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Posts from the "Verrazano Bridge" Category

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The Growing Political Muscle of the Campaign for a Verrazano Bike/Ped Path

This Saturday, close to 100 people gathered at the Alice Austen House on the North Shore of Staten Island to demand a walking and biking path across the Verrazano Bridge. And in a sign of the campaign’s growing political potency, several elected officials came out to announce their support for the idea, including Assembly Member Michael Cusick, State Senator Marty Golden, and City Council Member Vincent Gentile.

The bridge path now has the endorsement of nearly every local elected official on each side of the Verrazano. The main question left is whether Governor Cuomo will fix a 50-year-old mistake by Robert Moses and commit to providing walking and biking access between Staten Island and Brooklyn.

Two years ago, when advocates started mobilizing under the banner of the Harbor Ring Committee, such favorable politics were almost unthinkable. James Molinaro, the Staten Island borough president at the time, called the bridge path “absolutely ridiculous.” Today it’s the resistance to a walking and biking path that seems absurd.

The Harbor Ring Committee, which notes that the Verrazano project is the missing link in a 50-mile bikeable circuit around New York Harbor, has gathered more than 3,600 signatures in support of a path. Its advocacy has won over nearly every elected official whose turf touches the Verrazano.

Molinaro’s successor, James Oddo, told the Times he supports a path if the costs are within reason and that the project “would provide an exciting new option for residents to combat our rising obesity epidemic or get to work.” Oddo’s counterpart in Brooklyn, Borough President Eric Adams, also supports the bridge path.

So do City Council members Vincent Ignizio and Debi Rose, Assembly Member Nicole Malliotakis, Assembly Member Joseph Borelli, the three electeds who came to Saturday’s rally, and MTA board member Allen Cappelli, a Staten Island resident.

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Senate Joins Assembly in Rejecting Cuomo’s $40 Million Transit Raid

This week kicked off with news that Speaker Sheldon Silver would remove Governor Andrew Cuomo’s $40 million transit raid from the Assembly’s budget plan. Today comes word [PDF] that the State Senate has followed suit, rejecting the transit raid in its own budget resolution.

Photo: Matt Wade via Wikipedia

Photo: Matt Wade via Wikipedia

A united front from the Senate and Assembly provides a boost to advocates as the legislature begins two weeks of negotiations with Cuomo over the final budget, which covers a fiscal year beginning April 1.

It’s also a step up from last year, when a $20 million raid was rejected by the Senate but remained in the Assembly’s resolution and was included in the final budget. “We have a much stronger hand going into the negotiations [this year],” said Nadine Lemmon of Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

The governor’s office has claimed that this budget maneuver does not count as a raid because it’s taking taxes dedicated to MTA operations and diverting it to service debt that funds MTA capital needs. But Comptroller Tom DiNapoli calls it a transit raid, and advocates point out that it reneges on a commitment the state made over a decade ago and shifts funds away from the MTA to effectively create new money on the state’s balance sheet.

Even if the $40 million transit raid is removed from this year’s budget, Cuomo is likely to attempt similar moves in the future to pay off the state bond with MTA funds. His financial plan includes annual raids of $20 million, which would total nearly $350 million by 2031.

“Three hundred and fifty million dollars is a big chunk of change. You can’t bleed the authority in that manner and expect them to perform,” Lemmon said.

Another one of the governor’s hits to MTA revenues is also having ripple effects in the Senate. Cuomo’s plan to deepen Verrazano-Narrows Bridge toll discounts for truckers and Staten Island residents would cost $14 million annually, with the MTA and the state splitting the cost evenly. That kicked off a flurry of press releases and events by Brooklyn legislators angling for a discount for their constituents, too.

Now, they’re using the Senate budget plan to call on the MTA to study and recommend VNB toll discounts for non-Staten Island residents who drive over the bridge. Wholesale reform of New York’s broken toll system, as the state begins to figure out how to fund the MTA’s next multi-billion dollar capital plan, is not on Albany’s agenda.

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Cuomo Electioneering: Robbing From Transit to Pay Staten Island Motorists

Which governor is worse on transit issues, Chris Christie or Andrew Cuomo? Amazingly, New York’s chief executive could win this race to the bottom. The latest move from Cuomo would cut a guaranteed source of revenue for the MTA that Albany can never raid for its own purposes.

Ken Lovett at the Daily News had the scoop this morning that Cuomo will soon announce a gift to Staten Island car commuters: Verrazano Bridge tolls will drop to $5.50 from $6.00 or $6.36. (Current tolls vary depending on how often people use the bridge.) Tolls will also be cut for trucks that frequently use the bridge.

Any drop in toll revenue is going to weaken the MTA’s finances. So, while Verrazano car commuters get reduced tolls this election year, transit riders still have nothing but scheduled fare hikes to look forward to.

It remains to be seen exactly how much revenue the toll cut will divert from the MTA. Cuomo is expected to announce it this afternoon, and word is the governor will say that the state will shore up the agency’s budget with general funds.

Make no mistake, though, the governor is undermining the MTA. For one thing, revenue from tolls is the only raid-proof source of funds for the MTA. The money goes straight into the agency’s accounts instead of passing through the state first, so Albany can’t pocket it. Cuomo may commit to “making the MTA whole” at his press conference, but any general funds spent this year won’t necessarily be there in the future. Albany’s support for transit has a way of shriveling up over time.

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Verrazano Bridge Path Advocates Release Map, Ask MTA to Commit to Study

The Harbor Ring Committee, a coalition working to complete the missing link in a route around New York Harbor with a bicycle and pedestrian path across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, has released a map of the bike route, a 50-mile loop across four boroughs and Hudson County, New Jersey. Meanwhile, advocates are trying to get the MTA to firmly commit to a feasibility study they hope could pave the way for building the bridge path.

Advocates for a biking and walking path on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge have released a map for the Harbor Loop, a 50-mile route with a key missing link. Image: Harbor Loop Committee

In the spring, advocates circulated a petition calling on Governor Cuomo to support a bridge path. While the governor hasn’t come out with an endorsement, it did get the attention of MTA Bridges and Tunnels. “A feasibility study, addressing a host of issues including cost, structural issues, operational issues and impact on the surrounding neighborhoods would have to be conducted,” spokesperson Judie Glave said, adding that the agency “is considering studying this issue as part of a future reconstruction project” that would not begin until 2014 or later.

Advocates, who have been in touch with MTA Bridges and Tunnels President James Ferrara, say they hope the planned relocation of ramps on the Brooklyn side between the bridge and the Belt Parkway will include a path feasibility study. A separate ongoing capital project that could affect plans for a bike/ped path involves replacing and widening the upper deck to accommodate a bus and carpool lane.

“Honestly, this study I think would be a formality,” Harbor Ring Committee member David Wenger told Streetsblog. The bridge, designed by architects Ammann & Whitney, includes space for paths, but they were never built. In 1997, the same firm prepared a feasibility study for the Department of City Planning, including a preferred option for a path design that was similar to the path on the George Washington Bridge, another Amman & Whitney project.

The new feasibility study would likely update the old one, including more information about security and how the ramp would interact with reconfigured Brooklyn-side ramps. ”There should be no reason why this should not be feasible,” Wenger said.

As advocates push for a study next year, the online petition has gathered more than 2,000 signatures, plus about 500 signatures on paper. Comments from petition signers have been very helpful in convincing elected officials and the MTA of the path’s value, Wenger said. Nearly a quarter of all commenters say they would use the path as part of their daily commute.

In the meantime, the effort continues to rack up endorsements from elected officials, including Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, State Senator Marty Golden, and City Council members Deborah Rose and Vincent Gentile. Democratic City Council nominee John Mancuso has also endorsed the plan. The Harbor Ring Committee will soon reach out to borough president candidates, as well as more state legislators in both Staten Island and Brooklyn, Meredith Sladek of Transportation Alternatives said.

With the completion of a multi-use path on the new Goethals Bridge scheduled for 2017, Sladek said that the group might look at extending the loop route to include more of New Jersey, as well as the George Washington Bridge.

For those who can’t wait until a bridge path is built, the committee has already organized rides on the route and will soon print up to 5,000 copies of its newly-released Harbor Ring map for distribution to local bike shops. The map includes detailed information about the route, local bike shops, and transit. There’s just one pesky gap.

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Streetfilms Flashback: The 2 AM Ride Across the Verrazano Bridge

Clarence has been rifling through the vault for old footage as he prepares a montage for Transportation Alternatives’ 40th birthday bash. He’s turned up some classic clips going back to the mid-90s, and we’ll be sharing some of them this summer on Friday afternoons.

Some background: Before there was Streetfilms, Clarence made a cable access program called bikeTV. Maybe you already knew that. But here’s something I just learned today — bikeTV had its own predecessor, The Bike Show, which ran from 1995 to 2001.

This video of a ride over the Verrazano Bridge in the wee hours, organized by the 5 Boro Bike Club with the MTA’s cooperation, originally aired on The Bike Show in 1999. Sadly, ride organizer Danny Lieberman, who appears in the beginning of the clip, died last fall after battling leukemia.

There are still only two times a year when people can walk or bike over the Verrazano: The New York City Marathon and the Five Boro Bike Tour. But advocates have been ramping up the campaign to finally add a bike/ped path over the bridge, which would form the final link in a 50-mile waterfront path they call the Harbor Ring. You can sign their petition to Governor Andrew Cuomo here.

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Advocates Call on Cuomo to Support Path on Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

Next year, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge will mark its 50th anniversary. Although the structure was designed to accommodate pedestrian and bicycle paths, they were never included. Now, advocates are hoping a renewed push can close the gap in what they’re calling the Harbor Ring, a 50-mile loop around Upper New York Bay. This week, the initiative launched an online petition to Governor Cuomo, asking him to support the plan and move it forward.

Plans for a path on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge have been idle for years. A new petition asks Governor Cuomo to take action. Image: Ammann & Whitney, Department of City Planning

The petition is part of a renewed effort to build a path across the bridge after previous attempts stalled out. In 1997, the Department of City Planning commissioned a feasibility study by Ammann & Whitney, the bridge’s architect, to examine installing paths on the bridge. In 2003, Mayor Michael Bloomberg expressed support for the plan. But a decade later, there are still only two times each year when New Yorkers can cross the span under their own power: the New York City Marathon, held every November, and the Five Boro Bike Tour each May.

Dave “Paco” Abraham, a Harbor Ring advocate, will be guiding Five Boro Bike Tour riders as they cross the bridge this year. ”Every year I’ve done the Five Boro bike ride,” he said, “Everybody stops on that bridge and takes a photo. It’s breathtaking. It’s why people go to the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s why the Walkway Over the Hudson [a rails-to-trails project in Poughkeepsie] opened.”

The same types of tourism, health, and transportation benefits those projects bring to San Francisco and Poughkeepsie make the project costs on the Verrazano worth the investment, said Abraham. ”We’re in the scale of tens of millions of dollars, not hundreds of millions,” he said.

There are two MTA capital projects that could affect the path’s prospects. One is replacing and widening the upper deck to accommodate a bus and carpool lane; the other is the relocation ramps on the Brooklyn side between the bridge and the Belt Parkway. ”If they can take any way to incorporate [the path] into their capital projects one way or another, that would be wonderful,” said Meredith Sladek of Transportation Alternatives. A few weeks ago, a coalition of organizations including TA and the Regional Plan Association sent a letter to the MTA asking the agency to consider the path in its planning process.

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The Long-Missing Link: New Push for Verrazano Bridge Bike-Ped Path

Before the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge opened in 1964, New Yorkers on foot or bike could travel between Staten Island and Brooklyn by taking a ferry from 69th Street in Bay Ridge to St. George. Since the bridge opened, there are only two times each year when people are allowed to cross it under their own power: the New York City Marathon, held every November, and the Five Boro Bike Tour each May.

A map of the Harbor Ring route. Notice what’s missing? Image: Transportation Alternatives

In two years, the MTA will mark the 50th anniversary of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. In anticipation, advocates have launched a new effort to create a permanent bicycle and pedestrian path on the span. It’s the missing link of what’s being called the “Harbor Ring,” a loop around New York Harbor christened on Tuesday by Transportation Alternatives.

The proposal has already received a cool reception from Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro. “I think it’s absolutely ridiculous,” he told the Advance. “How many people would use it? It’s got to be worth the effort and the cost.”

Molinaro, apparently unaware of other New York City bridge paths, including one in his own borough, also argued that “wind, winter weather and choking exhaust fumes would deter walkers and riders,” according to the Advance.

A quarter of households in the 13th Congressional District, represented by Michael Grimm and including Staten Island, Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, do not have access to a motor vehicle, according to 2011 U.S. Census numbers. In neighborhoods close to the bridge, the number is even higher, passing 50 percent in many areas. Even those who do have cars might want to avoid tolls anticipated to soon reach $15, said Harbor Ring committee member Dave ‘Paco’ Abraham.

Unlike Molinaro, other elected officials are in favor of a path across the bridge, including long-time supporter State Sen. Marty Golden and Molinaro’s Brooklyn counterpart, Borough President Marty Markowitz, who called the Harbor Ring loop “a promising idea that deserves serious consideration.”

“Putting a pedestrian and bike crossing on the Verrazano Bridge is a wonderful idea — the bridge needs it, and I’m certain New Yorkers would love it and use it,” Markowitz said in a statement. “It is absolutely necessary for any retrofit to be feasible, both financially and from an engineering, security and safety perspective,” he said. ”I encourage the MTA and City officials to at least take a look at the potential and determine if it could work.”

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Nadler Revives Fight Against Trucker Giveaway on Verrazano

The lack of an eastbound toll on the Verrazano allows trucks to make a huge loop through the city without paying almost any tolls. Image: Sam Schwartz.

The lack of an eastbound toll on the Verrazano allows trucks to make three major crossings without paying tolls, creating a counterclockwise loop of truck traffic. Image: Sam Schwartz.

The one-way tolls on the Verrazano Bridge have been a major cause of truck traffic in New York City since they were instituted in 1986. Though numerous efforts to restore two-way tolls have failed over the last two and a half decades, technological progress may finally bring victory within reach. Congressman Jerry Nadler thinks that the MTA’s moves toward cashless tolling could make two-way tolls politically feasible, and he’s trying to pass the federal legislation necessary to allow them.

The one-way tolls concentrate truck traffic in the city along specific routes and hit some communities — like Chinatown — especially hard. Trucks from New Jersey can drive into Staten Island, cross east on the Verrazano for free, drive up the BQE or Brooklyn local roads to the free Manhattan Bridge, then cross Lower Manhattan and head back to New Jersey for free through the Port Authority’s tunnels, which impose no tolls heading westbound. This long counterclockwise circle can save trucking companies a fortune in tolls, while endangering and clogging up New York City’s streets for everyone else.

“A two-way toll would eliminate the flow of trucks entering New York City via Staten Island in order to escape the charges on the Hudson River bridge and tunnel crossings,” said Nadler, who represents hard-hit Lower Manhattan. “With the MTA now poised to test new toll-collection technologies, which are likely to be implemented across the region, all New Yorkers will reap the benefits and the MTA will generate new revenue that it sorely needs.”

You may be wondering: How did such a senseless policy get enacted in the first place? The answer: Staten Island politics. Residents were sick of the long lines of traffic building up behind the tollbooths on the Staten Island side of the bridge, spewing exhaust near their homes.

In response, Congressman Guy Molinari, with strong support from Senator Al D’Amato, stuck a provision into federal transportation law forbidding two-way tolling across the Verrazano in 1986. Eliminating the eastbound charge meant that tolls only caused back-ups on the bridge itself and in Bay Ridge. The MTA was opposed to the move at the time, and the following year reported increased traffic through Lower Manhattan and millions in lost toll revenue as a result of the switch.

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MTA Blame Game: The View from Staten Island

Here's State Senator Andrew Lanza, a Staten Island Republican, explaining why he supports tolls on the East River bridges. For Staten Island drivers looking at a $3 hike in cash tolls to cross the Verrazano (or a $1.32 hike for locals with E-ZPass), the sight of other motorists getting a free pass into Manhattan must be a source of perpetual gall and resentment.

Lanza spends most of this video, however, in standard MTA-bashing mode, lashing out at the agency and unnamed politicians in other boroughs who "support" the doomsday scenario. Not a word about his fellow Senate Republicans, who refused to budge on an MTA rescue package that needed only a few more votes to pass. Lanza himself is on the record opposing the payroll tax in the Ravitch plan, so, by his own logic, you could say he also "supports" higher tolls on the Verrazano.

When you're about to set off a scenario of mutually assured destruction, the person who blinks first helps everyone win. Lanza could play a big part in walking the State Senate back from the brink of doomsday, and holding down the one-way toll on the Verrazano. All he has to do is reconsider the Ravitch plan and rally a few other Republicans to do the same. Hard to see how anything else would fulfill the promise he makes here to fight the MTA austerity plan "every step of the way." We called his Albany office to inquire about his plan and expect a response later today.

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The Perfect Argument for Congestion Pricing

Verrazano_Bridge_Dawn.jpg

The Staten Island Advance ran an article last Thursday about a "perfect storm" of crushing Staten Island-bound traffic on the Gowanus Expressway and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. To give you a sense of the frustrated tone of the article, it was entitled "21-Month Nightmare: Agency Offers Zero Solutions for Verrazano Lane Mess." Here's how it began:

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- A best man missed his nephew's wedding rehearsal.

A truck driver was forced to pull over and cool his heels.

Countless commuters rued that extra cup of Joe before leaving work.

And then there was the pizza delivery to a group of exasperated bus riders left stewing in the parking lot that was the Gowanus Expressway last Friday afternoon.

Experts say there's no way to fully manage the crush of rush-hour traffic expected to continue for the next 21 months while lanes are closed on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

Island commuters don't care what the experts have to say.

Their bottom line: Fix this mess.

Otherwise, it will be a long, hot summer.

"I could have gone to Florida in as long as it took me to get home," fumed Grasmere's Marlee Tanenbaum, who was stuck for two and a half hours aboard an X2 express bus Friday evening. "It is so insane that it's unbelievable. I am outraged!"

If this isn't the perfect argument for why we need congestion pricing, I don't know what is. The fact that so many people are crushing onto the bridge shows that it is too cheap to travel over it. The toll is $9 (charged toward Staten Island, the direction of this jam), but that obviously is not enough to prevent this kind of traffic. Motorists want travel to be cheap and fast, but one who demands cheap travel can't turn around and complain about how slow it is.

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