We’d Be More Thankful If…

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Photo: people.com

Before we succumb to the increasingly aggressive Christmas creep, we’d like to take a moment to honor another important holiday coming up. No, not National Cookie Day (but that’s coming up on December 4 — mark your calendar). We’re talking, of course, about Thanksgiving.

We’ve got a lot to be thankful for here at MTR, like New York City’s lower default speed limit, the passage of a vulnerable users bill in Connecticut, and New Jersey legislators pushing forward Port Authority transparency. And while some may be thankful for declining Thanksgiving gas prices, it’s worth noting that the number of travelers is skyrocketing.

Yes, there are plenty of reasons to be thankful, but we’d be a lot more thankful if:

Traffic deaths weren’t a requirement for getting safety improvements on our streets — “Let’s wait until someone is struck and killed before we make traffic safety improvements,” said no one ever. But unfortunately, that’s often what it takes to get local governments to fix unsafe street conditions.

New York and New Jersey’s elected officials had to commute via bus or train — We feel pretty confident that if the Port Authority Bus Terminal or Penn Station were part of the daily commute for our states’ leaders, the Gateway Project would be moving forward with real funding, the city’s bus terminals would receive more than a one percent funding priority in the Port Authority capital programand NJ Transit service would be more reliable.

Connecticut cities started acting like cities — Hartford is planning to add over 1,400 new parking spots in the Downtown North district, New Haven’s Route 34 West project looks like something you’d see in a suburban office park, and Stamford’s new Street Smart program doesn’t address the downtown area’s wide arterials that shun pedestrians and bicyclists.

New Jersey drivers were any good at math – We can’t help but add to the pile of disparaging things that have been said about New Jersey drivers. Increasing the state’s gas tax—the second lowest in the nation—by 25 cents per gallon would cost the average driver an additional $292 each year. Last we checked, that’s less than half of what the average NJ driver pays in extra repair costs due to poor roads.

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Connecticut Cities Join — and Climb — the Ranks of Bicycle Friendly Communities

Image: simsbury-ct.gov

Simsbury moved up from Bronze to Silver in 2014’s rankings. | Image: simsbury-ct.gov

Two Connecticut cities were named Bicycle Friendly Communities by the League of American Bicyclists this week. Both New Haven and New Britain received Bronze-level designations, joining Farmington, South Windsor and West Hartford.

The Bicycle Friendly Communities program evaluates communities based on how welcoming they are to cycling from the entry level (Bronze) to all-star (Diamond). Bicycle Friendly Communities often have Complete Streets policies, active cyclists groups, bike lanes, relatively low crash rates, and higher than average percentages of people who regularly bike to work.

New Haven‘s selection as a Bicycle Friendly Community is an obvious one: the Elm City has strong local bike advocates, adopted the state’s first local Complete Streets policy, published its own Complete Streets design manual, and has had visionary leadership in its Department of Transportation for the last several years. Former Director of Transportation Jim Travers launched the City’s Street Smarts campaign and oversaw a tenfold increase in marked bike routes, while his successor, Doug Hausladen, is seeking to speed up the implementation of traffic calming projects and separated bicycle facilities.

New Britain launched a bike connectivity study in 2013 and has been working on promoting its bicycle-friendliness in recent months. With CTfastrak — the region’s first true bus rapid transit system — set to open in 2015, local leaders see the benefit of an improved cycling network in becoming a more multi-modal — and less car-oriented — community.

The Town of Simsbury, which became a Bronze-level Bicycle Friendly Community in 2010, was the only Connecticut town that advanced in the rankings this year, becoming the first in the state to receive the League’s Silver designation.

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New Jersey Groups Call for Permanent Fix to State Transportation Problems

The Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee will hold its fourth and final special hearing regarding the state’s Transportation Trust Fund on Thursday morning as part of the 99th Annual New Jersey State League of Municipalities Conference, now underway in Atlantic City.

Navigating the transportation funding debate is complicated. While the public debate has focused primarily on increasing taxes and creating additional revenue streams, this is only part of the discussion. Clear and concise answers to some of the most complex questions regarding bonding, debt, current and future transportation projects are essential to an informed conversation by all stakeholders from the bus rider to the state’s transportation commissioner.

With skepticism and frustration regarding the condition of the state’s transportation assets and systems, a clear explanation of the accounting behind the soon-to-be bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund is required.

For these reasons, Tri-State, along with New Jersey FutureRegional Plan Association (RPA), New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP) and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) New Jersey State Joint Council today released a list of questions to guide a transparent and informed discussion about transportation funding between state lawmakers and the public:

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PATH Riders’ Council Tackles Key Issues, but Concerns about Transparency Linger

Image: panynj.gov

Image: panynj.gov

Next week will mark the third meeting of the recently-formed PATH Riders’ Council, which gathered for a mostly introductory meeting in July, followed by a September meeting where the group began getting down to business. The meeting minutes list the following focus areas, which MTR called attention to in a post published prior to the September meeting:

  • Technology (displays, info, communication with riders)
  • Service (frequency, capacity, expansion)
  • Communications (communication with riders, feedback loop to riders)

The public minutes also reveal an interesting mandate from PATH Director/General Manager Stephen Kingsberry to the Council, who references the MTR post:

Reminded PRC members that they should not be responding to members of the Press directly as representative of PATH and/or divulging sensitive information discussed during closed session meetings; he referenced the article by Vincent Pellecchia, “A Full Plate for the PATH Riders’ Council

To be clear, the “article” referenced was not prepared nor written with input from anyone on the Council, but rather guided and informed via the public meeting minutes from the July meeting and published media coverage of the meeting.

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Can We Try to Solve New Jersey’s Transportation Funding Crisis Now?

Assemblyman John Wisniewski proposed

Assemblyman John Wisniewski proposed a bill which would increase New Jersey’s gas tax by at least 25 cents. | Photo: Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-Ledger

The election is over, so the time to buckle down and focus on solving New Jersey’s transportation funding crisis has arrived.

The problem is abundantly clear: Governor Christie’s five-year transportation capital plan failed, and will run dry a year early, which will leave a huge void if a solution is not in place by July 1, 2015, the beginning of fiscal year 2016.

Earlier this fall, to get a dialog going between advocates, legislators and interest groups on how to resolve the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) crisis, the Assembly Transportation Committee held three special hearings in Montclair, Piscataway and Camden. A fourth and final hearing will be held next week in Atlantic City during the annual NJ League of Municipalities Convention.

There are a number of items “on the table” aimed at restoring the solvency of the TTF. The most recent addition to the menu of items is bill A3886, proposed for introduction by Assemblyman John Wisniewski. A3886 would increase the gas tax by at least 25 cents, adding $1.25 billion to the $535 million generated annually by the current 14.5 cents per gallon gas tax. This is a step in the right direction and will at least help cover the roughly $1.1 billion in annual debt payments projected out to 2041.

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Wednesday Winners (& Losers)

NYC Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer announcing the installation of Queens slow zones. | Photo: Twitter @JimmyVanBramer

NYC Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer announcing the installation of Queens slow zones. | Photo: Twitter

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

WINNERS

New York City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer – Sunnyside Gardens, Woodside and Sunnyside will be included in two new slow zones coming to Queens.

Linden, NJ – Linden’s City Council passed a unanimous resolution in support of “the renewal of the red light camera program in the interest of public safety” – a powerful statement in the face of increasingly vocal opposition.

Connecticut – ConnDOT adopted a departmental Complete Streets policy which “enables the alignment of transportation funds to encourage improvements for non-motorized users,” such as the road diet planned for East Hartford and the addition of bike racks to 50 train cars.

Alexion Pharmaceuticals – New Haven, CT’s Gateway Community College has received a $250,000 subsidy from the company to halve bus fares for college students over the next five years.

Retirees – Americans are outliving their ability to drive safely, and nonprofits are stepping in to connect housing choice and transportation options for the aging.

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Reforming the Port Authority, Part I: Transparency

The next six to twelve months will tell us whether the Port Authority is taking transparency seriously. Many encouraging promises have been made, now they need to be kept. The Port has some work to do to increase fiscal transparency.

John Kaehny, Reinvent Albany

If there’s one good thing that came out of Bridgegate, it was the fact that the public spotlight illuminated the inner workings of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), and revealed the need for a little more “sunshine” to enable the public to keep watch.

Mobilizing the Region asked John Kaehny, Executive Director of Reinvent Albany, what was on his “transparency wish list” for the agency, and we got quite a hefty to-do list in response. One of Kaehny’s biggest wishes is for an improvement to the accessibility of public documents, including Freedom of Information Law requests. He strongly asserted that all documents must be made available online in a downloadable, machine-readable format — including proposed budgets, committee briefing packets, contracts and property transactions. Making these documents easily available would not only increase transparency, but would potentially reduce the number of incoming FOIL requests by making frequently FOIL’ed information easily available to interested parties.

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This Wednesday: Newark Safe Routes to School Stakeholder Meeting

Approximately 40 percent of households in Newark, NJ do not own a vehicle, contributing to the city’s high rate of students who walk to school. Through the federal Safe Routes to School non-infrastructure grant program, and under the guidance of Meadowlink, local community groups are partnering with select schools in Newark to create safer, more […]

Camden’s Large Carless Population Deserves Priority

Parking lots dominate some areas of the Camden waterfront. Image Source: www.bridgeandtunnelclub.com

Parking lots dominate some areas of the Camden waterfront. Image Source: www.bridgeandtunnelclub.com

Spend any time at all in Camden, New Jersey and you’ll notice people getting around without cars. Rutgers students flood out of PATCO and RiverLINE stations in the mornings and afternoons. Residents walk to work, transit hubs and local restaurants and shops. Whether by choice or out of necessity, locals rely on travel modes other than driving. To serve this large population, funding for transportation networks that accommodate Camden’s non-drivers must be prioritized by state and local agencies, and must be reflected in New Jersey’s Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) for the region.

recent study by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the Frontier Group showed that millennials accross the country are choosing to live and work in places where they don’t have to drive. This is also true in Camden, where students who either commute to Rutgers University-Camden or live nearby are shunning cars in favor of commuting by public transit, on foot or by bicycle. According to the US Census, just 4.9 percent of workers nationwide aged sixteen and older commute by public transit and 2.5 percent walk to work. Compare that to Camden, where nearly 16 percent of workers aged sixteen and older take public transportation to work, and 6.5 percent commute on foot.

Nearly 35 percent of occupied housing units in Camden do not own a motor vehicle–a rate nearly four times higher than the national average of 8.9 percent. This largely carless culture is due in part to factors like the high cost of owning and maintaining a motor vehicle. Regardless of the reasons behind low car use, these numbers clearly show that additional investments in transit, sidewalks, bike lanes and trails will improve the safety and convenience of getting around Camden for all residents, and will surely help convince more people to ditch their cars.

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Cuomo Must Act Regarding Port Authority Transparency

Two key bills that would vastly improve public disclosure and accountability at the beleaguered Port Authority of New York and New Jersey are currently awaiting Governor Cuomo’s signature. Unfortunately, in a recently-released Citizens Union candidate questionnaire, the Governor fails to answer a direct question asking if he supports the bills. Instead, his response appears to […]