Wednesday Winners (& Losers)

A weekly roundup of good deeds, missteps, heroic feats and epic failures in the tri-state region and beyond.

NYC DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez join other City electeds in breaking ground on the Plaza de Las Americas. | Photo: NYC DOT Flickr

The groundbreaking of the Plaza de Las Americas. | Photo: NYC DOT Flickr

WINNERS

Washington Heights residents After seven years of planning, the City has finally broken ground on the Plaza de Las Americas, a big win for local vendors and businesses as well as for pedestrians, who will enjoy increased traffic safety once the project is complete.

Queens residents —  In addition to the great news of permanent Q103 weekend service, the City DOT unveiled its design for a ‘super’ bus route along Woodhaven Boulevard, where buses would run in their own lane separated from local traffic with a concrete median.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio — As chairman of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Cities of Opportunities Task Force, de Blasio called on fellow mayors across the country to raise the call for greater federal investment in mass transit and infrastructure, saying “the failure to invest in transportation, the failure to invest in infrastructure is holding us back.” Does this mean there will be an increase in city funding to the MTA’s capital plan to match the call for increased federal funding?

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal & acting Federal Railway Administrator Sarah Feinberg — The Northeast Corridor high speed rail study that has been irking Connecticut officials for weeks has been declared “dead on arrival,” with the Connecticut Senator vowing to fight the bill until the study includes a stop in Connecticut.

Connecticut commuters and residents — In an effort to woo residents of the Land of Steady Habits, there are several promotional offers for passengers who try CTfastrak, launching this Saturday, March 28, including local business discounts and nine full days of free rides for all passengers statewide.

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Will the Land of Steady Habits Get on Board with BRT?

Is Connecticut ready to get on board with bus rapid transit? We'll soon find out. | Image: New Britain Herald

Is Connecticut ready to get on board with bus rapid transit? We’ll soon find out. | Image: New Britain Herald

CTfastrak, Metro Hartford’s new bus rapid transit system, will officially begin service this Saturday with nine days of free rides. The BRT system has been the topic of much conversation in Connecticut over the last few years, with more than its fair share of detractors. CTfastrak has been known to some as the “busway boondoggle” and the “busway to nowhere,” while others have wondered why the State didn’t build a light rail line on the corridor instead.

But state and local officials have been bullish on the busway, predicting that CTfastrak would spur economic development. And they were right: public and private investments have kick-started the revitalization of downtown New Britain, Newington cleaned up the former National Welding site to make way for transit-oriented development, and in Hartford, downtown buildings are being converted into apartments.

Connecticut is known as “The Land of Steady Habits,” so skepticism about a road designed solely for buses in a metro area where 81 percent of commuters drive alone shouldn’t be unexpected. But the opening of the busway will be an historic moment for Connecticut. CTfastrak is only the nation’s eighth full-fledged BRT system, and the only example of true BRT in the tri-state region.

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Tolls Aren’t as Controversial or Politically-Risky as Some Connecticut Politicians Would Like You to Believe

The Connecticut State legislature’s Transportation Committee voted this week to advance a bill which would bring the state one step closer to reinstating highway tolls. The vote followed party lines, with 18 Democrats voting in favor, and 13 Republicans voting against.

State Senator Toni Boucher (R-Wilton) spoke against the bill, but her argument falls apart when you look at the facts.

Transportation Committee Chairman Representative Antonio Guerrera and ranking member State Senator Toni Boucher.  | Image: SRO/Flickr

Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. Tony Guerrera and ranking member State Senator Toni Boucher. | Image: SRO/Flickr

Boucher said “People uniformly have an opinion on [tolls],” but that would only be true if you look at the results of a poll which was conducted by Boucher’s office, which only surveyed voters in her district.

An independent Quinnipiac University poll conducted earlier this month, however, shows that 58 percent of Nutmeg State Republicans (and 62 percent of Democrats) support tolls as long as the revenue raised goes toward transportation purposes. Without that provision, 61 percent of voters oppose tolls. But it’s highly unlikely that tolls would be implemented until the State puts a “lockbox” on the Special Transportation Fund.

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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 York State Senator Jose Peralta | Photo: nysenate.gov

New York State Senator Jose Peralta | Photo: nysenate.gov

WINNERS

New York State Senator Jose Peralta — Despite loud opposition in recent weeks from other Queens electeds, State Senator Jose Peralta of Queens became the first state senator to outright support the Move New York toll reform plan.

U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) — The Senators have reintroduced their Innovation in Surface Transportation plan, a bipartisan bill that “would give local officials more control over the transportation planning process in their states and communities.”

New York Legislative transit champions  The State Senate has released their budget resolutions, which like the Assembly also include increases to statewide transit spending. The Assembly has also updated its resolutions to include $100 million for Bus Rapid Transit projects, a portion of which will help support Staten Island’s North Shore BRT, thanks to Assemblymembers Michael Cusick and Matthew Titone.

State Farm Insurance — The firm is aligning its future planning at three major sites to concentrate its employees near transit to create a “live-work-play environment that will give employees easy access to their work from the neighboring communities.”

Village of Hempstead, NY — Mayor Wayne Hall Sr. has attributed the village’s vitality to its proximity to a transit hub, which in turn spurred a major downtown revitalization project.

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“Bike Bill” Would Pave the Way for 21st Century Bike Infrastructure in Connecticut

Contraflow bike lanes, left-side bike lanes and parking-protected cycle tracks may soon be coming to Connecticut. | Photos: NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide

A law which would permit modern bicycle facilities such as contra-flow bike lanes, left-side bike lanes and parking-protected cycle tracks, recently advanced in the Connecticut General Assembly. | Photos: NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide

Connecticut has one of the nation’s best statewide Complete Streets laws, but Nutmeg State municipalities are limited in what kinds of bicycle infrastructure they can design and implement. You won’t find protected bike lanes, two-way cycle tracks, contra-flow lanes, or even bike lanes on the left side of one-way streets in Connecticut because, as advocates have heard over the years during conversations with engineers, they’re “illegal.”

What makes these context-sensitive bicycle facilities “illegal,” we learned, is that they contradict Section 14-286b of the state statutes, which says “Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable.” You can’t be “as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable” if you’re riding in a bike lane that’s been marked on the left side of a one-way or median-separated street. And more to the point, municipal engineers could find their livelihoods in jeopardy if someone were injured or killed using a bicycle facility which doesn’t jive with the state law.

The wording of Section 14-286b has stymied efforts to bring 21st century transportation infrastructure to cities and towns across Connecticut, including plans to install a two-way cycle track in New Haven. That prompted the City’s Transportation Director Doug Hausladen and advocates (including Tri-State), to push for state legislation that could free municipalities to build modern bicycle facilities.

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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 State Senator Raymond Lesniak | Photo: njleg.state.nj.us

New Jersey State Senator Raymond Lesniak | Photo: njleg.state.nj.us

WINNERS

New Jersey State Senator Raymond Lesniak — Amid threats of another fare hike, State Senator Lesniak is introducing a bill to give commuters a greater say over NJ Transit decisions.

New York State Assembly — The Assembly wants to limit state aid to the Tappan Zee Bridge project until the state gives up the details of its financial plan, and has proposed increasing funding for statewide transit systems.

Bridgeport, Glastonbury, Hartford, Simsbury, South Windsor and Stamford, CT   Six Connecticut municipalities have signed on to the USDOT Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets, more than New York and New Jersey combined.

Linden, NJ — The City Police Department has received a $200,000 grant from the New Jersey Safe Routes to School program for safety improvements near School #1, including the addition of bike racks and sidewalks.

New York City Councilmembers Donovan Richards and Helen Rosenthal — The transportation sector is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases in New Yorka threat to both the environment and residents’ healthand the councilmembers want YOUR help in the fight against violators of the City’s anti-idling law.

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The Usual Suspects: Analysis Shows Little Progress on the Region’s Most Dangerous Roads

The latest analysis from Tri-State Transportation Campaign, released this week, finds that 1,266 pedestrians were killed on roads in Connecticut, New Jersey and downstate New York in the three years from 2011 through 2013.

The Most Dangerous Roads for Walking analysis found that Jericho Turnpike (Route 25/Middle Country Road) in Suffolk County, Long Island, […]

Thursday Winners (& Losers)

We’re sorry to deliver Winners & Losers a day late  we were busy getting our annual analysis out. Have you seen it?

New York City Councilmember Brad Lander (top) and Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson  (bottom) | Photos: NYTimes (top) and WNYC (bottom)

New York City Councilmember Brad Lander (top) and Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson (bottom) | Photos: Karsten Moran/NYTimes (top) and Stephen Nessen/WNYC (bottom)

A weekly roundup of good deeds, missteps, heroic feats and epic failures in the tri-state region and beyond.

WINNERS

New York City Councilman Mark Levine — Disappointing politics have limited 125th Street bus lanes to the east of Lenox Avenue, but Councilman Levine is fighting back by launching a petition to bring service west of Lenox.

Sea Bright, NJ bicyclists — The town council passed a resolution in support of NJDOT’s Route 36 traffic signing and striping concept plans, which includes both north- and southbound bike lanesconnecting existing bike routes in surrounding towns.

Hartford and New Haven – Job growth is on the rise in Connecticut’s urban cores – a good sign for CTfastrak and Hartford Line ridership — while Connecticut suburbs are losing jobs.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio – Mayor de Blasio has pledged $250 million to improve four of New York City’s most dangerous outer-borough arterials.

New York City Councilmember Brad Lander and Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson — Despite strong pushback from legislators opposed to NYC’s Right of Way law, Lander and Thompson are seeking harsher penalties for drivers who injure or kill pedestrians or bicyclists, and have announced a Driver Accountability Task Force.

Farmingdale, NY Village Board — The village board unanimously approved a proposal to rezone downtown for mixed-use development, giving the green-light to a Farmingdale transit-oriented development project.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. — Ahead of the four new Bronx Metro-North stations announced in Governor Cuomo’s Opportunity Agenda, the Borough President is calling for areas near the stations to be rezoned for transit-oriented development.

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Connecticut Uniquely Positioned for Congestion Pricing, but Legislators Must Seize the Opportunity

A study on electronic, variable-rate road pricing for Connecticut is underway, but will the state's elected leaders be receptive to congestion management? | Source

Connecticut has a unique opportunity to pursue variable-rate road pricing, but will the state’s elected leaders be receptive to this congestion management strategy? | Source

If last week’s hearing on tolls at Connecticut’s borders did anything, it strengthened the position that implementing tolls for the sole purpose of generating revenue is a bad idea. And if anything else grew out of the hysteria, it might be additional support for congestion pricing.

As the Connecticut Post pointed out this morning, Connecticut is one of only 15 jurisdictions in the nation that has been granted an exemption by the Federal Highway Administration from the general prohibition of tolls on Federal-aid roads. Connecticut’s exception falls under the Variable Pricing Pilot Program, which is “intended to demonstrate whether and to what extent roadway congestion may be reduced through application of congestion pricing strategies.”

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Distractions Driving Connecticut’s Toll Conversation

Tolls at the borders would raise revenue, but they would do little to address congestion on Connecticut's most congested corridors. | Source

Tolls at the borders would raise revenue, but they would do little for Connecticut’s most congested corridors. | Source

Modern, all-electronic tolling systems don't require old-fashioned toll booths. | Source

Modern, all-electronic tolling systems don’t require toll booths. | Source

There’s been a lot of talk about about bringing highway tolls back to Connecticut these last few days. The state outlawed tolls after seven people were killed in a fiery crash at a toll both on Interstate 95 in 1983. That tragedy has left Connecticut residents skeptical of tolls, and justifiably so. But  in recent days, a lot of the discourse surrounding tolls has been misinformed, which has led to some confusion. And that’s not good for lawmakers who are trying to deal with serious congestion problems on some of the worst roads in the nation, not to mention an underfunded 30-year transportation plan.

Tolls at the borders

A bill introduced by State Rep. Tony Guerrera, which would bring tolls to interstates at Connecticut’s borders, was the main topic of conversation at a Transportation Committee hearing Wednesday. Guerrera, the committee’s co-chair, “says the legislation is needed to pay for highway projects because the state’s gas tax isn’t raising enough money.”

The argument for placing tolls at the border is that out-of-state residents would shoulder some of the load — as much as 75 percent, Guerrera argued. Connecticut residents pay tolls when they drive to New York and Massachusetts, so let the folks clogging up Interstates 84 and 95 between the Boston and New York metro areas pay their fair share, right? It’s good political calculus — especially since Guerrera represents Newington, Rocky Hill and Wethersfield, which are smack dab in the middle of the state (and would be minimally impacted by tolls at the state’s edges).

The argument against border tolls hinges on the fact that they disproportionately impact residents (and the economies) of border towns like Danbury and Enfield.

Both arguments are perfectly sound. The problem is, it’s wrong argument to be having.

Rep. Guerrera is right: the state’s gas tax isn’t bringing in enough revenue to maintain the state’s transportation system. But reinstating tolls in order to raise revenue misses the point of tolling. The goal of bringing back highway tolls must be congestion management.

When you look at tolling from a congestion management perspective rather than a revenue perspective, it completely changes the map. Instead of locating tolls in a way that aims to minimize its impact on intrastate travel, they should be placed A) where there’s a great deal of congestion, and B) like the proposed Move New York plan, where there are alternatives to driving available.

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