NYSDOT’s Complete Streets Report: Positive Steps but Some Sidesteps, Too

nysdot cs reportThe New York State Department of Transportation released a report last week detailing how the Department has gone about implementing New York’s 2011 Complete Streets Act. The report, which NYSDOT is required by law to produce, elaborates on best practices and demonstrates the degree to which complete streets have been institutionalized and incorporated into all phases of transportation projects across the state.

Perhaps the best news coming out of the report is the forthcoming Complete Streets Checklist, a potentially useful tool for institutionalizing complete streets design into the decision-making process. Its success will depend, however, on how pervasively it is used. At a minimum, to be compliant with the state complete streets law, all projects receiving state and federal funding would need to use the checklist, a fact not mentioned in the report.

The report does state, however, that “many Complete Streets improvements, such as lane striping, are relatively inexpensive but effective” techniques to improve accessibility for all users of the roadways. If NYSDOT mandates these basic improvements, which would reflect NYSDOT going above and beyond what the law requires, the checklist would then be required for all projects, including resurfacing, restoring and rehabilitation projects —which could easily incorporate complete streets elements with almost no additional costs. If NYSDOT opts out of this strategy, a bill on the table in Albany would require them to do so by amending the complete streets law to require inclusion of “complete street design features in resurfacing, maintenance and pavement recycling projects and further enable safe access to public roads for all users.”

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States Spend on Expansion While Roads Decay

According to Repair Priorities 2014, most state DOTs “are spending more money building new roads than maintaining the ones they have.” | Image: Smart Growth America

With people driving less and federal largesse not what it used to be, it would make sense for state departments of transportation to shift away from building [...]

Albany Budget Dance is Now in Full Swing

Transit champions Assemblymember Jim Brennan (top) and State Senator Marty Golden | Photos: Riders Alliance, NYSenate.gov

Transit champions Assemblymember Jim Brennan (top) and State Senator Marty Golden stood up for transit riders by removing Governor Cuomo’s proposal to divert $40 million from the MTA.  Photos: Riders Alliance, NYSenate.gov

This week, the New York State Assembly and Senate finally showed their cards, making public their one-house budget resolutions in response to Governor Cuomo’s Executive Budget. The next few weeks will be a flurry of negotiations and deals, and there are several issues TSTC is keeping on the radar.

Diversion of Transit Funds: Removed

The 2014-2015 Executive Budget proposes to divert $40 million in dedicated transit funds to pay off State Service Contract Bonds. The Assembly and Senate have responded in unison by standing up for transit riders and removing the proposal.

The saga began in 2002 when the State signed a contract with the MTA that obligated the State to pay the debt service on these bonds. Last year the governor backtracked on that obligation, and proposed to use $20 million in funds dedicated to transit to pay off the bonds, instead of using funds from the General Fund. Unfortunately, last year’s diversion slipped through in the budget process. The governor upped the ante in January, proposing a diversion twice the size of last year’s, while also revealing that he intended to pay down the entire $345 million in outstanding State-obligated bond debt by diverting chunks of transit funds every year over the course of the next 17 years.

As Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli points out, these are funds that could otherwise have gone to the MTA, and as the Straphangers Campaign’s Gene Russianoff told Capital New York, “We suffered through the bad times… Now with the economy improving, the MTA is being treated like a cash cow by the governor’s office.”

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TZB Transit Task Force Recommends New Modern, Faster Bus System in I-287 Corridor

The New NY Bridge Mass Transit Task Force (of which Tri-State is a member) issued its Final Transit Recommendations today. The 119-page report details transit improvements along the Tappan Zee Bridge/I-287 corridor in Rockland and Westchester Counties. The recommendations propose sleeker, new buses with WiFi technology; bus stops transformed from a patch of grass or pavement to a station with pre-board fare collection, seating, shelter, and real-time bus information; and new technology improvements that will give buses lead time at intersections and improve travel flow on I-287. With the implementation of these recommendations by Governor Cuomo and the New York State Thruway Authority, transit between these two counties can be transformed from an experience that is tolerated, to an experience that is preferred. And, the Hudson Valley will have secured a big win.

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The Region’s Freeways Without Futures

Earlier this month, Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) released its 2014 Freeways Without Futures report, which lists the top opportunities in North America for replacing aging urban highways with boulevards or avenues that connect with local street networks.

2014 Freeways Without Futures

2012 Freeways Without Futures 

I-10/Claiborne Overpass, New Orleans 

I-81, Syracuse, NY

Gardiner Expressway, Toronto

Route 5/Skyway, Buffalo, NY

Inner Loop, Rochester, NY

I-70, St. Louis

I-280, San Francisco

I-375, Detroit

Terminal Island Freeway, Long Beach

Aetna Viaduct, Hartford, CT

I-10/Claiborne Overpass, New Orleans

I-895/Sheridan Expressway, Bronx, NYC

Route 34/Oak Street Connector, New Haven, CT

Route 5/Skyway, Buffalo, NY

I-395/Overtown Expressway, Miami

I-70, St. Louis

West Shoreway, Cleveland

I-490/Inner Loop, Rochester, NY

I-81, Syracuse, NY

Gardiner Expressway, Toronto

Although the list includes freeways throughout North America, 40 percent of the list is made up of opportunities in New York and Connecticut (show in bold). Three of the projects in particular (highlighted in red) also showed up on the 2012 list.

Connecticut has a newcomer in Hartford’s Aetna Viaduct, which the local government has explored alternatives for, but has eliminated the boulevard option. As planning continues to move forward, officials should consider how they can encourage Interstate 84 users to switch modes to alleviate traffic and expand the potential alternatives to include a roadway that is more appropriate for downtown Hartford’s urban landscape. Mode shift in central Connecticut will be a more realistic goal after the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail corridor is completed, and especially after the CTfastrak BRT system — which has six stations along I-84 near the viaduct – opens in 2015.

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Governor Cuomo’s Executive Budget: $40 Million Taken from Transit, No Dedicated Pedestrian and Bicycling Safety Funding

Governor Cuomo's Executive Budget is a mixed-bag for transit and safe streets advocates. | Photo: Mike Groll/AP

Governor Cuomo’s Executive Budget is a mixed-bag for transit and safe streets advocates. | Photo: Mike Groll/AP

Governor Andrew Cuomo released his 2014-2015 Executive Budget yesterday and a preliminary look suggests transit riders, pedestrians and bicyclists are seeing a lot more take than give.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority

While the budget increases MTA funding by $85 million, Governor Cuomo proposes to use $40 million in ”surplus” transit funds to pay off bonds issued by the State on behalf of the MTA. Until last year, these bonds were serviced with General Funds. In 2013, when Governor Cuomo swept $20 million in transit funds, the move was criticized by transit advocates as well as State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli as a diversion of funds. The use of “surplus” funds to service this debt is something the Governor plans to do every year, beginning in FY2016:

Metro Mass Transportation Operating Aid (MMTOA) Debt Service Offset: The budget proposes to offset General Fund support for the MTA debt service costs by utilizing $40 million in dedicated resources from the MMTOA account to the General Debt Service Fund, with $20 million in resources available for the same purpose on an annual basis beginning in FY 2016.

While the Governor’s budget includes $310 million from the State’s General Fund to the MTA to compensate for lost revenue resulting from the rollback of the payroll mobility tax (PMT) in December 2011, this flat amount (which has been included every year since 2012) could be actually shortchanging potential revenue. The New York State Department of Labor estimates that 218,300 jobs were created in the downstate MTA region from November 2011 to November 2013, which means that additional PMT revenue likely would have been generated from these additional jobs, in excess of the $310 million. This additional revenue may have been enough to offset the proposed four percent MTA fare increase in 2015.

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New Yorkers Deliver Over 1,300 Postcards to Governor Cuomo Asking for Dedicated Pedestrian and Bicycle Funds

New York State Senator Tim Kennedy and TSTC Albany Legislative Advocate Nadine Lemmon | Photo: Rohan Parikh

Today, advocates from New Yorkers for Active Transportation (NY4AT) decided to test out how safe it is to walk and bike (just kidding) the halls of the State Capitol building in Albany. With panniers overflowing with postcards [...]

New York 2013: Looking Back on the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

NY-GBU-2013In New York’s transportation world, 2013 feels like a tale of two administrations: one, at the New York City level, that was pro sustainable transportation and one, at the state level, that… well, the jury is still out.

The Bloomberg/Sadik-Khan NYCDOT era brought plenty of wins for those who walk, bike and take transit in New York City. For those residing in the rest of The Empire State, stay tuned — the battle continues.

We end 2013 with two notable losses: not only has Mayor Bloomberg passed the torch, but Senator Charles Fuschillo, the State Senate’s Transportation Committee chair and sponsor of the 2011 Complete Streets law, will also be stepping down, leaving a big question mark as to who will advocate for downstate’s transit  systems and pedestrian and cycling safety interests.

The Good

Livable streets advocates impact elections – StreetsPAC, the New York City livable streets political action committee, launched in April and its push for a Vision Zero policy quickly became a plank in then-candidate Bill de Blasio’s platform. The PAC has already elevated progressive transportation policy into New York City’s political circles and Tri-State is excited to see what’s to come this year during the state election process.

Speed enforcement cameras debut in NYC – After more than 10 years of failed attempts, New York City finally squeezed out of Albany a key victory for safer streets. The City’s first speed camera demonstration program launched in the fall thanks to the efforts of Assemblywoman Glick and State Senator Klein.

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Governor Cuomo, Don’t Be a Grinch: Please Dedicate Money to Pedestrian and Bicycle Infrastructure

postcardLast week, a statewide coalition of pedestrian and bicycling safety advocates sent a letter to Governor Cuomo with a very important item on their holiday wish list:  dedicated funding for pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure. Individuals can add their voice to the chorus here, and a postcard will be sent to Santa’s workshop in the North Pole Governor Cuomo’s office in Albany, courtesy of Parks & Trails New York.

As the letter states:

The adoption of the Complete Streets law in 2011 has developed significant momentum for pedestrian and bicycle projects at the local level in our state. Communities across New York are eager to invest in pedestrian and bicycle projects, knowing that these projects improve their community’s quality of life, promote a healthier population, revitalize downtowns, increase real estate values and business activity, provide equitable and affordable transportation choices, and reduce air pollution.

Unfortunately, recent reductions in funding, on a state and federal level, greatly reduce the ability of communities to realize their goals.

Those reductions include a 30 percent cut ($12 million annually) of dedicated funds from the federal government via MAP-21, and a 40 percent cut in planned expenditures for bike-ped only infrastructure ($100 million over four years) on the state level. In part, this reduction in support for bike-ped infrastructure is a result of NYSDOT’s new Preservation First policy that categorically excludes new bike-ped infrastructure from 80 percent of the dollars spent by NYSDOT on transportation projects.

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Cuomo Promised Transparency, But NYS Agencies Have Been Largely Opaque

FOIL-extension-2

“Due to the complexity of the request, and the volume of records which need to be identified and retrieved, it has taken longer than anticipated to respond.”

While transparent State government was a key point in Governor Cuomo’s “Clean Up Albany” manifesto, one tool that was supposed to be crucial for transparency, the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), has instead yielded less information lately.

Access to data from New York State has been an ongoing challenge. Nearly all of the FOIL requests Tri-State has made have been met with delays, most often in the form of (multiple) deadline extensions. Much of the information requested has been from the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), including information on the Tappan Zee Bridge financing plan and environmental impact state/bus rapid transit cost estimates and the cancelled Strategic Transportation Enhancements Program (STEP). But these types of denial-through-delay tactics are not NYSDOT specific. In fact, a recent watchdog report by Gannett found that “Administration agencies have a pattern of multiple deadline extensions on [FOIL] requests. The extensions are routinely blamed — without specifics — on the large number of FOIL requests the state receives.”

The delay in production of the STEP records requested by Tri-State is an unfortunate — yet typical — example of how the delays happen. NYSDOT, through a STEP announcement, requested funding applications for high-priority transportation projects in each of NYSDOT’s 11 regions. The program, however, was abruptly cancelled, despite the fact that applications had already been submitted. To better understand transportation needs throughout the state, Tri-State sought to examine the applications and submitted a FOIL request in February 2013 for the applications, yet to date, NYSDOT has not produced the requested materials. The Department’s most recent request for extension came in November, making a total of five of extensions in a ten month period.

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