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Raleigh’s Election Night Transit Sweep Likely to Clear the Way for Light Rail

Since 1995, leaders in the Raleigh-Durham region of North Carolina have dreamed about connecting its major centers via light rail. The results of Tuesday night’s election might finally make it happen.

The Research Triangle's 20-year dream of linking its major cities via light rail got a shot in the arm Tuesday. Image: Triangle Transit

The 20-year dream of linking the three major cities in North Carolina’s Research Triangle via light rail got a shot in the arm Tuesday. Image: Triangle Transit

The light rail plan calls for links between the three downtowns of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. Getting three separate areas, and three separate legislative bodies, to commit to light rail has been somewhat tricky, but there’s also been major progress. Voters in Durham and Chapel Hill passed half-cent sales tax increases to support light rail and increase bus service in 2011 and 2012.

But for the last few years there’s been little to no progress in Raleigh — the third leg of the “Research Triangle” and the largest population center in the region. Wake County commissioners have refused to discuss regional transit plans, much less introduce a ballot measure that would put the issue before voters.

Tuesday’s election results, however, sent a clear signal that Raleigh is ready to get moving on transit. Democratic candidates, who campaigned on moving ahead with rail, swept all four available seats on the Wake County Commission, and the party now controls all seven votes. One winner Tuesday night, Sig Hutchinson, was formerly a board member and chair of the regional transit agency, Triangle Transit, which is leading the light rail plans.

Transit expansion was a top-tier issue for the four Democratic candidates. ”For three years, GOP voted to prevent even a discussion of transportation options,” the team wrote on its campaign website, which asserted that the growing region would end up “like Atlanta” without decisive action to expand transportation options.

“We built a campaign of making smart investments in our future, particularly education and public transportation, and the voters told us tonight that they’re ready to move forward,” winning candidate Matt Calabria told the Raleigh News and Observer.

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What the Results of 8 Governors’ Races Mean for Cities and Transit

Yesterday’s elections returned some of the nation’s most anti-urban, anti-transit governors to power in races where they were supposed to be vulnerable. Pro-transit candidates were unexpectedly routed in some states, though a few did manage to hang on.

For more background on these races, check out yesterday’s election preview. Here’s what to expect going forward.

Republican Larry Hogan could be bad news for rail transit in Maryland. Photo: Wikimedia

Republican Larry Hogan could be bad news for rail transit in Maryland. Photo: Wikimedia

Maryland

The biggest upset by far was in Maryland, where Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown was defeated by suburban real estate magnate Larry Hogan. Just a few weeks prior, Brown had been leading by double digits.

This stunning reversal has ominous consequences for transit in Maryland. Hogan opposes two major rail projects — the Purple Line Metro extension in suburban DC and Baltimore’s Red Line.

Transit advocates have their work cut out to convince Hogan to save both projects. But David Alpert, writing about the Purple Line in Greater Greater Washington, says the new governor has some incentive to let it proceed:

Now, it’s very close to actual construction, and the federal government supports the line. If Hogan kills the project, he’ll be turning down likely federal dollars that won’t go to other Maryland priorities, and he’ll be disappointing many voters in a much more visceral way than under [former Republican Gov. Bob] Ehrlich.

Wisconsin

Governor Scott Walker’s reelection by a six-point margin is certain keep the state mired in a 1950s-era, highways-only approach to transportation. Under Walker’s watch, Wisconsin has plowed billions of dollars into the country’s most pointless highway-building bonanza, while shortchanging transit so much that federal courts recently intervened. Perhaps the best symbol of his “leadership” on transportation is a proposed double-decker highway, a useless boondoggle for any city, let alone slow-growing Milwaukee.

His challenger, Mary Burke, a former executive for Trek Bicycles, likely would have pursued a more balanced approach.

Read more…

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GOP Will Control the Senate in 2015 — What Does It Mean for Transportation?

The forecasting models were right: As the polls closed last night it quickly became apparent that Republicans will gain control of the Senate, with at least 52 seats now held by the GOP. The implications for transportation are immense. To understand what they are, first let’s look at what last night means for the prospects for a new transportation bill next year. Then we’ll get inside the committees for a nitty-gritty look at the leadership shakeup.

The Bill

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) will take the reins of the powerful EPW committee -- and he just can't wait to eliminate all federal bike/ped funding. Photo: ##http://www.inhofe.senate.gov/newsroom/photo-gallery/greater-oklahoma-city-chamber-of-commerce-fly-in##Office Sen. Inhofe##

Climate denying Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) will take the reins of the powerful EPW committee — and he just can’t wait to eliminate all federal bike/ped funding. Photo: Office of Sen. Inhofe

First and foremost, both chambers of Congress will be in GOP hands when the current transportation bill, MAP-21, comes due for renegotiation next spring.

Bicameral Republican control strongly suggests that the door to increased revenues is closed. (It was hardly open under a Democratic Senate, either.)

GOP control could make it challenging to extend the current law as well. Senators had to scrounge for ways to pay for MAP-21, settling for a grab-bag of gimmicks. There isn’t more loose change to be found under the cushions. And no one in Congress, on either side of the aisle, has the appetite for deficit spending.

Other scenarios don’t look much better. Republicans and Democrats could use the lame duck period between now and January to hammer out a revenue deal, for instance. That would benefit the Republicans by raising taxes on the Democrats’ watch (but after the elections, when they don’t have to worry about the Republican base slamming them for not fighting hard enough). With the funds in hand for a multi-year bill, the details of how to spend it would then get hammered out after the GOP takes control of the Senate.

This is unlikely, however. There’s enough that already has to be done during the lame duck, first of all. Second, the reluctance on both sides to raise revenues isn’t all show: Most members of Congress are truly unwilling to increase what they see as a middle-class burden, no matter who’s watching. Besides, House Speaker John Boehner doesn’t have the cohesion within his party to do something so strategic, and the Democrats might not even go along with it.

The other possibility, of course, is that instead of raising revenues to match desired expenditure levels, Congress can limit spending to match gas tax receipts. Former House Transportation Chair John Mica tried that a few years ago and it didn’t go anywhere. Many people think that idea has been tried and discarded, but others think it could easily return, given how few options remain.

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Local Ballot Results: The Good, the Bad, and the Highway Money Grabs

While last night’s election is looking like decisively bad news for transit in the Senate and in several statehouses, the results from local ballot initiatives are a little brighter. Here are the highlights that have Streetsblog Network members buzzing, as well as results from other referendums around the country.

Seattle transit will get a much-needed boost. Photo: Oran Viriyincy via Flickr

Seattle transit will get a much-needed boost. Photo: Oran Viriyincy via Flickr

Seattle

Seattle voters approved a ballot measure to shore up and expand transit service. After a regional vote earlier this year rejected new revenue measures to prevent massive service cuts, a new proposal was put to voters just in the city itself. The 0.1 percent sales tax hike and $60 car registration fee passed handily with 59 percent support, according to the Seattle Times. As many as 49 routes will see expanded services thanks to the $45 million infusion, the Times reports.

Seattle Transit Blog called it a victory for both the local political establishment and transit riders.

Clayton County, Georgia

The Atlanta region’s transit agency, MARTA, will see its first major expansion in 40 years after voters in Clayton County approved a new sales tax. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that the 1 percent sales tax sailed to an easy victory. Clayton County, a lower-income suburban county, had been totally without transit service since a 2010 budget crisis. The ballot measure is expected to restore bus service as well as provide for commuter rail, which would be the first major expansion of MARTA’s rail system in a very long time.

Darin at ATL Urbanist says he expects the whole region to benefit:

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The Stakes Are High for Smart Transpo Policy in These 6 Races for Governor

Today, voters go to the polls to exercise their constitutional right to self-government — if their state hasn’t disenfranchised them with onerous voter ID laws, that is, and if they can get motivated to turn out for a mid-term election. In 27 states, voters are choosing a governor. These elections are perhaps the most important in the country when it comes to transportation policy, because governors set the agenda for major infrastructure decisions and control the state DOTs that spend the lion’s share of U.S. transportation funding.

Here’s a look at six close contests that will have major implications for transportation and development.

Maryland

Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, left, and Republican challenger Larry Hogan, right.

Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, left, and Republican challenger Larry Hogan, right.

Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown has served as number two in Governor Martin O’Malley’s pro-rail, smart-growth-minded administration for eight years. Republican challenger Larry Hogan runs a land brokerage and development firm that specializes in suburban greenfield strip malls and subdivisions. While Brown would continue O’Malley’s emphasis on transit expansion, including the planned 16-mile Purple Line linking key Maryland suburbs and the downtown Baltimore Red Line light rail, Hogan argues that the state should focus on its backlog of road projects instead of bothering with transit.

The state has allocated the money for the line, but according to Ben Ross of Maryland’s Action Committee for Transit, “there’s nothing to stop them from changing their mind.” Advocates worry that Hogan’s car-centric transportation priorities would redirect all that money toward highways.

“The governor of Maryland has virtually absolute power over the budget,” Ross said in an email. “All the legislature can do is cut. So if Hogan takes the Purple Line out of the budget, no one else can put it in.”

Brown started off the campaign with a commanding lead over Hogan, but that lead has dwindled to almost nothing. The race is now a nail-biting toss-up.

Read more…

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StreetsPAC Releases Final 2014 Albany Endorsements

Tuesday is Election Day, with races for statewide office and legislative seats in Albany taking up most of the ballot. While the general election tends to be less competitive than primary day in Democrat-dominated NYC, there are definitely some contests worth tracking tomorrow. To get caught up on the hot local races as well as the three ballot proposals New York voters will decide on, check out the Gotham Gazette election guide.

Meanwhile, StreetsPAC has released its final round of endorsements, for State Assembly and Senate seats in Manhattan and Long Island. Details below. You can review StreetsPAC questionnaire responses — from candidates on the ballot tomorrow in races throughout New York state – in this spreadsheet. See the StreetsPAC web site for the complete list of endorsements from NYC’s livable streets political action committee.

“We’re excited to make these three important endorsements before Tuesday’s election,” said David “Paco” Abraham, a StreetsPAC board member, in a press release. “Dan Quart and Michaelle Solages are young, up-and-coming leaders in Albany, and they are firmly committed to making streets safer both in their districts and across the state. And Adrienne Esposito is an experienced advocate who can help tip the balance towards smarter transportation policies in the Senate.”

Incumbent Dan Quart gets the StreetsPAC nod in Assembly District 73 (Upper East Side, Midtown East, Turtle Bay). Elected to the Assembly in 2011, Quart “has been a strong advocate for transit,” according to StreetsPAC, “especially the rapid implementation of all remaining phases of the Second Avenue subway.” StreetsPAC says Quart supports the Move NY toll reform plan and complete streets reclamations for Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Other District 73 candidates are David Casavis and Donal Butterfield.

StreetsPAC likes incumbent Michaelle Solages for another term in Nassau County’s Assembly District 22 (Elmont, Valley Stream, Floral Park, Franklin Square). StreetsPAC says Solages introduced legislation to require the state comptroller to review the privatization of public transit systems, like the handover of Nassau County’s bus service to a commercial operator. Solages is committed to improving street safety near schools and improving bike parking at LIRR stations, StreetsPAC says. Solages faces challenger Gonald Moncion.

In Suffolk County, StreetsPAC endorsed Adrienne Esposito for the open seat in Senate District 3 (Brookhaven, Patchogue, Islandia). StreetsPAC describes Esposito as “a long-time sustainability advocate” who has committed to push for more funding for complete streets projects, transit, and transit-oriented development. Tom Croci is also on the District 3 ballot.

“We urge all of New York State’s voters to make safe, complete streets a priority at the polls on Tuesday,” said StreetsPAC board member Peter Frishauf. “Whether it’s lower speed limits, wider implementation of speed cameras or reforming the DMV, legislators have a key role to play. We’re proud to back Dan, Michaelle and Adrienne.”

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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.

Read more…

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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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