Wednesday Winners (& Losers)

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

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. | Photo: bronxboropres.nyc.gov

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. | Photo: bronxboropres.nyc.gov

WINNERS

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. — During his State of the Borough speech, Diaz called on the state to stop dragging its feet and redevelop the Sheridan Expressway.

Hicksville commuters — Governor Cuomo has announced a $120 million improvement project for the Hicksville LIRR stationthe busiest station on Long Island.

Fair Haven, NJ Mayor Benjamin Lucarelli — The bike-friendly mayor is taking his campaign for streets safety to Washington to participate in the USDOT’s Mayors’ Challenge.

Ossining Village Board of Trustees  Ossining has adopted a Complete Streets policy which will take effect immediately.

New Rochelle, NY — The City Council has approved two development projects near the town’s Metro-North station, which will include affordable housing.

Metro-North riders — By mid-April, all Metro-North conductors will carry credit card machines.

Statewide transit riders — On Thursday, state and local electeds came together at separate events in Buffalo and in Yonkers for a unified call to action: the State must prioritize funding for statewide transit systems.

New York City road users — WNYC analysis of NYC’s speed camera program has found that the program is improving safety, as both tickets and crashes have decreased in areas with cameras.

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State and Local Electeds Join Transit Operators and Advocates in Urging Governor Cuomo to Support Statewide Transit

New York State Assemblymember Shelley Mayer

New York State Assemblymember Shelley Mayer

Yesterday morning in Westchester, a group of more than 30 elected officials, transit users, transit operators and transportation advocates braved the bitter cold for a press conference to call on Governor Cuomo to increase funding in his Executive Budget to support statewide public transit systems, which face a collective need of $33 billion over the next five years.

Transit ridership across New York is at an all-time high, yet Albany’s investment is not rising to the occasion—the proposed 2015-2016 Executive Budget keeps operating assistance flat at 2014-2015 levels for all non-MTA transit systems. The advocates and electeds called for more than $140 million in new operating aid investment for non-MTA transportation systems, and also called for a fully-funded MTA Capital Program.

The Westchester stakeholders have a vested interest in transit investment because of the role transit plays in both the urban and suburban areas of the county. Bee-Line, considered to be the ‘backbone‘ of county employment, is one of the country’s largest suburban transit programs, providing nearly 33 million trips annually, according to Assemblymember Shelley Mayer. Yet despite a 3.5 percent increase in ridership from 2011 to 2013, state operating support has leveled out, leaving riders to shoulder the burden. Tri-State’s Veronica Vanterpool testified that “Every dollar invested by Westchester County into Bee-Line yields $23 in economic activity and supports 1,260 jobs. Few other investments yield this rate of return while also reducing traffic congestion and pollution, spurring transit-oriented development, and creating equitable communities.”

And given the role of Metro-North in supporting housing, employment and economic development across Westchester, lawmakers and advocates are refusing to settle for anything less than a fully-funded MTA Capital Program so that Metro-North riders can be ensured safe, reliable service in the future. Nearly $3 billion of the five-year Program is slated for Metro-North improvements.

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Technology Can Help, but Transit and Walkability Are Keys to Reducing Automobile Dependence

A new report from USPIRG, The Innovative Transportation Index: Cities Where New Technologies and Tools Can Reduce Your Need to Own a Car, examines “technology-enabled transportation services” which, its authors suggest, “make it easier to conveniently get around without owning a car.” The report’s Executive Summary begins

“Rapid technological advances have enabled the creation of new transportation tools that make it possible for more Americans to live full and engaged lives without owning a car.”

There’s no doubt that car ownership isn’t required for living a “full and engaged” life. In fact, in some cities car ownership can be more of a hassle than a convenience. But are these tools, like Uber, Zipcar, bike share, and apps like NextBus really what makes a car-free lifestyle possible, or are there other factors at work?

To get a better understanding, we looked up the numbers on zero-car households for the top 20 (of 70) cities included in the Innovative Transportation Index (percentage of households that don’t own cars in parentheses):

pirg-tech-report

  1. Austin  (6.5)
  2. San Francisco  (31.4)
  3. Washington  (37.9)
  4. Boston  (36.9)
  5. Los Angeles  (13.6)
  6. New York  (56.5)
  7. Portland  (15.3)
  8. Denver  (11.7)
  9. Minneapolis  (19.7)
  10. San Diego  (7.4)
  11. Seattle  (16.6)
  12. Dallas  (10.1)
  13. Columbus  (10)
  14. Chicago  (27.9)
  15. Houston  (10.1)
  16. Miami  (26.7)
  17. Milwaukee  (19.9)
  18. Tampa (6.6*)
  19. Nashville  (8.5)
  20. Orlando  (4.9**)

The result is a mixed bag. While cities like New York, Washington and Boston, where more than a third of households are car-free, appear in the Innovative Transportation Index’s top 20, so do cities like Austin, Nashville and San Diego, where fewer than 10 percent of households do not own cars. It’s not clear that new transportation technology is having much of an impact in reducing car ownership.

Given that many of these new technologies are only a few years old, we thought we’d also look to see what direction these cities are headed in. Austin, Columbus and Dallas, for example, may not be leading the pack of cities with the most zero-car households , but could they be headed in that direction?

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New Camden Development Must Prioritize Transit and Active Transportation

Subaru plans to move its U.S. headquarters to the Gateway Office Park site in Camden, NJ. Image Source: Philadelphia Business Journal

Subaru plans to move its U.S. headquarters to the Gateway Office Park site in Camden, NJ. Image Source: Philadelphia Business Journal

It was recently reported that car maker Subaru of America will be moving its national headquarters to Camden, New Jersey, bringing along 500 of its employees who currently work in Cherry Hill and Pennsauken, NJ. The company has also pledged to add 100 new jobs to the new headquarters in the next two years. Subaru will become the anchor tenant of a vast tract of land known as the “Gateway Office Park” owned by Campbell’s Soup, which is based adjacent to the site.

With such significant new development in this section of the city, it is imperative that the City of Camden continues to work with developer Brandywine Realty Trust, and with Subaru and Campbell’s, to promote access to nearby transit and active transportation amenities. The development site is just over half a mile from the Walter Rand Transportation Center, which houses the Broadway PATCO High Speed Line station, NJ Transit RiverLINE and 25 NJ Transit bus lines – not to mention the planned Glassboro-Camden light rail and South Jersey Bus Rapid Transit lines. The new offices will also be adjacent to existing and planned Circuit walking and biking trails. By using transit and trails, employees can quickly and easily travel to and from downtown Camden, Philadelphia, Trenton and the surrounding South Jersey suburbs.

The development is also adjacent to two major highways, so it will be essential for the site and surrounding area to be designed in a way that promotes transit usage and active transportation. In order for this to be successful, the following must occur:

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All Aboard the “Hartford Line”

Central Connecticut’s forthcoming commuter rail system, until today known as the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Rail Program, is being branded as the “Hartford Line” according to a press release from Governor Malloy’s office today.

This is the second time Connecticut officials have rebranded a transportation service in the years prior to launching. In 2012, the State officially renamed […]

Revitalizing Sunrise Highway: WALC Recommendations

sunrisehwySunrise Highway has long been a safety concern for residents of Nassau County, and the news that the New York State Department of Transportation was to focus on safety improvements along the notoriously dangerous roadway — which saw eight pedestrian deaths, 94 collisions involving motorists and pedestrians and 32 collisions involving motorists and bicyclists between 2010 and 2012 — was well-received. However, NYSDOT had undertaken the planning process for a $3.8 million pedestrian safety plan for Sunrise Highway without any local community input.

AARP New York, in partnership with Vision Long Island and Tri-State, reached out to the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute (WALC) to conduct three walking audits with community members along the highway. In June, internationally-renowned traffic safety expert Dan Burden led Nassau County elected officials, planners, advocates and residents through Valley Stream, Baldwin and Freeport, guiding the group through an in-depth examination of how design directly impacts behavior on roadways and discussing ideas to make Sunrise Highway safe for all users. WALC then gathered the input, along with Dan Burden’s observations, and generated a series of recommendations for how to transform the corridor into a Complete Street.

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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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Groundbreaking TransitCenter Survey: Americans Want More Compact, Mixed-Use Neighborhoods

It’s widely accepted at this point that Americans are driving less and the country overall is shifting towards transit to get around — but you may be surprised to learn that it’s not just due to young people favoring transit or a recovering economy. A recent study by TransitCenter, “Who’s On Board: 2014 Mobility Attitudes Survey,” goes beyond previous studies that only look at commuting trends and ridership figures by including travel attitudes and behaviors.

The big takeaway from this groundbreaking report is that transit-oriented development plays a big role. The type of neighborhood is the top predictor of whether or not people in that neighborhood prefer transit: suburban, residential neighborhoods are the most common types of neighborhoods that respondents live in, but many reportedly prefer to live in mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods. The report states that “the attractiveness of mixed-use neighborhoods is a major part of what drives people onto transit.”

Respondents across all age groups largely desire suburban, mixed-use neighborhoods. | Chart: TransitCenter

Respondents across all age groups largely desire mixed-use neighborhoods. | Chart: TransitCenter

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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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