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The Trans-Hudson Transit Crunch Keeps Getting Tougher to Fix

Port Authority staff and its consultants say replacing the Port Authority Bus Terminal, even with a smaller facility, will cost billions and billions of dollars. Image: PANYNJ [PDF]

Port Authority staff and its consultants say replacing the Port Authority Bus Terminal, even with a smaller facility, will cost billions and billions of dollars. Image: PANYNJ [PDF]

When news broke earlier this week that replacing the Port Authority Bus Terminal would cost $11 billion, advocates were skeptical. At a board meeting today, many Port Authority commissioners, while recognizing the need to replace and expand the terminal, joined in that skepticism.

Over the past 18 months, Port Authority staff, working with consultants from Parsons Brinckerhoff and Skanska USA, among others, developed five options to replace the terminal [PDF]. Only one of them, which would take 11 to 15 years to complete, accommodates the projected 35 to 51 percent passenger growth increase by 2040 while also continuing to serve inter-city buses. Naturally, it is the most expensive option, with consultants putting the pricetag at $10.5 billion.

Concept 1, the only option that accommodates all the projected growth in bus travel through 2040, costs $10.5 billion. Image: Port Authority [PDF]

Concept 1, the only option that accommodates all the projected growth in bus travel through 2040 without moving some buses off-site, is projected to cost $10.5 billion. The yellow high-rise could help finance some of the project’s construction. Image: PANYNJ [PDF]

The other options would relocate inter-city buses to an unspecified bus terminal elsewhere. All five would add bus staging areas to reduce traffic on surface streets, and most would require construction of an interim facility to handle passengers while the bus terminal is torn down and rebuilt. The least expensive option of the bunch, at $7.5 billion, would actually handle fewer passengers than the existing terminal.

Why the high costs? The structural slabs that make up bus ramps and decks are deteriorating and will need to be replaced completely in 15 to 25 years.

“The heaviest structural steel pieces made in the world today will be required for this project, in the thousand of tons,” said Mark Gladden, a project executive at Skanska. He said there are only two places in the world that manufacture this type of steel, which will have to be custom-ordered.

Building ramps and structures that can accommodate thousands of buses each day above the portals to the Lincoln Tunnel, all while keeping existing passengers moving during construction, is a tall task. “There has been some comparison to high-rises and parking garages,” Gladden said. “That is a comparison that should not be made.”

Gladden compared the bus terminal replacement to the UPS Worldport in Louisville, Kentucky, which handles virtually all of the shipping company’s domestic air freight. Built 15 years ago, he said, it cost $850 million. Taking inflation and construction cost increases into account, the project would likely cost $1.7 billion today. Moving the project to New York, with its higher construction costs, would double the price tag to $3.4 billion. The UPS project didn’t have the steel requirements and logistical challenges posed by operating a bus terminal in Midtown Manhattan, Gladden said, which contribute to the additional costs.

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Does a New Port Authority Bus Terminal Really Cost $11 Billion?

It hit this morning’s headlines with a thud: Replacing the aged, overburdened Port Authority Bus Terminal will cost up to a staggering $11 billion, according to a plan to be presented to the Port Authority’s board on Thursday. But is that figure based in reality?

Advocates are skeptical and wary that the cost is being inflated in a bid to stop the project before it can get off the ground.

Photo: Port Authority

Both Chris Christie and Governor Cuomo have a history of inflating transit cost projections when they don’t want to build a project. Photo: Port Authority

The cost projection might seem par for the course to New Yorkers jaded by the region’s out-of-control construction costs. But let’s put things in perspective: The reported size of the bus terminal replacement is about the same as the combined cost of three of the Port Authority’s other major capital projects: the $1.5 billion PATH extension to Newark Airport, the $3.6 billion rehabilitation of LaGuardia Airport, and Santiago Calatrava’s $3.9 billion WTC transit hub.

The big difference between those projects and the new bus terminal? They’re actually in the Port Authority’s capital plan. The bus terminal revamp, however, doesn’t appear to have political support from either New York Governor Andrew Cuomo or New Jersey’s Chris Christie, the two men in charge of the bi-state agency. (Cuomo, for example, didn’t mention it in his infrastructure speech earlier this year.)

That might help explain how the Port Authority reached such outlandish cost projections, says Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool.

“There’s a tendency to over-inflate transit costs just to kill them,” she said. Christie, of course, famously overstated the cost of the ARC Tunnel in his quest to derail the project, and Cuomo inflated the cost of bus lanes on the Tappan Zee Bridge in his rush to build a new crossing.

The Port Authority refused to comment on the cost estimates, only saying that they would be released to the board on Thursday. “We look forward to updating the board on this critical project,” said spokesperson Chris Valens, “and continuing to engage the public and other stakeholders on ways to improve the bus passenger experience in the region and meet the demands of the future.”

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

sideguard

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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Mark Levine Launches Petition to Bring 125th Street Bus Lanes West of Lenox

You don’t see this level of political commitment to repurposing street space that often.

Council Member Mark Levine.

Council Member Mark Levine has launched a petition calling on NYC DOT and the MTA to extend bus lanes on 125th Street west of Lenox Avenue. Select Bus Service on 125th was originally envisioned with river-to-river dedicated bus lanes, but neighborhood power brokers got the city to scale it back. The SBS route debuted last year with a bus lane east of Lenox

In January, DOT and the MTA reported that on the section of 125th Street with bus lanes, SBS is running 32 to 34 percent faster than the service it replaced, while local routes the M100 and Bx15 run 7 to 20 percent faster.

Levine campaigned for a full bus lane when he was elected in 2013, and he’s following through on that now:

125th Street is a vital artery for all uptown, and tens of thousands of local residents rely on bus travel on the M100, M101, Bx15, M60 and M104 lines each and every day.

Since May, 2014 bus riders on 125th Street have benefited from a bus-only lane east of Lenox Avenue only. Those traveling along this stretch have enjoyed bus speeds as much as 30 percent faster than before the lane was installed. GPS data from taxis show that cars traveling east of Lenox Avenue are also moving faster.

West of Lenox ave is a very different story. Buses on this stretch creep along at little more than 3 miles per hours on average — barely as fast as walking speed.

There are bus-only lanes in wealthier parts of Manhattan, like the Upper East Side and Midtown. Why not along the whole length of 125th Street?

It is time to give Central and West Harlem the benefit of faster service on the M100, M101, Bx15, M60 and M104 lines by extending the 125th Street bus-only lane west to at least Amsterdam Avenue.

Shades of Melissa Mark-Viverito on the steps of City Hall, clutching a stack of petitions for complete streets in East Harlem back in 2010.

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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.

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De Blasio Defends Right-of-Way Law to Dimwits in Albany [Updated]

Update [February 26]: The quote from the mayor has been updated to include his full response.

At a hearing in Albany this morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio defended the new city law that enables police to file misdemeanor charges against drivers who injure or kill people with the right of way. He also shed some light on how officers determine whether to file charges.

Mayor Bill de Blasio testifies in Albany this morning. Image: NY Assembly

Mayor de Blasio in Albany this morning. Image: NY Assembly

State Senator Marty Golden, who represents Bay Ridge, focused on the high-profile arrests of bus drivers who have killed or injured pedestrians in crosswalks. Golden asked if the Right-of-Way Law is even necessary. “If it’s an accident, it’s an accident. Do we need to arrest these people, and is that necessary?” Golden asked. “Should we be locking up bus drivers?”

Here is the heart of the mayor’s response:

Senator, the law that was passed by the City Council, which I signed, makes clear that when an individual fails to yield to pedestrians where they should — the pedestrian has the walk sign and they’re crossing the street and there’s still a crash… what the law dictates is that if there is serious injury or fatality, and if the officers on the scene determine that it was an avoidable injury or fatality, they are obligated to pursue an arrest. If the officers determine that it was unavoidable, meaning something happened that no driver could have possibly foreseen or responded to in time, they have the option of giving a summons. So this is a new law with a clear standard. It is a stricter standard than that which existed previously, and that’s for a reason, because people were being killed and grievously hurt in all sorts of instances and there wasn’t a clear enough legal consequence. So the law, I think, has been a step forward. It should be applied respectfully and sensitively, especially — I agree with you — our public service workers always deserve respect in every situation, and I appreciate the work they do. But again, the officer on the scene has to make a determination… If the officer believes it was 100 percent avoidable, that is an arrest situation.

At an MTA press conference minutes later, Daily News reporter Pete Donohue asked MTA Chair Tom Prendergast whether he thought bus drivers who injure or kill pedestrians in crosswalks should be subject to the Right-of-Way Law. Prendergast’s response avoided answering questions about the law itself.

“For whatever reason, the legislation was written the way it was. I’m not going to get into details of it,” Prendergast said, stressing that bus driver unions, the city, and the MTA alike are working to reduce crashes. “I drove a bus for 30 days,” Prendergast said. “The two hazards that you’re most faced with are right turns and left turns, and so I can totally appreciate the difficulties bus drivers have.”

While Prendergast did not address how the law is enforced or whether bus drivers should receive the special exemption that the TWU is seeking, he did say the MTA may adjust bus routes to limit turns through crowded crosswalks and may ask DOT to offset pedestrian crossings to minimize conflicts. (In the 1990s, the Giuliani administration moved some Midtown crosswalks to mid-block locations and installed pedestrian barriers at corners, which remain in place today.)

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Eastern Queens Electeds Want Bus Lanes. Will DOT Deliver?

These 11 elected officials from eastern Queens support Bus Rapid Transit, including separated bus lanes, in their districts. Does DOT?

These 11 elected officials from eastern Queens support bus lanes in their districts. Does DOT?

Council Member Rory Lancman and Assembly Member Michael Simanowitz have taken up the cause of opposing bus lanes for Select Bus Service in their eastern Queens districts. While the pair has gotten a lot of attention, they are outnumbered by almost a dozen city, state, and federal elected officials along the route urging the city to be bolder with its bus service upgrades.

“As elected officials who represent communities in Eastern Queens, we write in support of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor that would improve commuter, vehicular, and pedestrian transportation in a portion of a city that is a transit desert: the Flushing-Jamaica area,” begins the letter electeds sent last month to Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and New York City Transit President Carmen Bianco [PDF].

The letter was signed by Congressmember Grace Meng; State Senators Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., Leroy Comrie, and Toby Ann Stavisky; Assembly Members Vivian Cook, Ron Kim, Nily Rozic, William Scarborough, and David Weprin; and Council Members Peter Koo and Paul Vallone.

Many of these officials are from districts that overlap with neighborhoods represented by Lancman and Simanowitz.

The electeds ask specifically for bus lanes, including “protected lanes where physically feasible” and urge big changes to improve trips for tens of thousands of bus riders in their districts. “We believe there would be substantial public support for BRT,” they write. “Full-featured BRT can be successfully implemented in Eastern Queens.”

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Pedestrians With the Right of Way Should Always Have Protection of the Law

Jiahuan Xu, 15, had the walk signal when she started across Grand Street in Williamsburg Friday morning. Before she reached the far side of the street, she was struck by a bus driver turning from Union Avenue and “pinned under the left front wheel,” according to the Daily News. After emergency responders rescued Xu, she was taken to Bellevue Hospital and may lose her left leg.

jiahuan_xu

Jiahuan Xu, 15, may lose her leg after an MTA bus driver struck her while she had the walk signal.

Francisco de Jesus, the MTA bus driver who struck Xu, faces a misdemeanor charge under the city’s recently enacted Right of Way Law, which means police took him to the 90th Precinct for a desk appearance ticket and he faces a $250 fine and up to 30 days in jail if convicted (a sentence with jail time for a first-time offense would be nearly unheard of, however).

The rush to discredit the new law came immediately after the arrest. TWU Local 100 spokesperson JP Patafio said bus drivers should not be held to the standards of the Right of Way Law because the “law of averages has it we’re going to get into an accident.” The Daily News’ Pete Donohue wrote that de Jesus was treated “like a common criminal.” And three City Council members — I. Daneek Miller, Peter Koo, and Donovan Richards — introduced a bill to exempt all bus drivers from the Right of Way Law.

Lost in the scrum was Jiahuan Xu and, in a larger but very real sense, everyone who walks in New York. Our laws are supposed to protect people walking who have the right of way. The justice system should recognize that by imposing consequences on people who injure pedestrians with the walk signal. But before the Right of Way Law, that almost never happened.

Thousands of people are hurt while walking on New York City streets each year, and of the victims who are struck in crosswalks, a majority have the walk signal. Until last year, however, NYPD policy discouraged any consequences for drivers who struck pedestrians with the right of way unless police personally witnessed the collision. The Right of Way Law changed that, enabling law enforcement to file charges based on witness testimony, video footage, and other evidence.

The question raised by the arrest of Francisco de Jesus is not whether he’s a decent person. Good people make mistakes with harmful consequences every day — and in general the law recognizes that carelessness can rise to the level of a crime. And this isn’t a debate about whether bus drivers have a hard job. There’s no doubt that driving a bus in New York is demanding, stressful, and deserving of respect.

The question is: Do our laws protect people walking with the right of way, or not?

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MTA Bus Driver Runs Over 15-Year-Old Girl in Brooklyn Crosswalk [Updated]

Turning MTA bus drivers have killed at least 12 people in the last two years. Image: News 12

Turning MTA bus drivers have killed at least 12 people in the last two years. Image: News 12

Update: NYPD told Streetsblog the bus driver involved in this crash was arrested and charges are pending. Transportation Alternatives tweeted that, according to police, he was charged under the Right of Way law.

An MTA bus driver ran over a teenage girl in a Brooklyn crosswalk this morning.

The 15-year-old victim was walking north across Grand Street at around 8:45 when the Q59 driver, southbound on Union Avenue, struck her while turning left onto Grand, according to NYPD and DNAinfo.

Video from a nearby bodega’s camera shows the bus swinging around the corner just as the girl steps into the crosswalk, hitting her and then dragging her out of the frame.

“Oh my God, the lady was crossing the street. He did not see the lady. The people in the street were screaming,” said Jose Aguilar, 48, who owns nearby Grand Gourmet Deli.

“I saw the girl crossing the street. The bus came in fast,” said Aguilar’s worker, El Mehdi Ouafiq.

He said a woman stayed with the girl when she couldn’t pull her from under the tire.

A video Ouafiq shot shows the girl’s bright green shoes poking out from beneath the bus’ large wheel while a group of people huddle around her trying to help.

The Daily News reported that the victim “was pinned under the left front wheel.”

A spokesperson with the NYPD public information office said the victim suffered a severe leg injury. Reports on social media that the victim died were not true, the spokesperson said, but she had no further information. A tweet for confirmation on the victim’s condition to the Highway Department, which investigates traffic crashes, got no response.

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