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 - Terminal Velocity, 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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On Day of Controversial Loan Vote, NYS Quietly Sends Notice of Sewer/Water Projects That Will Go Unfunded

The Islip LIRR station parking lot during heavy rainfall on August 13. | Photo: MTA

The Islip LIRR station parking lot during heavy rainfall on August 13. | Photo: MTA

One doesn’t have to look far to find New York State sewer and water projects that need funding. Just this past weekend, Newsday published an article about a denial of funding for the Bay Park Sewage Plant, a plant that suffered major damage from Superstorm Sandy,which could be eligible for Clean Water State Revolving Funds (CWSRF)—the same pot of money that was just tapped to help pay for the New NY Bridge. Mount Vernon is actually paying fines because they can’t find the money to meet their statutory requirements to clean up effluent leaks. Earlier this month Ossining suffered a water main break that led to a several day-long boil order for a central section of the village. Just yesterday Long Island saw an entire year of rainfall in one day, causing massive flooding and drawing attention to water infrastructure vulnerabilities. And on the day that Senator DeFrancisco voted in favor of the controversial Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC) loan, his hometown of Syracuse suffered from a water main break downtown.

The same day of that vote, July 16, the EFC—without any press release or fanfare— quietly posted “Draft Amendment No. 2” for the 2014 Intended Use Plan for the CWSRF which outlined $570 million worth of sewer and water projects that would go unfunded across the state because the demand “exceeded the available funding.” In New York City alone, $270 million worth of projects were applied for; a need that will continue to go unmet. Other municipalities across the state that applied for money, but were below the funding line, include:

  • Town of Rosendale
  • Village of Greenport
  • Village of Ocean Beach
  • Kiryas Joel
  • Rockland County
  • Westchester County
  • Town of North Hempstead
  • Town of Oyster Bay
  • Suffolk County
  • Great Neck Water Pollution Control District

In general, municipalities not getting the funds they applied for—no matter what the pot of money—is not generally news in this era of substantially constrained funding. But when it is repeatedly stated, most recently in the Thruway Authority’s August 5 Factsheet, that these CWSRF loans to help construct the New NY Bridge “will have no impact on water projects in Federal Fiscal Year 2014”, it becomes one more flagrant example of how the public is being misled.

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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 Chris Murphy | Photo: Lindsay Perry of the Stamford Advocate

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy | Photo: Lindsay Perry of the Stamford Advocate

WINNERS

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy - The Connecticut senator is proposing new methods for funding rail infrastructure.

MTA and New York City Department of Transportation - The two agencies teamed up to improve way-finding in the city’s subways with the creation and installation of new unique maps detailing the area surrounding each subway station.

Fair Haven Mayor Benjamin Lucarelli -  The first county in the state to adopt a Complete Streets policy is now on the way to becoming the first county in the state to create a county-wide bike lane network.

New Haven Board of Alders - The Board unanimously accepted a $760,000 grant, which will allow the City to conduct a two-year study to investigate means of improving transit options for residents and visitors.

Keegan Stephan - Upon learning of a two-week bicycle safety crackdown by the NYPD, the respected bike advocate responded, in a brilliant piece of guerrilla advocacy, by catching not one, not two, but 32 vehicles - including NYPD-owned vehicles - blocking bike lanes on his way to work today.

» Continue reading…

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New Report Finds Older Tri-State Pedestrians at Risk

The pedestrian fatality rate for tri-state area residents 60 and older is 2.5 times higher than that of residents under 60. | credit

The fatality rate for pedestrians 60 and older in the tri-state region is 2.5 times higher than that of residents under 60. | photo credit

Tri-state region pedestrians aged 60 years and older are disproportionately at risk of being killed in collisions with vehicles while walking, according to a new study by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

From 2003 through 2012, 1,492 pedestrians aged 60 years and older were killed on Connecticut, New Jersey and downstate New York roads, according to Older Pedestrians at Risk: A Ten Year Survey and Look Aheadreleased today. The report found that:

  • Those 60 and older comprised only 18 percent of the region’s population, but accounted for 35 percent of pedestrian fatalities during the 10-year period
  • Those aged 75 years and older represent 6 percent of the tri-state region’s population, but 16.5 percent of pedestrian deaths.
  • The pedestrian fatality rate for the region’s residents 60 and older is 2.5 times higher than that of residents under 60.
  • For residents 75 and older, the pedestrian fatality rate is more than three times that of those under 60.

Tri-State Average Pedestrian Fatality Rate by Age Group (2003-2012)

Source: TSTC analysis of the NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System Encyclopedia, 2003-2012, U.S. Census Bureau Population Estimates and 2010 Census. U.S. fatality rates include tri-state region.

According to AARP, decreased bone density exacerbates injuries sustained by seniors. Coupled with mobility issues that hinder their ability to cross a road quickly, this age group is particularly prone to critical injuries from car collisions. However, simple roadway improvements – clearly marked crosswalks, longer crossing signals and wider pedestrian islands – make walking safer and easier for older residents and younger residents alike.

» Continue reading…

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Why Does the Metropolitan Region Only Get Dedicated Bus Lanes for Disasters and Special Events?

There’s talk of bringing the 2016 Democratic National Convention to Brooklyn, and to make sure delegates can get between Manhattan hotels and the Barclay’s Center, City officials are planning for an exclusive bus lane on the Manhattan Bridge.

This wouldn’t be the first time exclusive lanes for buses were used during a special event. Back in February, to accommodate Super Bowl ticket holders traveling from hotels in Manhattan to MetLife Stadium, officials arranged for a westbound Exclusive Bus Lane (XBL) in the Lincoln Tunnel — something Tri-State has said should be made permanent for the benefit of 225,000 daily trans-Hudson bus commuters (it wasn’t).

Before that, the only other time in recent memory when buses got exclusive access to a New York City river crossing was when dedicated bus lanes were established on the Manhattan Bridge in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

While these interventions were both necessary and useful, it’s not as if people only take buses across the Hudson and East Rivers during disasters and major events; it happens every day. About 1.5 million people commute into Manhattan each day, 55 percent of whom take transit. Hundreds of thousands arrive on buses, many via the Lincoln Tunnel XBL, the only dedicated bus lane connecting to Manhattan. But it only operates during the a.m. rush — even though just about as many people leave Manhattan to head back to New Jersey in the evenings.

So the question for the region’s leaders? When will tri-state residents get the same transit priority treatment as the visitors to our region?

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How Will New York’s Proposed Casinos Impact the Transportation System?

An artist's rendering of Sterling Forest Resort, a proposed resort casino in Tuxedo, NY. | Image:  sterlingforestresort.com

An artist’s rendering of Sterling Forest Resort, a proposed resort casino in Tuxedo, NY. | Image: sterlingforestresort.com

“I believe casinos in upstate New York could be a great magnet to bring the New York City traffic up.”

Governor Cuomo’s declaration in this year’s State of the State address would seem to suggest that upstate casinos would be built in transit-accessible locations. Less than half of New York City households own a vehicle, so “to bring the New York City traffic up” to casinos beyond the limits of Metro-North would ostensibly require some investments in transit.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t look to be part of the plan. Too often, transit access, congestion and wear-and-tear  on our roads are barely mentioned amidst the tax revenue ideology that accompanies economic development ventures. We’ve seen it before in New York, whether it’s the Governor’s effort to approve fracking, or the effort to lure New York City residents up to the Adirondacks (where there is no other option but to drive).

The June 30 deadline for casino applications brought 17 applicants vying for just four destination casino licenses in three upstate regions—the Catskills/Hudson Valley region, Eastern Southern Tier, and Capital Region. The final decision is expected to be made by the Gaming Facility Location Board, an appointed board with Cuomo-friendly appointees by the fall with casinos potentially opening as soon as 2015.

Some of the proposals submitted tout their proximity to public transit, while others propose significant expansions of the roadway system to bring customers directly to their door. Genting Americas is proposing a new Thruway Exit for a casino in Tuxedo, and Caesars Entertainment is offering to invest at least $20 million to improve traffic in the already burdened area near the proposed resort for Woodbury, “including funding a substantial portion of the long-delayed improvements to Exit 131 on the New York State Thruway.”

» Continue reading…

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