There are plenty of bright spots to think over while tucking into the stuffing and mashed potatoes this year:
Complete streets sweeping the region. True, New York is still without a complete streets law, and New Jersey doesn’t have one either (though it does have a DOT policy). But local leaders in both states stepped up to the plate, passing complete streets policies in: Babylon, Monmouth County, West Windsor, Red Bank, Netcong, Islip, Brookhaven, Kingston, Elizabethtown, and Hoboken. Connecticut, of course, already has a statewide complete streets law, which went into full effect in October.
Professional leaders at the Port Authority and the MTA. PA Executive Director Chris Ward and MTA Chairman Jay Walder have steadily steered their unwieldy agencies through political and financial storms. Ward has big plans for improving buses and has the Port Authority set to switch over to cashless tolling; commentators also praise him for getting the World Trade Center rebuilding under control. Walder has found hundreds of millions of dollars in administrative savings, and there are even signs of cultural change: Yesteryear’s technologically clueless MTA would never have embraced on-the-cheap subway countdown clocks and cashless tolls, or opened up transit data to developers, as it has under Walder. Both deserve to be kept on.
New York City DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. Faster commutes for tens of thousands of bus riders? Check, check. Giving pedestrians the space they need? Check, check, check. Safer cycling lanes? Check, check, check. More rational parking pricing that has made it easier to find a space? Check and check. The city’s recent announcement that it is looking into bike-share, and its revolutionary plan for a 34th Street transitway show that Sadik-Khan’s stack of world-class transportation ideas isn’t exhausted yet.
ConnDOT’s still on the right road. The turnaround at ConnDOT might not look as dramatic at first glance, but it too is real and required heavy lifting. Three years ago the agency was an embarrassment, a road-building agency with no guiding vision, no effective leadership, and no oversight. Under Governor Jodi Rell, the agency is now on the cusp of building the Hartford-New Britain Busway and New Haven-Springfield Rail Line, new rail cars to replace the 30-year-old Metro-North rolling stock are on the way, and the agency is starting to take bike and pedestrian needs seriously in the wake of a state complete streets law. This progress must continue under incoming governor Dan Malloy.
Governor Chris Christie hasn’t killed any other transit projects since canceling the Access to the Region’s Core tunnel. Though given his anti-transit track record, don’t be surprised if the governor’s yet-to-be-announced plan to fund NJ’s transportation system involves selling the state’s buses and train tracks as scrap metal.
There are still some progressive leaders in New Jersey. Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, for example. In just the last year, Hoboken has implemented city-wide car sharing, passed a complete streets policy, rewarded residents who turn in their parking permits, and embraced cycling; Zimmer happens to bike around town herself.
Worthy projects winning federal dollars. Funding transportation based on merit? This has always been a hard concept for the federal government. But under Secretary Ray LaHood, USDOT has started to fund projects based on clear criteria, daring states to have their projects compete against one another. The federal TIGER program is rewarding innovation — winners in our region include an NYC study of what to build if the Sheridan Expressway is taken down, and New Haven’s plan to reconnect downtown. High-speed rail grants have CT’s New Haven-Springfield Rail Line inches from construction. And if governors in states like Ohio and Wisconsin follow through on campaign promises to give back their high-speed rail grants, our region might be in line for some nice Christmas gifts from Mr. LaHood.
The generous support of funders who understand that transportation reform is not possible without strong state and local advocacy. Transportation reform is driven by on-the-ground advocacy, efforts that have been challenged by the economic downturn. Backed by the support and confidence of philanthropic leaders in this region, transit advocates have been able to win new revenue streams for transit, prevent the elimination of student MetroCards, and win federal resources for local smart growth projects.
MTR will return on Monday.