How Will New York’s Proposed Casinos Impact the Transportation System?

An artist's rendering of Sterling Forest Resort, a proposed resort casino in Tuxedo, NY. | Image:  sterlingforestresort.com

An artist’s rendering of Sterling Forest Resort, a proposed resort casino in Tuxedo, NY. | Image: sterlingforestresort.com

“I believe casinos in upstate New York could be a great magnet to bring the New York City traffic up.”

Governor Cuomo’s declaration in this year’s State of the State address would seem to suggest that upstate casinos would be built in transit-accessible locations. Less than half of New York City households own a vehicle, so “to bring the New York City traffic up” to casinos beyond the limits of Metro-North would ostensibly require some investments in transit.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t look to be part of the plan. Too often, transit access, congestion and wear-and-tear  on our roads are barely mentioned amidst the tax revenue ideology that accompanies economic development ventures. We’ve seen it before in New York, whether it’s the Governor’s effort to approve fracking, or the effort to lure New York City residents up to the Adirondacks (where there is no other option but to drive).

The June 30 deadline for casino applications brought 17 applicants vying for just four destination casino licenses in three upstate regions—the Catskills/Hudson Valley region, Eastern Southern Tier, and Capital Region. The final decision is expected to be made by the Gaming Facility Location Board, an appointed board with Cuomo-friendly appointees by the fall with casinos potentially opening as soon as 2015.

Some of the proposals submitted tout their proximity to public transit, while others propose significant expansions of the roadway system to bring customers directly to their door. Genting Americas is proposing a new Thruway Exit for a casino in Tuxedo, and Caesars Entertainment is offering to invest at least $20 million to improve traffic in the already burdened area near the proposed resort for Woodbury, “including funding a substantial portion of the long-delayed improvements to Exit 131 on the New York State Thruway.”

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Land Banking: A Tool to Facilitate Equitable TOD

Vacant and abandoned properties present a variety of challenges to municipalities: they degrade the aesthetic appeal of neighborhoods, pose safety risks and lower the value of surrounding properties. Communities burdened by vacant property also miss out on considerable revenue — while local governments face increased maintenance costs. And more often than not, attempts to redevelop these properties are thwarted by complicated tax foreclosure processes.

To help alleviate these headaches, some communities are enacting legislation to create land banks, which would acquire and manage abandoned properties so they can be saved for development and returned to productive uses.

One such productive use that land banks can help cities achieve is equitable transit-oriented development (ETOD). When municipalities establish land banks with the goal of creating ETOD, they’re not simply collecting underutilized land; they’re taking the first steps toward improving access to economic opportunity and housing choice for low-income people.

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One Region, TSTC-Granted Funds Advance Transit-Oriented Development Throughout the Region

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Municipal grantees of the One Region Funders’ Group and Tri-State’s Transit-Centered Grant Program present TOD project updates at TOD Forum. Left to right: Nicole Chevalier (moderator), Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation; Claire Shulman, Flushing-Willets Point-Corona LDC; David McCarthy, Jonathan Rose Companies; William Long, City of Mount Vernon; Richard Slingerland and Bob Galvin, Village of Mamaroneck; Jonathan Keyes, Town of Babylon. Photo: Kathi Ko

Tri-State and the One Region Funders’ Group assembled Transit-Centered Development Grant Program recipients last month to discuss progress made since the first round of grants to advance TOD were made in 2009.

The value of using philanthropic support to leverage additional investment for transit-oriented development (TOD) is unprecedented. Through two rounds of grant-making in 2009 and 2012, the program awarded $335,000 in funds to 11 municipalities throughout New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. These awards leveraged $135,000 in local contributions, $6.7 million in county and regional funds, $23 million in state grants and loan guarantees, and $4 million in federal funds.

Presentations from the grantees made it clear that these funds are going a long way to undo decades of sprawl. Some notable updates include:

Affordable senior housing coming to Flushing, Queens

The Flushing-Willets Point-Corona LDC received a $14,000 grant in 2011 and used the funds as part of a larger proposal to revamp the LIRR’s Flushing station. Claire Schulman, former Queens Borough President and head of FWPCLDC, announced that the New York City Department of Housing, Preservation and Development is now poised to transform a 43,200 square foot parking lot into as many as 200 units of affordable senior housing.

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Governor Malloy Announces $15 Million for TOD along CTfastrak, New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Corridors

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Governor Malloy addressed a crowd yesterday at Union Station in Hartford. | Image: Connecticut Network

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy announced the creation of a transit-oriented development (TOD) fund intended “to promote mixed-use, smart and sustainable development while encouraging economic growth.” The $15 million fund will be used to provide financing for “livable, walkable, and bikeable” development along the CTfastrak and New Haven-Hartford-Springfield (NHHS) transit corridors, Malloy said Wednesday at Hartford’s Union Station.

The State will invest $2 million ($1 million from the Office of Policy and Management, $1 million from the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority) to leverage $13 million from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), “and potentially millions more from banks, developers and other private and public sector organizations.” LISC will manage the fund and work with communities to identify parcels within a half-mile of stations for transit-oriented development opportunities.
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How Daylighting the Saw Mill River Helped Yonkers Become a Mixed-Use, Multimodal Hub

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The daylighted Saw Mill River in Yonkers. | Photo: communityprogress.net

Downtown Yonkers has undergone a dramatic change in the last decade thanks largely to the inspiring success story of the Saw Mill River Daylighting campaign, a project which was presented last week at GreenHomeNYC’s April Forum.

In the 1920s, the Army Corps of Engineers redirected a large portion of the Saw Mill River into underground flumes as part of a sanitation and flooding mitigation effort, where it lay hidden from sight for nearly a century. It wasn’t until the 1990s that anyone began to consider the potential for unburying the river, though the idea at the time seemed too massive an undertaking, especially given the hazardous pollution levels from illegal dumping in nearby industrial areas.

When Groundwork Hudson Valley was established in 2000, the non-profit organizations’s board of directors made daylighting the Saw Mill River one of its top priorities, as they felt strongly that it was “key to the city’s renewal.” And they were right. The newly daylighted river wasn’t simply a catalyst for revitalizing downtown; it became “the centerpiece of the city.”

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Proposed Capital Program Bolsters Transit and Smart Growth in Suffolk County

The proposed 2015-2017 Suffolk County Capital Program includes funding that would help the Ronkonkoma Hub TOD project take another step forward. | Image: Newsday

The proposed 2015-2017 Suffolk County Capital Program includes funding that would help the Ronkonkoma Hub TOD project take another step forward. | Image: Newsday

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone proposed a three-year, $789 million capital program last week, which offers a blueprint of priorities for the second half of his first term in office. Although the bulk of the plan focuses on waste water management needs, advocates for sustainable transportation, smart growth and transit-oriented development have much to be happy about.

In a letter accompanying the 2015-2017 program’s release, County Executive Bellone highlights the need to diversify Suffolk County’s transportation system, saying “we need to make it easier and safer for people to travel around Suffolk County, but we cannot grow our economy by simply adding more cars to the road…creating a system which allows residents to move around without having to get in their automobiles.” Some projects that will help ensure Bellone’s rhetoric becomes reality include:

Transit Oriented Development/Smart Growth: In addition to doubling the Downtown Revitalization Program to $500,000, the Program also includes $2.5 million for infrastructure improvements that support workforce housing in downtowns throughout Suffolk County. The funding is available for sidewalks, sewage treatment plants, landscaping and other projects integral to the success of affordable housing projects. The plan also helps the Ronkonkoma Hub project move forward by including $25 million for sewers to support the 1,450-unit TOD project at the Ronkonkoma LIRR station. “Jumpstart Suffolk” also received $2.5 million to fund projects that support place-making, mixed-use housing development and environmental sustainability.

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Transportation Absent From Malloy’s State of the State, But Not His Budget

Governor Malloy didn't mention transportation in his State of the State address, but did propose a budget with new transportation initiatives. | Photo: Brian Pounds, Connecticut Post

Governor Malloy didn’t mention transportation in his State of the State address, but did propose a budget with new transportation initiatives. | Photo: Brian Pounds/Connecticut Post

Last week, Governor Dannel Malloy delivered a snow-delayed State of the State address focused on his plans for tax relief, education, and economic development. It was so focused on those plans, actually, that it did not include a single word on the topic of transportation. But the Governor’s proposed midyear budget, presented to the General Assembly that same day, tells a different story.

In fact, the Governor’s proposed budget includes several new transportation initiatives:

  • A $7 million predevelopment fund for transit-oriented development, to be administered by the Office of Policy and Management. The fund will likely first be used to assist communities that want to build around stations on the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Line and CTfastrak bus rapid transit. The budget would also allow ConnDOT to hire employees to work on TOD.
  • 75 new engineers, as well as new ConnDOT positions focused on speeding up project delivery.
  • A $1.5 million “Safety and Maintenance Program” developed in response to the May derailment on the New Haven Line.

In a triple win for state taxpayers, the budget includes no new fare hikes, no cuts to rail and bus operations, and no transfers out of the Special Transportation Fund. The $7 million predevelopment fund is particularly welcome considering TSTC and other advocates have called for a formal TOD program for years. Responding to this component of the budget, Howard Rifkin of the Partnership for Strong Communities (an affordable housing advocacy group) praised the Governor for “ensuring that development in and around transit stops includes mixed-income housing for our workforce,” and called the fund “good news for the future of CTfastrak and the Springfield-to-New Haven commuter rail line.”

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Emissions from Car-Dependent Suburbs Underscore the Need for Compact, Transit-Oriented Development

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Major urban centers appear as green-yellow holes surrounded by rings of red suburbs. | Map:  Environmental Science & Technology

The findings of a recent University of California, Berkeley study serve as yet another stark reminder that the suburban sprawl model of development is unsustainable. The report and corresponding interactive map, compiled by the CoolClimate Network , a division of UC Berkeley’s Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, calculate the carbon emissions for the average household in almost every United States zip code – with dark green indicating comparatively low emissions, moving up to light green, yellow, orange and then red indicating the highest concentration of emissions.

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State Funds Allocated to Support Transit Oriented Development Vision in Brookhaven, a Tri-State/One Region TOD Grantee

The Town of Brookhaven, New York has been working to support development and revitalize its Greater Bellport neighborhood, one of the most economically distressed communities on Long Island. Last year, Tri-State Transportation Campaign and the One Region Funders’ Group awarded $48,500 to the town to further these efforts, and the town is already seeing dividends. Last [...]

How Can Sustainable Transportation Practices Mitigate Climate Change?

The Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes it undeniably clear that climate change is real, and it’s our fault. Scientists are now 95 percent certain that human influence has been the dominant cause of global warming since the mid-20th century, up from 90 percent certainty in [...]