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Andrew Cuomo, City Builder

The removal of I-81 in Syracuse could be the defining project of Andrew Cuomo’s city-building legacy. Photo: Onondaga Citizens League

The headline is no joke. In his sixth year governing the state of New York, Andrew Cuomo is on a bit of a roll when it comes to urban planning and city-based economic development. Cuomo and his administration have announced or budgeted for multiple projects over the past few months that promise to heal urban neighborhoods by repairing the damage inflicted by mid-century highways.

Last Wednesday, Cuomo said his administration will study capping a three-quarter-mile segment of the Kensington Expressway, which obliterated the Olmsted-designed Humboldt Parkway in the 1950s, traumatizing Buffalo’s historic East Side.

Cuomo told the Buffalo News editorial board that paying for the full project, estimated to cost upwards of $500 million, is feasible. “It was originally the Humboldt Parkway, it was beautiful, and it was part of the Olmsted design,” he said to an appreciative crowd at the Buffalo Museum of Science, the paper reported. “In the mid-’50s, we had a better idea and it turned out not to be a better idea, which was to move vehicles in and out of Buffalo faster by building a highway. This was not just in Buffalo; this was all over the United States. Most places have reversed their mistakes, and that’s what we are going to be doing here.”

At the same event, Cuomo reiterated his administration’s support for converting Buffalo’s Scajaquada Expressway, a 3.6-mile 1960s-era highway segment that cuts across city neighborhoods and parks, into a surface street where people can safely walk and bike. (Last year, a driver careened off the road and into Delaware Park, killing a 3-year-old boy and critically injuring his 5-year-old sister.) In both cases, the state is responding to grassroots campaigns to undo the devastation of urban highways.

Earlier this week, the final state budget included $97 million for transforming the South Bronx’s Moses-era Sheridan Expressway into a surface boulevard, creating better walking and biking connections to the Bronx River waterfront and opening up land for mixed-use development.

And last month, Cuomo announced that two miles of the Robert Moses Parkway in Niagara Falls will be removed to improve access to the waterfront.

Read more…

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Cuomo’s MTA Debt Bomb: How the Pieces Fit Together

NY1’s Zack Fink reports that last week’s Albany budget deal raised the MTA’s debt ceiling to $55 billion (about one-third higher than the previous cap of $41 billion). That’s $14 billion more in potential borrowing that, in all likelihood, straphangers will pay off in the form of higher fares.

The increase in the debt ceiling wasn’t a surprise, since it was included in Andrew Cuomo’s draft budget, but it’s worth taking a quick look at how this fits with the governor’s broader strategy of saddling MTA riders with the burden of paying for the authority’s capital program.

Recall Cuomo’s original bait-and-switch. In October, he agreed to cover $8.3 billion of the MTA’s $26 billion, five-year capital program from “state sources.” Then a few months later he released a budget proposal with no additional state funds for transit, just a notional commitment to pay for the capital program once the MTA’s own resources “have been exhausted.”

With the increase in the MTA’s debt limit, the authority now has $14 billion in new borrowing capacity to exhaust. The point at which the state would have to commit its own resources has been pushed farther into the future. Cuomo will probably be out of office by then. Not his problem.

But for the people who ride MTA trains and buses, especially people whose budgets are stretched tight already, paying off that debt will be a serious problem.

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TSTC: Cuomo and State DOT Need to Get Serious About Pedestrian Safety

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At the top of the list of roads in the tri-state region with the highest number of pedestrian deaths are routes like Jericho Turnpike and Sunrise Highway controlled by the state DOT. Table: TSTC

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign is calling on Governor Cuomo and New York State DOT to increase funding for much-needed safety improvements on the state’s most dangerous streets.

Tri-State’s 2016 “Most Dangerous Roads for Walking” report, released this morning, summarizes the state of pedestrian safety in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut and identifies the streets where the most pedestrians were killed from 2012 to 2014. In those three years, motorists struck and killed 12 pedestrians on both Jericho Turnpike in Suffolk County and Hempstead Turnpike in Nassau, the highest toll in the state.

Those wide suburban roads are followed closely by wide NYC streets. Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn and Queens Boulevard in Queens both saw 11 fatalities in the same three-year period. In the Bronx, motorists struck and killed 10 pedestrians on the Grand Concourse.

Tri-State commends the de Blasio administration’s Vision Zero campaign while calling for City Hall to commit more resources to it. Both Queens Boulevard and the Grand Concourse are in line for design changes, and many of the other streets cited in the report were identified as high priorities for safety improvements in DOT’s Vision Zero pedestrian safety action plans.

The report is based on federal data that don’t extend past 2014, so it doesn’t capture the decline in traffic deaths last year. “Vision Zero was implemented in 2014 and since then we’ve seen the reduction in NYC’s speed limit to 25 mph, the installation of speed cameras, and the Right-of-Way legislation, so in future analyses we expect to see further decreases in pedestrian fatalities,” Tri-State’s Joseph Cutrufo said in an email.

Here are the streets in each borough with the highest number of pedestrian deaths from 2012 to 2014:

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The 30-Second Silent Video That Every MTA Rider Should See

The next time you hear a friend talking about the time their train stayed still for 30 minutes because of signal problems, or the time they waited 45 minutes for a bus then watched four buses pull up simultaneously, or the time they almost got pushed onto the tracks because the platform was so crowded, point them to this video from the Riders Alliance. It’s 30 seconds of truth about Andrew Cuomo.

What the clip lacks in decibels it makes up for in directness. We have a governor who thinks a press conference about wi-fi on buses can substitute for a transit system that meets the demands of a city of 8.5 million residents and growing. Spread the word!

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Transit Riders: The MTA Can’t Run on Cuomo’s IOUs

Riders Alliance organizer Masha Burina speaking outside the Bowling Green subway station this morning. Photo: David Meyer

Straphangers can’t pay the MTA with an IOU, so why should Governor Andrew Cuomo get away with it?

That’s the message Riders Alliance members brought to the MTA board meeting this morning. After trying and failing to swipe into the Bowling Green subway station with a giant “IOU” Metrocard, the group proceeded to MTA headquarters.

In October, Cuomo committed to contribute $7.3 billion to the MTA’s five-year capital program on top of $1 billion provided in last year’s budget. This year’s budget, however, includes zero dollars for the capital plan (but somehow musters $3.4 billion for roads). Instead, Cuomo’s proposal makes a vague gesture to provide that money sometime in the future — once the MTA has exhausted all other funding sources.

“The machine wouldn’t take it, the agent wouldn’t take, and the turnstile wouldn’t take it,” Riders Alliance member Macartney Morris told the board. “If I can’t use an IOU, Governor Cuomo shouldn’t either.”

Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers’ Campaign called Cuomo’s funding scheme “magical” and questioned the sincerity of the governor’s commitment. “It’s like in one of those fairy tales, you know, ‘I’ll give you the money, but first go pick up a clover, and then some blonde hair, and then magic potion,’” he said. “Only for you, the MTA, it’s, ‘First go out and spend $100 million, and then buy a big building — two big buildings, three big buildings — sell them, then go charge your customers $6 billion.’ This is not a good IOU for you or the public.”

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Cuomo’s Capital Budget: $3,400,000,000 for Roads, $0 for MTA

Here’s something NYC representatives should be screaming about in Albany: Governor Cuomo’s budget allocates more than $3 billion to roads and bridges but nothing to the MTA’s capital program, according to an analysis released today by the Riders Alliance. The discrepancy amounts to a gigantic transfer of resources from the New York City region to the statewide road program.

When Cuomo announced a few months ago that the state would commit $8.3 billion to the MTA’s five-year capital program, upstate representatives started howling about “parity” between funding for roads and bridges and funding for NYC transit. They saw the MTA getting a slice of state funds, and they wanted a cut for their districts.

But once the governor revealed his executive budget, the disparity actually ran in the other direction: Billions in direct subsidies were slated for roads and bridges, and no state money had been set aside for the MTA this year.

There’s no public policy rationale for transportation funding “parity” — just a political tradition of divvying up state resources in a manner that can garner a majority of votes in the state legislature. Viewing Cuomo’s budget proposal in that light, why should New York City’s assembly members and state senators vote for a spending plan that blatantly swindles their constituents?

Over the full five-year capital plan for roads and bridges, Cuomo is planning for $11.9 billion in direct state funding for the Department of Transportation, plus $2 billion in subsidies for the Thruway Authority, according to the Riders Alliance. By contrast, Cuomo has only spent $1 billion on the MTA’s five-year capital program. While the governor promised $7.3 billion in additional support, his budget delays that contribution indefinitely, essentially letting Cuomo avoid funding the MTA for as long as he remains in office.

And while the NYC region pays for a sizable share of the MTA capital plan — $11 billion — out of its own collective pocket through fares, tolls, and dedicated regional taxes, none of the state DOT’s capital funds come from local, dedicated revenue streams, the Riders Alliance reports. If the state continues to leave the MTA capital plan unfunded, subway and bus riders will end up shouldering more of the burden through higher fares.

This current budget proposal shows the huge imbalance created by Cuomo’s big dodge on MTA funding. Unless Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and NYC’s representatives change the governor’s budget, roads will get $3.4 billion in direct state subsidies plus $200 million in bank settlement funds, and New York City transit will get zilch.

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NYS Assembly Wants $20M for Safe Streets — Will Cuomo and Senate Agree?

In its one-house budget, the State Assembly is proposing to dedicate $20 million to safe streets projects statewide. It would be the first time New York has set aside dedicated funding for the state’s Complete Streets program, but so far neither Governor Cuomo nor the State Senate have included any such funding in their respective budget proposals.

New York State hasn’t guaranteed a dime for biking and walking projects since Governor Cuomo signed the Complete Streets law five years ago. Photo: Pat Arnow/Flickr

New York State hasn’t guaranteed a dime for biking and walking projects since Governor Cuomo signed the Complete Streets law five years ago. Photo: Pat Arnow/Flickr

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign reports that, since Cuomo signed a Complete Streets bill into law five years agoNew York hasn’t guaranteed any funding for walking and biking projects, while the federal pot for such projects has dwindled.

The law requires state and local transportation projects that fall under the jurisdiction of the state DOT and get federal and state funding to take walking and biking into account when appropriate.

Though $20 million doesn’t seem like much, Tri-State notes that it would almost double the $26 million in complete streets funding New York State is supposed to get from the feds annually under the FAST Act.

Given that people who walk and bike account for one in four traffic deaths in New York — the worst ratio of any state in the country, according to the Alliance for Biking & Walking — it’s vital that Albany help safe streets projects come to fruition.

“This is the first time a state budget bill has ever dedicated any state money to pedestrian and bike projects, so we consider this a big step forward,” Tri-State’s Nadine Lemmon told Streetsblog via email. “TSTC works in local communities across the state, and we often hear from mayors and leaders, ‘Why bother? There is no money to do what we want to do.’ If we can let them know New York State has stepped up, it will be a shot in the arm for local activists.”

Tri-State is asking New Yorkers to contact their State Senate reps and urge them to include $20 million in the Senate budget for Complete Streets.

It wouldn’t hurt to remind Cuomo that the safety of New Yorkers who aren’t driving motor vehicles matters too.

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Independent Watchdogs on Cuomo’s MTA Budget: Show Us the Money

Add the Independent Budget Office to the transit advocates and New York City electeds who aren’t buying Governor Andrew Cuomo’s claim that the state has met its commitment to fund the MTA. The IBO sums up the reasons not to take Cuomo at his word in a short brief released this week.

In October, Cuomo agreed that the state would contribute $8.3 billion to the MTA’s five-year capital program. Last year’s state budget accounted for $1 billion of that, but when Cuomo released his executive budget in January, it included no additional state funds for the capital program. Cuomo is still short $7.3 billion.

“Basically, it signals an alarm that funding for the system is precarious and uncertain,” Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool said at a press conference in January. “It pushes the state’s pledge potentially into another administration.”

The IBO’s brief is wonky but short, and totally worth a read if you want to see the workings of MTA capital funding laid out in detail.

In theory, Cuomo’s budget obliges the state to follow through on its financial commitment, but here’s why that commitment remains very shaky, in bullet point form:

  • Cuomo’s budget kicks the can down the road by requiring the MTA to exhaust all other funding sources, include loans, before it receives state money. This could take several years.
  • The bill doesn’t require the state to make good on its funding commitment until FY 2025-2026 or “by the completion of the capital program,” which could be even later. (That’s because, while every five years the capital program lists projects to receive funding, the process of constructing those projects often takes much longer.)
  • Because the state and city agreed to make their MTA contributions on “the same schedule on a proportionate basis,” and the city is waiting on firm funding from the state, the city’s share ($2.5 billion) isn’t going to materialize as long as the state keeps delaying.

So Cuomo can say he’s solved the MTA funding problem, while in fact all he’s done is tee it up to become someone else’s problem in several years, when he’s no longer governor.

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36 Assembly Members to Cuomo: Stop Playing Games and Fund the MTA

Andrew Cuomo wants New Yorkers to think he’s taken care of the multi-billion dollar funding shortfall for the MTA capital program, even though his new budget allocates no new funds for the MTA. Well, 36 members of the Assembly aren’t buying it.

In a letter to Cuomo, Brooklyn Assembly Member Jim Brennan called on the governor to commit $1.825 billion annually over the next four years to the MTA. This would cover the $7.3 billion gap that remains in the capital program, the five-year package of critical maintenance projects and upgrades for the region’s transit system. Another 35 members of the Assembly have signed on to the letter.

In October, Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio reached an agreement in which the city would contribute $2.5 billion and the state $8.3 billion to the capital plan. The state had already allocated $1 billion of its share in previous budgets, but Cuomo’s proposed FY 2017 budget does not allocate any additional funding. Instead, it says the state will follow-through on its commitment to the capital plan only when the MTA has exhausted all other sources of funding, including loans.

Transit advocates and budget watchdogs pointed out that Cuomo was not making a real commitment, and that his stalling tactics could lead to excessive borrowing or a slowdown of necessary work on the capital program.

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On Transit Funding, Emperor Cuomo Has No Clothes

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget includes no new funds for the MTA capital program — a brazen departure from the funding pledge Cuomo made just a few months ago. Transit advocates laid out the broken promises at a press conference in Brooklyn this morning.

Back in October, Cuomo reached an agreement with Mayor de Blasio that the state would contribute $8.3 billion to the MTA’s five-year, $26 billion capital program if the city chipped in $2.5 billion. Cuomo didn’t reveal how the state would meet its obligation, however.

Then earlier this month, Cuomo announced his 2016 transportation agenda at the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn, committing to “thinking bigger and better and building the 21st century transit system New Yorkers deserve.” Was that the prelude to a big reveal with specifics on the governor’s plan to pay for transit?

Transit advocates say the governor's proposed budget breaks his promise to fund the MTA capital plan. Photo: David Meyer

Transit advocates held Governor Cuomo to his October pledge to fill the gap in the MTA capital plan, funding that’s nowhere to be found in his executive budget. Photo: David Meyer

Nope. The budget Cuomo put forward later that week includes no additional funding for the capital program. The state had previously provided $1 billion to the MTA, leaving a hole of $7.3 billion unaccounted for.

Instead of spelling out where that money will come from, Cuomo’s budget delays any allocations until after the MTA has exhausted other means of paying for the capital program. In vague, non-binding language, the document says the state doesn’t have to meet its obligation until 2026, which would enable Cuomo to kick the can until he’s out of office.

Speaking outside the museum this morning,Veronica Vanterpool of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Gene Russianoff of the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, and Riders Alliance Executive Director John Raskin said Cuomo’s transit commitment was not really a commitment at all.

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