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.

» Continue reading…

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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.

» Continue reading…

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A To-Do List for NYSTA’s New Leadership

Left: State Budget Director Bob Megna, Photo: Times Union | Right: Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney, Photo: ongov.net

State Budget Director Bob Megna, Photo: Times Union | Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney, Photo: ongov.net

In the wake of resignations of the ChairmanExecutive Director and Chief Financial Officer of the New York State Thruway Authority, Governor Cuomo has announced his appointment of state budget director Robert Megna as acting Executive Director and Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney as Board Chairwoman. Tri-State is hopeful that this new leadership will implement some changes and follow through on promises made.

First and foremost, Megna and Mahoney must increase transparency at the Authority, starting with the release of the financial plan for the New NY Bridge project. Tri-State has been calling for this for several years—with the Thruway Authority specifically refusing to disclose it. The public has a right to know how much this new project will be increasing tolls.

In addition, the toll task force the Governor called for and Thruway Authority promised as a means of further increasing transparency on the question of tolls must be convened.

Finally, as tolls are expected to rise and there is currently no viable transit alternative to driving in the Rockland/Westchester I-287 Corridor, Thruway leadership must publicly support and see to the implementation of the bus system recommended by the Governor’s Mass Transit Task Force. With a framework already in place and bus lanes already planned for the bridge, it is incumbent upon Megna and Mahoney to ensure bridge users have a real transit alternative to driving across the bridge.

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Subtext of a Port Authority Veto: Money, Power and Control

What four different legislative bodies with 612 legislators from two states wanted was a little independent oversight and accountability. What Governors Cuomo and Christie delivered—in the lull between Christmas and New Years when the majority of their constituents were enjoying some well-deserved quiet time—was a veto and a “special report”, both with an ill-disguised subtext: “mine, mine, mine.”

The Port Authority has tripped, badly, over the undue influence of those who currently control it. Letting the public in by enabling more transparency and making sure there is third party oversight is a logical fix to assure balance in governance.

The vetoed bill would have been a solid first step to enhance accountability. It had a seemingly benign list of good government measures, modeled after reforms that had already been enacted in 2005 and 2009 in New York State, that now govern other authorities in the state. The changes to the law would have included:

  • Imposing upon the commissioners an ethical duty of loyalty, care and good faith to the mission of the agency and the public interest in their decision-making;
  • Imposing the open meetings law and the ethics and financial disclosure laws of both states on the agency;
  • Creating independent assessments and holding extensive hearings before a toll increase;
  • Requiring a Whistleblower duty to report fraud, abuse, and corruption to the Port Authority Inspector General;
  • Requiring transparency in capital and operating budgets;
  • An independent analysis on spending efficiency.

However, with a classic political fake out, the Governors masked a simple structural reorganization as governance reform—requesting the resignations of those they appointed to be replaced by a CEO, along with other minor reshufflings of the deck chairs. The special report’s proposed measures have been deemed weaker than a “whitewash” report that found Governor Christie innocent of Bridgegate shenanigans. Governor Cuomo’s veto message claims that the vetoed bill “conflicts” with portions of the report, but it remains unclear how instituting basic transparency measures and whistleblower policies would conflict with better governance.

Money, power and control need independent oversight. Perhaps a viable solution is an entity similar to the MTA’s Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, an entitity that would have the resources and independent oversight, with representatives from New York and New Jersey, to make sure our tax dollars are being spent in the public’s interest.

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The True Cost of Cutting Overnight PATH Service

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop speaks at Tuesday's press conference. | Photo: nj.com

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop speaks at Tuesday’s press conference. | Photo: nj.com

Earlier this week, more than a dozen federal, state and local elected officials and labor advocates gathered at Grove Street PATH station for a press conference to call on the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey to rescind a recent proposal to eliminate overnight PATH service. Rallied together by Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, those joining in the call included U.S. Senator Robert Menendez and Representative Albio Sires, North Bergen Mayor and State Senator Nicholas Sacco, Union City Mayor and State Senator Brian Stack, State Senator Sandra Cunningham, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.

The Port Authority quietly released a report between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays which included a “last resort” proposal to eliminate overnight service on PATH. The report states:

Eliminating overnight service during weekends (i.e., eliminating service on Friday night/early Saturday and Saturday night/early Sunday) would produce operational and capital expense savings. …PATH could achieve operational and capital savings estimated to be at least $10 million per year from stopping service altogether between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. on weeknights.

The impact of a service reduction would be limited. Assuming that some riders slightly alter their travel plans to ride the last train before operations cease or the first train after they recommence, approximately one-half of one percent of PATH riders during the time period (just under 1,500) would be affected.

That’s a pretty big assumption on their part, given that the Port Authority’s definition of “slightly alter” may not match up with that of the wide array of riders who rely on the late-night PATH service, which fills the sizable gap in bus and NJ Transit service for the early morning trips to and from Manhattan. For Hoboken residents, the last train home from Manhattan leaves at midnight on weeknights and the first train to the city on weekday mornings isn’t until 6am, leaving all third shift employees, musicians, performers and early morning Wall Street workers to rely on PATH. According to Mayor Fulop, roughly 390,000 riders would be impacted annually by the loss of service from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. on weeknights and possibly hundreds of thousands more if weekend overnight service were also eliminated. For perspective’s sake, in all of Hudson County, more than a third of all households do not own a vehicle.

» Continue reading…

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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.

Left: Connecticut DOT Commissioner James Redeker, Photo: ct.gov | Right: Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Photo: nysenate.gov

Left: Connecticut DOT Commissioner James Redeker, Photo: ct.gov | Right: Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Photo: nysenate.gov

WINNERS

Connecticut DOT Commissioner James Redeker — The ConnDOT head described the agency’s big plans for the years ahead, including more BRT: “I’d like to have CTfastrak East, CTfastrak West and CTfastrak North.”

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams — When asked what Brooklyn needs more of in 2015, BP Adams replied “…Cars are so old school. We need to embrace bicycling as a transportation alternative, but the infrastructure needs to come with it. We need more bike lanes, buildings should have bus shelters, and we need to remake the entire borough based around that.”

Lower East Side resident William Mojica — Mr. Mojica spearheaded the installation of new pedestrian safety measures for his neighborhood.

Motorists and Pedestrians: Both in New York City and across the nation, driver and pedestrian fatalities have significantly declined.

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders  Now the top Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee, Senator Sanders recently announced his plan to authorize a $1 trillion, multi-year infrastructure program to improve roads, bridges and transit.

The Federal Highway Administration — A YouTube video showing how the agency strives to “make biking and walking safer, affordable, more accessible, and an integral part of livable communities across America” complements their recent acknowledgement that driving is not as popular as it used to be.

Waterbury branch commuters — Weekend ridership has surpassed Metro-North’s projections after the addition of two late-night weekend trains on the Waterbury branch.

» Continue reading…

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Happy Holidays from Tri-State!

Even Santa prefers public transit! | Photo: LakeCharles.com

Even Santa takes public transit! | Photo: LakeCharles.com

2014 has been a huge year for news from the transportation and transit sectors — especially in the tri-state region. We worked hard this year and are proud of our many accomplishments, including:

But we couldn’t have done ANY of it without you, our readers and partners. We thank you for your support, which will be put to great use in 2015. We’ve got a lot to do!

Until then, Tri-State’s offices will be closed through the remainder of the holidays, and MTR will return after the new year.

Safe travels, and happy new year!

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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:

» Continue reading…

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Successful Traffic Safety Camera Programs Tie Revenue to Traffic Safety Funds

New Jersey’s red light camera pilot program has officially come to a close as cameras went dark at midnight this past Tuesday after a long battle in Trenton. Supporters of the program cited myriad motorist, pedestrian and cyclist safety benefits, while those opposed insisted it was nothing more than a cash cow for municipalities. Nonetheless, efforts are underway to breathe life back in to the red light camera program. Legislative leadership in Districts 28 and 29 have introduced legislation to reinstate the program with a new requirement that one-half of the revenue be dedicated to improve highway safety:

“The bill provides that not less than one-half of any fine received by a municipality or county for a violation of a traffic control signal monitoring system is to be deposited into a fund established by the municipality or county to be used exclusively by the municipality or county to reduce traffic accidents and deaths, injuries, and property damage resulting from traffic accidents in the municipality or county.”

Half is a good start, but all would be better.

Just next door, Pennsylvania has dedicated total net revenue from the ARLE (Automated Right Light Enforcement) program to improve highway safety. System administrators are permitted to recoup costs for operation and maintenance, but are required to deposit the remaining revenues into a restricted Motor License Fund account used to fund the ARLE Funding Program. These fines deposited in the fund are used by PennDOT for a Transportation Enhancements Grant Program, a competitive statewide grant program. Click here for a detailed list of eligible projects.

Since 2011, 126 safety projects have been funded, and at least 17 projects were clearly bike or pedestrian specific. Philadelphia’s Bicycle Encouragement and Enhancement Project was also made possible through the funding from the revenues from red light camera fines.

Establishing a program similar to Pennsylvania’s would be a boon for bike and pedestrian safety in New Jersey. Pedestrian accidents in New Jersey have reached numbers twice that of the national average, earning it the status of “focus” state by the Federal Highway Administration, and New Jersey’s Bike-Friendly State status has dropped. The silver lining is that the number of municipalities and counties adopting Complete Streets policies is increasing every month. For all three of these reasons, more dollars must be made available for funding needed bike and pedestrian safety infrastructure projects.

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Newark’s Bike Safety Efforts

Several Newark elementary school students braved the unseasonably cold weather (and a few rain drops) in early November to attend a bike rodeo, a fun interactive event to teach children the skills and precautions necessary to safely ride a bicycle. As part of a Safe Routes to School non-infrastructure grant, five New Jersey organizationsTri-State, MeadowlinkLa Casa de Don Pedro, Urban League of Essex County and Ironbound Community Corporationhave partnered with six elementary schoolsCamden Street, Hawkins Street, Horton, McKinley, Sussex Ave and 13th Ave Schoolsto prepare School Travel Plans and also to facilitate a variety of educational outreach events to encourage safe biking and walking.

The students at November’s bike rodeo were guided through a series of drills to teach them the importance of pre-ride safety checks, bike sizing and helmet fitting. Drills and information about traffic safety were also conducted, including: where to ride on the road; stop, look left-right-left before entering traffic; hand signals; and visibility and predictability.

Since adopting a Complete Streets policy in September 2012, Newark has installed dedicated bike lanes and sharrows and promoted advanced safety initiatives to improve bicycling in the city. The City is currently in the midst of preparing a Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Action Plan and recently held the first informational and interactive open-house. Unfortunately, this applaudable progress is being undermined by the fact that Newark Mayor Ras Baraka is reportedly removing the recently-installed protected bike lanes on Mount Prospect Avenue in response to complaints from local business owners. The enthusiasm of the children at the bike rodeo shows that bike safety goes beyond engineering and education – true bike safety cannot succeed without public support for cycling.

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