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Posts from the "Elliot “Lee” Sander" Category

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MTA Reaches Deal for Hudson Yards… Again

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A rendering of the Related Companies' proposal, courtesy of Curbed.

That was quick. Less than a week after its deal with Tishman Speyer came screeching to an unexpected halt, the MTA has lined up another developer for the Hudson Yards on Manhattan's far West Side. The deal with Related Companies and Goldman Sachs, slated for authorization by the MTA board on Thursday, will put $1 billion in the agency's coffers. Now, where to get the other $16.5 billion needed for the next capital plan?

The MTA's full statement comes after the jump.

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NYC’s First Bus Rapid Transit Line Debuts in the Bronx


L-R: Assembly Members José Rivera and Adriano Espaillat, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, MTA CEO Lee Sander and Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión at Fordham Plaza today

Mayor Michael Bloomberg this morning unveiled details of the city's first Bus Rapid Transit project, called "Select Bus Service," to debut on the Bx12 line, which follows 207th Street in Northern Manhattan and Fordham Road and Pelham Parkway in the Bronx.

Bloomberg and other officials also tied expansion of the program to the implementation of congestion pricing.

Connecting Inwood to Co-Op City, the Bx12 SBS corridor will allow riders to prepay the fare at vending machine stations along the line. Transit customers will get a receipt, to be displayed upon request to "enforcement personnel aboard buses," according to a media release. At first, vending stations will only accept MetroCards and cash as payment, though credit card functionality will eventually be added.

Speaking at Fordham Plaza and flanked by Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, MTA Executive Lee Sander, and electeds from the Bronx and Northern Manhattan, Bloomberg outlined key components of SBS service. In addition to prepayment of fares, the corridors will feature:

  • More buses (the Bx12 line will have 10 additional buses running during peak hours, Bloomberg said)
  • Additional service hours
  • Boarding at front and back doors
  • Fewer stops
  • Transit Signal Priority, a system that keeps signal lights green, and quickens the cycle of changing red signals back to green, to allow buses to move through intersections more smoothly
  • Terracotta colored bus lanes, with stepped up enforcement to keep cars out
  • Specially designed "branded" SBS buses, and branded stations with new shelters

The Bx12 SBS will replace the line's current limited-stop service on June 29. Bloomberg said the development of other corridors -- including First and Second Avenues in Manhattan, Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn, and Hyland Boulevard on Staten Island -- depend on getting congestion pricing through the City Council and state Legislature. This point was echoed by Sadik-Khan, who described SBS as "almost like a surface subway system."

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Silver Calls Hearing on Pricing and MTA Capital Plan

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver will hold a hearing Thursday on how congestion pricing revenues would figure into the MTA's five-year capital plan. He will be joined by anti-pricing Assembly Members Richard Brodsky and Denny Farrell.

The Sun reports:

The MTA's executive director, Elliot Sander, who will testify at the hearing, has said Mr. Bloomberg's plan to charge drivers $8 to enter Manhattan below 60th Street would generate $4.5 billion in revenue, which the MTA could borrow on in advance. Even with the use of congestion fee funds, the MTA budget has a $9 billion shortfall.

Mr. Silver said in a statement yesterday that he is concerned that the congestion plan would not be fully funded and that it is unclear whether the proceeds from the traffic tax would be devoted to capital projects alone or to routine maintenance and operations.

The congestion pricing plan would qualify for $354 million in federal aid if passed by Albany and the City Council by March 31. Mr. Silver has said he would not support it unless it includes rebates for low-income drivers.

According to the hearing announcement, the assembly members will "seek information on the specific details associated with the proposed projects contained in the plan as well as the funding of the plan. This hearing will also provide an opportunity for the Committees to examine the other components of the plan, such as how a congestion mitigation plan and its consequences are addressed."

The hearing will begin at 10:30 a.m. at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York Meeting Hall, 42 W. 44th St. (bet. Fifth & Sixth Aves., 2nd Floor, in Manhattan.

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Sander Makes the Case for MTA Capital Plan and Pricing

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A map presented by Lee Sander shows routes of short-term transit improvements (slide available in this PDF).

MTA chief Elliott "Lee" Sander delivered the first-ever "State of the MTA" address this morning, using the agency's 40th anniversary to urge the enactment of the full $29.5 billion, five-year capital plan unveiled last week. Speaking before a packed house at Cooper Union's Great Hall, Sander argued that the New York metro region needs every tier in the plan to serve a growing population, keep up with global competition, and address the challenge of climate change.

Sander linked the plan to the historical trajectory begun in the early 1980s, when the MTA rolled out successive five-year capital plans, reviving a decrepit system with a $70 billion overhaul. The capital plan now on the table, he said, would "turn the page to the next chapter in New York City's transit history" and create "a world-class, seamless transportation network."

Sander also reinforced the importance of congestion pricing to the MTA's plans, and placed major capital projects within the context of the city's sustainability initiatives. "Inherent in the capital plan and in congestion pricing is the belief that sustainability is critical to the region's future," he said. "Global warming and sea level rise are challenges no enlightened society can afford to ignore."

The presentation depicted three categories of improvements: 1) short-term service enhancements that can be implemented before congestion pricing, 2) major projects in the 2008-13 capital plan, and, looking ahead as far as 2048, 3) long-term system extensions for the five boroughs and surrounding counties that the current proposal would make possible.

The first category will consist of new bus routes in every borough and more frequent subway service on 11 lines. In the second category, big-ticket projects like the Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access -- linking the LIRR to Grand Central -- take center stage. The third category, which Sander called a "long-term vision and action plan for the next 25-40 years," includes ideas like using the Second Avenue Subway as a trunk line for service into Brooklyn and the Bronx, and building a "circumferential" subway line connecting Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx using existing rail rights-of-way (an idea first proposed by the Regional Plan Association). A detailed summary is available in the MTA press release, and City Room has posted a great recap.

Transportation advocates were largely positive, though not without reservation, in their assessments of the speech.

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Denny Farrell: Less Traffic and Pollution? No Thanks.

farrell.jpgJust two of the 17 members of the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission, Assemblymen Richard Brodsky and Herman "Denny" Farrell, voted against the revised congestion pricing plan that now awaits approval by the City Council and state legislators, all of which must happen by March 31 if the city is to receive $354 million in federal funds for upfront citywide transit improvements.

Brodsky's anti-pricing antics are well known to Streetsbloggers. Below is an excerpt from Farrell's February bulletin to his Northern Manhattan constituency, with emphasis added.

Read it and weep.

I would like to take a moment to explain my 'no' vote on congestion mitigation. Simply put, I saw this issue as a matter of fairness, where our community was being asked to shoulder the costs of this plan without receiving our fair share of the benefits.

While this idea of reduced traffic and a corresponding reduction in air pollution in our neighborhoods is appealing, the residents of New York City should not carry the burden for the entire metropolitan area while others use our bridges and tunnels without having to pay a fee. Unless there is some way drivers coming into Manhattan can be required to pay, these persons will continue to avoid paying their fair share, and this will do nothing to solve the pollution problems in our community which are caused by traffic on the George Washington Bridge.
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To Lubricate Street Life, Lower the Unlimited Fare

Yesterday around 10 a.m. I got on the number 3 subway line at Bergen Street in Brooklyn, where I easily found a seat. As usual, I noticed that there was space on the baby-blue benches all the way up to 96th Street, where I switched trains to go to Columbia University at 116th Street. Only the last few stops on the 1 train were crowded.

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This almost daily journey of mine up to Columbia, where I've been going a lot lately to research a book, was anecdotal confirmation of what any serious study would probably show you: the city's transit system, while packed at rush hour, has considerable capacity in the off-peak hours.

While I enjoyed my ease in finding a seat, for the city and for its citizens it would be better if the subway lines were more crowded during non-rush hours. The city's transit lines are one of its more expensive and valuable pieces of infrastructure. Having more riders means that the taxpayers, who, lest we forget, ultimately own the subway, are getting more value out of this publicly owned piece of infrastructure.

There's an easy way to do this and that's to substantially lower the cost of an Unlimited Ride MetroCard so that most residents buy them. This is a far more effective way of encouraging off-peak ridership than lower-cost single fares at off-peak hours, which has also been discussed.

Economists talk about the elasticity of purchases, meaning how price sensitive a purchase is. Commuting to work is very inelastic because most people have to get to work and they will pay what they have to to get there. Sure, in the long run they may move to a different neighborhood if commuting costs are too high, but they won't change habits much on a daily basis.

Not so with more optional trips. If you are thinking of stopping for a book on the way home, or trying out a new place for lunch, or even sunbathing in a park, then an extra $2 or even $1 will be a significant deterrent. This is a very elastic commodity. If you have an Unlimited Ride MetroCard, then the cost of an additional trip, once you have committed the "sunk cost," is zero. That's a good thing for citizens' quality of life, and a good thing for the economic health of the city.

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Queens Pricing Opponents Push a Fantasy Commuter Tax

Last week the Queens Civic Congress held an "MTA Capital Plan Forum," where members peddled their commuter tax revival plan to transit chief Elliot "Lee" Sander as an alternative to congestion pricing, which Sander says is vital to the future of his agency. bearaksander.jpg

 
To be fair, the QCC has promoted this idea for several years, long before pricing was introduced by the Bloomberg administration. Here's the QCC in 2005:

Re-instate the Commuter tax after and dedicate this money for transportation infrastructure. If the proposal includes sharing the proceeds with our suburbs, it should pass in Albany. Let the 'burbs keep what their residents pay; New York City will do well with wealthy out-of-staters who live across the Husdon, Connecticut and elsewhere. Double the former rate -- netting $450 million to start, and reaching $1 billion soon.

But it's easy to be cynical when the QCC suggests the city, or the MTA, abandon congestion pricing to get behind the commuter tax. Setting aside the fact that it would do nothing to reduce congestion or VMT and has no environmental or public health benefit, Albany has already rejected it, and did so almost on a whim. Current state legislators Richard Brodsky, Denny Farrell, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver were among those who voted to repeal the tax in 1999.

These guys are still in charge, and no one at the capitol is talking about a commuter tax. There's no reason to believe it would be voted back in. Not even Brodsky, who has elevated anti-pricing rhetoric to an art form, is suggesting a return to the commuter tax to alleviate congestion, preferring a carbon tax and license plate rationing instead.

Besides having no basis in reality, claiming "it should pass in Albany" is a weak nail on which to hang the future of public transportation in New York City. In that light, the QCC commuter tax push should be seen for what it is: another attempt to distract from a plan that would actually reduce traffic congestion while raising critical funds for transit.

Photo, of QCC President Corey Bearak and MTA Executive Lee Sander, by Bruno DeFranceschi via Queens Civic Congress

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Congestion Panel to Recommend Abbreviated Pricing Plan

Today's the day.

The Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission is expected to sign off on a condensed version of the Bloomberg administration's original pricing proposal today, one with a northern boundary of 60th Street (rather than 86th) and no charges for trips that begin within Manhattan's Central Business District. Higher parking rates and a taxi surcharge could also be included, but other details -- such as New Jersey drivers avoiding congestion fees through toll credits -- are likely to be left unresolved.

TCMC Chairman Marc Shaw met privately yesterday with Assembly Democrats, who reportedly expressed their opinion of the plan no uncertain terms.

Here are some choice bits from today's papers.

From the Times

"I would say that the idea of congestion pricing and the commission's proposals got hammered, and it was in a comprehensive way," said Rory I. Lancman, a Queens assemblyman who attended the meeting. "Every aspect of the proposals were hashed out, were analyzed and were found to be wanting."

Mr. Shaw has been making the rounds in Albany as he tries to drum up support for a traffic-busting plan in advance of the commission's vote.

"Marc stood there for three hours and took his beating like a man," Mr. Lancman said.

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Road Pricing and Public Transit: The “Virtuous Cycle”

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Pricing could un-block the box for buses, and then some.

In an op-ed published yesterday in Metro, MTA chief Lee Sander emphasized the connection between congestion pricing and improved subway and bus service, which polls continue to suggest is the key to securing public support. Sander's piece joins reports that officials are working on plans to create a transit "lock box" for pricing revenue.

Making his case, Sander brought to the surface an idea that's been percolating among policy experts for some time: the "virtuous cycle."

[Congestion pricing] would speed trips for bus riders and make each bus less expensive to operate. Right now, when MTA buses are stuck idling in traffic, we must spend money on excess fuel and overtime for drivers. By decongesting the streets not just in Manhattan but throughout the city, as commuters from all the boroughs leave their cars at home congestion pricing would make travel times for bus riders faster. That leads to a virtuous cycle. As traffic is reduced, buses become faster. Faster buses attract more riders out of their cars, which reduces traffic further.

Transportation Alternatives director Paul Steely White introduced this concept to New Yorkers last May on the DMI Blog, noting that pricing will improve bus commutes right away:

In removing many of the cars that block buses, and by making it easier to reprogram car lanes into bus lanes (such as the new bus lanes proposed for the Queensboro and Williamsburg bridges), the bus boosting benefits of congestion pricing will be felt immediately. What's more, speedier buses, as in London [pdf], will set off a "virtuous cycle" of less driving and more bus ridership leading to decreased bus operation costs per rider and in turn encouraging more service, lower fares, more bus riders and fewer drivers getting in their way.

The paper White linked to -- Kenneth Small's "Unnoticed Lessons from London: Road Pricing and Public Transit" (download it) -- provides a rigorous academic explanation of the virtuous cycle effect. In a piece of tantalizing extrapolation, Small projects the effect of congestion pricing on bus ridership in a typical American city:

Ridership goes up 31 percent and average user cost falls more than 100 percent of the initial fare. Fares can be reduced 26 percent, despite a 21 percent increase in service whose fares cover less than average cost; these reduced fares are possible because of higher bus occupancy (due to patronage rising faster than vehicle-miles) and lower driver costs (due to faster trips). 

Photo: joeaverage/Flickr

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MTA Cheered and Jeered, But Mostly Jeered

Reactions were mixed to yesterday's MTA fare hike approval. That is to say -- with the exception of the New York Post -- there was enough criticism to go around as to generally avoid repetition.

The Daily News, which has pounded the transit agency with its "Halt the Hike" series ("Even as the MTA is poised to stick straphangers with a fat fare hike, Chief Executive Lee Sander went shopping for a new necktie yesterday"), called the fare increase "the great train robbery of 2007," and characterized Sander and new Chairman H. Dale Hemmerdinger as puppets of Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Spitzer.

There was a time when MTA bosses were independent, standup people who represented the riders, even if only in losing battles with governors, Legislatures and mayors. Men like Dick Ravitch and Peter Kalikow come to mind.

At this point in their relatively young tenures, Hemmerdinger and Sander pale in comparison.

They are order takers, dictated to by Spitzer and Bloomberg, who have assumed full personal ownership of this fare hike.

New MetroCards should come bearing photographs of the governor and the mayor, like on wanted posters, including their records.

Also in the News, Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign, while critical of the hikes, says transit customers have reason for hope in the promises made by Spitzer and other pols, including Assembly Member Richard Brodsky, that more state aid is forthcoming. Russianoff also thinks further hikes will be politically infeasible for the next several years.

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