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Subway Ridership Hits 65-Year High. Does Cuomo Care?

Subway ridership hit a 65-year high in 2014, serving 1.75 billion trips last year, the most since the New York City Transit Authority was formed in 1953. That’s an increase of 2.6 percent over 2013 and 12 percent since 2007, according to the MTA. The subway now serves 5.6 million passenger trips on an average weekday, and 6 million on an average two-day weekend.

"Andrew, we can barely keep up with this ridership." Photo: MTA/Flickr

“Andrew, we can barely keep up with this ridership.” Photo: MTA/Flickr

The new figures don’t include bus ridership, which has stagnated since a round of service cuts in 2010. However, the growth in subway ridership is a good indication that the transit system continues to absorb the vast majority of additional travel in the city, a trend that goes back to the 1990s. Meanwhile, Governor Andrew Cuomo still hasn’t put forward any ideas to close the $15 billion gap in the MTA’s five-year capital program, which keeps the system from falling apart, adds capacity, and modernizes track, signals, and stations.

Weekday subway ridership grew 2.7 percent in Brooklyn, 2.5 percent in Manhattan, 2.1 percent in the Bronx, and 1.9 percent in Queens. Here are some more highlights from the numbers:

  • Weekday ridership on the L train increased 4.7 percent, with every station on the line seeing an increase in passengers. Stations in Bushwick saw the largest increases, with weekday ridership at Bushwick Avenue-Aberdeen Street  jumping 11.5 percent over the year before.
  • M train stations in Williamsburg, Bushwick, Ridgewood, and Middle Village saw ridership grow 6.2 percent last year, and are up 23.6 percent since the M was rerouted to serve Midtown in 2009.
  • Long Island City also saw big gains, with weekday ridership up 9.7 percent at Court Square and 12 percent the Vernon Boulevard-Jackson Avenue 7 station, where ridership has more than doubled since 2000.
  • The fastest growth in the Bronx was along the 2 and 5 trains, up 3.7 percent. In Manhattan, ridership grew fastest for the 2 and 3 trains on Lenox Avenue, up 3.7 percent over last year.
  • Stations in the Rockaways, which rank among the system’s quietest, saw the highest percentage increase in subway ridership, with many nearly doubling the number of passengers served, as the area continues to recover from Hurricane Sandy.

The subway is hitting record ridership during off-peak hours, which is when most maintenance work is performed. That maintenance is more necessary than ever: The subway also had a dramatic increase in delays last year.

Advocates pressed Governor Cuomo and the state legislature to take action before it’s too late.

Read more…

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DOT Scraps Bus Lanes in Kew Gardens Hills for Flushing-Jamaica SBS

This afternoon, the City Council overwhelmingly passed a bill that requires DOT to work with the MTA on a citywide Bus Rapid Transit plan to be updated every two years. The vote came a day after DOT told bus lane opponents in eastern Queens that it will water down a Select Bus Service proposal in their neighborhood.

miller_lancman

I. Daneek Miller and Rory Lancman.

In many ways, the new bill codifies much of the city’s existing BRT planning process. It requires DOT to work with the MTA on a 10-year blueprint for the city’s BRT network updated every two years, taking into consideration the city’s land development patterns and including estimates of how much it will cost to build and operate the routes.

The bill, sponsored by Council Member Brad Lander, passed 49-1. The lone vote against it: I. Daneek Miller, who objects to plans to bring Select Bus Service to the Q44 between Flushing and Jamaica.

“He supports BRT,” said Miller spokesperson Ali Rasoulinejad. “It’s not so much with BRT as it is with the way this process is conducted… If this is the way this process is going to happen, where community voices are not going to be heard, we might not be ready for it.”

Rasoulinejad questioned whether the Q44, which serves more than 28,000 passengers daily, attracts enough people to merit investment. He also cited the potential reduction in on-street parking spaces and said Miller would like the MTA to focus on other projects, like replacing an over-capacity bus depot in his district. (Before joining the City Council, Miller served as president of Amalgamated Transportation Union Local 1056.)

Meanwhile, Miller’s neighboring council member, Rory Lancman, can claim victory in his fight against Flushing-Jamaica Select Bus Service. At a meeting of the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association last night, DOT said it would not be adding bus lanes to Main Street in that neighborhood.

“We had a very productive community meeting last night,” said Lancman spokesperson Nadia Chait. “The council member found that in that situation the DOT and the MTA had really listened to the community.”

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Jim Brennan’s Transpo $ Plan: Gas Tax, Income Tax, and Forced City Funding

A bill from Assembly Member Jim Brennan, who chairs the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, would create a transportation finance authority to collect new taxes and help fund the MTA as well as roads, bridges, and transit statewide. It’s the first major transportation funding proposal to come out of Albany this year.

Brennan's bill marks the start of transportation funding debates in Albany. Photo: Wally Gobetz/Flickr

Brennan’s bill marks the start of transportation funding debates in Albany. Photo: Wally Gobetz/Flickr

“Time is growing short,” Brennan said this afternoon. The legislative session ends in mid-June, and state transportation agencies need assurances about funding before they can begin projects. “This is just a proposal,” he said. “It’s the first piece of legislation to make a proposal.”

The revenue in Brennan’s plan would come from three sources:

  • A 10-cent increase in the state gas tax would yield $500 million annually.
  • A half-percent income tax increase on New Yorkers earning between $500,000 and $2 million each year would raise their rate from 6.85 percent to 7.35 percent, bringing in $750 million annually.
  • A mandatory contribution from New York City, starting at $60 million in the first year and adding an additional $60 million each year until the city’s contribution is capped at $300 million annually.

That makes for a total $1.55 billion annually, which would be bonded against to provide $20 billion in capital funding. Of that, $12 billion would go to the MTA, nearly filling the $15.2 billion gap in its capital program, and the remaining $8 billion would be distributed through the New York State Department of Transportation, which also has a long-term gap in its capital program.

Although Brennan supports and says he would vote for the Move NY plan, road pricing is not included in his bill, so it lacks most of the traffic-busting, safety-enhancing benefits of toll reform. Forcing the city’s hand through state legislation is also a dubious proposition to say the least.

Still, advocates welcomed the bill as the start of negotiations. “It’s important to get all the various funding options out there,” said Nadine Lemmon of Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “I hope he inspires folks to come forward with other ideas, including the governor.”

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The Times Fails to Comprehend the Nature of the MTA Funding Gap

kentucky_ohio

Kentucky and rural Ohio are not going to save the New York City transit system.

New York politicos couldn’t have asked for a better deflection of their own responsibility to keep our transit system running than this piece served up yesterday by Times opinion writer Eleanor Randolph:

New Yorkers struggle daily on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s subways, trains and buses. They now collect horror stories about long delays and missed engagements. The M.T.A., the nation’s largest transportation network, is also struggling, in the agency’s case with a five year capital plan that is more than $15 billion short. The state needs to contribute more. The city needs to contribute more. And both Mr. de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo need to come up with a better way to fund the system that serves the most populous 5,000 square mile area in the region.

Still, the big money will have to come from Congress.

Hear that, John Boehner? The New York City subways need you!

You can only reach the conclusion that an act of Congress will provide “the big money” to close the $15 billion shortfall in the MTA’s upcoming five-year capital program if you fundamentally fail to understand the nature of the problem.

The version of the MTA capital budget with $32 billion in spending and a $15 billion hole already assumes that the feds will contribute $6 billion in grants and loans. Merely holding on to that $6 billion is a shaky proposition right now.

For transit systems in cities like New York, the scope of the fight in the GOP-controlled Congress is not over securing more funds — it’s to preserve the funds that transit already receives. That’s the best realistic outcome of yesterday’s “stand up for transportation” rallies.

The John Boehner/Mitch McConnell Congress is not going to swoop in and save the New York City transit system. Raising revenue and controlling costs really just come down to the people who actually run the MTA: Governor Cuomo and the state legislature.

Cuomo is the one person who can make the Move New York toll reform plan politically viable and the one politician who can take meaningful action to root out construction waste like this. Asking Congress to do it instead won’t get New York anywhere.

Cuomo at a subway photo-op with MTA Chair Tom Prendergast. Photo: Marc A. Hermann/MTA New York City Transit via Flickr CC license 2.0

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Bus Lanes Coming to 125th Street in West Harlem This Summer

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West of Lenox Avenue, there are no bus lanes on 125th Street. DOT plans to change that this summer. Photo: josepha/Flickr

Bus riders may not be stuck in crosstown traffic on 125th Street much longer. DOT plans to extend bus lanes from Lenox Avenue to Morningside Avenue this summer [PDF].

The news came last night at a meeting of the Community Board 9 transportation committee. “As far as CB 9 is concerned,” said board chair Rev. Georgette Morgan-Thomas, “I didn’t hear anything that made me think that we should not support the plan.”

Bus lanes on 125th have been held in check by years of political wrangling. But Council Member Mark Levine campaigned on moving forward with them, and his election in 2013 was a breakthrough for the project.

“I think we have great local support and a great need,” Levine said last night, adding that buses “crawl” once the bus lane disappears in West Harlem. “It’s just a great win for people in the community.”

On the section of 125th Street that already has camera-enforced bus lanes and off-board fare collection, the changes have worked wonders for bus riders. The M60 is now 32 to 34 percent faster between Lenox and Second Avenue. Local buses have also sped up between 7 and 20 percent in the bus lanes.

Meanwhile, local buses in West Harlem, which doesn’t yet have bus lanes, have actually slowed slightly between Lenox and Amsterdam Avenues, said Robert Thompson, the MTA’s manager of long-range bus service planning.

While they’ve sped up buses, the new bus lanes haven’t affected car traffic. GPS data from taxis show that eastbound driving trips on 125th are generally faster, while westbound trips have either slowed slightly or not seen any change, according to DOT.

Read more…

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Powerful Driver Training Video Adopted by TLC, MTA, and NYC DOT

A new video from the Taxi and Limousine Commission and Families For Safe Streets is now required viewing for drivers in training programs at TLC, DOT, and the MTA.

In the 15-minute video, “Drive Like Your Family Lives Here,” people talk about losing loved ones to traffic violence. The video features interviews with family members of Allison Liao, Renee Thompson, Carl Nacht, Josbel Rivera, and Asif Rahman. It was produced by Karlyn Michelson and Stephen Mallon in conjunction with the TLC, DOT, Families For Safe Streets, and Transportation Alternatives.

Like the DOT “Your Choices Matter” campaign, the video emphasizes the responsibility of motorists to drive safely. It was officially released Monday evening at an event held at the Crosby Street Hotel in Manhattan. On hand were TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan, and City Council members Ydanis Rodriguez and Helen Rosenthal.

The video is currently in use by the TLC, DOT, and the MTA, officials said. Trottenberg said she would contact the Department of Citywide Administrative Services and the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles to see if those agencies would employ it as well.

The video came about after Families For Safe Streets member Amy Cohen, mother of Sammy Cohen Eckstein, talked with Joshi at a Vision Zero event in early 2014. There are other, shorter videos now on Taxi TV, including one with the Cohen Eckstein family.

This is powerful Vision Zero messaging, and a natural complement to recent TLC reforms. While educating prospective drivers about the consequences of unsafe driving, the TLC should also require a New York City road test to obtain a TLC license.

Even after the adoption of Cooper’s Law, named after the 9-year-old boy killed by a yellow cab driver in 2014, a driver can retain his TLC license after causing injury or death if no charges are filed against him. As a result, many drivers who hurt and killed people are still driving cabs.

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MTA Refuses to Test Simple Bus Design Fix That Could Save Lives

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A San Francisco Muni bus equipped with a side guard to keep pedestrians or cyclists from being crushed beneath the rear wheel. The MTA has refused to test the equipment on its fleet. Photo: Paul Sullivan/Flickr

Council Member Antonio Reynoso has introduced a resolution calling on the MTA to install rear wheel side guards, which keep pedestrians and cyclists from being crushed beneath the wheels of a bus. The equipment is already used on buses in cities across the country, but the MTA says it’s not interested in installing sideguards on its vehicles.

At least three of the eight pedestrians killed by MTA bus drivers last year were run over by the rear wheel of the bus, according to the City Council resolution. They include two deaths at intersections in Reynoso’s district: Marisol Martinez, 21, killed last March at Union Avenue and Meeker Street in Williamsburg, and Edgar Torres, 40, killed in October at Palmetto Street and Wyckoff Avenue in Bushwick. According to witnesses, both were in the crosswalk with the signal when a turning bus driver struck them. They were knocked down before being run over by the rear wheel.

Rear wheel side guards are hard plastic appendages designed to bridge part of the gap between the bottom of a bus and the ground, deflecting a fallen pedestrian or cyclist to avoid impact with the wheel. Public Transportation Safety International manufactures the S-1 Gard, which has been installed on buses in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, among other cities. The product is also being added to buses in Sweden and Nigeria.

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MTA Tests Bike Racks on Bus Across Verrazano

An anonymously-sourced New York Post story yesterday might leave readers with the impression that new bike racks on the front of Staten Island buses will lead to late trips and a liability nightmare for the MTA. The MTA, however, says it’s still studying the racks — a tried-and-true amenity in every other big American city — on a route crossing the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, which currently has no bike path.

Bus racks on the front of a bus in downtown Vancouver, BC. Photo: Stephen Rees/Flickr

Bus racks on the front of a bus in downtown Vancouver, BC. Photo: Stephen Rees/Flickr

Here’s the Post story, in full:

City buses on Staten Island will soon sport bike racks as part of a New York City Transit program that bus drivers are already slamming as a surefire way to slow down commuters.

Drivers on the S53 bus line, which runs between Port Richmond and Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, will be required under the pilot plan to wait for passengers to load their wheels.

“The consensus right now — no one’s crazy about it,” said a transit source who works at Staten Island’s Castleton depot. “If the bike falls off, it’s on us. If it gets damaged, it’s on us.”

Bike racks on buses are common in less congested cities.

New York is the only major city in the country without bike racks on its buses, according to the Alliance for Biking and Walking, with cities as large and congested as Washington, Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco outfitting their entire bus fleets with bike racks — all without major liability or on-time performance problems.

So will Staten Island residents get to make multi-modal trips to Brooklyn? Not in the immediate future, according to the MTA. “It was a test, not a pilot program,” said MTA spokesperson Amanda Kwan. The test occurred on March 3, she said, and consisted of “one run, on the S53 route with a non-revenue bus. The rack equipment itself was also being tested.”

The MTA would not reveal further information about the test. “It is simply too early to have or release any more details,” Kwan said.

Read more…

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Parents of Seth Kahn: Ineffective MTA Protocols Contributed to Son’s Death

After Wednesday’s MTA board meeting transit chief Tom Prendergast said the agency may revise bus routes to reduce the number of turns bus drivers have to make, in order to minimize conflicts between buses and pedestrians, according to the Daily News. Prendergast said another possibility would be to move crosswalks away from intersections where buses make turns, which would necessitate streetscape changes by DOT.

Seth Kahn

Seth Kahn

Whether or not these ideas pan out, it’s good that the MTA is seriously engaging in the Vision Zero discussion. Bus drivers killed eight people in crosswalks last year, and there’s no evidence that admonishing people to stay out of the way of buses will reduce crashes.

The MTA didn’t really come to the table until several bus drivers were charged under the Right of Way Law for maiming and killing pedestrians. But some City Council members want to rescind the protection to pedestrians and cyclists the law provides. Council Member Daneek Miller’s bill to exempt MTA bus drivers from the Right of Way Law has picked up 14 co-sponsors.

Miller and TWU Local 100 say the MTA’s internal protocols adequately ensure bus driver safety. That doesn’t jibe with the story of Seth Kahn, killed in 2009 by a speeding bus driver who was just back on the job after a suspension for texting behind the wheel.

Driving a bus in New York City is a tough and stressful job, and most drivers do it well. That doesn’t mean crashes are an inevitable cost of doing business, or that bus drivers can’t be reckless or negligent. The Daily News and the union have taken to using the phrase “criminalizing bus drivers,” but in fact the law does not single out bus drivers and only criminalizes negligence that leads to serious injury and death. Even Daily News reporter Pete Donohue, whose column has become a platform for TWU opposition to the law, slammed the MTA for failing to keep Seth Kahn’s killer out of the driver’s seat.

Debbie and Harold Kahn shared with Streetsblog their account of what happened to their son and the driver who took his life.

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Will DA Ken Thompson Drop Case Against Bus Driver Who Killed Senior?

On the evening of December 23, 2014, 78-year-old Jean Bonne-Annee was crossing New York Avenue at Farragut Road in Brooklyn when an MTA bus driver ran him over while making a left turn.

Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson

Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson

Bonne-Annee died at the scene. He was the eighth pedestrian killed by a turning MTA bus driver in 2014.

Police arrested driver Reginald Prescott and charged him with violating the Right of Way Law, which is intended to hold drivers accountable for killing or injuring pedestrians and cyclists who are following traffic rules.

Because Prescott was driving a bus and was charged for killing someone, TWU Local 100 and some members of the press have devoted much attention to a crash that otherwise would have received little or no notice. On Tuesday Pete Donohue of the Daily News reported that District Attorney Ken Thompson may bow to pressure from the TWU and dismiss the case.

Arraignment proceedings for Prescott were canceled, Donohue reported, “as prosecutors and his union defense lawyer agreed neither to go forward with a formal reading of the charges nor require Prescott to enter a plea, as is customary.”

“We pressed a pause button to say ‘stop’ with the view towards the district attorney ultimately dismissing the charges completely against Mr. Prescott,” TWU Local 100 legal director Kenneth Page said.

A spokeswoman for Brooklyn prosecutors would only say that the case remains under investigation. No new court date for Prescott was set during his appearance in court Tuesday morning.

“[T]he case is still being investigated and the charges have not been dropped,” a Thompson spokesperson told Streetsblog via email.

As Ben Fried wrote this week, before the Right of Way Law NYPD and prosecutors didn’t investigate the vast majority of serious traffic crashes, and declined to pursue charges in fatal collisions that did not involve extenuating circumstances like DWI or leaving the scene. The strength of the Right of Way Law is that it removes driver intent from the equation: If you harm someone who is walking or biking with the right of way, you committed a misdemeanor.

The court process may reveal that Prescott was not at fault. What shouldn’t be in doubt is a full and fair disposition of the case. Otherwise, people who are following all the rules will continue to be denied the protection of the law, as they were before.