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Posts from the Andrew Cuomo Category

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If Cuomo’s MTA Raids Are No Big Deal, Why Won’t He Promise to Stop?

Andrew Cuomo has a credibility problem.

He wants the city of New York to pitch in more for the MTA capital program, but Bill de Blasio doesn’t trust him with the city’s money. Why should he, when Cuomo has a well-documented habit of diverting dedicated MTA funds to cover other state obligations.

De Blasio has been asking the governor to guarantee that the raids will stop as a condition for a greater city contribution to the capital program. As a ground rule for negotiation, it’s hard to argue with. If someone asked you for a few billion dollars, wouldn’t you want some assurances that it would be spent on the stuff you agreed to pay for — and not stuff like this?

Cuomo’s response yesterday was to mock the very notion that he’d raided the MTA. The annual $20 million diversion that the governor set up for every year from 2014 to 2031? Calling attention to that is “a joke,” Cuomo says.

Okay, then it still seems there’s an easy way to fix this impasse. All the governor has to do is promise not to divert MTA funds again. Just sign a piece of paper that says the state agrees not to siphon off any dedicated transit funds again.

If $20 million is so insignificant, what’s so hard about that?

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If Cuomo Wants City Funding for the MTA, He’ll Need to Compromise

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s months-long attempt to squeeze money out of City Hall for the MTA appears to be reaching its end game.

Cuomo and his people at the MTA — which, despite what the governor says, is a state entity under his control — have been asking Mayor de Blasio for ever-increasing amounts of money to fill the gap in its capital program. Earlier today, Cuomo went on WNYC to bash the mayor for not handing over the dough.

The governor says the city should pony up because it relies on the MTA more than any other jurisdiction. But the city has good reason not to hand over significant sums to a state-controlled agency, no strings attached. Transit riders will be better off if de Blasio negotiates a good deal with Cuomo instead of capitulating.

First, there’s the lockbox question. Cuomo has a history of siphoning funds out of the MTA to paper over gaps on the state budget. City Hall likes to note, for example, that Cuomo has raided $270 million from the MTA since taking office in 2011. That same year, the state legislature passed a lockbox bill that would sound an alarm whenever the governor attempts to sneak his hand into the MTA’s cookie jar, but Cuomo neutered the bill. The legislature tried again two years later. Cuomo vetoed the bill and denied he’d ever raided the MTA’s budget.

Now de Blasio seems to be seeking a lockbox-type guarantee as part of the deal. “I’m not comfortable with paying — you know, paying out of the New York City budget, New York City taxpayer money, only to see it taken out of the MTA and into the state budget. So, you know, there’s real discussions that have to be held about how to reform that situation,” de Blasio told Brian Lehrer on Friday. “We’ve got to see those issues resolved upfront.”

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Andrew Cuomo Could (Still) Save Thousands of Lives With One Phone Call

On Monday Andrew Cuomo hailed DMV rule changes that have resulted in license sanctions for recidivist drunk drivers. The governor, who spearheaded the reforms himself, could also use the power of his office to take driving privileges from motorists who habitually commit other deadly violations, like speeding, which kill and injure thousands of New Yorkers every year.

Governor Cuomo has the power to take driving privileges away from chronic reckless drivers, whether or not they drive drunk. Photo: Families for Safe Streets

Governor Cuomo has the power to take driving privileges away from chronic reckless drivers, whether or not they drive drunk. Photo: Families for Safe Streets

In 2012 Cuomo oversaw an update to DMV rules to target the worst drunk driving offenders. Now the DMV permanently revokes licenses from people who have five or more DWI convictions in a lifetime, or three or more DWI convictions in 25 years plus other offenses, such as a fatal crash or the accumulation of 20 or more license points.

As lenient as those standards are, they used to be worse. In the past, repeat drunk drivers whose licenses were suspended or revoked could regain driving privileges in weeks by completing an education program, and drivers with multiple DWI convictions did not permanently lose their licenses unless they were convicted for two DWI crashes resulting in injury.

A Cuomo press release said the reforms have taken more than 8,000 dangerous drivers off the roads in the three years since they took effect. “Impaired and irresponsible driving far too often results in needless tragedy and ramifications that can last a lifetime,” Cuomo said. “These tough regulations have taken chronically dangerous drivers off the roads and helped make this a safer state.”

The updated DMV rules are an improvement, but they don’t do enough to keep reckless drivers from harming people. Four DWI convictions doesn’t mean a person drove drunk four times. It means that person was caught, arrested, and convicted four times. By allowing repeat DWI offenders to keep driving, the DMV is playing Russian roulette with New Yorkers’ lives.

In addition, Cuomo’s DMV reforms don’t address behaviors that cause as many or more serious crashes than drunk driving. In 2013, alcohol contributed to 132 deadly collisions and 4,097 injury crashes in New York State, according to the DMV. By way of comparison, unsafe speed was determined to be a factor in 313 fatal crashes and 12,613 injury crashes, failure to yield in 165 fatal crashes and 21,355 injury crashes, and driver distraction in 127 fatal crashes and 25,098 injury crashes.

In New York City, alcohol was identified as a factor in 15 fatal and 996 injury crashes in 2013, speeding in 69 fatal crashes and 2,933 injury crashes, failure to yield in 52 fatal crashes and 6,369 injury crashes, and distracted driving in 49 fatal crashes and 10,270 injury crashes.

Though their actions harm many more people than drunk drivers, motorists who hurt and kill others while speeding or failing to yield are usually not penalized in any way, and investigators rarely subpoena cell phone records after a crash to determine whether a driver was distracted.

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Cuomo Signs Bill Allowing NYC to Expand Bus Lane Camera Program

Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill on Saturday that will speed up bus trips by expanding the number of bus lanes where the city can deploy camera enforcement. The law now enables New York City to use cameras to keep car drivers out of exclusive bus lanes on up to 16 routes, an increase from just six today.

34th Street before cameras were added. Video still: Robin Urban Smith/Streetfilms

34th Street before cameras were added. Video still: Robin Urban Smith/Streetfilms

Under the bill, which passed the Senate and the Assembly in June, the city can choose the 10 additional bus routes that will receive camera enforcement. That’s a change from the state legislation that first authorized bus lane cameras in 2010, which spelled out which routes could get cameras.

The city and the MTA have expanded Select Bus Service — the enhanced routes that usually include dedicated transit lanes — beyond the limitations of the previous bus lane camera legislation. As a result, bus lanes on Webster Avenue operate without camera enforcement. Absent this new legislation, planned bus lanes on Utica Avenue, Woodhaven Boulevard, and along the Q44 in Flushing and Jamaica would have also gone without cameras.

The new legislation allows the city to install cameras on non-SBS bus lanes, like on Fifth Avenue and Fulton Street, as well. It also enables the city to operate the cameras on weekends, but continues to limit camera enforcement to between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., when most bus lanes are in effect. The fine would stay at $115.

While the law is a very basic step to ensure the city’s bus lanes can operate as intended, there was some doubt as to whether Governor Cuomo would go along with a de Blasio administration legislative priority. In a statement, however, the governor enthusiastically endorsed the bus lane camera expansion.

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Don’t Believe Team Cuomo’s Spin on the MTA “Lockbox”

This is rich. When Mayor Bill de Blasio told the Daily News he’s wary of upping the city’s contribution to the MTA capital program because Governor Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly raided dedicated transit funds, MTA Chair Tom Prendergast said don’t worry, you can trust the governor:

“This is nothing more than rhetoric from a mayor who refuses to support mass transit. The state has stepped up and committed to fund $8.3 billion toward our capital program in a ‘lockbox’ that will only be used for capital expenses. There are no more excuses,” said MTA President Thomas Prendergast.

Don’t buy the spin. Prendergast’s boss, Andrew Cuomo, has refused to enact “lockbox” legislation that would require the state to disclose when it raids transit funds to cover other needs in the state budget. The governor remains free to divert revenue from the MTA without explaining the impact or even alerting the public.

The only way to seal off transit funding from Albany interference is through bonding. So maybe that’s what Prendergast means by “lockbox” — the Cuomo administration intends to borrow the $8.3 billion for the capital program, by issuing debt backed either by the state or by revenue from MTA fares. Fare-backed borrowing is the scenario that transit advocates most want to avoid, since it will create pressure for future fare hikes.

In either case, de Blasio’s objections are legit. The governor hasn’t explained where the $8.3 billion he’s promised for the MTA will come from. And if City Hall does contribute money to the capital program, there’s nothing to stop Cuomo from taking advantage by shuffling funds around and padding the state budget thanks to the city’s largesse.

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Governors Want Feds to Pay for Half of Hudson Tunnel; They’ll Split the Rest

Governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Andrew Cuomo of New York sent a letter to President Barack Obama today with an offer: If the federal government picks up half the tab of building a new $20 billion Hudson River rail tunnel, the two states will split the rest [PDF].

It’s a step forward in negotiations as the governors try to secure grants from the federal government, which so far has only offered low-interest loans for the project. Ultimately, the Republican-controlled Congress must sign off on any federal funds for the rail tunnel.

The governors are also asking for expedited planning and environmental approvals, similar to how the Obama administration fast-tracked the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement.

In the letter, Christie and Cuomo peg the total cost of a rail tunnel at $20 billion. Numbers thrown around by agencies and officials have ranged from $14 billion to $25 billion, depending on the source and whether it includes related projects, like adding additional tracks from the tunnel to Newark.

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Cuomo’s Brazen Politicization of the MTA

On Friday, MTA Chair Tom Prendergast used the occasion of a G train derailment to badger Bill de Blasio about upping the city’s contribution to the MTA capital program. His statement resembled the reaction from the TWU, beneficiaries of generous contract terms bestowed by Governor Andrew Cuomo last year. Prendergast delivered the same message on Sunday at the opening of the 7 train station on the far West Side.

It’s all part of Team Cuomo’s effort to dodge responsibility for the capital program. The governor has done his part by promising to fill most of the gap, the message goes, and now City Hall needs to step up.

The thing is, Cuomo has never explained exactly how he’ll close the gap, and any concrete proposal won’t be public until next year. You just have to trust him.

So why is it incumbent on de Blasio to commit funds to the MTA before Cuomo offers any specifics of his own? Who cares! The point is that in the meantime, while we’re waiting for details from the governor, Cuomo can use his surrogates at the MTA to bludgeon the mayor.

For anyone paying attention, the whole episode this weekend was just more proof that the MTA and Prendergast answer to Cuomo. (Note that the MTA chair never calls the governor to account. When Cuomo set up a recurring $30 million annual raid of the MTA operating budget, Prendergast said that was fine because the agency’s “needs are being met.”)

There’s nothing especially surprising about an appointee like Prendergast loyally serving the politician who selected him. But it’s jarring when the MTA chair is beholden to a governor with so little interest in improving the transit system and so much fervor for humiliating rivals.

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Will the Governor Who Never Rides the Bus Sign NYC’s Bus Lane Camera Bill?

Governor Andrew Cuomo definitely hasn’t taken an MTA bus “since he first assumed office in 2011,” Gothamist reported yesterday, and it’s probably been much longer than that. So will the governor who never rides the bus sign the bill to expand camera enforcement of New York City’s growing bus lane network?

Cuomo gets off a bus in Havana. Photo: Governor's Office/Flickr

Cuomo gets off a bus… in Havana. Photo: Governor’s Office/Flickr

“If Governor Cuomo actually rode the bus like the two million New Yorkers who do it daily, he’d see how much we need improved bus service,” Nick Sifuentes of the Riders Alliance told Gothamist.

Specifically, if Cuomo saw first-hand what the millions of daily NYC bus passengers put up with, he might warm to the bill to expand bus lane cameras, which has awaited his signature since it passed the legislature two months ago.

The bill would bring automated bus lane enforcement to 10 additional bus routes, on top of the six already approved by Albany. Keeping double-parked drivers and shortcut-seekers out of the red bus lanes will make trips faster for transit riders.

The performance boost is sorely needed, with bus ridership stagnating even as subway ridership has boomed.

After the legislature passed the bus lane enforcement bill in June, the Cuomo administration told Streetsblog that it is reviewing the bill. That position hasn’t changed.

Here’s a photo-op proposition for Team Cuomo: Have the governor sign the bill before hopping on an MTA bus — say, along Woodhaven Boulevard, where tens of thousands of daily riders stand to benefit from the new cameras.

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The Link Between Bridge Toll Dysfunction and Unsafe Streets

Did “toll shopping” figure in the death last week of cyclist Kevin Lopez in Long Island City?

Cuomo's intransigence on toll reform puts thousands of New Yorkers in drivers' cross-hairs. Photo: Families for Safe Streets

Cuomo’s intransigence on toll reform puts thousands of New Yorkers in drivers’ crosshairs. Photo: Families for Safe Streets

We don’t know for sure. But there’s a good chance it did, judging from a remark made by a passenger in the Mercedes that struck Lopez’s bicycle on Queens Plaza North near 29th Street around 2:15 p.m. on Tuesday, July 28, causing him to crash and die eight days later, in New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Hospital.

Lopez, age 20, was bicycling to his home in Long Island City from classes at nearby LaGuardia Community College, where he was studying business administration, according to the Daily News. Press reports have Lopez cycling west on Queens Plaza North rather than on the adjacent Queensboro Bridge Greenway, perhaps preparatory to crossing Queens Boulevard. The Mercedes driver was apparently also westbound on Queens Plaza North where it feeds into the Queensboro Bridge when he struck Lopez’s bicycle from behind.

Immediately after the collision, the passenger, Shann Mon, 39, told DNAinfo that he and the driver were “heading back to Harlem after picking up medicine at a pharmacy.” Who knows if that’s true, let alone which pharmacy in Queens or where in Harlem. But from many parts of western Queens to most locations in Harlem, the Triboro Bridge appears to offer a quicker drive than the Queensboro.

For example, from 36th Avenue and Crescent Street, around 10 blocks from the crash location, to Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and 129th Street, the QB route is longer by 1.9 miles and 5 minutes than the Triboro route, according to Google Maps queried for the same time and day of the week as the actual crash. The catch is that the Triboro route entails a $5.54 toll ($8.00 without E-ZPass), whereas the Queensboro is untolled. That free ride leads thousands of Queens-to-Manhattan drivers to divert each day to the QB from their “natural” path via the Triboro or the Queens Midtown Tunnel. Mon’s Mercedes-driving pal may have been one of them.

Toll shopping is as old as toll roads and bridges. But the incentive to detour to toll-free routes in the five boroughs has escalated as the MTA has raised tolls relentlessly on its bridges and tunnels — a process driven in part by the absence of tolls on most entrances to the Manhattan Central Business District.

Some gridlock-averse drivers opt for the relatively underutilized Brooklyn Battery and Queens Midtown Tunnels and the Triboro Bridge, but they are far outnumbered by toll-averse drivers. Chronic traffic congestion on the free East River bridges is the result.

The overflow traffic on the Queensboro, Williamsburg, Manhattan, and Brooklyn bridges isn’t confined to the spans. It spills onto the bridge approaches on either side of the East River — in Long Island City and East Midtown, in Downtown Brooklyn and Chinatown, in Williamsburg, Little Italy and the Lower East Side, snarling streets and putting pedestrians and bike riders in harm’s way.

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Cuomo and Christie Play Chicken With Trans-Hudson Train Commuters

It’s been almost five years since New Jersey Governor Chris Christie killed the ARC tunnel. Things haven’t improved since.

The existing two-track rail tunnel, already at capacity, has continued to shoulder growing ridership comprised mostly of NJ Transit commuters. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy added a dose of corrosive salt water to the century-old tunnels. Amtrak warns that one or both of the tubes must shut down in the next couple decades, forcing trains going both directions to share a single track. Commuters got a taste of this nightmare scenario just weeks ago when high-voltage power cables in the tunnel failed, cutting service to and from Penn Station.

Moving those commuters onto buses is unlikely. Like the rail tunnel, the Port Authority Bus Terminal is both falling apart and at capacity. Replacing and expanding that facility would cost up to $11 billion — a number the Port Authority is struggling to come to terms with.

Amtrak’s plan for a new tunnel, known as Gateway, has stalled without backing from Christie or his New York counterpart, Governor Andrew Cuomo. This morning, Senator Charles Schumer of New York pushed the governors to take the first of many necessary steps to getting the project built. Schumer wants a new partnership, which he’s dubbed the Gateway Development Corporation, to build the tunnel.

The partnership, comprised of Amtrak, the Port Authority, the MTA, and the two states, would be able to access a wide range of funding sources. “Amtrak can’t access federal mass transit funding. The Port Authority and regional transit agencies can’t access federal railroad dollars the way Amtrak can,” Schumer said, reported the Observer. “We’ll only get Gateway done by adding up several pieces of financing, with an eye toward getting the maximum amount possible from the federal government.”

Neither governor has yet agreed to the partnership. Last month, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx asked the governors to meet with him about the Gateway project, but the two executives want cash from the feds, not just loans, before they’ll commit to anything.

In fact, the governors — neither of whom hesitates to spend big on highways and airports — have tried to portray the rail tunnel between their two states as somehow not their problem.

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