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

vz & cb vAfter a solid finale in 2013 from the Bloomberg/Sadik-Kahn administration, it was unclear how progress on safer streets in New York City would fare. Right out of the gate, Mayor Bill de Blasio dispelled doubts with bold moves for a “Vision Zero,” and the positive culture change on roads appeared to spill over to statewide efforts. Advocates were able to secure more money for pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure across the state, and several new cities were able to add traffic enforcement camera programs to their toolbox. Alas, sadly, there were setbacks as well.

But setbacks aside, overall it was a good year for advocates and their issues. Casinos and fracking were put in their rightful places, a solid plan for transit for the New NY Bridge was released with a $20 million commitment from the governor, and on the horizon, more and more voices are calling for the $5 billion bank windfall to flow towards transportation infrastructure.

Perhaps the biggest loser of 2014 was the public. Over and over, they were shut out of the decision-making process on how their tax dollars are being spent—especially with regard to the Port Authority and the New NY Bridge. The dark clouds of infrastructure funding and spending loom large in 2015, with massive deferred maintenance and unfunded capital programs, leaving everyone nervous about what’s to come.

The Good

Cities Get Bold About Street Safety — The first year of New York City’s Vision Zero program was a bit rocky at times, but overall an enormous achievement for a city where a growing population puts increasing pressure on limited shared space. The City Council passed an unprecedented number of streets safety bills, lowered the speed limit to 25 miles per hour, and implemented a speed camera program. But this energy was not solely limited to the City. The number of statewide red light camera programs grew significantly, and Albany’s program commits all excess revenue to a Traffic Safety Fund for the city. Suffolk County legislators approved dedicated funding for implementing the county’s landmark Complete Streets policy.

Mass transit plan for new Tappan Zee Bridge proposed — After a year of meetings, the Tappan Zee Bridge Mass Transit Task Force proposed seven new bus routes in a new branded, modern, efficient bus system serving Rockland and Westchester Counties. The state wisely applied for (though unfortunately didn’t receive) TIGER funds to implement the Task Force recommendations for transit along the I-287 corridor.

Bigger bulk of competitive federal grant money given to bicycle/pedestrian projects —New Yorkers for Active Transportation beat the drum that NY has the worst record in the nation for percentage of pedestrian/bicyclist fatalities on our roads (27 percent), and it seems that the Governor and NYSDOT listened. Additional funds from the Transportation Enhancements Program and the Highway Safety Improvement Program, flowed to bicycle and pedestrian improvements, and NYC received the aforementioned TIGER funds for street safety projects.

Citi Bike restructuring puts program on path to fiscal sustainability —  Former MTA Chairman Jay Walder was appointed head of Alta Bicycle Share and announced the relocation of the company headquarters from Portland to New York City. Boosted by increased investment from Citibank and Goldman Sachs, the Citi Bike system will double in size by 2017 through a dual-phase expansion plan.

State rejects Sterling Forest casino proposal and fracking — The rejections of the $1.5 billion casino proposal, which included plans for the creation of a new Thruway exit, and the proposal to permit fracking in New York State were huge wins for transportation and environmental advocates who have been trying to curtail the negative impacts of a sprawling infrastructure system.

The Bad

Long Island dumps hard-won speed camera legislation — Despite an epidemic of speeding in Nassau County, the nascent speed camera demonstration program was repealed in the county after only three months in operation. Fearing a similar backlash from constituents, Suffolk County’s program never got off the ground, swept away by the winds of politics.

Transit needs greater investment — MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast says the $15.2 billion funding gap in the MTA’s proposed capital plan is “unconscionable,” but the governor says it’s just “bloated.” A first-ever five-year capital plan was proposed for statewide non-MTA transit programs, revealing that more than half of the needed $5 billion for these programs is unfunded. Unfortunately, these massive transit capital needs are at the mercy of an administration that refuses to keep its hands out of the cookie jardespite resistance from the press and legislature, the state diverted $30 million from MTA in 2014.

The Ugly

New York State Thruway Authority is a Mess — With three major departures, a possible “bombshell investigation” underway, a $36 million budget deficit, and financial details on how they’re going to pay for the New NY Bridge blocked from public sight after the rejection of more than 90 percent of the $511 million TZB loan, there’s no question that the agency is in need of a total overhaul.

Governor Cuomo vetoes Port Authority Reform — Despite widely recognized need for better transparency and accountability at the Port, Governor Cuomo has remained adamant about proceeding down his own path. A veto of a broadly-supported reform bill between Christmas and New Years left legislators scrambling to continue the fight.

Commissions and task forces are underappreciated — The Moreland Commission, MTA Reinvention Commission and the Tappan Zee Bridge Mass Transit Task Force are all examples from 2014 where thoughtful leaders, thinkers and advocates were brought together to find solutions to key problems, but whose work was either stopped early, buried over a holiday, or actually underway unbeknownst to many of the participants.

1 Comment on "New York 2014: Looking Back on the Good, the Bad and the Ugly"

  1. The people were not shut out of the decision-making process on the spending of their tax dollars. The Port Auth spends fees collected from travelers, not tax collections. Second, and more importantly, they elected the public officials who then appointed the others who direct the spending. All legal and straightforward. Until the public makes that connection there will be no reform.

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