NYSDOT’s Complete Streets Report: Positive Steps but Some Sidesteps, Too

nysdot cs reportThe New York State Department of Transportation released a report last week detailing how the Department has gone about implementing New York’s 2011 Complete Streets Act. The report, which NYSDOT is required by law to produce, elaborates on best practices and demonstrates the degree to which complete streets have been institutionalized and incorporated into all phases of transportation projects across the state.

Perhaps the best news coming out of the report is the forthcoming Complete Streets Checklist, a potentially useful tool for institutionalizing complete streets design into the decision-making process. Its success will depend, however, on how pervasively it is used. At a minimum, to be compliant with the state complete streets law, all projects receiving state and federal funding would need to use the checklist, a fact not mentioned in the report.

The report does state, however, that “many Complete Streets improvements, such as lane striping, are relatively inexpensive but effective” techniques to improve accessibility for all users of the roadways. If NYSDOT mandates these basic improvements, which would reflect NYSDOT going above and beyond what the law requires, the checklist would then be required for all projects, including resurfacing, restoring and rehabilitation projects —which could easily incorporate complete streets elements with almost no additional costs. If NYSDOT opts out of this strategy, a bill on the table in Albany would require them to do so by amending the complete streets law to require inclusion of “complete street design features in resurfacing, maintenance and pavement recycling projects and further enable safe access to public roads for all users.”

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Albany’s Budget Finale: A Big Win for Upstate New York — and a Big Loss for Downstate

Photo: Skip Dickstein/Times Union

Photo: Skip Dickstein/Times Union

This was a tough year for transportation funding. Looking at what was won and lost, Upstate and Downstate, it’s pretty clear the State Senate’s new Transportation Committee Chair hails not from Long Island, but from Monroe County in Upstate New York, and the fact that Governor Cuomo has spent a good portion of his term focusing on Upstate concerns.

$30 Million Diverted from Downstate Transit

Despite an outpouring of support from legislatorsmultiple editorials from the media, and a solid need to improve transit service that was slashed in 2010, transit riders lost to a determined, and powerful, governor. The biggest travesty is not the cumulative effect of last year’s $20 million diversion, and this year’s $30 million diversion, but the fact that there is an outstanding bill of $350 million in MTA state service contract bonds, and it is now clear that the governor wants transit riders to pick up the bill that the State had originally contracted to pay.

$40 Million Increase for Upstate Local Roads

It’s been a tough year for local roads, with a series of snowstorms that turned asphalt into a swiss-cheese obstacle course. The final budget included a $40 million bump in “CHIPs,” funding that will provide much-needed assistance for getting the roads back into shape. Although the request for dedicated funding for pedestrian and bicycling improvements did not make it into the final budget, this $40 million can be used to help make roads safer for these vulnerable users; brighter paint, road diets, improved curbs and sidewalks can all be paid for with CHIPs money.

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Fair Tolling, and the Media’s Take This Time Around

With the MTA’s upcoming five-year capital plan facing an estimated $10-15 billion hole, the silence from New York State’s elected officials has been deafening. Given that it is an election year for state senators, assembly members and Governor Andrew Cuomo, perhaps this is to be expected. For the most part, all debate is expected to be left until after the next election. But it was refreshing to hear the beginning of the conversation kick off last week.

After three years of quietly listening, shopping the proposal around, tweaking and gaining supporters, Move NY formally launched a draft plan at a forum last Friday that would better balance the tolling system around Manhattan. During the past three years, Move NY’s Alex Matthiessen has actively tried to avoid the spotlight in an attempt to make sure to avoid death-by-media (mis)conceptions. He also made it clear on Friday that he is not looking for people to choose a side yet, telling Streetsblog, “We are not looking for Mayor de Blasio or Governor Cuomo to take a position on this issue.” Of course, a negative word from either of these players could be the kiss of death to the nascent effort.

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How Far Would $40 Million Go?

The scenario outlined in the report could improve and restore service on several subway lines, including the W train, which was cut in 2010. | Photo: NY Daily News

The scenario outlined in the report could improve or restore service on many subway lines, including the W train, which was cut in 2010. | Photo: NY Daily News

Today, while legislators in Albany scramble to stop Governor Cuomo’s ill-advised diversion of $40 million in dedicated transit funds during the final hours of State budget negotiations, a report was released outlining just how far $40 million could go to restore and expand transit service in the New York metropolitan area. The report, authored by Riders Alliance and NYPIRG’s Straphangers Campaign, provides a scenario in which the $40 million is spent on transit upgrades, and details how those investments could substantially improve the commutes of the region’s transit riders.

Subways

  • Restore mid-day, nighttime and weekend service that was reduced on the 1, 7, A, F, J, L and M lines in 2010, creating shorter waits for 300,000 riders every weekday and 285,000 riders every weekend ($3.1 million)
  • Add 20 percent more morning rush hour service on the notoriously crowded C train ($1 million)
  • Restore G train service to Forest Hills–71st Avenue in Queens ($1.5 million)
  • Restore W train one-seat service from Astoria to Lower Manhattan ($3.4 million)

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Albany Budget Dance is Now in Full Swing

Transit champions Assemblymember Jim Brennan (top) and State Senator Marty Golden | Photos: Riders Alliance, NYSenate.gov

Transit champions Assemblymember Jim Brennan (top) and State Senator Marty Golden stood up for transit riders by removing Governor Cuomo’s proposal to divert $40 million from the MTA.  Photos: Riders Alliance, NYSenate.gov

This week, the New York State Assembly and Senate finally showed their cards, making public their one-house budget resolutions in response to Governor Cuomo’s Executive Budget. The next few weeks will be a flurry of negotiations and deals, and there are several issues TSTC is keeping on the radar.

Diversion of Transit Funds: Removed

The 2014-2015 Executive Budget proposes to divert $40 million in dedicated transit funds to pay off State Service Contract Bonds. The Assembly and Senate have responded in unison by standing up for transit riders and removing the proposal.

The saga began in 2002 when the State signed a contract with the MTA that obligated the State to pay the debt service on these bonds. Last year the governor backtracked on that obligation, and proposed to use $20 million in funds dedicated to transit to pay off the bonds, instead of using funds from the General Fund. Unfortunately, last year’s diversion slipped through in the budget process. The governor upped the ante in January, proposing a diversion twice the size of last year’s, while also revealing that he intended to pay down the entire $345 million in outstanding State-obligated bond debt by diverting chunks of transit funds every year over the course of the next 17 years.

As Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli points out, these are funds that could otherwise have gone to the MTA, and as the Straphangers Campaign’s Gene Russianoff told Capital New York, “We suffered through the bad times… Now with the economy improving, the MTA is being treated like a cash cow by the governor’s office.”

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Walk or Bike During Your Day? We Need YOU in Albany on February 11

advocacy-day-albany-2013New Yorkers for Active Transportation (NY4AT) are gearing up for their second annual advocacy day on February 11. This is a great opportunity to tell your representatives in Albany why walking and biking are important to you, and why you need their support to build a safer walking and biking environment for all New Yorkers.

Register Now

Issues on the agenda: 

Budget: Governor Cuomo deserves praise for setting aside $67 million in Transportation Enhancement funding for pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure earlier this month, but New York residents also need a long-term policy commitment that recognizes walking and biking as vital transportation infrastructure. That means a dedicated pot of money, distributed annually, that can provide a consistent source of funds for communities that want to build pedestrian and bicycling-friendly road and trail networks. Governor Cuomo left this out of his draft Executive Budget, but there is still time for the Senate and Assembly to do the right thing in their budget bills.

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Ask and Ye Shall Receive: Governor Cuomo Announces $67 Million for Pedestrian and Bicycle Infrastructure

Among the projects receiving grants is the  two-way cycle track planned for the Pulaski Bridge between Brooklyn and Queens. | Photo: NYC DOT via Streetsblog

Among the projects receiving grants is the two-way cycle track planned for the Pulaski Bridge between Brooklyn and Queens. | Image: NYC DOT

Yesterday, one day after advocates delivered panniers full of postcards to Governor Cuomo calling on him to address the inadequate funding of pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure in New York State, the Governor responded loudly and clearly: he announced grant awards totaling $67 million for 63 bicycle, pedestrian and multi-use path projects across the state.

These projects, selected through a competitive process, will receive federal dollars for 80 percent of the project costs, with a 20 percent local match, resulting in a total investment of $96.5 million. It had been anticipated that $30 million in federal dollars would be available; it is unclear what pot of money the additional $37 million came from, but the bonus dollars certainly put smiles on the faces of active transportation fans across the state. As Tri-State’s Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool stated in the Governor’s press release, “It’s a significant step forward in the spirit of the state’s Complete Streets law.”

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New Yorkers Deliver Over 1,300 Postcards to Governor Cuomo Asking for Dedicated Pedestrian and Bicycle Funds

New York State Senator Tim Kennedy and TSTC Albany Legislative Advocate Nadine Lemmon | Photo: Rohan Parikh

Today, advocates from New Yorkers for Active Transportation (NY4AT) decided to test out how safe it is to walk and bike (just kidding) the halls of the State Capitol building in Albany. With panniers overflowing with postcards [...]

Governor Cuomo Talks Transit and Upstate Road Expansion in State of State

Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Although bits and pieces of Governor Cuomo’s plans for this year’s legislative session had been leaked to the press in advance of yesterday’s State of the State address, he did save a few surprises for the big day, especially with respect to transportation. The Governor highlighted a couple of big ticket items that have been on his transportation wishlist for some years: the launch of a new Metro-North Railroad line that would add stations in the Bronx and provide Hudson Valley and Connecticut commuters with access to Penn Station, and expediting the rebuilding of JFK and LaGuardia Airports.

The proposed Metro-North “Penn Station Access” project is an initiative recommended by the Governor’s 2100 Commission to help build New York’s resiliency and redundancy in the event of disasters like Superstorm Sandy. The new line would bypass the historically troublesome bottlenecks of Mott Haven Junction and the Harlem River Lift Bridge, which often hinder the commutes of 275,000 commuters to and from the City. The plan would also provide an alternate access point to the city in the event that Grand Central Terminal is inaccessible.

The Governor proposes to seek federal funds for the project—estimated to cost $1 billion—which will primarily use existing tracks, and will add four new stations in the Bronx at Co-op City, Morris Park, Parkchester and Hunts Point. The funds would also be used to purchase new rail cars for the new service, all while providing the East Bronx with their first commuter rail line.

The Metro-North Penn Station Access announcement comes one week after State Senator Fuschillo of Long Island stepped down as chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, who was lukewarm to the project during his tenure as Chair, and Long Island elected officials have historically pushed back against the idea due to concerns that additional trains serving Penn Station would crowd out Long Island Rail Road commuters.

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New York 2013: Looking Back on the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

NY-GBU-2013In New York’s transportation world, 2013 feels like a tale of two administrations: one, at the New York City level, that was pro sustainable transportation and one, at the state level, that… well, the jury is still out.

The Bloomberg/Sadik-Khan NYCDOT era brought plenty of wins for those who walk, bike and take transit in New York City. For those residing in the rest of The Empire State, stay tuned — the battle continues.

We end 2013 with two notable losses: not only has Mayor Bloomberg passed the torch, but Senator Charles Fuschillo, the State Senate’s Transportation Committee chair and sponsor of the 2011 Complete Streets law, will also be stepping down, leaving a big question mark as to who will advocate for downstate’s transit  systems and pedestrian and cycling safety interests.

The Good

Livable streets advocates impact elections – StreetsPAC, the New York City livable streets political action committee, launched in April and its push for a Vision Zero policy quickly became a plank in then-candidate Bill de Blasio’s platform. The PAC has already elevated progressive transportation policy into New York City’s political circles and Tri-State is excited to see what’s to come this year during the state election process.

Speed enforcement cameras debut in NYC – After more than 10 years of failed attempts, New York City finally squeezed out of Albany a key victory for safer streets. The City’s first speed camera demonstration program launched in the fall thanks to the efforts of Assemblywoman Glick and State Senator Klein.

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