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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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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$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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MTA’s Capital Plan: A (Partial) Eye Towards Long Island Railroad’s Future

LIRR MTA CPWith 83 million passengers a year, the Long Island Rail Road is the busiest commuter railroad in the nation and the economic engine for Long Island. It is also the nation’s oldest commuter rail system, and as such, the MTA’s proposed 2015-2019 Capital Program allocates nearly 10 percent of total expenditures to the system with a focus on better maintenance of core infrastructure to create a more resilient system

More than 60 percent of the proposed LIRR allocation will go to maintaining the basics—rolling stock, stations, track, communications/signals, power, shops and yards, bridges and viaducts—but the plan also targets service improvements that will get the system ready for its new access point in Manhattan: Grand Central Terminal.

At the moment, Penn Station is the only Manhattan stop for LIRR, and the station is at capacity during crucial points of the day. The completion of East Side Access will provide a much-needed second access point into Grand Central Terminal, enabling increased service opportunities and system redundancy. To get ready for that future day, the Capital Program proposes expanding capacity at Jamaica, a critical transfer station, and adding train storage and track capacity at key locations.

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TSTC Releases Second Annual LIRR “Laggy” Analysis

Overcrowding MTA Flickr

Fast-tracking projects such as the Double Track and and re-booting the Third Track project will reduce congestion, delays and overcrowding, and boost the region’s economy. Photo: MTA Flickr

Tri-State Transportation Campaign released its second annual Laggy Analysis, which ranks the 11 branches of the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) according to the greatest lost economic productivity, delay per rider and total lost time.

Tri-State’s analysis found that late, cancelled and terminated LIRR trains led to $68,545,440 in lost economic productivity from July 2013 through June 2014 . For the second consecutive year, the Babylon branch contributed the most to lost productivity and lost time due to delays. The Port Jefferson branch had the greatest levels of delay per rider at 22.3 lost hours annually.

The LIRR is an economic lifeline for Nassau and Suffolk County’s economies. Nearly 300,000 riders rely on the LIRR to travel between Long island and New York City for work, and the system contributes up to $50 million daily into the region’s economy. Delays on key LIRR branches held the railroad back from contributing even more to the region, with overall increases in lost economic cost, hours lost and delay per rider compared to last year’s analysis.

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MTA Capital Program Offers Metro-North Riders New Access

mta_cp_mnrMore than 275,000 daily commuters on Metro-North received good news in the MTA’s newly-released 2015-2019 Capital Program: the agency is moving forward with Penn Station Access, a $743 million project which has spent decades on the drafting table. Benefits of Penn Station Access include:

  • a one-seat ride with substantially reduced travel times to Manhattan’s west side for New Haven Line customers
  • expanded job access for Manhattan’s growing west side and more options for New York’s growing population of reverse commuters
  • improved capacity and tri-state connectivity, improving links between Metro-North, LIRR, New Jersey Transit and Amtrak
  • cost-effective use of existing tracks, and no new tunnels
  • four new stations in under-served Bronx neighborhoods expanding transit options and economic and residential development near Co-op City, Morris Park, Parkchester and Hunts Point

This new service can’t begin until after completion of the $10.2 billion East Side Access, which will free up track space at Penn Station. Once complete, it will alleviate congestion at Mott Haven Junction, a system bottleneck where the Hudson, Harlem, and New Haven Lines all converge.

And in addition to service enhancements, the project will also bolster the transportation system’s resiliency for extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy. Mott Haven Junction, for example, is particularly prone to flooding so increasing redundancy between Manhattan and points north a key fix that can’t be built soon enough.

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MTA Capital Program Highlights Dire Need for Sustainable Funding Sources

MTACPThe New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority recently unveiled its proposed $32 billion 2015-2019 Capital Program, subsequently adopted by the MTA Board at today’s meeting. The proposal is made up of “vital investments” derived from the 2015-2034 Twenty Year Capital Needs Assessment that will “renew, enhance, and expand the MTA network” by “addressing evolving customer needs and expectations, while at the same time reinforcing the importance of investing to keep MTA safe and reliable.”

A significant portion of the proposed plan is dedicated to the completion of large-scale transportation infrastructure projects, including the LIRR Ronkonkoma branch Double Track project, the Metro-North Harmon Shop replacement project, East Side Access and the expansion of the Metro-North New Haven Line to Penn Station. Each of these projects has its own major implications for regional transportation service. For the proposed 2015-2019 Capital Plan to include so many major capital investments sets the stakes a lot higher for this program being approved, and being fully funded.

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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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Two Reports, Two Angles, Same Message: Infrastructure Needs Unmet in New York State

"Streets that need repair" are identified as the number one problem for NY Voters 50+

“Streets that need repair” are identified as the number one problem for voters in New York State age 50 and over. | Source AARPNY

Back-to-back reports released this week by AARP and the New York State Comptroller take two different approaches to arrive at the same conclusion: New York’s infrastructure needs are not being met.

AARP’s report, 2014 State of the 50+ in New York State, surveyed New Yorkers aged 50 and older to determine their likelihood of staying in New York after retirement, and what factors would impact that decision. The survey revealed that:

  • 60 percent are at least somewhat likely to leave New York after retiring; 27 percent extremely likely
  • 66 percent would be more likely to stay if improvements were made to transportation
  • 80 percent identified “streets that need repair” as a problem in their community
  • 67 percent cited cars not yielding to pedestrians as a problem in their community
  • 52 percent said public transportation was too far away, too limited or too hard to navigate
  • 67 percent said they would “vote for a candidate working on maintaining safe and independent mobility around town”

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Bronx SBS Success Story Boosts Hopes for Woodhaven Full-Featured BRT

Chicago's Ashland Ave. BRT is looking to replicate  center median-aligned exlusive bus lanes, similar to Cleveland's Healthline BRT. Woodhaven Blvd.'s 10-lane width can easily accommodate similar features. Image: transitchicago.com

Chicago’s Ashland Ave. BRT is looking to replicate center median-aligned exlusive bus lanes, similar to Cleveland’s Healthline BRT. Woodhaven Blvd.’s 10-lane width can easily accommodate similar features. Image: transitchicago.com

All seven of New York City’s Select Bus Service (SBS) lines have proven to be successful, demonstrating improved service, increased ridership, street safety improvements, as well as economic and environmental benefits. Adding to the pile of success stories, the New York City Department of Transportation and the MTA recently released a progress report on the Bx41 SBS line along Webster Avenue in the Bronx, which, like all other SBS routes, has yielded significant improvements for neighborhoods along the line.

Thanks to changes such as off-board fare collection, signal timing improvements and dedicated bus lanes, the Bx41 SBS is operating up to 23 percent faster than the Bx41 Limited route that it replaced. Faster bus travel times have also led to decreased bus delays, with an average time savings of 8.5 minutes per trip. Additionally, total Bx41 ridership has increased nearly 25 percent since it was upgraded to SBS in June 2013. Unsurprisingly, all these improvements led to 97 percent of riders reporting as “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the service.

As NYC DOT and the MTA take steps toward achieving Mayor de Blasio’s ambitious call for a “world-class” bus rapid transit network of 20 routes, all eyes are now on Woodhaven Boulevard in Queens for the next roll out of enhanced bus service.

Though it will be Queens’ first SBS route, its story is familiar: according to feedback from recent community workshops and a 2008 NYC DOT Woodhaven Boulevard Congested Corridors study, the boulevard is plagued with slow and unreliable buses, traffic congestion and dangerous conditions for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike.

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