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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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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Westchester Sets Affordable Housing Precedent in Harrison Development

Renderings for the AvalonBay transit-oriented development proposed for downtown Harrison | Photo: Avalon Bay

After months of press events and testimony at MTA board hearings calling for the inclusion of affordable housing in a transit-oriented development (TOD) project in Harrison, the Westchester Workforce Housing Coalition applauded a cooperative agreement between the MTA, the project developer, […]

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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Stadium or No Stadium, Hartford Must Prioritize Connectivity and Walkability in Downtown North

Downtown North's wide streets funnel fast-moving traffic to and from Interstates 84 and 91, and will certainly need to be reconfigured if this area is to be transformed into a walkable, mixed-use neighborhood. | Photo: Joseph Cutrufo/TSTC

Downtown North’s wide streets must be reconfigured if this area is going to be transformed into a walkable, mixed-use neighborhood. | Photo: Joseph Cutrufo/TSTC

Hartford’s Planning and Zoning Commission voted earlier this week to amend the City’s zoning so that a stadium would be a permissible use in the “B-1 zone,” which covers most of downtown. But then, citing concerns that building a stadium in the Downtown North area — as it has been proposed — may be inconsistent with the City’s plan of conservation and development, the Commission voted against giving the project a favorable recommendation to the city council.

Before the vote on whether to amend the City’s zoning, commissioners debated the pros and cons of having a stadium in the Downtown North area. Some expressed concern about foot traffic around the stadium area. Because of their size, stadiums can create “superblock” conditions, which limit permeability and pedestrian circulation. And although they attract a lot of people on game days, they sit mostly empty outside of events.

Trumbull-looking-north

Old-fashioned lighting is a nice touch in this section of Trumbull Street where Downtown transitions to Downtown North, but it doesn’t make up for Trumbull Street’s excessive width or lack of buildings. | Photo: Joseph Cutrufo/TSTC

On the other hand, it’s probably a better idea to stick with putting the ballpark downtown, where fans have multiple transportation options, rather than, as Commissioner David Blatt put it, having a stadium “plopped in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by asphalt.”  After all, by the time the Rock Cats take the field in Hartford, the CTfastrak bus rapid transit system will be up and running; by the time the team’s second season begins, fans will be able to ride commuter rail to Union Station and walk to the game, “no parking required — just like a real city.”

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Four Ways to Improve Trans-East River Travel That Aren’t Gondolas

ERSWWhat does it take to get people talking about increasing travel options for people whose commutes take them across the East River?

A futuristic proposal spawned in the mind of a Manhattan real estate mogul, evidently.

The East River Skyway proposal aims to address congestion on the L train between Williamsburg and Manhattan by carrying passengers on aerial trams (like the Roosevelt Island tram). With rapid (and continuing) growth in North Brooklyn, the L train has become increasingly crowded in the last few years. But is a gondola the best way to accommodate demand for trans-East travel?

Benjamin Kabak at Second Avenue Sagas summarizes the issue nicely:

In a certain sense, this plan gets to problems with the current transit set-up including overcrowded L trains, a need to serve the southern part of Roosevelt Island, especially with the Cornell development on tap and more capacity across the East River. On the other hand, the alignment is terrible in that it tracks subway lines such as the J/M/Z that are under capacity and mirrors preexisting ferry service.

Although the East River Skyway would provide some fantastic views, perhaps we should consider improvements to the rights-of-way that already exist.

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Land Banking: A Tool to Facilitate Equitable TOD

Vacant and abandoned properties present a variety of challenges to municipalities: they degrade the aesthetic appeal of neighborhoods, pose safety risks and lower the value of surrounding properties. Communities burdened by vacant property also miss out on considerable revenue — while local governments face increased maintenance costs. And more often than not, attempts to redevelop these properties are thwarted by complicated tax foreclosure processes.

To help alleviate these headaches, some communities are enacting legislation to create land banks, which would acquire and manage abandoned properties so they can be saved for development and returned to productive uses.

One such productive use that land banks can help cities achieve is equitable transit-oriented development (ETOD). When municipalities establish land banks with the goal of creating ETOD, they’re not simply collecting underutilized land; they’re taking the first steps toward improving access to economic opportunity and housing choice for low-income people.

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Public Authorities Control Board Must Get Answers to Important Questions Before Approving EFC TZB Loan

According to a 2008 report from the DEC regarding wastewater infrastructure needs of NYS, "The need documented in the [CWNS] 2008 survey is expected to be  significantly higher than the 2004 CWNS." | Photo: EPA's Clean Watershed Needs Survey, 2004.

According to a 2008 report from the DEC, “Looking at long-term capital costs, New York’s wastewater infrastructure needs continue to rise, as documented in EPA’s recently published CWNS.” | Photo: EPA’s Clean Watershed Needs Survey, 2004.

As the New NY Bridge construction project continues into its second summer season, questions persist about the transparency and legitimacy of the financial plan for the project. A few weeks ago, Governor Cuomo announced that the New York State Thruway Authority would be receiving $511.45 million in low- and no-interest loans from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF). The fund is traditionally used to upgrade water infrastructure across the state – through the NYS Environmental Facilities Corporation, which jointly administers the funds with the Department of Environmental Conservation. The announcement that the loans would pay for many environmental mitigation projects related to the bridge project and the circumvented public review and legislative process to enable this loan riled up environmental, transportation and government groups statewide. The “unconventional” use was noted by EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck, scores of elected officials and seven newspaper editorials.

As noted by Tri-State and others in a letter to the EFC, projects receiving CWSRF funds must be included in the Intended Use Plan – the list of projects to be funded for a given year. The bridge construction project was not in the version made available for public review and comment earlier this year, but rather only added by amendment as a “minor modification” last month along with seven other projects totaling approximately $130 million, bringing the total request of funds to $641 million.
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One Region, TSTC-Granted Funds Advance Transit-Oriented Development Throughout the Region

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Municipal grantees of the One Region Funders’ Group and Tri-State’s Transit-Centered Grant Program present TOD project updates at TOD Forum. Left to right: Nicole Chevalier (moderator), Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation; Claire Shulman, Flushing-Willets Point-Corona LDC; David McCarthy, Jonathan Rose Companies; William Long, City of Mount Vernon; Richard Slingerland and Bob Galvin, Village of Mamaroneck; Jonathan Keyes, Town of Babylon. Photo: Kathi Ko

Tri-State and the One Region Funders’ Group assembled Transit-Centered Development Grant Program recipients last month to discuss progress made since the first round of grants to advance TOD were made in 2009.

The value of using philanthropic support to leverage additional investment for transit-oriented development (TOD) is unprecedented. Through two rounds of grant-making in 2009 and 2012, the program awarded $335,000 in funds to 11 municipalities throughout New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. These awards leveraged $135,000 in local contributions, $6.7 million in county and regional funds, $23 million in state grants and loan guarantees, and $4 million in federal funds.

Presentations from the grantees made it clear that these funds are going a long way to undo decades of sprawl. Some notable updates include:

Affordable senior housing coming to Flushing, Queens

The Flushing-Willets Point-Corona LDC received a $14,000 grant in 2011 and used the funds as part of a larger proposal to revamp the LIRR’s Flushing station. Claire Schulman, former Queens Borough President and head of FWPCLDC, announced that the New York City Department of Housing, Preservation and Development is now poised to transform a 43,200 square foot parking lot into as many as 200 units of affordable senior housing.

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