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Posts from the Charles Schumer Category

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Gas Tax Hike Will Help New Jersey Pay for New Rail Tunnel

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To history’s list of epic negotiations, we may someday add the prospective deal to finance the Gateway Project between Newark’s and New York City’s Penn Stations. With two belligerent states, a disgraced Port Authority, and Amtrak and the federal government on the hook for Gateway’s $15 billion (and counting) expense, divvying up the cost will be contentious, to say the least. But the final equation will almost certainly include a rise in New Jersey’s stunningly low gasoline tax.

The recent history of cross-Hudson rail tunnels is tortuous and depressing, with few rewards for paying close attention. Informed observers agree, however, that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s main motive in cancelling the ARC rail tunnel in 2010 was mercenary: the state’s Transportation Trust Fund had run dry, and big bills for highway expansion were coming due. Scrapping ARC allowed Christie to divert $2.5 billion in Port Authority tunnel funds to road projects. Thumbing his nose at New York State and proving his anti-transit bona fides to fellow Republicans were bonuses.

Five years on, the ARC cancellation is blowing up in Christie’s face. No less a bigwig than New York Senator Chuck Schumer this week labeled it “one of the worst moves made by any political figure in the New York area for over 100 years.” The reason, of course, is the prospective “transportation Armageddon” (Schumer again) from losing 75 percent of cross-harbor passenger-rail capacity if just one of the two ancient Sandy-damaged rail tunnels ceases to function — as happened on multiple days last month, causing some rail commuters’ 15-mile trips to stretch out to three hours.

Schumer, of course, is a Democratic Party stalwart — he’s set to succeed Minority Leader Harry Reid as the Senate’s ranking Democrat next January. But in his third term he has attained avuncular status that transcends partisan divisions, at least in nuts-and-bolts issues like infrastructure. That helps explain why his proposal this week to create a new non-profit corporation to assemble the billions needed to build a new cross-harbor tunnel and oversee the project has attracted mostly glowing coverage. (It doesn’t hurt that Schumer’s statesmanship contrasts markedly with other politicians’ finger-pointing and buck-passing.)

Both personally and politically, Christie may be no more disposed to have New Jersey cough up funds for the Gateway project than he was five years ago for ARC. But he has far less room to maneuver. Of late, Christie has been ridiculed for GWB-gate, slammed for using the Port Authority as a political piggybank, and practically disavowed by his Republican Party. Now, the need for a new Hudson rail crossing, if only for redundancy so the existing tunnels can be rehabbed, has graduated from hypothetical to dire. With a reported 80 percent of rail tunnel passengers residing, and voting, in New Jersey, it’s unlikely that Christie will be able to blow off Gateway the way he blew off ARC.

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DOT Scores TIGER Grants for Vision Zero and Rockaways Transpo Study

City Hall and Senator Charles Schumer announced yesterday that NYC DOT had secured a $25 million federal grant for street safety and greenway projects in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. Notably, the press release announcing the funding hailed street design improvements as a “critical” component of the city’s Vision Zero safety agenda. In addition, a separate $1.4 million federal grant will fund a transportation study for the Rockaways.

A planted concrete median extension at Fourth Avenue and 45th Street will be funded in part by a federal TIGER grant. Rendering: NYC DOT [PDF]

The awards are from US DOT’s competitive TIGER program, which doesn’t always distribute funds to New York City. While the city nabbed two awards from the program this year and has received awards from the program in the past, all three of New York’s TIGER applications were rejected last year.

The $25 million grant comes on top of $21.2 million in federal highway safety funds distributed by the state earlier this year to similar projects. These grants can supplement dollars from the city’s vast capital budget, which also funds DOT’s bike and pedestrian programs.

The TIGER grant will help support a pedestrian safety redesign near the Metro-North station at Park Avenue and 125th Street in Harlem, where DOT is planning wider sidewalks and narrower car lanes on Park Avenue, as well as curb extensions at 124th, 125th and 126th Streets. It will also fund the capital construction of a road diet initially installed with paint and flexible posts on two sections of Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, from 8th to 18th Streets in Park Slope and from 33rd to 52nd Streets in Sunset Park. Extensions of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway will also get a boost from the grant, one near the Gowanus Canal and another in Bay Ridge, where wider sidewalks and a two-way protected bike path on Hamilton Avenue will connect to the existing greenway near Owl’s Head Park.

The TIGER grant will also support eight Safe Routes to School projects:

  • PS 154 Harriet Tubman School in Harlem will receive three curb extensions and six pedestrian islands
  • PS 54 in Woodhaven, Queens will receive four curb extensions and four pedestrian islands
  • PS 239 in Ridgewood, Queens will have a nearby complex intersection simplified and receive expanded pedestrian islands and sidewalks
  • PS 199 Maurice Fitzgerald School in Long Island City, Queens will receive five curb extensions and two pedestrian islands
  • PS 92 Harry T. Stewart in Corona, Queens will receive six curb extensions and four pedestrian islands
  • PS 13 Clement C. Moore in Flushing, Queens will receive seven curb extensions and one pedestrian island
  • Our Lady’s Catholic Academy in South Ozone Park, Queens will receive five curb extensions and three pedestrian islands
  • Our Lady’s Queen of Peace School in New Dorp, Staten Island will have a nearby complex intersection simplified and receive four curb extensions, a plaza, and improved traffic channelization.

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Caption Contest: Chuck Schumer Rides the Prospect Park West Bike Lane

Photo: @PSteely

Looks like protected bike infrastructure is growing on Chuck Schumer. High-powered backchannel NIMBY assault notwithstanding, New York’s senior senator apparently does enjoy riding the bike lane in his front yard, as you can see in this Sunday morning photo courtesy of fellow PPW resident Paul Steely White.

So, when will the rest of Streetsblog’s 2011 April Fools Day post come true?

Caption submissions welcome in the comments. Winner will be selected and posted tomorrow.

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Chuck Schumer on Niagara Falls Highway: “Tear Down This Road”

Plans for section of the Robert Moses Parkway in downtown Niagara Falls would turn the highway into a two-lane road and reconnect the waterfront with downtown. Image: Frank Report

Most members of Congress are excited to cut the ribbon for a new stretch of freeway, but it’s a smaller set indeed that will stand up for the removal of a highway, no matter how neighborhood-blighting. As of yesterday, count New York Senator Chuck Schumer among their number.

“Right now, the Robert Moses Parkway stands as a Berlin Wall, with the state park on one side and the city on the other,” Schumer said at a press conference yesterday. “Our message to the transportation secretary is clear: Tear down this road.”

The highway in question is a short stretch of the Robert Moses Parkway in downtown Niagara Falls (the name adds a certain historical sweetness to its removal). The highway, which sits on an elevated berm, would be replaced with a lower and slower two lane “park road” and bicycle and pedestrian facilities. Taking down one mile of highway, said Schumer’s office, would open up 40 acres of the waterfront.

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer announcing his support for tearing down a section of the Robert Moses Parkway, seen in the background. Image: Niagara Gazette

Schumer promised to secure $10 million in federal funds needed to complete the design work for the highway removal and urged Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to fast-track the project through federal review. “For years, this project that would help transform downtown Niagara Falls has been stuck in the mud. Enough is enough; we must tear down this road,” said Schumer in a press release. “Lowering the Parkway would connect downtown with the majestic views of the waterfront park, pumping new life into Niagara Falls. We absolutely have to get this done.”

The Congress for the New Urbanism, the leading advocates of highway teardowns nationally, celebrated Schumer’s support. “CNU’s John Norquist has long argued that freeways like the Robert Moses Parkway are monoliths from a disastrous planning era have no place in cities,” said CNU program director Caitlin Ghoshal. “But federal, state, and local governments are just now better understanding the financial and transportation implications that make teardowns a good decision for taxpayers.”

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Unlicensed Drivers of Private Cars a Far Bigger Threat Than Tour Bus Drivers

Last week’s tragic bus crash in the Bronx, which left 15 dead, has captured the attention of New York’s media and political elite. Since the crash took place nine days ago, the New York Times has published no fewer than seven articles updating its readers on every detail and development.

Peter and Lillian Sabados were killed by a driver who had racked up 29 license suspensions. The calls for stricter licensing procedures following their deaths were far less numerous than the calls for reforming the tour bus industry following last week's fatal casino bus crash in the Bronx.

Much of the attention has centered around whether Ophadell Williams, the bus’s driver, should have been licensed to operate the bus in the first place. Governor Andrew Cuomo took a break from high-stakes budget negotiations to order an investigation of Williams’ driving and criminal records and Senator Chuck Schumer has called for the state DMV to audit every driver’s license held by a tour bus driver. Said Schumer in a WNYC report, “Looking after a crash, or a spot check while the driver is behind the wheel, that’s good, but what would be better is preventing these people who shouldn’t be driving, from getting behind the wheel in the first place.”

Schumer’s focus on prevention must be cold comfort to the family of Peter and Lillian Sabados. The elderly couple were killed in a hit-and-run crash while walking to Thanksgiving Mass in 2009. Their killer, Allmir Lekperic, had amassed at least 29 license suspensions in the three years beforehand. Any attempt to prevent Lekperic from getting behind the wheel in the first place was clearly ineffective.

You’d never know it from watching the news this week, but there are far more Allmir Lekperics in the world than deadly bus drivers. Each year, around 375 people are killed in bus crashes nationwide, according to a 2009 report by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration [PDF]. The bulk of those deaths come from crashes involving school buses and transit buses; charter and tour buses were involved in only 396 out of 2,629 fatalities between 1999 and 2005, around 57 a year.

Compare that to the number of people killed in crashes with improperly licensed drivers. One in five fatal traffic crashes nationwide involves at least one driver without a valid license, according to research by the AAA Foundation [PDF]. Those crashes killed an average of 8,801 people each year.

Crashes involving unlicensed drivers, therefore, killed more than 154 times as many people as all crashes involving charter buses.

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WPIX Long Island Reporter Rob Hoell Eats Marcia Kramer’s Lunch

Here’s the piece about the Prospect Park West bike lane that ran on the Channel 11 News last night.

While it would have been great to see more of the data showing the success of the redesign, WPIX Long Island reporter Rob Hoell gets a lot of the good political details into the segment: The role of former DOT commissioner Iris Weinshall and involvement of Weinshall’s husband, Senator Chuck Schumer; the fact that Weinshall and Schumer live on the street that has been redesigned; the connections between Schumer and Jim Walden, the attorney at the white-shoe law firm Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher who is working “pro bono” on behalf of bike lane opponents.

It would have been a cinch to connect all these dots a week ago, before CBS2’s chief political correspondent, Marcia Kramer, filed her latest hatchet job on the PPW redesign. But not one shred of information about the political machinations behind this high-profile bike lane fight has ever made it into a Marcia Kramer segment. Why is that?

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Chuck Schumer’s Office Has No Comment on Prospect Park West

U.S. Senator and Prospect Park West resident Chuck Schumer. Photo: Noah Kazis

Streetsblog has contacted Senator Chuck Schumer’s press office twice asking for comment on the Prospect Park West bike lane and received no reply.

Reports have recently surfaced personally tying Schumer to efforts to reverse the Prospect Park West redesign, which enjoys broad popular support according to a web survey of nearly 3,000 Brooklynites.

Schumer’s wife, Iris Weinshall, is a former DOT commissioner and prominent ally of a group looking to remove the bike lane.

David Seifman at the Post reported earlier this month that Schumer has spoken to City Council members about his displeasure with the bike lane.

Jim Walden, an attorney with the high-powered law firm Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher, has given his services free of charge to bike lane opponents, who have been threatening to sue the city to remove the lane. Walden is a top Schumer contributor and was on the Senator’s shortlist for a U.S. Attorney nomination in 2009. The anti-bike lane group he’s representing pro bono is based out of 9 Prospect Park West, one of the most exclusive properties in Brooklyn and the same building where Schumer and Weinshall reside.

Schumer, however, has not taken any public position on the redesign and his office has remained silent on the issue.

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Have You Seen the Latest Marcia Kramer Segment on Prospect Park West?

Prospect Park West resident Chuck Schumer and CBS2 political correspondent Marcia Kramer. Photo: CityFile

Hey, have you seen Marcia Kramer’s latest segment about Prospect Park West? It’s at least her third piece on a single Brooklyn bike lane in the last year. You can tell she’s had some practice — take a look (sorry about the minivan ad you’ll have to sit through first):

If you only got your news from CBS2, after watching this piece you’d think the people who bike on PPW are against this new street design. You’d never know that most of the neighborhood wants the bike lane to stay. You’d be in the dark about the data collected that shows no discernible difference in travel times. You’d have no idea that injuries are down on Prospect Park West, and so is speeding.

But you would know that Brooklyn Borough President and noted defender of pedestrians and cyclists Marty Markowitz thinks the lane is “putting lives in jeopardy.”

Marcia Kramer is CBS2’s “chief political correspondent,” so maybe she’s just too busy with her other stories to find sources who know what they’re talking about when it comes to street safety. When she’s not waging campaigns of misinformation against pedestrian refuges, public plazas, bike lanes, and congestion pricing, she has state budget battles and congressional scandals to cover. She’s important and her resume shows it. She’s gone on junkets to Israel with Senator Chuck Schumer and she did one of the most memorable interviews from Bill Clinton’s days as a presidential candidate.

So here’s a hot tip for Marcia Kramer — the Prospect Park West bike lane is a great political story! You know the group mentioned at the end of the segment — the one that’s suing the city because they don’t like a popular and effective street redesign? They call themselves “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes,” but they actually just want to remove this bike lane. Interesting, no?

What really makes the story pop, though, is that this group has some first-rate political connections.

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What Happens When Senator Chuck Schumer Doesn’t Like the New Bike Lane?

United States Senator and Prospect Park West resident Chuck Schumer opposes the two-way, protected bike path in front of his home and has spoken privately with City Council members to discuss “what they’re going to do about [this and other] bike lanes,” the Post’s David Seifman reported this weekend.

U.S. Senator and Prospect Park West resident Chuck Schumer. Photo: Noah Kazis

The Seifman report is the first news account to provide details of the Senator’s involvement in efforts to eradicate the popular PPW redesign and have the street revert to its old form, with three traffic lanes, two parking lanes, zero bike lanes, and rampant speeding. Other members of Schumer’s family, including his wife Iris Weinshall, the former DOT commissioner, were already known to oppose the project.

The news about Schumer’s opposition came the same weekend that WNYC’s Andrea Bernstein reported that PPW opponents including Weinshall and former deputy mayor Norman Steisel have arranged for the white-shoe law firm Gibson Dunn to represent their interests. Randy Mastro, head of the firm’s litigation arm and a former deputy mayor under Rudolph Giuliani, referred the anti-bike lane group to attorney Jim Walden, who took it as a pro bono case. (Walden made the maximum contribution to Schumer’s re-election campaign in 2010.) A lawsuit is expected as soon as this week.

So what happens when a traffic-calming street redesign, which originated from community-based planning workshops and enjoys broad public support, encounters opposition from the most powerful politician in the state? Here’s a timeline of the highlights.

2006

Community groups including the Park Slope Civic Council and the Grand Army Plaza Coalition convene a series of public workshops to discuss traffic, street safety, and public space issues in Grand Army Plaza and the vicinity. The need to redesign Prospect Park West to reduce speeding and improve the neighborhood’s bikeability emerges as a high priority.

2007

In June, as part of its resolution approving the 9th Street bike lane, Brooklyn Community Board 6 asks DOT to study the implementation of a two-way protected bike lane on Prospect Park West.

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Inside the Rail Worker Disability Program That Never Says “No”

Independent auditors at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) have just released the results of their lengthy investigation of the Railroad Retirement Board, the federal agency that evaluates disability claims by commuter railroad workers -- and has historically approved more than 99 percent of them.

topics_lirr_395.jpgPhoto: NYT
The New York Times obtained an early copy of the GAO report and quoted the Retirement Board's general counsel as admitting that internal reforms had not succeeded in slowing the growth of disability applications and approvals by rail workers, specifically employees of MTA's Long Island Rail Road.

A Times investigation revealed that LIRR workers -- even white-collar managers who had little active role in running trains -- had won approval for approximately $250 million in taxpayer-funded disability payments since 2000.

In fact, the GAO found that LIRR employees have filed Retirement Board claims at a rate 12 times higher than the other seven railroads covered by the agency (a list is available after the jump). Meanwhile, LIRR riders are facing yet more fare increases amid a massive budget gap at New York's transit authority.

How could the Retirement Board get away with sending disability payments to rail workers who the Times found well enough to spend most days golfing? By setting the bar for claims much lower than the Social Security system, which administers disability requests for most American employees.

The Retirement Board requires rail workers claiming a disability to have 20 years of work experience at any age level or 10 years, for those who have already turned 60. Social Security, by contrast, requires 20 quarters of participation in the system during the 10 years prior to the claim.

Once that standard is met, the Retirement Board asks workers to prove that they are prevented from working in their regular railroad position due to a permanent mental or physical condition. Most LIRR claimants provided their medical evidence of disability from one of three doctors, which the GAO deemed "an indicator of fraud or abuse."

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