure that reckless drivers face consequences for killing other people.”

Brooklyn residents — In addition to plans to redesign the most dangerous road in Queens, major safety improvements have also been announced for Atlantic Avenue and Ocean Parkway, two of Brooklyn’s most dangerous roads.

Staten Island ferry commuters and bicycle riders — The Clove Road bike path will be one of 2015’s first Vision Zero improvement projects, meaning commuters can soon bypass the worsening parking situation at the St. George Ferry Terminal.

New Haven, CT bicyclists —  The announcement of a 2.1-mile cycle track to connect suburban neighborhoods to downtown businesses is great news in light of recent data showing that one in four New Haven families do not have access to a car. 

Princeton, NJ bicyclists — The Princeton Council voted 5-1 to replace on-street parking with two-way bike lanes along a section of Hamilton Avenue as a “baby step” toward a future comprehensive bike policy.

M60 SBS riders — According to new MTA data, Harlem’s M60 SBS has been wildly successful, reducing travel time to Laguardia Airport by nearly 15 percent and travel time along the Second Avenue dedicated bus lane by more than 30 percent.

Brooklyn Technical High School freshman Alison Collard de Beaufort — After several students’ lives were lost in traffic incidents, Alison founded the Vision Zero Youth Council to provide a venue for other students to become actively involved in street safety.

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Come Out to Support Cross Hudson Rail Freight

This Friday, January 23, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey will be hosting the first of seven public hearings to solicit public feedback on ten alternatives to move freight across the New York Harbor.

The reason for the study is the current system, which is untenable. The lack of existing freight track infrastructure in downstate New York east of the Hudson River means freight must come in on a truck or barge from New Jersey or via trains that are rerouted 140 miles north to Selkirk, NY and then make their way back south toward New York City.

Source: Port Authority DEIS

Source: Port Authority DEIS

CURRENT PROBLEM: SELKIRK DETOUR

More than 90 percent of freight crossing the Hudson River is moved in trucks. As has been noted time and time again, large commercial trucks are a significant contributor to roadway congestion, poor air and water quality, and the deteriorating conditions of regional infrastructure. There is also a significant social cost, as trucks affect roadway and pedestrian safety and quality of life in residential communities.

There are ways to reduce our region’s overreliance on and the impacts of truck freight while improving the overall system of moving goods into and out of our region. Alternatives to the current system are being studied in the recently released Cross Harbor Freight Program NEPA Tier 1 Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Five of the “rail tunnel alternatives” being studied would create a direct connection across the harbor, allowing freight to move directly from New Jersey to Brooklyn and enabling goods to reach Brooklyn, Queens, and Nassau and Suffolk Counties by rail.

SOLUTION: RAIL TUNNEL DIRECT CONNECTION

Left Image Source: Port Authority DEIS | Right Image Source: Source: Cap’n Transit

Left Image Source: Port Authority DEIS | Right Image Source: Source: Cap’n Transit

This would be a significant improvement over the current system. Some of the rail tunnel alternative benefits are:

  • reduced truck emissions, which pollute our air and contribute to increased asthma rates,
  • project construction jobs,
  • port jobs,
  • protection of the current and future flow of goods, including the region’s food and clothing supply,
  • safer roads, especially for pedestrians, and
  • avoidance of costly repairs of roadway damage caused by large trucks (According to one report, road damage caused by a single 18-wheeler is equivalent to that of 9,600 cars).

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New Jersey 2014: Looking Back on the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

NJ Year In ReviewTransportation was quite possibly the hottest topic in New Jersey in 2014, seeing major highs, major lows and everything in between. Momentum for improving bicycle and pedestrian safety continued with the passage of new Complete Streets policies, bike accommodations along the rebuild of Route 35 in Ocean County, and new support for the Circuit trail network. Legislative leadership finally started realistic conversations about addressing the transportation funding crisis.

But for just about every step forward, there was another step back. Before the paint was even dry, Newark suspended enforcement of newly-installed protected bike lanes, critical safety legislation appears to be indefinitely stalled in the Senate, and the red light camera pilot program ended. Port Authority reform in particular turned out to be a robust source of lows, including blocked transparency efforts and misguided capital programming priorities.

But by far the biggest fail for New Jersey in 2014 was the fact that the state’s looming transportation financing crisis remains unresolved with less than six months left until the Transportation Trust Fund runs dry.

The Good

“Everything is on the table.” — The grave state of the Transportation Trust Fund generated a deluge of attention towards restoring solvency to the TTF.  A total of five special hearings were held by the Senate and Assembly Transportation Committees on the state of transportation funding, resulting in a number of solutions “on the table.” Transportation leadership in New Jersey— including NJDOT Commissioner FoxSpeaker PrietoAssemblyman Wisniewski and Senator Lesniakwas boldly vocal about the need for an increase in the state gas tax, which has not been increased since 1988 and is the second lowest in the country.

Complete Streets progress continues — The Garden State continues to lead the tri-state region with 14 new Complete Street policies added in 2014 as of October, bringing the total number of policies to seven counties and 111 municipalities.

Bicycle network grows — The Circuit received $8.6 million in funding to support the continuation of the 750-mile regional trail network, 300 miles of which are now open for use with 50 more underway. Once complete, more than half of the Camden-South Jersey-Great Philadelphia region’s population will live within a mile of the Circuit. Also in 2014, Tri-State, along with NJ Bike & Walk Coalition and Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, launched an all-out campaign to ensure that the 12.5-mile,eight-municipality rebuild of Route 35 in Ocean County served as national model for implementation of Complete Streets. On April 1, the New Jersey Department of Transportation revealed revised plans which now include ten miles of bike infrastructure.

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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.

Elliot Sander speaks at a news conference on Jan. 13, 2015 in Grand Central Terminal with Jay Walder, center. | Photo: AM New York (Credit: Charles Eckert)

Elliot Sander speaks at a news conference in Grand Central Terminal with Jay Walder, center. | Photo: AM New York

WINNERS

New York City street users - At a press conference this morning, the City announced street safety gains made in Vision Zero’s first year, including the completion of more than 50 major street redesign projects, with 50 more slated for 2015, starting with the notorious Queens Boulevard. It was also announced that at 19 speed camera locations around the city, speeding dropped 59 percent from September to December.

Former MTA Chiefs Elliot Sander, Jay Walder and Peter Stangl – Joined by advocates, the three former MTA heads came together to demand a fully-funded MTA capital program, saying “The governor, the legislature, and the mayor must do the heavy political lifting to find new revenue sources to fund a $15 billion gap in the program.”

PATH riders, Hudson and Essex County residents, and businesses along PATH – The distressing proposal to eliminate overnight PATH service has been officially and indefinitely tabled following a meeting between Port Authority Chairman John Degnan, NJ state Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.

New Canaan branch and Danbury line commuters – Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy announced that Metro-North’s New Canaan branch will be receiving new, higher-capacity rail cars to offset the projected 44 percent increase in ridership over the next 15 years, and officials are looking at improvements to get Danbury line upgrades back on track.

New York City Council Member Ben Kallos – The council member is working to persuade the MTA to release more bus data more frequently in order to improve service for riders.

Stamford, CT – As part of Stamford’s Street Smart Initiative, the city is hiring a transportation planner as well as a new bureau chief for transportation, traffic and parking, to be charged with “preparation of a transportation master plan and transportation studies” and seeking state and federal grants.

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