Lack of Additional Funding from Suffolk State Legislators Leaves County Transit Riders Out to Dry

Suffolk County Transit riders were left in a lurch after New York State’s legislative session ended without securing funding for expanded bus service last week.

Suffolk County State Senators and Assembly members failed to deliver for bus riders, despite a letter from Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature, calls from advocates [...]

Dan Burden, Advocates Lead Walking Audit on One of Long Island’s Most Dangerous Roads

The group crosses Sunrise Highway in Freeport. | Photo: Samantha Thomas/WALC

Dan Burden, a national authority on traffic, pedestrian safety and street design, led a walking audit with local elected officials, civic groups and advocates along Sunrise Highway in Valley Stream, Baldwin and Freeport on Thursday.

Sunrise Highway, a multi-lane thoroughfare that runs through each community’s downtown, [...]

Suffolk County Legislators Adopt a Complete Streets Implementation Fund

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Calarco | Photo: suffolkcountyny.gov

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Calarco | Photo: suffolkcountyny.gov

The Suffolk County Legislature voted today to establish a Complete Streets Implementation Fund behind the leadership of Legislator Rob Calarco and Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory. The 17-1 vote creates an amendment to the County’s 2015-2017 Capital Program, which will provide a yearly allotment of $250,000 to redesign the County’s roadways to more safely accommodate pedestrians, cyclists, transit users and motorists, beginning in 2016 and continuing each subsequent year.

Tri-State, along with the AARP and Vision Long Island and other safe streets advocates have been calling for the creation of such a fund since the County’s Complete Streets policy was adopted a year and a half ago.

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Suffolk County Set to Establish a Complete Streets Fund

Suffolk County is poised to fund the implementation of complete streets infrastructure, like the sidewalk and bike lane in the Town of Brookhaven, Long Island, pictured here. | Photo: Ryan Lynch/TSTC

The Suffolk County Legislature is poised to fund the implementation of complete streets infrastructure, like this new sidewalk and bike lane in the Town of Brookhaven, Long Island. | Photo: Liz Krolik-Alexander

After repeated calls from Tri-State and safe street allies for additional funding for complete streets implementation in Suffolk County, it appears the County Legislature is primed to create a Complete Streets Fund in its 2015-2017 Capital Program. Scheduled for a final vote tomorrow, the proposed amendment to the Capital Program calls for $250,000 a year – beginning in 2016 and each subsequent year – to be dedicated to building infrastructure that enhances the mobility and safety of all users of Suffolk’s roads.

The amendment has been championed by Legislator Rob Calarco and supported by Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory as a means of facilitating the implementation of the County’s complete streets law adopted in December of 2012.

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Advocates Call on Suffolk County to Fund Complete Streets Implementation in Capital Plan

Advocates called on the Suffolk County Legislature to fund the implementation of Complete Streets this week. | Photo: Ryan Lynch

Advocates called on the Suffolk County Legislature to fund the implementation of Complete Streets this week. | Photo: Ryan Lynch

Suffolk County is home to some of the deadliest roads for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists in the region. According to a Tri-State Transportation Campaign analysis of federal data, 122 pedestrians were killed along roads in Suffolk County from 2010-2012, with the Suffolk County portion of Jericho Turnpike seeing 16 pedestrian fatalities alone. According to Governor Cuomo’s Traffic Safety Committee, 278 motorists and passengers, and 22 cyclists were killed during the same time period. 52,000 non-fatal injuries occurred as a result of almost 90,000 crashes from 2010-2012.

Suffolk County adopted a Complete Streets law in 2012, but implementation of the law is still in its early stages. One reason for the delay is a lack of available funding. The federal transportation bill, MAP-21, cut dedicated walking and biking infrastructure investment by 30 percent while New York State plans to spend less than one percent of its transportation dollars on pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. This represents a reduction of more than $100 million — a 40 percent cut — in its 2014-2017 Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) as compared to 2011-2014.  In Region 10 on Long Island, planned spending on walking and biking projects will be cut by 24 percent over the next four years, resulting in a paltry .57 percent of the regional allocation of transportation dollars for bicycle and pedestrian projects.

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NICE Budget Hole Plugged with Additional County Funding and Cash Fare Hike

Photo: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Photo: Newsday/John Paraskevas

At last week’s Nassau Inter-County Express (NICE) Bus Transit Committee meeting, NICE CEO Michael Setzer outlined a plan to fill the $3.3 million deficit in this year’s NICE budget. The deficit mitigation plan includes:

  • $1.8 million in additional Nassau County funding – a 70 percent increase in the County’s contribution – bringing the total annual funding to $4.4 million
  • Veolia, the private operator of NICE, will cede $400,000 in profit
  • Cash paying riders will see a fare increase of more than 10 percent — from $2.25 per trip, to $2.50, and
  • $700,000 of the deficit will be pushed into 2015 – the result of a proposal to align NICE’s fiscal budget with Nassau County’s January to December fiscal year, thereby reducing the timeline for the needed deficit mitigation from one year to 9 months

County Executive Ed Mangano should be applauded for providing additional funding for the NICE bus system, and Veolia’s generosity — while unlikely to continue from a business designed to turn a profit — is welcomed. This mitigation plan provides needed stability for riders; the NICE system has suffered declining ridership as a result of service reductions and declining customer satisfaction over the past two years.

For the second year in a row, however, a portion of the budget will be balanced on the backs of bus riders, with an additional fare hike expected in 2015.

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Proposed Capital Program Bolsters Transit and Smart Growth in Suffolk County

The proposed 2015-2017 Suffolk County Capital Program includes funding that would help the Ronkonkoma Hub TOD project take another step forward. | Image: Newsday

The proposed 2015-2017 Suffolk County Capital Program includes funding that would help the Ronkonkoma Hub TOD project take another step forward. | Image: Newsday

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone proposed a three-year, $789 million capital program last week, which offers a blueprint of priorities for the second half of his first term in office. Although the bulk of the plan focuses on waste water management needs, advocates for sustainable transportation, smart growth and transit-oriented development have much to be happy about.

In a letter accompanying the 2015-2017 program’s release, County Executive Bellone highlights the need to diversify Suffolk County’s transportation system, saying “we need to make it easier and safer for people to travel around Suffolk County, but we cannot grow our economy by simply adding more cars to the road…creating a system which allows residents to move around without having to get in their automobiles.” Some projects that will help ensure Bellone’s rhetoric becomes reality include:

Transit Oriented Development/Smart Growth: In addition to doubling the Downtown Revitalization Program to $500,000, the Program also includes $2.5 million for infrastructure improvements that support workforce housing in downtowns throughout Suffolk County. The funding is available for sidewalks, sewage treatment plants, landscaping and other projects integral to the success of affordable housing projects. The plan also helps the Ronkonkoma Hub project move forward by including $25 million for sewers to support the 1,450-unit TOD project at the Ronkonkoma LIRR station. “Jumpstart Suffolk” also received $2.5 million to fund projects that support place-making, mixed-use housing development and environmental sustainability.

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Nassau County: Ready for Speed Cameras

The Nassau County Legislature unanimously approved a home rule message in support of speed camera enforcement yesterday. The home rule message serves to formally endorse a New York State bill that would authorize 56 speed cameras for Nassau County (one for each of Nassau County’s school districts).

speed-camera

Nassau County took a critical step toward getting speed enforcement cameras yesterday. | Photo: CBS 2

Nassau County is home to some of the deadliest roads to pedestrians, cyclists and motorists in the region. According to a TSTC analysis of federal data, 88 pedestrians were killed along roads in Nassau County between 2010 and 2012. According to Governor Cuomo’s Traffic Safety Committee, 185 motorists and passengers, and 13 cyclists were killed during the same time period.

There were over 100,000 crashes from 2010-2012, roughly 70 percent of which the Nassau County Police Department was the lead investigating agency. Yet speeding tickets made up only 11 percent of all tickets issued during the same time period, a number that is shockingly low to anyone who has driven Nassau County’s roadways, where drivers often speed without consequence.

Nassau County has taken significant steps to combat dangerous driving with better enforcement. In 2009, the New York State Legislature, at the County’s request, authorized red light cameras for 50 intersections in Nassau County, and in 2013, the County adopted a Complete Streets policy.

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Tri-State and Straphangers Say No to Governor Cuomo’s MTA Diversion

NY Assemblymembers | Photo: Dan Rivoli/AM New York

At a rally earlier this month, Assembly leaders and advocates urge Governor Cuomo to remove a $40 million transit raid. Photo: Dan Rivoli/AM New York

In an op-ed in Newsday and amNY today, Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s executive director Veronica Vanterpool, and Straphangers Campaign staff attorney Gene Russianoff, called on the New York State legislature, particularly the Long Island delegation, to hold firm on its rejection of Governor Cuomo’s proposed $40 million diversion of dedicated transit funds to the State General Fund. Such diversions can lead to service cuts and fare increases, as was the case in 2010 after $260 million in transit funding was used to plug state budget holes. Long Island’s elected officials have already stood up to the proposed diversion in both the Senate and Assembly budgets:

Long Island’s Senate and Assembly members understand the importance of this transit funding. Thanks to the efforts of State Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and senior Assembly members like Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), the proposed budgets of both the Senate and the Assembly withdrew the governor’s $40 million diversion.

But as negotiations for the final budget enter the final days, it is imperative that the Senate and Assembly remain firm in their opposition to the Governor’s proposed diversions. As the op-ed highlights, $40 million could go a long way towards stabilizing the MTA’s tenuous finances, while also potentially restoring previously cut service–like weekend service on the West Hempstead branch–or holding down next year’s proposed fare hike.

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Annual Transit Ridership Grows, but Not on Long Island

Transit ridership is up across the region, except in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. | Photo: Ed Betz/Newsday

Transit ridership is up across the region, except in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. | Photo: Ed Betz/Newsday

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) released its annual overview of transit ridership in the United States today, and by and large the news across the country was good. According to the report:

In 2013 Americans took 10.7 billion trips on public transportation, which is the highest annual public transit ridership number in 57 years[...]This was the eighth year in a row that more than 10 billion trips were taken on public transportation systems nationwide. While vehicle miles traveled on roads (VMT) went up 0.3 percent, public transportation use in 2013 increased by 1.1 percent.

In New York, annual transit ridership growth largely mirrored national patterns. The Long Island Rail Road saw annual growth of over 2 percent, and even Metro-North, which had a year that Connecticut General Assembly Transportation Chair Representative Tony Guerrera aptly described as “appalling,” still saw growth of .6 percent.

Ridership grew by 3.6 percent in New York City; in Westchester County, ridership on the County’s Bee-Line bus system grew by over 1.5 percent.

In New Jersey, ridership on the Port Authority’s transit systems grew by .47 percent and ridership on NJ Transit grew by 1.54 percent.

The lone blemish on the region’s widespread transit ridership growth was Long Island’s bus systems, with both Nassau Inter-County Express (NICE) and Suffolk County Transit (SCT) experiencing ridership drops in 2013. With a ridership drop of almost 2.4 percent, NICE ridership fell to its lowest level since 1998. In Suffolk County, ridership fell by just over 3 percent, resulting in the system’s lowest annual ridership since 2005.

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