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Posts from the "Sandy" Category

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Bloomberg’s Resiliency Plan Calls for Permanent Bus, Ferry Expansion

Yesterday afternoon, Mayor Bloomberg unveiled a resiliency plan to better prepare New York for flooding due to climate change and severe storms. The report’s team, put together in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and led by Economic Development Corporation President Seth Pinsky, used the administration’s PlaNYC 2030 sustainability plan as the foundation for a sweeping set of resiliency-specific recommendations, covering everything from temporary bikeways to new landfill development on the East River.

Bloomberg's resiliency plan includes flashy real estate development projects and calls for the expansion of the city's bus and ferry network. Image: NYC.gov

The heart of the mayor’s plan would build levees and barriers at targeted locations, including the Rockaways, Staten Island, Coney Island, and Newtown Creek, to protect vulnerable areas from flooding. These barriers could offer opportunities for permanent esplanades and greenways for these neighborhoods.

While the levees only tangentially involve transportation, most of the plan’s transportation-specific initiatives didn’t receive marquee treatment in the mayor’s speech and are instead buried in the report. If implemented, however, they could be major components of both the city’s storm response and its permanent infrastructure.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, many New Yorkers took to bicycling and walking as the only reliable means of transit, but improved pedestrian and bike access was not part of the city’s response plan. The mayor’s new report recommends that DOT and NYPD be ready to deploy “temporary pedestrian and bicycle capacity” in the event of an emergency, including dedicated lanes leading to ferry terminals and the East River bridges, as well as on the bridges themselves, by the end of 2014.

After Hurricane Sandy, the city and state implemented temporary bus service while subways below 34th Street were without power. The plan calls on DOT to coordinate with the MTA and other agencies on the implementation of similar “bus bridges” or ferry links in case of emergency, as well as to investigate greater access for city residents to Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road, with the possibility of “cross-honoring” tickets in case of service disruption.

Like the bus connections, HOV-3 restrictions for vehicles entering the Manhattan central business district came after a day of crippling gridlock when many drivers drove to work alone. The report calls for a plan by the end of 2013 so the DOT, NYPD, and the Office of Emergency Management know when to implement HOV-3 restrictions in case of emergency and are able to quickly set up HOV-3 enforcement. (A bill from Council Members Deborah Rose and James Vacca is being introduced to the Public Safety committee today to require OEM to develop a broader emergency traffic management plan.)

In addition to temporary interventions during an emergency, the plan also has recommendations that would affect how New Yorkers travel on non-emergency days, most notably by devoting more road and highway space to buses.

The plan says the city will continue to expand the number of Select Bus Service routes. In addition to routes already in planning or development for Nostrand Avenue, 125th Street, Webster Avenue, Astoria Boulevard, and Woodhaven Boulevard, the report says that “over the next five years NYC DOT will work with the MTA to implement four additional SBS routes,” though it does not specify which routes are on track for implementation.

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To Reach 10,000 Bikes, DOT Looks to Sponsorships, Sandy Recovery Loan

With 6,000 bicycles, New York’s bike-share program is already the largest in the country. In fact, immediately after launching, Citi Bike proceeded to eclipse the national daily ridership record (previously held by Capital Bikeshare), with 12,000 trips in 24 hours. Ridership should grow steadily as more people start using the bikes and the network expands, but how quickly will Citi Bike grow beyond the initial service area? Appearing on the Brian Lehrer Show this morning, Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan discussed how the city intends to land the funds to implement the original plan for a 10,000-bike system.

The winning bid from system operator Alta Bicycle Share in 2011 envisioned a 10,000-bike/600-station system, but after Hurricane Sandy flooded a bike-share warehouse in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the damage limited what could be built with available funds to 7,000 bikes at 420 stations. About 100 of those stations have yet to come online; the city plans to add them before the end of the year.

The city also still intends to ramp up to a 10,000-bike system. Making up for the damage from Sandy is no small challenge, however, especially since the city has emphasized that Citi Bike, unlike most other bike-share programs, will not receive any taxpayer money.

At the end of the interview with Lehrer, Sadik-Khan said that DOT would be looking at Sandy recovery loans and additional sponsorships to expand the system to more neighborhoods. ”We’re continuing to work with sponsors on that, and we’re continuing to work with the Small Business Administration on a loan to make up for the bikes that were lost during Sandy,” she said.

New York would not be the first city to receive an SBA loan for bike-share, though it would probably be the first to apply disaster recovery funds. In Chicago, SBA provided a $350,000 loan to a 100-bike program operated by B-cycle, which is now closed and being replaced by the larger, Alta-operated Divvy bike-share program this summer.

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What Will It Take to Enact the Sandy Commission’s Transportation Proposals?

Governor Cuomo’s post-Sandy infrastructure commission unveiled its recommendations [PDF] last week, and while it focused heavily on hardening the city’s transportation network against future storms, it also offered glimpses of how infrastructure could be more resilient in the wake of disaster, with Bus Rapid Transit playing a prominent role.

The post-Sandy "bus bridge" inspired Governor Cuomo's commission to recommend world-class BRT for NYC. Will it happen? Photo: Stephen Miller

In addition to BRT, the report from the NYS 2100 commission supported rail capacity expansions, including the Gateway Project across the Hudson River, Metro-North service to Penn Station with additional stops in the Bronx, communication-based train control on the subway, and adding tracks to the LIRR’s Main Line.

But there’s a big difference between a report and implementation. Albany will have to take steps to make most of the commission’s recommendations a reality, and early indications that Governor Cuomo will prioritize transit improvements aren’t promising.

The recommendation for comprehensive BRT isn’t just about disaster preparedness. It offers an opportunity to reach populations underserved by existing rail networks in outer-borough and suburban job centers while also providing flexible transit that can pick up some of the slack in the event of a subway shutdown.

The post-Sandy “bus bridge” between Brooklyn and Manhattan showed the value of BRT, the report states, and the success of Select Bus Service – bus improvements that have cut travel times and attracted new riders — demonstrates the opportunity to expand, both by incorporating more BRT features in SBS projects and by creating new busways throughout the city.

“The SBS system we have now has helped to introduce a new thing to New York,” said Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign. “But at this rate, it will be a long while before we have a world-class BRT system.”

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New York Needs Cuomo to Talk Transit in Tomorrow’s State of the State

In his State of the State address tomorrow afternoon, Governor Andrew Cuomo has the opportunity to set the tone for transportation policy in the year ahead. And with the NYC region’s transit system having absorbed billions of dollars worth of damage from Hurricane Sandy, it’s going to be a very important year indeed. Cuomo has to chart a path to recover from the storm and prepare the region’s transit infrastructure for the future, all while maintaining the existing system, which is staggering under the load of excessive debt.

2012 was the year Andrew Cuomo moved forward on the transit-less Tappan Zee Bridge. Will 2013 be the year he focuses on transit in the wake of Hurricane Sandy? Photo: NYGovCuomo/Twitter

There are some smart ideas in the recently-leaked report from the NYS 2100 Commission, which Cuomo convened after Hurricane Sandy to address the state’s infrastructure needs. The final report is scheduled for official release tomorrow, but draft recommendations obtained by the New York Times suggest a range of transit and transportation investments the governor could pursue.

These include creation of a “world-class” bus rapid transit system, subway storm fortifications, and policy changes to dedicate funds to bicycling and walking. Also on the list: transit construction projects that have been in various stages of discussion or development for some time, like a new rail tunnel beneath the Hudson River and a connection to Penn Station for Metro-North.

The report recommends creating an infrastructure bank to finance capital investments — always a vague suggestion that could end up obscuring how projects are really funded — and an evaluation system to prioritize where dollars should go. But it’s up to the governor to decide which of the report’s recommendations he’d like to focus on.

So tomorrow’s speech should tell New Yorkers if Cuomo is finally going to make a resilient, effective, well-funded transit system a priority.

On top of the new projects identified in the NYS 2100 report, it would be good to see Cuomo address the basics. It can be easy to forget the $4.75 billion in recovery needs already identified by the MTA. Although the agency expects the federal government and its insurers to cover most of the cost, it’s still looking to borrow for about one-fifth of the tab. “That leaves the riders with $1 billion in additional bonding costs,” said Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign, who wants the governor to propose alternatives to more MTA debt.

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NYU Report: NYC’s Exclusive Busways Shouldn’t Be for Emergencies Only

The city and state need to shift gears to create a more resilient transportation network in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, a group of New York University transportation researchers argue in a report released this morning. Chief among their recommendations: New York must get serious about Bus Rapid Transit and create permanent, physically-separated transit lanes to keep bus riders from getting stuck in traffic.

Bus lanes that are truly separate from car traffic can play a bigger role in NYC. Photo: Stephen Miller

With the subways unable to cross the East River due to power outages and flooding, “the exceedingly intense traffic gridlock that the city experienced was reminiscent of scenes from Sao Paulo and Jakarta: emerging megacities that struggle to provide adequate capacity,” write authors Sarah Kaufman, Carson Qing, Nolan Levenson, and Melinda Hanson of NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management.

A wide variety of transportation options picked up the slack in the storm’s wake. Privately-owned commuter vans filled gaps in transit service, the East River Ferry doubled its typical fall weekday ridership to more than 7,400, and 30,000 bike commuters — more than double the average — crossed the East River bridges.

A make-shift system of express buses served the most people, with subway passengers transferring to buses at three locations in Downtown Brooklyn and Williamsburg. At the two transfer points in Downtown Brooklyn, the MTA loaded 3,700 passengers per hour onto the Manhattan-bound “bus bridge,” which the report hails as “New York’s first truly exclusive busways.”  The report lauds interagency cooperation after the storm, noting that NYPD’s bus lane and HOV-3 enforcement played a critical role in keeping the way clear for bus riders.

While the long lines waiting for buses showed that “impromptu Bus Rapid Transit” can’t replace full subway service, the authors say the post-Sandy transport plan also illustrated how real BRT routes could enhance the city’s transportation options. As Capital New York noted last week, NYC’s Select Bus Service is a solid upgrade over conventional buses, but doesn’t perform well enough to qualify as Bus Rapid Transit.

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Who Runs the MTA? Check Governor Cuomo’s Website for the Answer…

Real-time updates from the MTA, now available on the governor's website.

The MTA – the agency elected officials usually try to distance themselves from as much as possible – has lately been serving as the model for effective post-Sandy recovery. And in a welcome turn, Governor Andrew Cuomo himself has taken center stage when all eyes are on the MTA’s performance. There are even real-time MTA service status updates on his website.

Cuomo has “made it clear to all New Yorkers, if there was any question” that he runs the MTA, Transportation Alternatives Deputy Director Noah Budnick told Capital earlier this month.

In the past month, Cuomo has issued 28 press releases about the MTA, including announcements about service shutdowns and restorations. The governor’s other MTA press releases this year can be counted on two hands and are only tangentially related to the authority itself.

Hurricane Sandy marked a clear shift in Cuomo’s relationship to the MTA. During Hurricane Irene last year, which also led to a systemwide shut-down, then-MTA chief Jay Walder appeared at Mayor Bloomberg’s press conferences. In contrast, during this year’s hurricane response, current MTA Chair Joe Lhota has only made appearances with the governor.

Despite his recent willingness to take ownership of the MTA, Cuomo seems content to let the MTA’s in-house PR crew issue the press releases about one topic: the latest round of fare hikes.

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Focused on Climate Change, Will Cuomo Reconsider the Transit-Less TZB?

In August, three county executives supported Governor Cuomo’s Tappan Zee Bridge plan in exchange for a “transit task force” that would study how to strengthen transit between Rockland and Westchester counties. At the time, advocates greeted the announcement with cautious optimism, awaiting details on the task force from the governor.

Governor Cuomo has said a lot about protecting against the impacts of climate change, but not much about preventing the worst scenarios. Photo: Angel Franco/Newsday

They’re still waiting.

“It’s been three months since the announcement of a transit task force,” said Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, which has a clock on its website counting the seconds since the governor made his promise.

In three months, Cuomo has not created the task force or announced any appointments. A Cuomo spokesperson did not respond to Streetsblog’s inquiries about the issue.

This stands in contrast to how quickly Cuomo moved in all other aspects of his bridge plan. “We cannot wait any longer,” the governor said about the bridge in June. “Now is the time for action.”

Even before Hurricane Sandy began to consume Cuomo’s attention nearly three weeks ago, he had shown little interest in moving forward on Tappan Zee transit. Today, while the governor has begun to make climate change a signature issue, there’s still no indication that he’s reconsidering the cars-only bridge his administration has been pushing.

So far, Cuomo has spoken aggressively about fortifying against the impacts of climate change, without addressing its causes. “The number of extreme weather patterns is going up. That’s a fact,” Cuomo said at a post-storm press conference on November 1. “We can debate the cause. The effect is the same.”

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Bloomberg: HOV Restrictions Probably Won’t Resume on Monday

Some notes from Bloomberg’s latest Sandy briefing, which wrapped up minutes ago:

  • HOV restrictions end at 5 p.m. today, and will not resume Monday unless deemed necessary.
  • The Holland Tunnel has been reopened to buses and commercial vehicles.
  • The Staten Island Ferry is now operating and will be back on its regular schedule tomorrow.
  • Bloomberg asked motorists to ”cut out unnecessary driving,” though gasoline supplies should be replenished somewhat tonight. Demand should taper off next week as transit service comes back online. As it stands, emergency vehicles and buses have priority, Bloomberg said.

The mayor expects Con Ed to restore power to Lower Manhattan over the weekend, which would bring the resumption of subway service on the 4, 5, and F trains, according to MTA chief Joe Lhota.

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Gas Station Gridlock Snares Buses, NYPD Resources in Washington Heights

A line for gas occupied one lane of Broadway for blocks, and created gridlock on several more. Photos: Brad Aaron

If yellow cabs and livery cabs can’t get gas, that’s a problem, especially when train service is limited and buses are packed. But many of the cars in this line, which clogged one lane of Broadway from 168th to 174th Street in Washington Heights this afternoon, were private vehicles.

An M3 tries to merge onto Broadway north of 168th Street.

I counted 11 NYPD personnel, including auxiliary officers and TEAs, assigned to this mess. In addition to occupying a traffic lane — most drivers were parked, engines off — the line kept buses from moving and forced passengers to wade into the street to board.

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The Connection That Can’t Be Ignored: Sandy and Climate Change

If there’s any good news to come out of the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, it’s that political leaders and the press are actually talking about climate change. At the end of a long campaign season with barely a mention of the issue, it’s a relief to hear some sane discussion of the issue based on the premise that global warming is real.

While climate scientists hesitate to attribute any single weather event to global warming, many agree that elevated temperatures and sea levels conspired to make this storm especially damaging. And the frequency of storms like Sandy will only escalate as global temperatures rise.

We’ve collected, below, some of the most notable statements about the connection between Sandy and climate change, and what it means for the future:

  • Bloomberg Businessweek made the scene of a flooded NYC street its cover, carrying the news that global insurers are beginning to warn about the connection between climate change and extreme weather events. A Germany-based insurer reported that the number of weather-related loss events in North America has nearly quintupled over the past three decades.
  • The Center for American Progress reports that the United States experienced a record 14 extreme weather events that caused more than $1 billion in damage and there have been seven so far this year. Only five states were spared damage.
  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wasn’t mincing words on the topic. “Part of learning from this is the recognition that climate change is a reality,” he said Wednesday during a helicopter tour of the damage. “Extreme weather is a reality. It is a reality that we are vulnerable. There’s only so long you can say, ‘This is once in a lifetime, and it’s not going to happen again.’”

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