New Amtrak Site Aims to Make the Case for Gateway Project

NEC Tunnel TrafficAmtrak launched a new website last week designed to increase awareness about the importance of the Northeast Corridor (NEC) to this region and its capital needs.

The new NEC website includes informationupdates, maps and infographics, and other resources about several NEC infrastructure projects both under construction and in the planning stage, including the 104 year-old Portal Bridgea key component of the Gateway projectwhich carries 450 trains daily and has been blamed for more than 250 delays in the last two years.

Hands down, the NEC is the region’s economic vitality linchpin, with 750,000 daily trips supporting a $2.6 trillion economy. Here in the tri-state region, the NEC and public transportation go hand in hand in supporting New Jersey’s economy, linking the Garden State to the economic powerhouse of New York City:

  • As of the 2010 American Community Survey, more than 11 percent of all New Jersey commuters used public transit, with Hudson, Essex and Bergen Countiesthe counties closest to New York Cityhaving the highest percentages of commuters using transit;
  • As of the 2000 Census, one in every 15 employed New Jersey residents works in Manhattan, and more than 70 percent of them commute by public transit;
  • NJ Transit ridership continues to grow, with an increase in total ridership between 2013 and 2014 of more than 950,000 riders;
  • Mass transit provides access to higher paying jobs in Manhattan, where average wages were 2.5 times the national average in the first quarter of 2014 and were 60 percent higher than in New Jersey in 2009.

Some have predicted rail ridership will double by 2030, and the Northeast Corridor’s most critical need is additional cross-Hudson rail capacity. Since Governor Christie cancelled the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) project in 2010, the burden to address that need falls on the shoulders of Amtrak. The Gateway Program could potentially satisfy the burden with support from mutiple funding partners, but with the exception of funds for the “tunnel box” under Hudson Yards, the project is still lacking much-needed fundingat least $15 billion is still needed, in addition to “cooperation from local, state and federal agencies controlled by politicians with competing interests.”

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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.

Elliot Sander speaks at a news conference on Jan. 13, 2015 in Grand Central Terminal with Jay Walder, center. | Photo: AM New York (Credit: Charles Eckert)

Elliot Sander speaks at a news conference in Grand Central Terminal with Jay Walder, center. | Photo: AM New York

WINNERS

New York City street users - At a press conference this morning, the City announced street safety gains made in Vision Zero’s first year, including the completion of more than 50 major street redesign projects, with 50 more slated for 2015, starting with the notorious Queens Boulevard. It was also announced that at 19 speed camera locations around the city, speeding dropped 59 percent from September to December.

Former MTA Chiefs Elliot Sander, Jay Walder and Peter Stangl – Joined by advocates, the three former MTA heads came together to demand a fully-funded MTA capital program, saying “The governor, the legislature, and the mayor must do the heavy political lifting to find new revenue sources to fund a $15 billion gap in the program.”

PATH riders, Hudson and Essex County residents, and businesses along PATH – The distressing proposal to eliminate overnight PATH service has been officially and indefinitely tabled following a meeting between Port Authority Chairman John Degnan, NJ state Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.

New Canaan branch and Danbury line commuters – Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy announced that Metro-North’s New Canaan branch will be receiving new, higher-capacity rail cars to offset the projected 44 percent increase in ridership over the next 15 years, and officials are looking at improvements to get Danbury line upgrades back on track.

New York City Council Member Ben Kallos – The council member is working to persuade the MTA to release more bus data more frequently in order to improve service for riders.

Stamford, CT – As part of Stamford’s Street Smart Initiative, the city is hiring a transportation planner as well as a new bureau chief for transportation, traffic and parking, to be charged with “preparation of a transportation master plan and transportation studies” and seeking state and federal grants.

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New York 2014: Looking Back on the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

vz & cb vAfter a solid finale in 2013 from the Bloomberg/Sadik-Kahn administration, it was unclear how progress on safer streets in New York City would fare. Right out of the gate, Mayor Bill de Blasio dispelled doubts with bold moves for a “Vision Zero,” and the positive culture change on roads appeared to spill over to statewide efforts. Advocates were able to secure more money for pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure across the state, and several new cities were able to add traffic enforcement camera programs to their toolbox. Alas, sadly, there were setbacks as well.

But setbacks aside, overall it was a good year for advocates and their issues. Casinos and fracking were put in their rightful places, a solid plan for transit for the New NY Bridge was released with a $20 million commitment from the governor, and on the horizon, more and more voices are calling for the $5 billion bank windfall to flow towards transportation infrastructure.

Perhaps the biggest loser of 2014 was the public. Over and over, they were shut out of the decision-making process on how their tax dollars are being spent—especially with regard to the Port Authority and the New NY Bridge. The dark clouds of infrastructure funding and spending loom large in 2015, with massive deferred maintenance and unfunded capital programs, leaving everyone nervous about what’s to come.

The Good

Cities Get Bold About Street Safety — The first year of New York City’s Vision Zero program was a bit rocky at times, but overall an enormous achievement for a city where a growing population puts increasing pressure on limited shared space. The City Council passed an unprecedented number of streets safety bills, lowered the speed limit to 25 miles per hour, and implemented a speed camera program. But this energy was not solely limited to the City. The number of statewide red light camera programs grew significantly, and Albany’s program commits all excess revenue to a Traffic Safety Fund for the city. Suffolk County legislators approved dedicated funding for implementing the county’s landmark Complete Streets policy.

Mass transit plan for new Tappan Zee Bridge proposed — After a year of meetings, the Tappan Zee Bridge Mass Transit Task Force proposed seven new bus routes in a new branded, modern, efficient bus system serving Rockland and Westchester Counties. The state wisely applied for (though unfortunately didn’t receive) TIGER funds to implement the Task Force recommendations for transit along the I-287 corridor.

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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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Vision Zero’s Biggest Achievement to Date Hits the Pavement Today, but There Is More to Do

drive-25-vz-logoToday marks Vision Zero’s greatest achievement to date: New York City’s default speed limit has officially been lowered to 25 mph. This seemingly small adjustment will have a big impact on improving street safety, as people who are struck by vehicles traveling 25 mph are half as likely to die as those struck by vehicles traveling 30 mph. In a city that’s suffered increasing bicycle and pedestrian fatalities — more often than not in seemingly “safe” scenarios — this speed limit reduction is a welcome first step.

But lowering the speed limit isn’t a panacea. In addition to getting the word out about the new speed limit, New York’s elected officials, community leaders and state and city agencies must now do their part to help change how people think about and interact with our streets and its users. Such an enormous paradigm shift won’t be easy, but it can be done.

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Wednesday Winners (& Losers)

Bridgeport, CT Mayor Bill Finch | Photo: bridgeportct.gov

Bridgeport, CT Mayor Bill Finch | Photo: bridgeportct.gov

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

WINNERS

Bridgeport, CT Mayor Bill Finch – The mayor unveiled a comprehensive safe streets campaign in the city which include short and long-term infrastructure improvements and increased enforcement.

NYPD 78th Precinct – The Park Slope precinct replaced a parking spot in front of the building’s entrance with a bike corral.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams – After seven years with Tri-State, our Associate Director Ryan Lynch will now serve as Policy Director to Borough President Adams.

New York City Department of City Planning – After three years with Tri-State, our Staff Analyst Kathi Ko will now serve as a planner for the Queens Department of Planning.

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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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Join Us for the People’s Climate March This Sunday

pcm-id-1b-400-x-400On Sunday, Tri-State Transportation Campaign will be joining more than 1,400 organizations and hundreds of thousands of people in solidarity for a new approach to climate change: the People’s Climate March. It will be an unprecedented mass acknowledgement of the inequity of climate change around the world. And, this will be our collective moment to change the discourse and alter the outcome.

The environmental movement has progressed from protection of water resources to eradication of toxins to protection of air quality and endangered species to combating destruction of the ozone layer and the decimation of our rainforests. For the most part, people were the backdrop for these goals, seldom the lead actors in the story.

The People’s Climate March knits these goals into a shared narrative that puts people at the forefront of a new environmental movement. This March is foremost about the extreme vulnerabilities faced by some populations as a result of our climate inaction: poor and indigenous people who inhabit our waterfronts, live within forest societies and border our polluting industries. The inequity embedded in our consumption of fossil fuels and consumer goods must be addressed at the human level. With this March, we can alter this discourse and make this inequity the core of the climate change movement moving forward. It’s an opportunity to rebrand 21st century environmentalism around what matters: People.

What does this have to do with transportation?

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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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