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Just a Reminder: Cuomo Can Take Charge of the MTA Whenever He Wants

At approximately 5 p.m. Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he had ordered the complete closure of New York City’s bus and subway systems in the face of an oncoming snowstorm. If nothing else, it was a stark reminder that the transit system is not a political orphan. The MTA is, in fact, Cuomo’s agency.

Photo: NY Governor's Office/Flickr

When it’s convenient for him, Cuomo takes charge of the MTA. When it’s inconvenient, it’s someone else’s problem. Photo: NY Governor’s Office/Flickr

After the blizzard gave only a glancing blow to the city, Cuomo gathered at a morning press conference with his transportation deputies, including MTA Chair and CEO Tom Prendergast. A reporter asked about the cost of shutting down the transit system. ”These were factored in the budget, and this was not exceptional to that process,” Cuomo said. “I’m sure Tom will say he needs a budget increase because of this, but Tom was going to say he needed a budget increase anyway.” Chuckling, the governor patted Prendergast on the arm while they both smiled at the cameras.

Yes, the governor can turn off the transit system with a word, but a budget increase? That’s for Tom to worry about. And nevermind the hundreds of millions of dollars the governor has raided from the MTA’s operating budget since taking office.

Cuomo also likes to create distance between himself and the MTA when the subject turns to the agency’s five-year capital program, which he recently called “bloated.” It was not the critique of an executive determined to find efficiencies and do more with less at one of the most important agencies under his control. Rather, it was a way to separate himself from the MTA and frame the agency as an insatiable bureaucracy.

The MTA currently has a $15 billion funding gap in the $32 billion capital program. Cuomo talks about this problem as if it’s an abstraction, completely separate from his powers to set the agenda, control costs, and raise revenues. “The first budget from every agency also always calls for $15 billion. That’s part of the dance that we go through. That’s why I say it’s the initial, proposed budget,” he said in October. “We’ll then look at that budget and go through, and we’ll come up with a realistic number.”

Building a great transit system that lasts for generations should be a governor’s legacy, not a pesky agency request. But Cuomo has a different legacy transportation project, something he loves to call his own: the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement.

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In Brooklyn, Another Alleged Unlicensed Driver Faces Wrist Tap for Killing

An allegedly unlicensed driver who killed a pedestrian in a Brooklyn crosswalk last month was not charged with criminal negligence by NYPD or District Attorney Ken Thompson. Meanwhile, legislation to increase the penalty for causing a death while driving without a valid license continues to languish in Albany.

The motorist who killed Raul Leone-Vasquez was charged with unlicensed driving and careless driving, but was not charged by Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson with criminal negligence under the “rule of two.”

The motorist who killed Raul Leone-Vasquez was charged with unlicensed driving, a misdemeanor, and careless driving, a traffic infraction, but was not charged by Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson with criminal negligence.

Raul Leone-Vasquez was crossing Bay Parkway at Bath Avenue at around 6:35 a.m. on December 28 when Simcha Rosenblatt hit him with a Toyota Camry, according to the Bensonhurst Bean and the Daily News. Leone-Vasquez, 27, suffered head trauma and died at Lutheran Hospital. His death was reported by several outlets Wednesday, following an NYPD media release.

Rosenblatt, 60, of Lakewood, New Jersey, was charged with aggravated unlicensed operation and failure to exercise due care. The Bensonhurst Bean and WNBC reported that, according to police, Leone-Vasquez was crossing Bay Parkway east to west, in the crosswalk, and Rosenblatt was southbound on Bay Parkway. If that account is accurate, and Leone-Vasquez had a walk signal, it appears Rosenblatt would either have been turning from Bath Avenue onto Bay Parkway or he drove south through the intersection against the light.

Aggravated unlicensed operation is a low-level misdemeanor that stipulates that Rosenblatt drove without a license when he knew or should have known he didn’t have one. It is common for NYPD and city prosecutors to file a top charge of aggravated unlicensed operation when an accused unlicensed driver kills a pedestrian. It’s the same charge applied by police and prosecutors when an unlicensed driver commits a traffic infraction.

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Boris Johnson Commits to a Protected “Cycle Superhighway” Crossing London

London's "crossrail for bikes" will be the longest protected bike lane in Europe. Image: London Evening Standard

London’s “crossrail for bikes” will be the longest urban protected bike lane in Europe, according to the London papers. Image: London Evening Standard

London Mayor Boris Johnson is showing cities what it looks like to commit real resources to repurposing car lanes for high-quality bike infrastructure.

Yesterday, Johnson announced the city will begin building a wide, continuous protected bike lane linking east and west London when the weather warms this spring. When complete, it will be the longest protected “urban cycle lane” in Europe, according to Metro UK, carrying riders through the heart of the city and some of its most famous landmarks. The bike lane will be separated from vehicle traffic by a curb, London-based design blog Dezeen reports.

While bike infrastructure is cheap, London is devoting serious resources to ensuring that this bike lane is as safe, spacious, and comfortable as it can be. The central portion of the bike route, about 5.5 miles, will cost £41 to construct ($62 million).

bikes-4

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Four Nice Touches in U.S. DOT’s New “Mayors’ Challenge” for Bike Safety

Denver Transportation Director Crissy Fanganello, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard in 2014.

pfb logo 100x22

Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

There’s a difference between bike-safety warnings that focus on blaming victims and warnings that recommend actual systemic improvements. The launch of a Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People, Safer Streets by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx is the good kind of warning.

Yes, it’d be nice if it weren’t being pegged on the dubious claim that biking has gotten more dangerous in the last few years. Also if U.S. DOT were offering any money for cities that take its advice.

That said, there’s a lot to love in this initiative launched Friday. Let’s count a few of the ways.

The feds want cities to measure successful bike trips, not just bad ones.

Austin, Texas.

In many cities, the only times bikes show up in the official statistics is when something goes wrong.

When a person collides with a car or a curb while biking, they enter the public record. When they roll happily back to work after meeting a friend for tacos, they’re invisible to the spreadsheets that drive traffic engineering decisions.

This is the sort of logic that sometimes leads people to the conclusion that on-street bicycle facilities decrease road safety. What they’re actually doing is increasing bike usage, which in turn is the most important way to increase bike safety. When our primary metric of biking success is the number of people biking rather than the number of people dying, we’re making our cities better across the board, not merely safer.

Foxx’s lead recommendation that cities “count the number of people walking and biking” shouldn’t be revolutionary. But if every city did, it would be.

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Anthony Foxx Challenges Mayors to Protect Pedestrians and Cyclists

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx wants mayors to step up bike and pedestrian safety efforts. Photo: Building America's Future

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx speaking at the U.S. Conference of Mayors yesterday. Photo: Building America’s Future

With pedestrian and cyclist deaths accounting for a rising share of U.S. traffic fatalities and Congress not exactly raring to take action, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is issuing a direct challenge to America’s mayors to improve street safety. Yesterday Foxx unveiled the “Mayor’s Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets” at the U.S. Conference of Mayors Transportation Committee meeting in Washington.

Overall traffic deaths are on a downward trend in the U.S., but the reduction in pedestrian and cyclist fatalities is not keeping pace with improvements for car occupants. Pedestrians and bicyclists now account for 17 percent of all traffic fatalities in the U.S., and most of these deaths in urban areas, Foxx noted.

Back in September, Foxx told the Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike/Pro-Place conference in Pittsburgh that U.S. DOT is “putting together the most comprehensive, forward-leaning initiative U.S. DOT has ever put forward on bike/ped issues.” The Mayor’s Challenge fleshes out that initiative to some extent.

Foxx wants mayors to implement seven key recommendations from U.S. DOT. In March, mayors and local leaders will convene at DOT headquarters to discuss how to put the recommendations into practice. Participating cities will implement the strategies in the following year, with assistance from U.S. DOT.

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Big Turnout for DOT’s First Queens Boulevard Safety Workshop

Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Change is coming to the most feared street in New York.

More than 100 people turned out last night to tell NYC DOT how they want to improve safety on Queens Boulevard. Known as the Boulevard of Death for its appalling record of traffic fatalities and injuries, Queens Boulevard functions as a surface-level highway running through more than seven miles of densely settled neighborhoods. DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced last week that it would be a Vision Zero priority in 2015, and Wednesday’s meeting kicked off what advocates hope will be a comprehensive yet expeditious process to redesign the street for safe walking and biking and effective transit.

Queens Boulevard remains one of the deadliest streets in the city, even after signal timing changes and other adjustments led to major reductions in pedestrian deaths about 15 years ago. In 2013 alone, six pedestrians were killed on the street, reports the Times Ledger.

Streetsblog couldn’t attend last night, so we reached out to Queens residents this morning to get their take on the event. There’s a lot of excitement for what DOT has set in motion, as well as a sense that the agency has to act swiftly and decisively to keep the momentum going.

Last night’s workshop focused on the segment of Queens Boulevard in Woodside, from Roosevelt Avenue to 73rd Street. Grouped together at 12 tables, participants were briefed by DOT staff on the agency’s street design toolkit and then each group got to work imagining how those safety improvements could apply to this stretch of Queens Boulevard. At a separate event on the Upper West Side last night, Trottenberg said those ideas will inform short-term fixes for now, with more workshops to follow for other sections, the idea being to piece together a permanent safety overhaul for the whole corridor.

Our contacts remarked on how the different perspectives at the workshop converged around similar ideas. “There was a cross-section of users of the street at the workshop, including people who walk, bike, drive, and take buses, and all who spoke mentioned feeling unsafe on the Boulevard as it is currently designed,” said Transportation Alternatives volunteer Rachel Beadle. ”Participants at EVERY break-out table were asking for bike lanes, bus lanes, and safer pedestrian crossings.”

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Victims’ Families to Electeds: End the Obstruction of Safe Streets on the UWS

Council Member Mark Levine, Borough President Gale Brewer, and Council Member Helen Rosenthal can decide whether or not to reappoint longtime street safety foe Dan Zweig to Community Board 7. Photos: NYC Council

Years of frustration with the leadership of Manhattan Community Board 7 boiled over at a traffic safety forum on the Upper West Side last night. Twice during the event, neighborhood residents who lost family members to traffic violence called on elected officials not to reappoint Dan Zweig, who has co-chaired CB 7′s transportation committee for at least 15 years and blocked or delayed key street safety proposals.

Last night’s panel included Dana Lerner of Families For Safe Streets, whose son Cooper was killed by a turning cab driver last year. She told the audience she was shocked to learn after her son’s death that there were proposals from neighborhood groups to improve street safety — including for the block where Cooper was killed — that had failed to receive support from the community board. “When I found out about this, I was crushed. I was just crushed. I couldn’t understand,” she said. “All I could think was, if they had — if this had been looked at, might Cooper be alive? I always wonder that.”

After Cooper’s death, DOT implemented a road diet on West End Avenue, including pedestrian islands at the intersection where Cooper was killed. Lerner said neighbors ask her if she’s pleased to see the changes. “I don’t understand why it was my son’s death that made this happen,” she said. “Community Board 7, particularly Dan Zweig, was not receptive to the ideas of the community. And I feel that moving forward, we absolutely have to have people who are willing to listening to the community members.”

Zweig has a long history of stonewalling street safety projects. A redesign of Columbus Avenue added a protected bike lane and pedestrian islands, improving safety for all street users, including a 41 percent drop in pedestrian injuries. But Zweig, who had used parliamentary process to try to block the project, said he doesn’t trust DOT’s numbers and insists the street has become more dangerous.

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Cuomo to Spend Lion’s Share of NY Bank Settlement Windfall on Highways

 

 

One of the looming questions as Governor Andrew Cuomo has unveiled his budget agenda over the past few days has been how he’ll divvy up the $5.4 billion windfall the state has reaped from bank settlements. At the State of the State address this afternoon, Cuomo revealed that the biggest chunk of that money will go to the Thruway Authority so highway drivers don’t have to pay higher tolls.

Of the nearly $1.7 billion for road and rail projects in Cuomo’s plan, more than three-quarters — $1.285 billion — would get sucked up by the Thruway Authority and the replacement Tappan Zee Bridge.

The MTA gets two comparatively small slices. The most significant is $250 million to bring Metro-North to Penn Station and build four new stations along the Hell Gate Line in the Bronx. This project was already in the MTA’s pipeline, so the allocation should shrink the $15.2 billion gap in the agency’s capital program by a small amount.

Cuomo also announced $150 million in settlement cash for parking garages at one Metro-North and two Long Island Rail Road stations — an idea that, like the Willets Point AirTrain, he sprung on the public yesterday. This is a subsidy for suburban commuters who park and ride at what are supposed to be transit-oriented development hubs.

But that’s all small potatoes compared to the chunk of change heading to the Thruway. It’s still not clear how much of the $1.285 billion will be for Tappan Zee construction and how much will be to directly bail out the authority’s deteriorating finances. Either way, this is money that will basically be used to keep drivers from squawking about tolls that better reflect the true cost of road building and maintenance.

Sorry, straphangers.

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Cuomo’s LaGuardia Train Would Be Slower Than Existing Transit

When it comes to travel times, Cuomo’s proposed LaGuardia AirTrain wouldn’t fare well compared to existing bus and subway service. Graph: The Transportation Politic

When it comes to travel times, Cuomo’s proposed LaGuardia AirTrain wouldn’t fare well compared to existing bus and subway service. Graph: The Transport Politic

The centerpiece of Governor Cuomo’s second-term transportation agenda for New York City isn’t closing the $15 billion gap in the MTA capital program or taking serious steps to relieve the city from suffocating traffic. Instead, Cuomo’s big idea is a new rail link to LaGuardia Airport.

The idea captivated the Times and distracted from the meat of Cuomo’s proposals, which mostly involve subsidizing highways and bridges so Thruway tolls don’t go up. But it won’t make it any faster to get to LaGuardia without driving, writes Yonah Freemark at the Transport Politic.

As difficult as it can be to get to LaGuardia now, Freemark says Cuomo’s AirTrain proposal — which would run along public rights-of-way between the airport and the 7 train at Willets Point — would have longer travel times than existing transit routes from most parts of the city. ”As proposed, the project would do next to nothing to improve access to the airport,” he writes.

Freemark’s analysis, which he summarized in the above chart, finds that the Cuomo AirTrain would offer no improvement over current transit service for travelers heading from the airport to Grand Central, Penn Station (except via the LIRR on Mets game days, when trip times would be slightly faster than today), the World Trade Center, Borough Hall/Jay Street, and Jamaica. Travel times to the South Bronx (Yankee Stadium) would be nearly twice as long as existing options. If you happen to live in the immediate vicinity of the proposed Willets Point AirTrain connection, then you might save some time.

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Cuomo’s Transpo Vision: Huge Garages, Cheap Roads, Lots More MTA Debt

A day before his big statewide policy address, Governor Andrew Cuomo laid out his transportation and infrastructure agenda today at a Midtown breakfast hosted by the Association for a Better New York, a business group. This was not the speech where the governor finally laid out his plan to prevent runaway MTA debt, fix the traffic that is choking New York City’s economy, and revive cities around the state by tearing out decrepit 20th century highways and redeveloping downtowns.

Governor Cuomo talks transportation this morning. Photo: Governor's Office/Flickr

Governor Cuomo talks transportation this morning. Photo: Governor’s Office/Flickr

Instead, surprising no one, Cuomo promised subsidies to keep highway tolls cheap, train stations with tons of parking, and economic development centered around airports. The speech did not even mention the most pressing transportation issue in New York right now: the $15 billion gap in the MTA’s five-year capital program.

Cuomo did mention that the capital program will pay for new buses and subway cars, the Second Avenue subway, Metro-North along the Hell Gate Line, signal upgrades, and Bus Rapid Transit (which he called “a big part of the future”) — all part of the plan already. The governor also touted an attention-grabbing new proposal to build an AirTrain line to LaGuardia Airport from the Long Island Rail Road and 7 train stations at Willets Point, a 30-minute subway ride from Times Square.

Cuomo said the LaGuardia project is in “initial planning phases,” though the administration expects the 1.5-mile line to cost $450 million and take the Port Authority, in consultation with the MTA, five years to build. (A more direct proposal to extend the N train from Astoria to LaGuardia, championed by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, was scuttled by NIMBY opposition more than a decade ago.) Cuomo also proposed tax-free zones for businesses near Stewart and Republic airports in a bid to boost freight traffic there.

Meanwhile, the most significant new MTA proposal unveiled this morning involves building garages for park-and-ride commuters to Metro-North and LIRR stations at Ronkonkoma, Nassau Hub near Roosevelt Field, and Lighthouse Landing in Tarrytown. Tellingly, the images that flashed on screen as Cuomo spoke did not depict parking structures, but tree-lined streets with apartments and retail from transit-oriented development projects in Westchester County and Long Island. The state will subsidize the garages to the tune of $150 million, according to a press release, but it’s not clear if this will cover the total cost and, if not, whether the MTA will be on the hook for the rest.

The governor wants New Yorkers to think that this infrastructure construction will come at essentially no cost. “All the costs will be from existing state resources,” Cuomo said. He mentioned the $5 billion bank settlement windfall as a potential source of funding, but his staff couldn’t say after the event exactly how much of that kitty might go to transportation.

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