NICE Bus Public Meeting Tomorrow

Tomorrow evening the Nassau County Bus Transit Committee will be holding a public meeting, which will include a presentation by NICE CEO Michael Setzer. Last week, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano stated that in order to make up for revenue lost after the repeal of the county’s school zone speed camera program, “painful” decisions about […]

ABO Report Validates Transparency Concerns Regarding EFC Loan to Thruway Authority

ABO reportWith the recent release of the New York State Thruway Authority’s proposed budget, which includes a funding deficit of $305 million and $922 million in borrowing for the Tappan Zee replacement project, this is as good a time as any to revisit last month’s report detailing concerns about the approval of the Clean Water Funds loan to the Thruway Authority.

Public authorities like the New York State Thruway Authority or the Metropolitan Transportation Authority should be familiar to regular MTR readers, but readers may be surprised to know that there are 45 state public authorities, not to mention the even more numerous local public authorities, industrial development agencies and local development corporations. As Assemblyman Richard Brodsky said in 2009, “The lives of New Yorkers are impacted by the operations of state authorities to an infinitely greater extent than they are by the departments of state government”yet little is known about what they do or how they operate. Brodsky made that statement in support of legislation he sponsored that year that instituted a new fiduciary duty for authority board members and also created the Authorities Budget Office (ABO).

One of the many authorities, is the Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC) which, with the Department of Environmental Conservation, jointly administers the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, a fund that provides low-interest rate financing to municipalities to construct water quality protection projects such as sewers and wastewater treatment facilities. Although those purposes have no relation to bridge construction, on June 16, Governor Cuomo announced the EFC had decided to make $511.45 million in “low-cost” loans to the Thruway Authority for the New NY Bridge project. The problem with this announcement is that the EFC Board had not yet acted on the loans, but rather met ten days later, officially voting on the $511 million loans on June 26. But this official decision was ten days after the Governor’s announcement, creating a timing problem for the Board’s decision.

This problem, as well as other red flags, led several organizations, including Tri-State, to request an ABO investigation of the loan process. The results of the investigation were released last week, in which the ABO found:

  • Instances where the EFC Board’s actions did not meet the standards required by the state’s fiduciary duty law;
  • The EFC Board did not comply with Open Meetings Law requirements; of particular concern was the Board’s unwarranted use of executive sessions under Section 105 of that law; and
  • The EFC Board failed to ensure that the EFC complied with 40 CFR 35.3150 when it did not question why the project was added to the Intended Use Plan (IUP) on June 11, 2014 and why the public was denied a comment period.

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It’s Not the Size of the School Zone That Matters, but Who It’s Meant to Protect

recent article published by Newsday argues that crash data does not support the location of speed safety cameras installed near schools throughout Nassau County. The “computer analysis” states that cameras have been placed in “dozens of areas with no history of speed-related accidents.” Of the 76 school zones that Newsday analyzed, they found that only 19 had seen any speed-related crashes between 2009 and 2013.

Newsday’s methodology used an extremely narrow definition of “school zone.” The analysis defines a school zone as marked areas of roads near schools where drivers are instructed to slow down, which essentially limits the analysis to a small sample of cherry-picked street segments near schools. This was based on the highly questionable tactic of “basing the length of each zone on a review of photos of traffic signs in the area taken by Google’s Street View Cameras. When such imagery was not available, Newsday created school zones that were the maximum length allowed by law.”

The safety of a school zone monitored by camera technology extends beyond the designated school zone and is an added benefit for the technology. Wherever speed cameras have been installed, researchers have found that automated enforcement prompts drivers to slow down both before and after drivers enter areas monitored by cameras. This phenomenon, known as the distance halo effect, means that drivers are altering their behavior outside camera range as well. This is particularly important because children traveling to and from school are not confined to sidewalks and crossings solely within school zones.

For these reasons, Tri-State’s analysis used a single definition of “school zone” that encompasses a full quarter mile buffer around a school – the maximum allowable area according to state law. This method paints a more realistic picture of the safety conditions along routes that school age children actually take and vehicles travel. Our finding that 40 percent of the pedestrian fatalities occurred within the maximum allowable school zone is determined by state law and is based on a legal definition, not Tri-State’s interpretation, unlike the subjective school zone created for the Newsday analysis. While not everyone killed in these areas were school-aged children as Tri-State notes, it is irrefutable that 14 pedestrians were killed by cars in these zones.

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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 Loretta Weinberg | Photo: johnjay.jjay.cuny.edu

New Jersey State Senator Loretta Weinberg | Photo: johnjay.jjay.cuny.edu

WINNERS

New Jersey State Senator Loretta Weinberg — The Senator solidified her role as champion for New Jersey bus riders by calling for equal investment in and improved conditions at the Port Authority Bus Terminal at today’s Port Authority budget hearing. She is also holding a second commuter feedback meeting this Thursday.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka — The mayor has joined other leaders in calling for the continuation of the state’s red light camera program.

New York State Senator Jeff Klein — The Senator wants to see part of the state’s windfall bank settlement money used to create a new program called Empire Public Works, dedicated to upgrading the state’s infrastructure, rather than seeing the funds go to a one-shot project.

Camden, NJ — The city recently approved six new major development projects, including Subaru’s new corporate headquarters, “leading to the creation, retention or relocation of some 2,000 jobs.”

Village of Mamaroneck, NY  After completing a zoning study and public engagement process partially funded by Tri-State’s Transit-Centered Development Grant Program, the Village has approved a transit-oriented development rezoning that promotes green building codes, green infrastructure, and green roofs in the TOD district.

PATH riders — Weekend service connecting Exchange Place and the World Trade Center is finally set to resume next week.

Mark Fenton — The public health, planning and transportation expert and Tufts University adjunct professor engaged New Haven residents in a walking tour and planning workshop for the Route 34 development corridor.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo — The mayor is banning cars in central Paris neighborhoods.

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There’s Not a Single Reason Why Governors Cuomo and Christie Shouldn’t Sign Port Authority Reform Bills

This afternoon, New York State Assemblymembers Jim Brennan and Amy Paulin along with New Jersey State Senator Robert Gordon and New Jersey State Assemblymember Valerie Vainieri Huttle will join fellow legislators and advocates to urge Governors Cuomo and Christie to sign two bi-state reform bills aiming to overhaul the Port Authority. According to spokesmen from […]

If Nassau’s Speed Camera Program Is Working, Let It Keep Working

Since Nassau County’s school zone speed camera program went into effect, there has been a 70 percent decline in violations. County Executive Ed Mangano’s spokesman Brian Nevins acknowledged that this decline in violations is indicative of a “dramatic change in driving habits”, saying “This program has increased student safety and potentially saved lives.”

Yet rather than […]

Can the Reinvention Commission Recommendations Unite Our Fractured Regional Transit System?

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 7.48.16 PMJust in time to feast on before the Thanksgiving holiday, the final report of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Transportation Reinvention Commission was released today, identifying seven key strategies to help the agency plan, prepare for and fund the next 100 years of transit investments.

While various outlets will focus on the funding, customer service and project delivery overhauls, there are key recommendations that acknowledge the interconnectedness of the MTA with transit systems and facilities in the tri-state region, a region where transit agencies and authorities operate independently of one another otheroften in a vacuum. Given Tri-State’s regional role and our seat at the Reinvention Commission roundtable, we’ve highlighted the recommendations from the report that have implications for all beneficiaries of the MTA’s bus, subway and rail systems in the agency’s three state service territory:

Prioritize new fare media to facilitate seamless travel across the region. [Strategy Three, p.37]
With commuters from all three states using multiple transportation modes and systems, integrating fare media across various agenciesMTA, NJ Transit, PATH, NICE, Bee-Line, Tappan Zee Express, etc.would provide seamless connectivity and ease of transfer.

Increase connectivity between MTA and other regional transportation providers. [Strategy Four, p. 42]
The MTA network operates in a region with other transit agencies and facilities, yet transit planning is often siloed within state and agency jurisdictions. This often leads to fractured approaches to transit needs that impact more than one agency (e.g. capacity/infrastructure constraints at Penn Station; outdated Trans-Hudson tunnels, terminals and tracks)

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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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$1 Billion and Counting: New York’s Non-MTA Transit Capital Needs

NYPTA's New Report Identifies $1 billion in capital needs for non-MTA transit

NYPTA’s New Report Identifies $1 billion in capital needs for non-MTA transit

Yesterday, the New York Public Transit Association (NYPTA) released their report “Five Year Capital Program for Upstate and Downstate Transit” which outlines the critical capital investment needs for non-MTA urban transit systems across the state. While the MTA first issued a multi-year capital program more than 30 years ago, NYPTA’s report represents the first ever comprehensive attempt to develop a five-year capital plan for New York’s non-MTA systems.

And the need is substantial. There are more than 100 systems covering nearly every county in the state, and carrying over 550,000 passengers each and every day. Yet, the projected capital deficit is $577 million. Making matters worse, these system are using capital funds for operations, accelerating the wear and tear on facilities and equipment. The lack of capital investment and dedicated capital and operating funding streams over the years has led to outdated systems that break down, disrupt service and incur higher costs when transit providers attempt to regain a state of good repair. Unfortunately, existing revenues are projected to cover just 43 percent of these identified capital needs.

The report details $1 billion in upcoming infrastructure needs between 2015-2019, with over 80 percent of the identified need going solely to repair and replace existing core system assets. The remaining 20 percent is slated for expansions and upgrades, such as bus rapid transit, to accommodate record transit ridership—for example, the report notes that ridership is up seven percent in the Capital District.

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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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