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Uptown Electeds Ask Cuomo to Dedicate State Funds to Safer Streets

State Senator Adriano Espaillat, Assembly Member Gabriela Rosa, and Council Members Mark Levine and Ydanis Rodriguez are calling for state funds to

State Senator Adriano Espaillat, Assembly Member Gabriela Rosa, and Council Members Mark Levine and Ydanis Rodriguez are calling for the state to create a dedicated fund for bicycle and pedestrian projects.

A group of uptown elected officials, including City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez, sent a letter today to Governor Andrew Cuomo asking him to include dedicated funds for bicycle and pedestrian projects in his executive budget [PDF]. The request echoes a call from street safety advocates and comes as the de Blasio administration must marshal resources to implement its Vision Zero agenda, set to be released in days.

Although the governor has already delivered his budget to the legislature, changes can still be made as the State Senate and Assembly produce their own legislation over the next couple months.

The letter is signed by Rodriguez, fellow Council Member Mark Levine, State Senator Adriano Espaillat, and Assembly Member Gabriela Rosa. The letter comes on the same day transportation advocates from across the state traveled to Albany to speak with legislators about bike-pedestrian issues.

“With disproportionally high rates of childhood asthma and pedestrian fatalities compared to the citywide average, Upper Manhattan residents are eager for a renewed focus on reducing traffic accidents and deaths, yet feel left behind,” the letter reads. “More affluent neighborhoods through New York City have already benefitted from these changes more substantively.”

By establishing a dedicated bike-pedestrian fund in the state budget and targeting those funds for neighborhoods that have yet to receive major improvements, the lawmakers say, the governor could have a real impact on street safety. ”We can no longer spend only pennies on the dollar,” the letter says, “while 27% of the fatalities resulting from car crashes are either pedestrians or bicyclists.”

In recent weeks, Cuomo has made a pair of announcements about bike-pedestrian funds even as the actual money available for these projects has fallen.

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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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Advos Call for Dedicated Fund After Cuomo Budget Again Omits Bike-Ped

Two and a half years after he signed the state’s complete streets bill into law, Governor Cuomo has again declined to write dedicated funds for pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure — and, therefore, pedestrian and cyclist safety — into the executive budget.

A coalition of over 50 advocacy groups and locals governments under the banner New Yorkers for Active Transportation asked Cuomo earlier this month to allocate $20 million in the next state budget to pedestrian and cycling projects, and to continue or exceed that commitment for the next five years. New York State has never had a dedicated line in the budget for bike-ped infrastructure, says Nadine Lemmon of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. In the years since the complete streets law took effect, TSTC found, the state is planning to spend $100 million less on pedestrian and cyclist safety than it spent in the four years prior to the law’s adoption. Cuomo’s recent allocation of $67 million in federal funds for walking and biking projects statewide does not commit any state funds.

“The complete streets law says, very clearly, they have to consider it,” says Lemmon, “but that doesn’t mean they have to build it.”

Lemmon says advocates want Cuomo to make up for the shortfall in federal dollars between MAP-21, the current federal transportation bill, and SAFETEA-LU, the previous authorization. And a bike-ped fund would have a recent precedent: A memorandum of understanding between the state legislature and the state DOT last year resulted in a reserve fund for upstate transit capital projects. “It established a policy,” says Lemmon. “We were essentially asking for the same thing.”

Another issue is the state DOT doesn’t track exactly what it spends on pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure. A TSTC analysis of the last Statewide Transportation Improvement Program found the state was spending a little over $400 million on bike-ped projects over four years, but there is no accurate accounting for road and bridge projects that include some bike-ped components. For example, Lemmon says, the Tappan Zee Bridge includes elements of pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure, but the public doesn’t know how the numbers break down.

“We know how many roads are being paved, we know how many bridges are being fixed,” says Lemmon. “We have no idea how many miles of new sidewalks are being installed.”

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Governor Cuomo Calls for Annual Transit Raids Until 2031

Transit advocates are sounding the alarm as Governor Cuomo again tries to quietly raid dedicated transit funds and back away from the state’s promises to the MTA so he can plug Albany’s budget holes.

Most years since 2009, the state has yanked funds from dedicated transit taxes to fund other parts of its budget. The pattern continues in this year’s budget, which includes a $40 million raid that pushes the state’s debt obligations onto straphangers. Worse still is that the accompanying financial plan projects a $20 million raid for several years afterward — all for MTA bonds that the state had previously agreed to pay from its general fund.

This is the first time advocates can recall a governor planning transit raids years in advance, not as a last-minute budget gap measure.

“The repayment of the bonds is a state responsibility,” said Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign. ”The bottom line is that the state’s not meeting its promise.”

The Cuomo administration says its actions don’t amount to a transit raid because the bonds in question support MTA infrastructure projects. The executive budget also includes an $85 million increase in operating assistance to the MTA over last year, so the MTA comes out $45 million ahead this year.

There are two problems with this argument. First, the governor is taking away revenue dedicated specifically to the MTA’s daily operations to pay off capital bonds that are the state’s responsibility. Second, the $85 million Cuomo is adding only applies to this year, but the financial plan calls for $20 million raids every year, which would total nearly $350 million before the bonds are paid off in 2031.

While the annual raids are not locked in place, given this year’s $40 million raid, they could escalate if the governor thinks the legislature will go along with it. “This has the nervous-making potential of continuing to spiral up,” Russianoff said, adding that he had never before seen a governor schedule transit raids in advance like this.

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New Yorkers Call on Cuomo to Back Complete Streets Law With State Funds

A coalition of advocacy groups and government representatives called on Governor Cuomo today to dedicate state funds toward improving infrastructure for walking and biking.

State Senator Tim Kennedy, of Buffalo, and TSTC's Nadine Lemmon. Photo: Rohan Parikh

State Senator Tim Kennedy, of Buffalo, and TSTC’s Nadine Lemmon. Photo: Rohan Parikh

New Yorkers for Active Transportation (NY4AT), which consists of over 50 organizations, delivered a bike loaded with 1,300 postcards to the capitol. The postcards ask Cuomo to allocate $20 million in the next state budget to pedestrian and cycling projects, and to continue or exceed that commitment for the next five years.

“While Governor Cuomo’s State of the State address tackled issues related to dangerous driving, including tougher new laws for DWI and driving while texting, stiffer penalties alone will not turn around the state’s troubling safety statistics,” reads a NY4AT press release.

When it urged Cuomo to invest in street safety in 2012, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign noted that statewide pedestrian and cyclist injuries and fatalities were on the rise. New York has a new complete streets law, signed by Cuomo in 2011, but NY4AT notes that the state “will be investing less money on pedestrian and bicycling safety over the next four years than before passage of the law.”

“AARP commends the Governor for signing the Complete Streets bill, but it won’t improve or maintain safety for pedestrians and bicyclists if New York doesn’t initially invest in safe passageways,” said New York AARP State Director Beth Finkel in the release. “Walkability is critical to keeping New Yorkers — and their money — here as they age.”

Older pedestrians represent 18.7 percent of the NYC region’s population, but they account for 33.3 percent of all pedestrian fatalities, according to a 2013 report from TSTC.

While today’s announcement had a decidedly upstate bent, NYC could benefit from the new funds, and not just for projects on certain streets. TSTC’s Nadine Lemmon told Streetsblog the funds should not be restricted to improvements on state roads.

“Funds could be used for trails, but also county or local roads if a community determines that those roads are in need of bike/pedestrian infrastructure improvements,” Lemmon said via email. “At the moment, there are no state dollars specifically dedicated to bike and pedestrian infrastructure.”

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Cuomo’s State of the State: More Highways, Less Dangerous Driving

If you were expecting Governor Cuomo’s transportation policy to match up with his socially progressive yet fiscally conservative reputation, he didn’t deliver during today’s State of the State address, which featured a ringing endorsement of a multi-billion dollar highway across rural areas near the Canadian border. While the governor’s focus on expensive highway projects, not transit, during the annual speech is by now a well-established pattern, today’s address did feature a few positive signs, including a continued push to increase penalties for drunk and distracted driving.

There is one significant transit project Cuomo did endorse: Penn Station Access, which would reroute New Haven Line Metro-North trains along the Amtrak route through the eastern Bronx, adding four new Metro-North stations in the borough. Although the MTA has been planning it for years, Cuomo’s inclusion of it in the State of the State bodes well for the project as the MTA gears up for its next five-year capital plan.

After the speech, Mayor Bill de Blasio welcomed Cuomo’s interest in expanding Metro-North service in the Bronx. ”I appreciated his focus on mass transit,” he said. “For people in the eastern Bronx, this was music to their ears.”

As in last year’s State of the State, Cuomo also emphasized the importance of stormproofing the city’s subway to reduce the threat of flooding during major storms.

But the really big-ticket surface transportation project in Cuomo’s speech was a rural road boondoggle. He announced a push for a new interstate highway linking Interstate 81 in Watertown to Interstate 87 in Champlain, near the Canadian border. ”The proposed Route 98 could reduce travel time and speed up commerce,” he said. “We’ve been talking about it for years. Let’s get DOT to undertake a study and see if we can make this project happen.”

What Cuomo didn’t mention is that state DOT has already issued reports over the past 12 years on the plan, which could cost billions of dollars to build a full-fledged expressway across one of the state’s least-populated rural areas. Last February, Cuomo endorsed the interstate concept, while saying the project was too expensive for the state.

The multi-billion North Country expressway plan is like a rural version of the governor’s other gigantic, wasteful road project, the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement, which received a few mentions from Cuomo today after taking center stage at last year’s State of the State. As with the expressway, Cuomo’s Tappan Zee message is mainly about showing voters that he can wield the state’s bureaucracy to build big projects. Good transportation policy has nothing to do with it.

Cuomo had some better ideas when it came to traffic enforcement, proposing stronger rules against texting teen drivers and repeat DWI offenders, building on previous efforts.

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Who, Me? Cuomo Vetoes Lockbox Bill, Denies Raiding Transit

Hours after the MTA announced that it would be scaling back planned fare hikes in part because of better-than-expected tax receipts, Governor Cuomo vetoed two transparency bills designed to discourage Albany from siphoning away those very same dedicated transit funds. The governor capped his veto with a brazen denial: Despite getting caught raiding the MTA’s budget earlier this year, Cuomo insisted that he’s done no such thing.

With the news that upcoming fare hikes won’t hurt so much, straphangers might wonder why Cuomo’s vetoes matter. After all, if things are looking better than expected, what’s the big deal?

To answer that question, let’s look at the recent history of transit raids. With New York state’s budget facing chronic shortfalls, Albany has diverted more than $260 million since 2009 from taxes that are supposed to be dedicated to funding transit, including multiple raids under Cuomo’s watch.

The result? The MTA had to cover the shortfall with fare hikes and service cuts.

One of the bills Cuomo vetoed yesterday would have required the MTA to produce a report detailing the impacts of those post-2008 service cuts, measuring whether the projected cost savings actually materialized, and coming up with a plan to restore the lost service.

That bill overwhelmingly passed both the Assembly and Senate, but in his veto message Cuomo said the MTA has already performed an internal analysis of service cuts in line with federal guidelines and has announced $18 million in service enhancements this year. (By comparison, the systemwide cuts enacted in 2010 saved the authority $93 million.)

Though Cuomo criticized the first bill as re-litigating the past, the second, known as the transit lockbox bill, is focused squarely on preventing similar robberies in the future.

Only a constitutional amendment can force the governor’s hand in budget decisions, so the lockbox bill was designed as a transparency measure instead. If transit funds are raided, it would have required a statement from the governor’s budget office laying out how much is being diverted from transit and how it will hurt transit riders. By requiring the disclosure of impacts, advocates hoped that it would make the governor and state legislators less likely to propose budget raids in the first place.

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Cuomo Administration in Absolutely No Rush to Provide Tappan Zee Transit

After the state dumped transit in its rush to build a new Tappan Zee Bridge, Governor Cuomo announced a transit task force and promised to open the new bridge’s emergency shoulders to buses. But connections for bus riders on either side of the bridge remain a mystery, and the state continues to throw out overblown numbers as its task force is set to relegate land-side bus lanes to a study after the bridge opens in 2018.

Governor Cuomo made it an urgent priority to get shovels in the ground for the new, double-span Tappan Zee Bridge, but he’s shown no urgency to provide good transit options for the Hudson Valley. Photo: Angel Franco/Newsday

The state had previously pegged the cost of bus rapid transit at a lofty $5 billion, ignoring less expensive options and even factoring in unrelated car lanes to inflate the cost of BRT. But why stop at $5 billion? After a panel discussion at an American Planning Association conference on Friday, state DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald tossed around BRT cost estimates three to four times higher. “It shouldn’t be understated that coming up with 15 to 20 billion dollars to build those systems is a huge challenge,” she said. “It depends on how you define BRT.”

Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool challenged McDonald’s math. Tri-State has championed lower-cost solutions like bus lanes on I-287 and local streets, which both counties are interested in pursuing.

But even modest bus lanes on surface streets aren’t likely to get much attention from the state anytime soon. Vanterpool said the final report being prepared for the project’s transit task force will likely be released early next year and will recommend delaying a study of dedicated bus lanes until after the bridge opens in 2018. In the immediate future, the task force will focus on road efficiencies not specifically related to transit, like ramp meters, she said.

McDonald refused to discuss the task force recommendations. ”We’re in the final stages of our deliberations,” she said. “When the task force finalizes its deliberations, we’ll all be happy to discuss it.”

In the end, the future of transit in the region boils down to Andrew Cuomo. ”We’ve seen a commitment to building a bridge, but we’ve not yet seen a commitment to seeing that transit will be built in this corridor,” Vanterpool said. Tri-State is calling on the governor to commit to a timetable for implementing transit improvements and to appoint a second task force to oversee transit progress after the current group releases its recommendations.

On Friday, Tri-State is hosting a forum featuring BRT projects and experts from Cleveland, Connecticut, and elsewhere around the country. ”We want to show how it has been done in other states,” Vanterpool said.  ”It’s important to show the possibilities and when there’s vision and determination and commitment to a goal,” Vanterpool said. “We’ve not yet seen that with this project.”

There’s also the question of how the new bridge will be paid for. With a federal TIFIA loan all but certain, the governor is set to announce a toll and finance task force before the end of the year, according to Thruway Authority executive director Thomas J. Madison.

In its loan application, the Thruway Authority said the cost of the bridge could rise to $4.8 billion, significantly higher than the rosy recent estimates of $3.9 billion. The pricetag for the double-span, extra-wide bridge has raised alarm about the possibility that the project will need subsidies from the state budget — perhaps draining revenue from New York City transit. The state has recently been walking a fine line, trying to reassure drivers that the rest of the Thruway system won’t subsidize the Tappan Zee, and that Tappan Zee tolls won’t rise in the immediate future.

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As Deadline Approaches, Will Cuomo Sign or Veto Transit Lockbox Bill?

This afternoon, a coalition of more than 200 groups sent a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo [PDF] asking him to sign the transit lockbox bill, which would help safeguard dedicated transit funds by requiring the state to disclose the impact of any raids on transit agency budgets. The pressure is on: The governor has until the middle of next week to sign or veto the legislation.

Time is running out for Andrew Cuomo to stand for transparency and against transit raids. Photo: saebaryo/Flickr

The clock is ticking because although the bill unanimously passed both the Senate and Assembly in June, it was only officially called up to Cuomo’s desk on Friday, starting a review period that gives the governor until next Wednesday to make a decision.

In 2011, a similar bill that covered only the MTA passed the legislature but was gutted at the governor’s request during a special session late in the year. Advocates are hopeful that the new bill, which covers all transit agencies statewide, will benefit from a renewed public focus on transit investment after Hurricane Sandy — as well as broad support in both the legislature and among transit, business, labor, environmental, social justice, and good government organizations.

“We expect either a veto or a signature,” Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s Nadine Lemmon said. ”As far as I know, he only has those two options.”

While only a constitutional amendment can expressly prohibit budget raids, the lockbox bill would add a measure of transparency so that the governor and legislature would have to say exactly what will happen to transit service as a result of their budget maneuvers. With the full costs known up front, advocates hope transit raids would become less common.

“I’ve had legislators say to me, ‘If I knew this bus line was going to be cut, I would’ve never voted for it,’” Lemmon said. “It’s like voting for stuff with a blindfold on.”

Lemmon credited labor groups for building strong support for the lockbox bill in the legislature and the New York City Council, and hoped that the business effects would get the governor’s attention. The coalition today specifically cited Kawasaki, Bombardier, Alstom, and Nova Bus manufacturing operations in New York state, which depend in large part on orders from transit agencies across the state.

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Pressure Builds Upstate for Cuomo to Sign Transit Lockbox Bill

The transit lockbox bill, which would help safeguard dedicated transportation funds by requiring the state to disclose the impact of transit raids, still awaits a signature from Governor Cuomo following unanimous Senate and Assembly votes earlier this year. Now, two upstate newspapers are calling on the governor to sign the bill.

Upstate editorial boards are turning up the heat on Governor Cuomo, asking him to sign the transit lockbox bill. Photo: Gov. Cuomo/Flickr

A previous version of the bill applied only to the MTA, and not the state’s other transit agencies. It passed in 2011 only to be gutted by Cuomo, who removed the requirement that the state disclose when it diverts dedicated transit funds. The governor went on to raid $20 million from the MTA’s budget this year, adding to the hundreds of millions of dollars Albany has already stolen from straphangers.

This year’s bill, which applies to each of the state’s more than 130 transit agencies, passed both chambers unanimously during the final weeks of the legislative session in June,. “We were thrilled that this bill went forward,” said Nadine Lemmon of Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “Senator [Marty] Golden and Assembly Member [James] Brennan pulled it out at the end.”

The governor has three choices: He can veto the bill, sign it, or do nothing and allow it to become law at the end of the year. Lemmon urged Cuomo to sign the bill. “He might as well take credit for this,” she said. “There’s certainly huge support for it.”

That support isn’t limited to New York City. “Usually you see a divide between downstate and upstate,” Lemmon said. “But I think legislators’ attitudes are changing a little bit. Clearly it’s a bill that benefits everyone.”

The Buffalo News agrees. “While we’re normally not in favor of adding to the red tape imposed by the state, in this case a dose of transparency will be a good thing,” its editorial board wrote, adding that while only a constitutional amendment could prohibit the governor from diverting funds, the lockbox bill “will help ensure that the money reaches its intended beneficiaries.”

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