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Today’s Headlines

  • Ray LaHood Won’t Reveal Many Details About Reinvention Commission’s Work (CapNY)
  • Equinox CEO Confirms REQX Ventures in “Advanced Negotiations” to Buy Alta (WNYC)
  • Lanza and Malliotakis at It Again, Pushing to Ruin Bus Lanes (Advance)
  • DNA Maps 52 Ped Injuries Over Two Years on Deadly West End Avenue; Safety Plan Coming Soon
  • After Advocacy From Residents and Electeds, DOT Will Add Crosswalks to LIC Intersection (LIC Post)
  • With PlaNYC Update Due Soon, Enviro Advocates Push de Blasio to Commit to Green Agenda (CapNY)
  • MTA Budget Includes Funds to Operate Two New SBS Routes Next Year (AMNY, DNA)
  • Budget Also Includes Planned VNB Toll Hike, But It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way (Advance)
  • C Train Riders Will Wait Up to 11 Extra Months for Replacements of NYC’s Oldest Train Cars (News)
  • After Brass Taunted Safety Advocates With Tweets, NYPD Holds Social Media Training (CapNY)
  • Meanwhile, in New Jersey… (APP)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Reinvent This: Cuomo Cuts Future Investment to Pay for MTA Labor Deals

When Governor Cuomo smiled for the cameras to announce labor deals with the Transport Workers Union and Long Island Rail Road unions, he promised they wouldn’t push already-planned fare hikes any higher. The unanswered question was: How much will this cost, and how is he going to pay for it? Now we know: The governor’s MTA is moving money away from investments in the system’s long-term upkeep, widening a $12 billion hole even as a panel of experts studies ways to pay for needed improvements.

He appointed a commission, but will Governor Cuomo do what it takes to fund the MTA's future? Photo: Diana Robinson

He appointed a commission, but will Governor Cuomo do what it takes to fund the MTA’s future after cutting capital plan funds to pay for labor deals? Photo: Diana Robinson/Flickr

Yesterday, the MTA released its proposed 2015 budget and four-year financial plan. It reveals that labor deals, including expected settlements with Metro-North workers, will cost the authority at least $1.28 billion through 2017.

Over the same period, the MTA is expected to save $635 million through higher revenue from taxes, tolls, and fares, and better than expected savings on para-transit, energy, health care, and debt service. It’s also continuing internal cost-cutting measures. The net result: There’s a new $645 million hole in the MTA’s budget over the next three years.

How to fill it? The authority is cutting its long-term contributions to pensions and other retiree funds, and will even dip into existing funds this year. That covers most of the gap. The rest will come by cutting the contribution the MTA makes to its capital plan, which funds both big expansion projects and state of good repair for reliable buses, trains, and stations.

The MTA’s contribution from its operating budget to its capital plan is a down payment on the next round of planned investments. City, state, and federal dollars are less certain, and they’re secured later to fund the majority of the program.

In February, the MTA said it planned to contribute $370 million each year from its operating budget to the capital program. If it used these funds to issue bonds, it could leverage $6.5 billion over eight years. Thanks to the new labor agreements, that number has been cut by more than one-fifth, down to $290 million a year. The MTA says this will cost the capital program $1.5 billion.

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, assuming the MTA would contribute what it said it would earlier this year, warned last week that the capital program faces a $12 billion gap. Yesterday, that gap got $1.5 billion wider. That’s not chump change: The MTA has identified $26.6 billion in capital needs over the next five years.

Paying for the capital plan with more debt brings big risks. The MTA has already increased its debt load to record levels to pay for capital investments. In fact, 17 cents of every dollar the MTA spends in its 2015 budget goes to debt service, costing the authority $2.4 billion a year. That’s about how much it costs to operate Metro-North ($1.2 billion) and Long Island Rail Road ($1.4 billion) combined. Without changes to the status quo, paying off that debt will ultimately fall to straphangers, since fares and tolls comprise a majority of the MTA’s operating income. In other words, by pushing costs to the capital program, the labor agreements could result in a fare hike — just not right now.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The governor has appointed a “transportation reinvention commission” to study, among other things, ways to fund the capital program. It’s set to release recommendations in September, less than a month before the MTA sends its next five-year capital plan to the state. With the latest cut to the capital plan’s funding, the need for other sources of revenue just became even more pressing.

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Houston’s Plan to Make “Bicycle Interstates” Out of Its Utility Network

The blue lines show trails planned as part of the Bayou Greenways system. Image: Utility Line Bike & Hike Trails

Rights-of-way controlled by the Houston utility company CenterPoint (the dotted lines) could combine with trails planned as part of the Bayou Greenways system (the blue lines) to create a grid of off-street biking and walking routes covering much of the city. Map: Utility Line Bike & Hike Trails

This post is part of a series featuring stories and research that will be presented at the Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike/Pro-Place conference September 8-11 in Pittsburgh.

Long lanes of grass alongside power lines are almost as ubiquitous in Houston as highways. There are roughly 500 miles of high-voltage utility rights-of-way criss-crossing the city, and they’re mostly just dead spaces, forming weedy barriers between neighborhoods.

What could the city do if it repurposed these underused spaces? Inspired by an article in Rice University’s Cite Magazine, Alyson Fletcher decided to write her master’s thesis at the Cornell University landscape architecture program on that question. She drafted a proposal to turn these linear, grassy areas into a “recreational super-highway” — and it’s starting to look like a real possibility.

In May, the city inked an agreement with CenterPoint Energy, owner of some 500 miles of utility rights-of-way across Houston. The agreement provides the city with free access to these spaces, some 140 of which are high-voltage lines with very tall towers and wide rights of way, which are well suited for trails.

For years, city and state leaders had struggled to overcome liability concerns on the part of the energy provider. Who would be responsible if someone was injured? CenterPoint didn’t want to be that party. So Texas lawmakers got together last year and passed a law resolving the liability issue for CenterPoint.

Designers at Rice University, the University of Houston, and SWA Design Group estimate the project could cost about $100 million to complete. Community activist Michael Skelly has been leading unsanctioned tours of the utility areas for people who want to learn more about the proposal.

Besides the low cost of land acquisition, the project has another important selling point: It complements the Bayou Greenways plan. As we reported last week, Houston plans to add 300 miles of trails and 4,000 acres of parkland along its 10 major natural bayous. But since most of the bayous are oriented east-west, the plan has limitations from a transportation standpoint.

Read more…

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No Charges for Motorist Who Killed Senior Margherita Nanfro in Bath Beach

Would daylighting the intersection of Rutherford Place and Bay 16th Street have prevented the crash that killed Margherita Nanfro? With cursory media coverage and NYPD keeping crash reports hidden from view, the public may never know. Image: Google Maps

Would daylighting the intersection of Rutherford Place and Bay 16th Street have prevented the crash that killed Margherita Nanfro? On this and other questions, the public is left to speculate, thanks to scant information available from NYPD. Image: Google Maps

A Brooklyn driver who killed a senior by crashing into her on a neighborhood street in broad daylight was not charged by NYPD, though reports suggest the victim had the right of way.

The 37-year-old motorist drove into Margherita Nanfro as she crossed Rutherford Place at Bay 16th Street in Bath Beach at around 12:20 p.m. on July 25, according to the Home Reporter. The driver, in a Honda sedan, was westbound on Rutherford Place, a single-lane, one-way street lined with residences. Nanfro was pronounced dead at Lutheran Medical Center.

Photos published by Brooklyn Daily indicate Nanfro was struck with enough force to throw her onto the windshield. Photos show the car stopped on Rutherford Place about halfway between Bay 16th Street and 17th Avenue, the next intersection.

Though reports are vague, if Nanfro was crossing Rutherford Place at the intersection, she would have been in an unmarked crosswalk and likely would have had the right of way. Other crucial details are also missing. How, in the middle of the day, did the driver fail to see an 80-year-old crossing the street in front of her? How fast was she going in order to throw the victim onto the hood of the car? Did NYPD crash investigators address these questions? The public doesn’t know, and probably never will unless the crash report is released pursuant to a freedom of information request.

Though several outlets say the NYPD investigation is “ongoing,” the Daily News reported that according to police the driver “did not face criminal charges.”

Beginning next month, it will be a crime for a NYC motorist to strike a pedestrian or cyclist who has the right of way. But unless NYPD makes drastic changes to the way the department approaches crashes, Intro 238 will be another traffic safety law that goes all but unenforced.

This fatal crash occurred in the 62nd Precinct. To voice your concerns about neighborhood traffic safety directly to Captain William G. Taylor, the commanding officer, go to the next precinct community council meeting. The 62nd Precinct council meetings happen at 7:30 p.m. on the third Tuesday of the month at the precinct, located at 1925 Bath Avenue. Call 718-236-2501 for information.

The City Council district where Margherita Nanfro was killed is represented by Vincent Gentile. To encourage Gentile to take action to improve street safety in his district and citywide, contact him at 212-788-7363, vgentile@council.nyc.gov or @VGentile43.

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How One-Day Plazas and Bike Lanes Can Change a City Forever

The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition installed this pop-up lane and intersection treatment at an Open Streets event to show neighbors what a protected bike lane could look like.

The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition installed this pop-up design at an Open Streets event to show neighbors what a protected bike lane could look like. All photos courtesy of Sam Rockwell.

This post is part of a series featuring stories and research that will be presented at the Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike/Pro-Place conference September 8-11 in Pittsburgh.

Sam Rockwell rides his bike every day from his home in Minneapolis to his office at BlueCross BlueShield in Eagan, 12 miles away, where he spends his days plotting ways to get other people riding their bikes too.

By all accounts, Minnesota is doing a pretty good job on that front. One way Rockwell — and his co-conspirator at BlueCross, Eric Weiss — are looking to make healthy, active transportation even better is by installing temporary “pop-up” infrastructure around the state so people can take new street designs for a test ride.

Despite relatively high levels of biking, Minnesota has somehow neglected to install even a single on-street protected bike lane — though Minneapolis has approved a plan to build 30 miles of them by 2020. Weiss, Rockwell, and the advocates they work with use pop-up installations to help local leaders and residents see how the infrastructure will look.

“We get that, ‘We don’t support it because we don’t know what it is; we’re never going to know what it is because we don’t have any,’” Rockwell said. “There needs to be some way of breaking out of that cycle.”

The pop-up strategy, he argues, is the way. “These are low-cost, quick and easy initiatives,” he said. “And also low-risk, because in the case of the pop-up cycle track, they put it up for one day on a number of different days throughout the summer, and then they just lift it out. It’s non-threatening.”

Read more…

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Unlike Toll Reform, a Sales Tax Really Is a Regressive Way to Fund Transit

Funding the MTA with sales taxes? This is who will end up paying the most for it. Image: Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy

Among New York state residents under 65, poorer households currently pay a far greater share of their income in sales and excise taxes than more affluent households. Chart: Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy [PDF]

The MTA capital program is facing a $12 billion shortfall, according to Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, and unless that gap is closed, transit riders will end up paying even more to cover the agency’s ballooning debt load. There’s one clear way to address that problem while cleaning up the traffic mess that ensnares motorists, bus riders, pedestrians, and cyclists alike — raising revenue by reforming NYC’s broken toll system. But a leader of Governor Cuomo’s MTA Reinvention Commission appears to favor a regressive option that won’t fix the dysfunction on city streets.

Capital New York’s Dana Rubinstein reported yesterday that Ray LaHood, former U.S. secretary of transportation and co-chair of the commission, thinks Virginia’s transportation funding model is worth considering in New York. “They went from a gas tax to a sales tax,” LaHood told Capital. (Virginia repealed its gas tax in favor of a wholesale tax paid by gas station owners and a sales tax increase paid by consumers, raising $880 million each year.)

Speaking to Brian Lehrer on WNYC this morning, LaHood said he was unfamiliar with the “Fair Plan” promoted by “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz and the non-profit Move NY, which would raise revenue for transit by creating a more rational citywide toll system. LaHood went on to say, “People think [the Virginia sales tax model] has great potential.”

But a sales tax is one of the most regressive revenue-raisers out there. Of the types of taxes states typically levy — on property, income, and sales — “sales and excise taxes are the most regressive, with poor families paying eight times more of their income in these taxes than wealthy families, and middle income families paying five times more,” according to the non-partisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy [PDF]. In New York, sales taxes already hit the poorest fifth of the state’s households more than twice as hard as the wealthiest fifth, when measured as a percentage of income [PDF].

Compare that to who would pay under the Move NY toll reform plan: Tolls would increase only for people driving to Manhattan south of 60th Street, while tolls would drop on outer borough crossings. Car owners are wealthier than car-free New Yorkers, and a Move NY analysis shows that drivers who will pay more under the plan have household incomes far higher than transit users. Asking them to pay a higher toll to support train and bus service, while lowering tolls in the outer boroughs, transfers resources from the haves to the have-nots — it isn’t regressive at all.

Read more…

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Long Beach Gets Moving on Southern California’s First Highway Teardown

Image via Longbeachize

Removing a piece of the Terminal Island Freeway (red) would free up acres of land for new park space. Map: Longbeachize

This week, Long Beach put out a request for bids to tear down a stretch of the Terminal Island Freeway, opening up 20 to 30 acres for new park space. Brian Addison at Longbeachize explains why it’s a long time coming and very good news:

It’s been named one of the top  “Freeways Without Futures” in the nation and described as a “perfect example of obsolete infrastructure.” It has been a blight on a neighborhood that sees some of the least amount of park space in the entire city.

Now, the project to remove a large portion of the Terminal Island (TI) Freeway in West Long Beach has officially gone out to bid in an RFP… It marks a major event in Southern California’s urban design history, being the first freeway removal project that mirrors existing projects such as the removal of both of San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway and Central Freeway.

The project is simple: the existing northern length of the freeway, following the development of the 20-mile long Alameda Corridor and the still-underway modernization of the Intermodal Container Transfer Facility (ICTF) by Union Pacific Railroad, is redundant. Not only do shipping companies use it less and less, the traffic itself matches those of 4th Street along Retro Row (some 13,700 [motor vehicle trips per day]). And if plans for ICTF follow through, you can drop that down to 8,700 [trips per day]–less than the traffic 3rd Street receives in the quiet neighborhood of Alamitos Beach.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Human Transit runs a response to a defense of slow-running transit projects. Greater Greater Washington shares research showing how Capital Bikeshare users change their transit habits. And the Bike League offers some suggestions for legal reforms that can help boost bicycling rates.

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Today’s Headlines

  • MTA Pays for Labor Agreements With Cuts to Capital Plan (WSJ, NY1, News, Bloomberg, Post)
  • Things Will Get Worse at Port Authority Bus Terminal Before They Get Better (CapNY, AMNY)
  • Flushing Commons Developer: Parking Mandates Hamstrung Projects in Neighborhood (YIMBY)
  • Uptown Residents Fed Up With Finger-Pointing Over Upkeep of 191st Street Station Tunnel (DNA)
  • Man in Critical Condition After His Own Van Runs Over Him at St. Albans Gas Station (WNBC, News)
  • Wrong-Way Cyclist Sends Pedestrian to Hospital With Serious Head Injury in Village (Gothamist)
  • Daily News Wishes Investor REQX Best of Luck in Righting Citi Bike’s Operations
  • Morgan Pehme: There Should Be Borough-by-Borough Deputy Mayors for Planning (C&S)
  • Forest City Ratner Could Be Planning Residential Towers on Top of Atlantic Center Mall (AYR)
  • Parking Lot to Become Housing in South Slope. Where’s the Outrage? (Brownstoner, South Slope News)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Eyes on the Street: Carving Up Morningside Avenue for a Road Diet

After a breakthrough vote from Community Board 10 in May, DOT crews are out remaking 10 blocks of Morningside Avenue as a safer, calmer neighborhood street. This morning, @SteveMiami captured this circular saw operator at what looks like the moment of incision — the asphalt will be cut away to make room for a concrete pedestrian island.

An earlier photo of a pedestrian island outline from Transportation Alternatives’ Tom DeVito gives a nice sense of scale:

The Morningside project will trim the four-lane speedway down to two lanes plus center-median turn bays [PDF]. Pedestrian islands will be installed at four intersections where people cross the street to access Morningside Park entrances, and there will be several painted sidewalk extensions to demarcate expansions of pedestrian space.

Neighborhood residents had requested action from the city to tame dangerous speeding on Morningside, but the plan almost didn’t make it through the gauntlet of Community Boards 9 and 10. The May vote in favor of the project followed nine months of waffling.

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Livable Streets Events

This Week: Vision Zero Online Deadline, First Summer Streets

The middle of the week has the important street safety events, with an important deadline to submit ideas to the Vision Zero map coming up on Thursday. Then car-free events season takes over the weekend:

Keep an eye on the calendar for updated listings. Got an event we should know about? Drop us a line.