Wednesday Winners (& Losers)

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

New York City Councilman Donovan Richards Jr. | Photo: council.nyc.gov

New York City Councilman Donovan Richards Jr. | Photo: council.nyc.gov

WINNERS

Environmental Protection Agency Region 2 - Regional Administrator Judith Enck’s office was the only government office brave enough to stand up to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s attempt to raid Environmental Facilities Corporation water and sewer funding for the new Tappan Zee Bridge construction project.

R Train riders - The Montague Street Tunnel storm recovery project has been completed ahead of schedule and under budget.

New York City Councilman Donovan Richards Jr. - Queens commuters are applauding the stellar service provided by the new Q114 route, and the Councilman has plans to further expand service in the borough.

Metro-North Railroad - The agency launched a pilot program for bike racks on Connecticut’s New Haven line trains, and also received an award from the 2014 BuildSmart NY Awards for its Grand Central terminal energy conservation projects.

New Jersey Transit –While only a partial solution to addressing capacity concerns, the agency will be replacing all current train cars with double decker designs and all buses with a fleet of longer designs with more seats.

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A Full Plate for the PATH Riders Council

path2

The PATH Riders Council‘s first meeting, held in July, was a basic introductory meeting that didn’t touch on any substantive issues. The next meeting is scheduled for tomorrow, and the Council, chaired by (former Tri-State staff member) Ya-Ting Liu, will undoubtedly start getting down to business.

The most pressing issue facing the Council is the need for the Port Authority to meet the current and future challenges of population growth in the PATH ridership area. After explosive growth over the past decade in Hoboken and Jersey City, any PATH rider already knows that rush hour trains are too crowded, and any delay only compounds the problem. This problem, if unaddressed, will only get worse in a future that will see:

Capacity is a glaring near and long-term need for PATH, and the Council should focus its efforts on ensuring that the Port Authority understands that need.

The Riders Council must also address inadequate service levels, especially on the weekends. In recent history, transit ridership has grown dramatically at non-traditional commuting times resulting in a demand for service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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NJ Transit Ridership Up Across the Board

Hudson-Bergen Light Rail saw twice as many passengers as Newark and four times that of RiverLine. | Photo: New York Post

Hudson-Bergen Light Rail saw twice as many passengers as Newark and four times that of RiverLine. | Photo: New York Post

New Jersey Transit recently opened its committee meetings to the public, allowing riders greater insight into the agency’s operations and performance stats. Ridership data made available at the August Customer Service Committee meeting has revealed some interesting usage trends across NJ Transit’s operations, highlighting customer needs in several areas.

The most encouraging insight gained from the committee’s report is that total June 2014 ridership across all three modes increased by 4.8 percent compared to June 2013, while statewide vehicle miles traveled (VMT) decreased and gas prices continued to soar. Rail ridership was up 7.3 percent, and the HBLR showed tremendous gains with a 6.9 percent increase in May and 7.4 percent in June, compared to 2013.

With statewide transit ridership increasing at such an encouraging rate, the state would be wise to prioritize a sustainable funding source for transportation projects. Thankfully it seems there is growing momentum to help push this issue in the right direction, though with NJ Transit already dependent on borrowing against its own capital funds to cover growing operating costs, a solution to the state’s transportation funding crisis can’t come soon enough.

Ridership stats across NJ Transit’s three transit modes allowed us to identify three specific transportation infrastructure projects that, if prioritized, could significantly improve and expand existing service for NJ Transit customers.

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Fix-it-First Investment Takes Priority in NJ’s FY 2015 Transportation Capital Program

NJDOT logo colorNew Jersey’s 2015 Transportation Capital Program reveals the state is spending less on unsustainable expansion projects and more on maintenance and preservation. According to Tri-State’s analysis, the FY 2015 Capital Program is dedicating the highest share of funds towards road and bridge maintenance and the lowest percentage of funds to expansion projects in recent memory.

Expansion projects in the 2015 Capital Program comprise only 3 percent of funds and maintenance/preservation projects comprise nearly 32 percent. By comparison, expansion projects made up 10 percent of the 2014 Capital Program funds and maintenance/preservation projects 25 percent; in 2013 expansion projects accounted for about 12 percent of funds and maintenance/preservation projects nearly 30 percent.

In 2015, for every dollar spent on roads or bridges, about 7 cents will go towards expansion while nearly 80 cents will go toward maintaining existing assets. In 2014 and 2013, about 25 cents on every dollar going to road or bridge projects went to expansion, and about 63 cents went to preservation.

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For Port Authority Transparency, the Ball Is in New Jersey’s Court

port-authority-logoNothing has so clearly highlighted the need for government transparency as the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal and the subsequent political fallout. Though New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski, co-chair of the special committee to investigate the PANYNJ, continues to probe for answers, the issue of accountability and transparency seems fated to remain well after the “Bridgegate” scandal is resolved.

That is, unless legislation is passed to mandate that the bi-state agency is subject to both the New York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) and New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA).

The New York State Legislature has already taken this step, and a bill subjecting the Port Authority to New York’s FOIL law is awaiting Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature.

But similar efforts in New Jersey have been slow to get out of the starting gate. While a Senate bill to ensure the Port Authority was accountable to New Jersey’s OPRA law passed the full Senate this past June, its Assembly counterpart has yet to move in the Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee.

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Higher Pedestrian Deaths in Poorer Neighborhoods

A recent study by GoverningPedestrian Deaths in Poorer Neighborhoods, compiled locational data on all fatal pedestrian accidents within United States metro areas between 2008 and 2012. The study found that in counties across the tri-state region with more than half a million residentsapproximately 8.5 pedestrians per 100,000 residents died during the study period. Suffolk County, NY had the highest five-year fatality rate: 12.1 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 residents.

The analysis also looked at pedestrian death rates for income-based census tracts within each county and revealed a significant disparity for fatalities rates between low-income (poverty rate greater than 25 percent) and high-income (poverty rate less than 15 percent) communities. For example, Essex County, NJ had the largest fatality disparity by a ratio of 2.8, which means that within the county, people living in poorer neighborhoods were almost three times more likely to be hit while walking than people in wealthy neighborhoods. The map on the left shows the top five counties with the highest five-year pedestrian death rate, while the map on the right presents the top five counties in the region with the largest disparity in the pedestrian death rate with regard to income.

MAPS

This pattern is not limited to the tri-state region—the study found that poorer neighborhoods recorded disproportionately higher rates of pedestrian deaths across the United States. According to the report, the pedestrian fatality rates within low-income metro area census tracts were approximately twice that of higher-income metro area census tracts. Neighborhoods with more than 25 percent of residents living below the poverty line had a rate of 12.1 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people from 2008 through 2012, over two times higher than neighborhoods with a poverty rate below the national average of 15 percent and almost double the national average.

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A History of Bridges in Need

U.S. Total Share of Bridges Either Structurally Deficient or Functionally Obsolete, from 1993 to 2013.

A recent study by Governing entitled “How Have Bridge Conditions Changed in Your State?” analyzed 20 years of data from the US Federal Highway Administration National Bridge inventory on bridges in need of repair. The report showed that [...]

Transitmix: Fun Site for Transit Nerds, Important Tool for Everyone Else

How do you bring meaningful public participation that’s fun and engaging into transit planning? Code for America’s new Transitmix tool may be able to do just that.

While Transitmix may have been created with transit planners in mind, the website allows users of all abilities and backgrounds to design new bus lines and tweak the routes of existing lines (though unfortunately for the region’s transit riders, the ability to tweak existing routes isn’t yet available for New York City or many communities in the tri-state region).

Transitmix-2

Renata Silberblatt designed this route from LaGuardia Airport to Broadway Junction with Maspeth’s transit needs in mind.

There is a lot of useful potential to the tool: transit agencies across the tri-state could use Transitmix to get feedback from riders when planning and modifying existing routes; community groups interested in gathering information on local transit needs and desires could also. Imagine attending a public meeting where participants could collaborate to design bus routes on iPads, or having bus riders design or modify a route while they’re aboard a bus, or redesigning your commute from the comforts of your own home, hitting “submit,” and sending your input directly to your transit agency.

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New Jersey’s Bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund: Is Action Finally Underway?

The Kingsland Avenue Bridge in Lyndhurst was the backdrop for Senate President Stephen Sweeney's announcement of his TTF funding tour. | Photo: Myles Ma for NJ.com

The Kingsland Avenue Bridge in Lyndhurst was the backdrop for Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s announcement of his TTF funding tour. | Photo: Myles Ma for NJ.com

The New Jersey State Assembly will “spend the coming months hosting hearings on the problems and concerns surrounding our bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) and what it will take to meet our transportation needs,” Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto announced last week via an op-ed in The Record.  But this is not going to be a “feel-good process done for appearances sakes,” said Speaker Prieto. “Nothing about our current state of transportation affairs should make anyone feel good.”

The problems surrounding the bankrupt TTF should be obvious enough to state legislators. Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Senator Paul Sarlo recently announced a tour of the state’s crumbling transportation infrastructure that aims to draw Governor Christie’s attention to the need to resolve the funding crisis—as though the governor might somehow be unaware of that need. The real problem is that the political will required to address the issue is conspicuously lacking, even while the solutions for funding transportation infrastructure seem to be staring the legislature—and the governor—square in the face.
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New Report Finds Older Tri-State Pedestrians at Risk

The pedestrian fatality rate for tri-state area residents 60 and older is 2.5 times higher than that of residents under 60. | credit

The fatality rate for pedestrians 60 and older in the tri-state region is 2.5 times higher than that of residents under 60. | photo credit

Tri-state region pedestrians aged 60 years and older are disproportionately at risk of being killed in collisions with vehicles while walking, according to a new study by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

From 2003 through 2012, 1,492 pedestrians aged 60 years and older were killed on Connecticut, New Jersey and downstate New York roads, according to Older Pedestrians at Risk: A Ten Year Survey and Look Aheadreleased today. The report found that:

  • Those 60 and older comprised only 18 percent of the region’s population, but accounted for 35 percent of pedestrian fatalities during the 10-year period
  • Those aged 75 years and older represent 6 percent of the tri-state region’s population, but 16.5 percent of pedestrian deaths.
  • The pedestrian fatality rate for the region’s residents 60 and older is 2.5 times higher than that of residents under 60.
  • For residents 75 and older, the pedestrian fatality rate is more than three times that of those under 60.

Tri-State Average Pedestrian Fatality Rate by Age Group (2003-2012)

Source: TSTC analysis of the NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System Encyclopedia, 2003-2012, U.S. Census Bureau Population Estimates and 2010 Census. U.S. fatality rates include tri-state region.

According to AARP, decreased bone density exacerbates injuries sustained by seniors. Coupled with mobility issues that hinder their ability to cross a road quickly, this age group is particularly prone to critical injuries from car collisions. However, simple roadway improvements – clearly marked crosswalks, longer crossing signals and wider pedestrian islands – make walking safer and easier for older residents and younger residents alike.

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