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6 Transportation Ballot Initiatives to Watch Next Tuesday

Activists in Clayton County, Georgia, support a ballot measure that would connect the county with the regional transit system. Photo: STAND UP via ##http://saportareport.com/blog/2014/07/as-clayton-commission-gets-a-marta-vote-do-over-spotlight-shines-on-gail-hambrick/##Saporta Report##

Activists in Clayton County, Georgia, support a ballot measure that would connect the county with the regional transit system. Photo: STAND UP via Saporta Report

Next week, voters in Maryland and Wisconsin may tell state officials to keep their greedy paws off transportation funds. Louisianans will consider whether to create an infrastructure bank to help finance projects. Texans will weigh the wisdom of raiding the state’s Rainy Day Fund for — what else? — highways. And Massachusetts activists who have been fighting to repeal the state’s automatic gas tax hikes will finally get their day of reckoning.

Those are just a few of the decisions facing voters as they go to the polls Tuesday. They’re the ones getting the most press and that could have the biggest impact. For instance, if Massachusetts loses its ability to raise the gas tax to keep up with inflation, it could inspire anti-tax activists in other states that would like to gut their own revenue collection mechanisms, too.

There are lots of local initiatives on next Tuesday’s ballot that aren’t generating so much buzz but could still have major implications for the state of transportation in key parts of the country. Here are some contests you should pay attention to.

This is what Pinellas County's rail system could look like in 10 years, if it passes Tuesday's ballot referendum. Image: ##http://greenlightpinellas.com/about/view-the-maps##Greenlight Pinellas##

This is what Pinellas County’s transit system could look like in 10 years, if it passes Tuesday’s ballot referendum. Map: Greenlight Pinellas

Pinellas County, Florida: For years, transit advocates have been trying to correct what they see as a major deficiency in Tampa’s regional transportation network: It is the largest metropolitan area in the country without rail transit. Voters in the three counties that make up the Tampa Bay region — Polk, Pinellas, and Hillsborough — all have to approve a new one-cent sales tax to pay for a potential light rail system and other transit improvements. Voters in Hillsborough rebuffed an attempt to get approval in 2010. Pinellas and Polk are trying this year.

Specifically, Pinellas County voters will decide on Greenlight Pinellas, a plan to increase bus service by 65 percent and build a 24-mile light rail line from downtown St. Petersburg to downtown Clearwater. It would form part of a regional transit system that the three counties are still trying to figure out. It’s by no means a done deal: The Pinellas contest has been one of the most bitterly and loudly contentious of this cycle. But a vote in favor of building the system would be a game-changer.

“The hope is that a positive vote, particularly in Pinellas, would really be a shot in arm for Hillsborough to come back to the voters or to proceed with some other funding mechanism to support the system,” said Jason Jordan, who tracks transit-related ballot initiatives around the country for the Center for Transportation Excellence.

Polk, the least urban of the three counties, will vote on a one-cent sales tax measure that would fund both transit and roads.

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StreetsPAC Issues New Round of Albany Endorsements

With a week to go before the November 4 election, StreetsPAC has issued a new round of endorsements for candidates for state legislature. NYC’s livable streets political action committee endorsed State Assembly and Senate incumbents from Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx.

“The incumbents we’re endorsing today have been dedicated advocates for making streets safer statewide, whether newcomers to Albany, like first-term State Senator Brad Hoylman, or longtime veterans of state government, like Assemblyman Joe Lentol,” said StreetsPAC board member Elizabeth Hamby in a press release. “State laws have a huge effect on what happens on the streets in cities and towns across New York, from Buffalo to Montauk, so we consider it a critical part of StreetsPAC’s mission to make sure these standard-bearers for safety are re-elected.”

StreetsPAC supports Brad Hoylman in Senate District 27, which includes parts of Greenwich Village, Chelsea, Midtown, and the Upper West Side. Hoylman backed new state laws lowering the NYC speed limit and increasing the size of the city speed camera program, and he directed the New York State DMV to cease improperly penalizing cyclists for traffic tickets. Hoylman supports complete street designs for Fifth and Sixth Avenues, StreetsPAC says, and the Move NY toll reform plan. Hoylman “has expressed interest in introducing legislation that would make it easier for law enforcement to secure cell phone records after vehicular crashes,” according to StreetsPAC. Frank J. Scala is challenging Hoylman for the District 27 seat.

Greenpoint and Williamsburg rep Joe Lentol is the StreetsPAC pick in Assembly District 50. ”Joe Lentol is the second most senior member of the Assembly, and as chair of the Codes Committee, he drafted and passed legislation that increased penalties for driving without a license or with a suspended license,” says the StreetsPAC press release. “He is committed to improving the suspended/unlicensed driver laws, by uncoupling license suspensions from non-driving infractions and simultaneously increasing penalties for driving without a license and beefing up suspensions for dangerous driving.” StreetsPAC notes Lentol’s role in securing a protected bike lane for the Pulaski Bridge, and says he will work on removing Albany restrictions on city speed cameras. William Davidson is running against Lentol.

In Senate District 33 — covering the West Bronx, Kingsbridge, University Heights, and Tremont — StreetsPAC likes Gustavo Rivera for another term. StreetsPAC calls Rivera a “strong supporter of Webster Avenue Select Bus Service” who “believes there should be a real lock” to ensure state transit revenues are spent on transit. Rivera wants to make the West Bronx bike-friendly, StreetsPAC says, and would like traffic-calming and complete streets measures applied to the Grand Concourse. Steven Stern and Jose Padilla Jr. will also be on the District 33 ballot.

StreetsPAC endorsed Upper West Side and Hell’s Kitchen incumbent Linda Rosenthal in Assembly District 67. Rosenthal has sponsored legislation to increase penalties against repeat reckless drivers, says StreetsPAC, “as well as legislation regarding the misguided ‘rule of two’ that would hold drivers accountable for their actions in crashes that injure or kill.” A supporter of congestion pricing, Rosenthal “intends to endorse” the Move NY toll reform proposal, according to StreetsPAC, and will work to make Amsterdam Avenue safer. Rosenthal is running unopposed.

“Vision Zero can’t be achieved without the state legislature being a full partner,” said board member Ken Coughlin in the StreetsPAC press release. “We know we can count on today’s endorsees to continue to push for life-saving changes, like eliminating restrictions on speed cameras and changing laws to make it easier to prosecute dangerous drivers. We look forward to seeing them all re-elected next Tuesday.”

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Winners and Losers From Tuesday’s Primary

The big headline after yesterday’s election was the bite Zephyr Teachout took from the left flank of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s primary win. While the governor dominates the agenda in Albany, there were also important developments for livable streets in down ballot races.

Incumbents Adriano Espaillat and Tony Avella, election winners endorsed by StreetsPAC, say they want Albany to lift restrictions on NYC traffic cameras.

Senate incumbents Adriano Espaillat and Tony Avella, election winners endorsed by StreetsPAC, say they want Albany to lift restrictions on NYC traffic enforcement cameras.

Espaillat survives threat from Jackson. In Upper Manhattan, Adriano Espaillat avoided losing his State Senate seat to Robert Jackson by 1,500 votes. Like Espaillat, Jackson is an uptown heavyweight, having represented residents of Harlem, Washington Heights, and Inwood on the City Council for three terms. Espaillat has found his voice as an Albany livable streets leader as of late, and a clear difference between the candidates was 125th Street Select Bus Service, which Espaillat endorsed as Jackson sided with its critics. The winners in this race could turn out to be New Yorkers who want safer streets and better transit.

IDC survives challenges. After holding off John Liu, we’ll be watching to see if Tony Avella follows through on the policy pledges that got him a StreetsPAC endorsement. It could be huge, for example, if Avella emerges as a strong supporter of bus rapid transit in Queens. (Also worth noting: Both Avella and Espaillat told StreetsPAC they want to end Albany restrictions on when and where NYC can use automated enforcement.) In the Bronx, fellow IDC member and Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein easily bested former City Council Member G. Oliver Koppell. Klein was key to advancing speed camera enforcement in the last two legislative sessions. He’s up against Republican Aleksander Mici in November.

Jo Anne Simon wins primary for open Assembly seat. Simon has an extensive track record fighting for traffic calming and congestion relief in Downtown Brooklyn. She should be great on livable streets issues, even though Pete Sikora got the StreetsPAC nod. Since Sikora is also on the WFP ticket, Simon will face him again in November, along with Republican John Jasilli.

Comrie ousts Smith. It’s sad when a criminally-indicted legislator losing his seat is exceptional, but that’s the state we’re living in. Voters in Queens abandoned Malcolm Smith in droves, propelling Leroy Comrie to the State Senate. As a City Council member, Comrie spearheaded legislation to require NYPD to report to the council and the public on hit-and-run crashes.

In other action Tuesday:

  • Voters in Crown Heights chose Jesse Hamilton to succeed Eric Adams in the Senate
  • Open Assembly seat winners: Rodneyse Bichotte, Latrice Walker, Guillermo Linares, Latoya Joyner, Charles Barron, Rebecca Seawright (succeeds Micah Kellner), and Erik Dilan
  • Senators and Assembly incumbents who will remain in place: Toby Stavisky, Marge Markey, Martin Malave Dilan, Liz Krueger, Felix Ortiz, Marcos Crespo, Gustavo Rivera, Ruth Hassell-Thompson, Steven Cymbrowitz, James Sanders, and Denny Farrell

With reporting by Stephen Miller 

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You Can’t Complain About Albany If You Don’t Vote Tomorrow

The primary election is Tuesday, with a number of State Senate and Assembly seats up for grabs. Meanwhile, upstart Democrat Zephyr Teachout is, at the very least, seriously getting on Andrew Cuomo’s nerves.

Several important races for State Senate and Assembly will be decided in tomorrow's primary. Photo: Brad Aaron

Several important races for State Senate and Assembly will be decided in tomorrow’s primary. Photo: Brad Aaron

Many races will be decided tomorrow. In some, incumbents are facing off against big name challengers. In others, political newcomers are vying for rare open seats — which they might hold for decades if history is a guide. StreetsPAC has endorsed candidates in several races (see here and here). Here’s a brief rundown of some contests to watch.

Senate District 31, Manhattan: Robert Jackson vs. incumbent Adriano Espaillat. Jackson voted for congestion pricing while on the City Council. More recently, he celebrated the demise of the original plan for Select Bus Service on 125th Street. Espaillat backed pricing but opposed tolls on East River and Harlem River bridges, even in the face of massive MTA service cuts. However, Espaillat told StreetsPAC he supports the Sam Schwartz Move NY toll reform plan (which does not call for tolls on Harlem River crossings). Jackson was termed-out of the City Council in 2013; Espaillat has emerged this year as a champion of safer streets and better bus service, which helped earn him a StreetsPAC endorsement.

Senate District 11, Queens: John Liu vs. incumbent Tony Avella. It’s safe to say neither of these candidates has a great record on livable streets issues. As a council member Liu half-heartedly voted for congestion pricing, but opposed bridge toll reform. Liu harped for years on the mythical MTA “two sets of books,” and he held up the Bicycle Access Bill when he chaired the council transportation committee. Liu has said bike lanes don’t belong in Brooklyn and Queens, and was a vocal skeptic of pedestrian plazas and bike-share safety. However, he is also the only politician we know of who has called for more NYPD crash investigators. Avella opposed a citywide default 20 mph speed limit, but voted for the 25 mph bill that ultimately became law. Avella is a vocal critic of the Move NY toll reform plan, he opposed congestion pricing, and pledged to fire Janette Sadik-Khan when he ran for mayor. On other transportation issues, he’s recently taken more progressive stances, telling StreetsPAC, which endorsed him, that he wants better bus service in his district, “real Bus Rapid Transit” on Northern Boulevard and other major streets, and would like to do away with Albany’s arbitrary and counterproductive time and day restrictions on NYC speed cameras.

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StreetsPAC Releases Second Round of Albany Endorsements

StreetsPAC released its second round of endorsements for the state legislature today (the first round is here), announcing its support for State Senate and Assembly candidates in Queens, Brooklyn, and Suffolk County.

“We really value the chance to meet with candidates, hear their stories and discuss how we can work together to improve the streets of their districts,” said StreetsPAC board member Hilda Cohen in a press release. “Dell Smitherman told us about how he’d counted the 97 stairs between the Livonia Street L station and the Junius Street 3 station, which have no elevators. It’s hard, though, when we’re faced with two strong candidates and have to make tough choices, as was the case in the 51st Assembly District race. Ceasar Zuniga impressed us all, but Felix Ortiz’s experience carried the day.”

In Senate District 11, covering northeast Queens, StreetsPAC endorsed incumbent Tony Avella over former City Council member and city comptroller John Liu. Avella serves on the Senate transportation committee, and according to StreetsPAC supports increasing bus service in his district, as well as “real Bus Rapid Transit” on Northern Boulevard and “other main thoroughfares.” Avella wants Albany’s time and day restrictions on NYC speed cameras lifted, StreetsPAC says, and plans to introduce a home rule bill for speed and red-light cams. Paul Gilman is the Green Party candidate in the district.

Long-time Red Hook and Sunset Park rep Felix Ortiz is the StreetsPAC pick for Assembly District 51. Ortiz championed the first ban on handheld cell phones in the U.S., says StreetsPAC, and he intends to introduce a bill to require release of a driver’s phone records after a crash suspected to have been caused by distraction. Ortiz wants a “protected bike ‘highway’” on Third Avenue to connect his district with Downtown Brooklyn, StreetsPAC says. Ceasar Zuniga will challenge Ortiz in the Democratic primary. Conservative Party candidate Sandra Palacios-Serrano is also running for the District 51 seat.

StreetsPAC backs another term for Nily Rozic, who serves Flushing and Fresh Meadows in Assembly District 25. Elected in 2012, Rozic is the youngest woman in the state legislature. A bike commuter herself, Rozic wants more bike infrastructure in her district, StreetsPAC says, and “real Bus Rapid Transit” between Flushing and Jamaica. Rozic wants all NYPD officers in Queens to have traffic enforcement equipment and be trained on new traffic safety laws. Rozic is unopposed in the primary and the general.

In East New York, StreetsPAC has selected Dell Smitherman over Senate District 19 incumbent John Sampson, who is currently under federal indictment. “Smitherman will work to give dangerous Linden Boulevard a complete-street treatment, and will advocate for the restoration of several bus routes in the district,” says StreetsPAC. Other items on Smitherman’s agenda: removing Albany restrictions on traffic cameras and improving accessibility at elevated train stations. Elias J. Weir and Sean K. Henry will also be on the District 19 primary ballot.

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StreetsPAC Issues Endorsements for State Senate and Assembly Races

With primaries coming in a few weeks, StreetsPAC today announced its first round of endorsements for state-level offices, and its first endorsements for candidates outside NYC.

NYC’s first-ever livable streets political action committee threw its support to five candidates for the Assembly and State Senate.

“So much of what happens on the streets of New York City is dictated by actions, or inaction, in Albany,” said StreetsPAC board member Glenn McAnanama in a press release. “And more and more, people in places like Medford and Mattituck are interested in living in safely walkable and bikeable communities. We’re excited to put StreetsPAC’s backing behind candidates who are committed to safe streets, whether they be on the Upper West Side or downtown Riverhead.”

StreetsPAC supports Adriano Espaillat of Upper Manhattan for reelection to the State Senate, citing his support for lowering NYC’s default speed limit and his advocacy for Select Bus Service on 125th Street. “Espaillat will continue the fight for full SBS implementation in his district, and plans to push to increase the number of speed cameras and end time-and-day restrictions,” says the StreetsPAC press release. “He supports the MoveNY plan for fair tolling of New York City’s bridges and tunnels.” Former City Council Member Robert Jackson is running against Espaillat in the District 31 primary.

In District 22, which covers Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, tech entrepreneur and Democrat James Kemmerer gets the StreetsPAC nod over incumbent Republican State Senator Marty Golden. Kemmerer’s goals include getting cut-through traffic off residential streets, expanding car-free streets events and, on the transit front, improving elevator access to subways, modernizing train controls, and building better bus infrastructure, according to StreetsPAC. “Kemmerer would like to change the toll structure on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge,” StreetsPAC says, “and has endorsed the MoveNY plan.”

Pete Sikora is the StreetsPAC choice to succeed Assembly Member Joan Millman in brownstone Brooklyn District 52. Sikora is a political and legislative director for the Communications Workers of America and a former organizer for NYPIRG. Sikora backs the MoveNY plan, says StreetsPAC, and, “If elected, he will advocate for restoration of the B71 bus route, and Bus Rapid Transit on key routes in the 52nd District.” Fellow Democrats Jo Anne Simon and Doug Biviano are also in the running for the District 52 seat.

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Will Young Republicans Change the Narrative About Conservatives and Cities?

Republicans under 30 like cities more than Democrats over 30. Is the urban/rural divide becoming less politicized? Image by Tony Dutzik using data from ##http://www.people-press.org/2014/06/12/ideal-community-type/##Pew Research Center##

Republicans under 30 like cities more than Democrats over 30. Is the urban/rural divide becoming less politicized? Image by Tony Dutzik using data from Pew Research Center

Last week, the Pew Research Center came out with a massive poll on political polarization in the United States. As Angie reported here, one of the main conclusions was that there is a stark divide between liberals and conservatives when it comes to the type of community in which they want to live. Conservative Americans, by and large, prefer living in spread-out rural areas and small towns, while liberals tend to prefer cities.

None of that is too surprising. But the Pew data tell another story, too: young Americans — both Democrat and Republican — are far more likely to express a desire to live in cities than older Americans.

When asked, “If you could live anywhere in the United States that you wanted to, would you prefer a city, a suburban area, a small town or a rural area?”, 38 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said they preferred to live in a city, as opposed to just 23 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds and even smaller proportions of older Americans.

The difference in preference for city living by age group is especially vivid among young Republicans. About one third of 18- to 29-year-old Republicans and Republican “leaners” expressed the desire to live in a city, as opposed to no more than 13 percent of any other Republican age group. In fact, Republicans under 30 are more likely to want to live in a city than Democrats over the age of 30.

There has, of course, been a lot of talk about the degree to which the transportation and housing preferences of the Millennial generation diverge from those of older Americans. We already know that they drive less than previous generations and have expressed a strong willingness to seek out communities with a variety of transportation options.

While there’s a limited amount that we can learn from the Pew survey about changes in trends among young people, given the lack of comparable survey data from previous years, the data do raise some intriguing possibilities.

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More Mayoral Results: Minneapolis, Houston, Boston

This week’s mayoral elections yielded good news for transit and safe streets in both Houston and Minneapolis. In Boston, meanwhile, the results are less straightforward.

Annise Parker, right, won her third term as Houston's mayor this week. She has been a proponent of safer streets. Image: Houston Tomorrow via Culture Map Houston

Transportation reformers in Minneapolis are generally pleased about the election of City Council member Betsy Hodges (runoff votes are still being counted, but the second-place contender has conceded). Hodges is a strong smart growth proponent and a supporter of the city’s streetcar plans. Some transit advocates are concerned her strong support for rail will mean less investment in buses. But she definitely speaks the livable streets language.

“In my vision of Minneapolis,” she told Streets.mn this fall, “our streets are for all residents of Minneapolis regardless of the mode of travel they choose. Our neighborhood commercial corridors should not be [our] raceways out of town, but vital destinations — in and of themselves.”

In addition, Minneapolis City Council candidates with strong transit bona fides also knocked off a few incumbents. Sam Newberg wrote today in Streets.mn that “now is the time to make some very real and meaningful changes to the development of our city.”

Meanwhile, Houston incumbent Mayor Annise Parker fought off two relatively conservative challengers to win her third term in the nation’s fourth-largest city. Parker, one of the country’s first openly gay mayors, recently instituted a complete streets policy in Houston by executive order. She has also helped move forward the city’s light rail system, building a diverse coalition around transit. Parker has been ranked as one of the country’s top 10 “green mayors.” She has promised to help make cycling safer in the city and joined in on some group rides.

In Boston, labor leader and state lawmaker Martin Walsh scored a surprise upset over City Councilor John Connolly in the race for mayor. Advocates in Beantown report that Connolly was clearly the more progressive choice on transportation. Connolly’s campaign featured bike rides around the city to highlight his complete streets plans; Walsh’s campaign focused more on bread-and-butter economic issues. Only three of the 12 mayoral candidates skipped a forum on transportation held by the nonprofit group Livable Streets in the run-up to the election, according to Boston Streets. Walsh was one of them.

While he’s not expected to be a visionary leader on transportation issues, there’s reason to think he’ll move the city in the right direction. He has stood for lower speed limits in urban areas. In his transportation plan, Walsh said his priorities include dedicated bus lanes in underserved areas and making neighborhoods more livable by improving conditions for walking and biking.

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Setbacks and Victories For Urbanism in Yesterday’s Mayoral Races

Mayoral elections broke both ways for livability in American cities yesterday: The results of some may slow progress on transit and street safety, while one-midsized city elected an executive who campaigned strongly on light rail expansion and bikeability.

John Cranley, who campaigned on stopping the under-construction Cincinnati streetcar, defeated Roxanne Qualls in the Cincinnati mayoral race yesterday. Image: Whistleblower-newswire

The biggest story was Cincinnati’s mayoral race, where Queen City voters backed Democrat John Cranley by a wide margin. Cranley campaigned on a platform of tearing out the city’s under-construction streetcar, even though stopping the streetcar at this point could be more expensive for the city than continuing it.

The silver lining is that Cranley doesn’t have the power to stop the streetcar unilaterally — he will need council approval. Hopefully, reason and respect for public finances will prevail in this case.

Cranley defeated former Cincinnati mayor Roxanne Qualls, who was vice mayor to outgoing Mayor Mark Mallory. While Qualls made it this far thanks in part to the political activism of streetcar supporters, her defeat was a blow to their cause.

Meanwhile, a champion of sustainable transportation in Seattle, Mayor Mike McGinn, fell to challenger Ed Murray, a state senator best known for crafting the state’s marriage equality law. McGinn came to the office as a political outsider after serving as the statewide chair of the Sierra Club and was known to ride an e-bike to political events. He presided over major zoning and parking reforms in the city, as well as some important street redesigns.

Ed Murray defeated incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn yesterday in Seattle. Will Murray be the "anti-bike lane mayor?" Photo: The Stranger

Murray campaigned on a platform of uniting various political factions and making government work better. Last month, alt-weekly the Stranger wondered if he was also running to be the “anti-bike lane mayor.” Some of Murray’s fundraising came from groups who were upset about a recently-installed protected bike lane, the paper reported. On transit, Murray has stressed the importance of taking a regional approach and building collaborative relationships at the state level, but not necessarily the need for additional funding.

Seattle Bike Blog endorsed McGinn for reelection, as did the Cascade Bicycle Club. Seattle Transit Blog called his land use and transit policies “simply unassailable.”

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Election Results Open Thread

The polls are closed! The results of all the citywide and boroughwide races were never really in doubt, unless Charles Hynes pulls off a shocker in the Brooklyn DA race. Only three out of 51 City Council races were thought to be competitive. This is why you’ve gotta vote in the primary.

We’ll have an election wrap-up tomorrow. For now, share your hopes and fears about the de Blasio era of NYC transportation policy in the comments.