Mayor de Blasio’s Next 100 Days (and Beyond)

Mayor Bill de Blasio | Photo: cooper.edu

Mayor Bill de Blasio | Photo: cooper.edu

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio mentioned the Vision Zero initiative early in last week’s address marking 100 days since taking office, citing a 26 percent decrease in traffic fatalities during the first quarter of 2014. He also pointed out that his administration has filled nearly 289,000 potholes this year – more than double the potholes filled last year – saying of the new record, “that’s something to be proud of.”

While he has made strides in implementing the Vision Zero program so far, much remains to be done, including identifying how he will fund the implementation of the program. Beyond Vision Zero, here are a few more transportation issues that Tri-State hopes to see tackled in the next 100 days:

Will he make good on his plan for “world class bus rapid transit?” Faster and more efficient bus service is an issue that has been gaining momentum, and better buses were a highlight of candidate de Blasio’s policy book in 2013. In it, he called for allocating funds from the city’s capital budget to “create a citywide Bus Rapid Transit network with more than 20 bus lines… at a fraction of the cost of major subway projects.” Six Select Bus Service routes have been implemented in four boroughs, but to achieve the mayor’s goal, his administration will have to devote considerable resources to the task. In addition, the mayor has yet to outline how he will go beyond SBS, or BRT-lite, and implement full BRT in New York City.

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NYC Bus Riders Tend To Be Older and Poorer than Subway Riders

mta-bus-stop

Photo: James Estrin/The New York Times

If you ride the subway, bus or train every day, you’re surrounded by others. But just what do you know about your fellow transit riders?

Turns out, the MTA was wondering this too. Starting in 2007 and continuing through 2014, the MTA undertook surveys of Metro-North customers (2007), New York City residents (2008, for NYCT) and Long Island Rail Road customers (2012-2014 – results forthcoming). The surveys shed some light on the demographics of the region’s transit riders, including why they’re using it and where they’re going.

The New York City survey was conducted from May through November 2008 and covers all respondents’ travels “for a 24-hour period, regardless of what mode was used.” The MTA’s results provide data for over 16,000 residents and more than 13,000 households. While it’s true that the survey is a little less than six years old, unlike more recent data available through the Census or American Community Survey (as well as related Census Transportation Planning Products, which use Census and ACS data), the MTA’s survey is especially useful in that it includes all travel, not just travel for work.

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Vision Zero Gaining Momentum on Deadly Queens Streets

Vision Zero is coming to Northern Blvd. Image: Streetsblog

Thanks to the efforts of elected officials, advocates and community groups, Queens arterials like WoodhavenNorthern and Queens Boulevards – regulars on TSTC’s annual Most Dangerous Roads for Walking analysis — may soon receive the safety improvements they so badly need.

Mayor de Blasio and the New York City Department of Transportation recently announced that Vision Zero will make its Queens debut on Northern Boulevard. New York City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer called for traffic safety improvements on Northern Boulevard earlier this year.

And at the state level, Senator Michael Gianaris has been pushing a bill in Albany that would make it a felony to drive with a suspended license when someone is killed or seriously injured in the process. There’s even momentum at the federal level: U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley, who represents parts of Queens and the Bronx, is exploring solutions for pedestrian fatalities, and recently announced his Pedestrian Fatalities Reduction Act.

It’s not just elected officials who are looking to improve safety on Queens streets. Advocates seeking more immediate implementation of traffic safety measures have taken to installing their own DIY traffic-calming solutions near dangerous intersections throughout the borough.

A fence installed on Broadway near 74th Street to "deter unsafe crossings". Image: DNAinfo

A fence installed on Broadway near 74th Street to “deter unsafe crossings.” Image: DNAinfo

With the hope for safer streets on the horizon, the New York City Department of Transportation must ensure that the changes made are truly transformative. Although the agency has recently implemented street safety improvements in western Queens, there have also been some missteps. On Jackson Heights’ bustling Broadway/Roosevelt Avenue, a commercial corridor with high pedestrian activity and high crash volumes, NYC DOT installed a metal barrier near the site of a fatal crash in an attempt to “deter unsafe crossings.” As MTR has pointed out before, using physical barriers to prevent pedestrians from crossing sends a message that pedestrians don’t belong on the street — the antithesis to complete streets design.

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Moving Midtown West, on Trains and Buses

MMW-cover

Mobilizing the Region has been reporting on increased developmentcommuter and pedestrian activity in the area west of Midtown Manhattan for several years now, but with the 7 train extension approaching completion and the Hudson Yards project now underway, it is becoming increasingly clear that a more unified strategy and plan is needed to accommodate and mitigate the impacts of these changes.

The New York Building Congress released a report this week titled Moving Midtown West which summarizes New York City’s most pressing transportation infrastructure issues, and outlines “four long-discussed, interconnected projects” that they assert would serve as solutions to these issues, while also providing recommendations for implementing the projects.

The report focuses largely on the limited rail capacity between New Jersey and New York City, which is practically bursting at the seams. “While these conditions are reason enough to expand the West Side rail network,” the report states, “two transformative events now make it imperative”: the approval of the Hudson Yards project, which is expected to add more than 30 million square feet of mixed residential and commercial space to the area; and Hurricane Sandy, which caused such extensive damage to New York City’s subway tunnels that some train service connecting Brooklyn to Manhattan is still down and more service is expected to be affected by the necessary repairs. But while there are several options for traversing the East River, this is not the case with trans-Hudson travel:

 [A]stonishingly, only two single-track tunnels connect the entire commuter rail system to points west of Manhattan. There is no alternative rail route if these tunnels fail. New tunnels capable of withstanding severe weather events must therefore be constructed.

The first of these projects is Moynihan Station, now under construction, which provides new space for Amtrak passengers and operations, and will help alleviate the “overcrowded, confusing conditions” across the street in Penn Station. Once Moynihan Station is complete, NYBC calls for a commitment to building the Amtrak Gateway Project, the addition of Penn Station access for Metro-North Railroad and the completion of the Penn Station Vision study, all of which are geared toward facilitating more “seamless travel throughout the region.”

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Why the NYC Region’s Density and Connectivity Translate to a Higher Quality of Life

measuring-sprawl-thumb

Though we often hear city residents complain of crowded commutes, crowded classrooms and crowded rental markets, there is a growing body of research to support the notion that higher density actually contributes to a higher quality of life.

Measuring Sprawl 2014 is Smart Growth America’s follow-up to the organization’s own 2002 landmark study on sprawl, and updates their research by evaluating the development patterns of 221 US metro areas. The report identifies the country’s least and most sprawling areas, and incorporates research that illustrates the relationship between sprawl and quality of life. According to the study, “metro areas with more compact, connected neighborhoods are associated with better overall economic, health and safety outcomes—on average a better quality of life for everyone in that community.”

Sprawl Index Score was assigned to each metro area based on development density, land use mix, activity centering and street connectivity. The average score for the 221 areas is 100, with areas ranking above 100 being more dense and connected. The New York City metropolitan area ranked number 1 with a Sprawl Index Score of 203, and the Atlantic City and Trenton, New Jersey metro areas also fell within the top 10. Connecticut’s biggest metro areas, however, ranked much lower, with scores between 115 and 120.

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Real-Time Bus Technology Advances While Many Bus Stops Still Lack Basic Amenities

With the launch of BusTime to Brooklyn and Queens earlier this month, the MTA completed its roll-out of BusTime, a smartphone and web app that allows bus riders to access real time bus information. This is good news for anyone who’s had the frustrating experience of waiting for a late bus. Minutes can feel like hours when you don’t know how long you’ll be waiting for the next bus — especially in inclement weather.

Advocates continue to call for other improvements like bus countdown clocks (as seen on some subway platforms), which would benefit all riders, not just those who use smartphones. And although technological advances like BusTime are welcome new amenities, many bus stops — particularly those located in the outer boroughs — still lack even the most basic infrastructure. Shelters, benches, signage with maps, route destinations and schedules, and curb-to-sidewalk accessibility are factors that can affect the comfort, safety and convenience of bus riders. When these features are missing, it impacts all riders, but particularly those who rely on buses the most: seniors, disabled riders and commuters who live in areas where the closest subway stop may be a bus ride away.

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Induced Demand Is Everywhere, Even on Staten Island

It’s been said that Staten Island is stylistically stuck in another era, and with news of another multi-million dollar roadway expansion, it’s becoming clear that transportation priorities in the borough are also a few decades old.

Governor Cuomo’s office announced yesterday that Staten Island’s West Shore Expressway will be getting two new ramps and an expanded service road, all of which is intended to reduce congestion for drivers in New York City’s most transit-starved borough:

“New York cannot be a center of commerce if our roads are centers of congestion,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Reducing traffic congestion on the West Shore Expressway, a major artery for Staten Island residents and business, will be good for commuters, good for business and good for our environment.”

induced-demand-loop

The rationale for expanding roadways tends to assume the simple linear view of causation in the relationship between road capacity and congestion (top), ignoring the induced traffic effect (bottom). | Image adapted from Josh Floyd at beyondthisbriefanomaly.org

Not surprisingly, the plan has garnered support from Staten Island’s elected officials, including Borough President James Oddo, who once expressed interest in allowing motorists to use bus lanes, State Senator Andrew Lanza, who was a driving force behind getting toll reductions on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and one of New York City’s most reliable motorist advocates, Councilmember Vincent Ignizio.

While the $7 million West Shore Expressway makeover was heralded as “great news for Staten Island drivers,” the reduced congestion will be short-lived because it’s impossible to build your way out of congestionStudy after study has shown that greater roadway capacity only leads to more traffic thanks to a phenomenon known as “induced demand.”

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Fair Tolling, and the Media’s Take This Time Around

With the MTA’s upcoming five-year capital plan facing an estimated $10-15 billion hole, the silence from New York State’s elected officials has been deafening. Given that it is an election year for state senators, assembly members and Governor Andrew Cuomo, perhaps this is to be expected. For the most part, all debate is expected to be left until after the next election. But it was refreshing to hear the beginning of the conversation kick off last week.

After three years of quietly listening, shopping the proposal around, tweaking and gaining supporters, Move NY formally launched a draft plan at a forum last Friday that would better balance the tolling system around Manhattan. During the past three years, Move NY’s Alex Matthiessen has actively tried to avoid the spotlight in an attempt to make sure to avoid death-by-media (mis)conceptions. He also made it clear on Friday that he is not looking for people to choose a side yet, telling Streetsblog, “We are not looking for Mayor de Blasio or Governor Cuomo to take a position on this issue.” Of course, a negative word from either of these players could be the kiss of death to the nascent effort.

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How Far Would $40 Million Go?

The scenario outlined in the report could improve and restore service on several subway lines, including the W train, which was cut in 2010. | Photo: NY Daily News

The scenario outlined in the report could improve or restore service on many subway lines, including the W train, which was cut in 2010. | Photo: NY Daily News

Today, while legislators in Albany scramble to stop Governor Cuomo’s ill-advised diversion of $40 million in dedicated transit funds during the final hours of State budget negotiations, a report was released outlining just how far $40 million could go to restore and expand transit service in the New York metropolitan area. The report, authored by Riders Alliance and NYPIRG’s Straphangers Campaign, provides a scenario in which the $40 million is spent on transit upgrades, and details how those investments could substantially improve the commutes of the region’s transit riders.

Subways

  • Restore mid-day, nighttime and weekend service that was reduced on the 1, 7, A, F, J, L and M lines in 2010, creating shorter waits for 300,000 riders every weekday and 285,000 riders every weekend ($3.1 million)
  • Add 20 percent more morning rush hour service on the notoriously crowded C train ($1 million)
  • Restore G train service to Forest Hills–71st Avenue in Queens ($1.5 million)
  • Restore W train one-seat service from Astoria to Lower Manhattan ($3.4 million)

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NYC Must Revisit How it Funds its Newest Public Transportation System

Citi Bike station at Grand Central Terminal

Citi Bike station at Grand Central Terminal

Today, The Wall Street Journal reports that Citi Bike is in need of funds, due in part to a “number of costly issues, including damage to equipment during superstorm Sandy, software glitches and a difficult 2013-14 winter that discouraged ridership.”

Unlike most other U.S. bike sharing systems, Citi Bike is entirely privately funded with sponsorships from Citi Bank ($41 million) and Mastercard ($6.5 million), along with financing from Goldman Sachs. This limited funding pool means that any other funding needs fall on riders. Raising user fees to cover costs — which is similar to raising fares for transit systems — increases the user’s burden, is not a sustainable source of revenue and, of course, makes it even more difficult for low- and middle-income riders to access the system.

TSTC took a look at three other programs – Washington D.C.’s Capital Bike Share, Boston’s Hubway and the Twin Cities’ Nice Ride – to see how these programs raise funds for capital and operating expenses and what New York City can learn from how these systems are funded. And while farebox recovery rates for each system tend to be high (according to most recent figures available: Capital Bikeshare generated 97 percent; Hubway, 88 percent; and Nice Ride, 62 percent), funding comes from numerous sources.

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