Brooklyn CB3’s Transportation, Sanitation & Environment Committee kicks off its 2014-2015 session. The agenda is TBD.
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Today is the House of Representatives’ last day in session before departing for an August recess full of photo ops and electioneering in their districts. The Senate will stick around DC for one more day before going home. Before that happens, the two houses have to come together on a plan to keep the Highway Trust Fund going. If not, U.S. DOT will have to take drastic measures.
Both the House and the Senate have voted on not entirely dissimilar plans to keep the fund going. But the differences between them have set up a high-stakes showdown that has to be resolved by tomorrow.
Here are the key points:
- The timing: The House voted down the Senate bill this afternoon. Now they’ll leave town, meaning the Senate can either cave or be blamed as the Highway Trust Fund goes dry before August recess ends and transportation works grind to a halt. Meanwhile, Sec. Anthony Foxx has warned state DOTs that federal payments will slow down August 1 — that’s tomorrow — if Congress doesn’t take action to keep the Fund from going insolvent.
- The numbers: The House is gloating that the Senate’s bill contains a $2 billion technical error — which is true; it comes up with just $6.2 billion of the $8.1 billion needed — but Senate Democrats say it can be easily fixed.
- The urgency: Since summer is the high season for construction, the real pressure on the Highway Trust Fund is between now and the end of the year, when states will need to get reimbursed for the work that’s going on now. That’s why there’s not a huge monetary difference between the House proposal that lasts till May and the Senate proposal that ends in December. There’s just not a lot of cash going out the door at U.S. DOT between January and May.
- The conflict: The House and Senate disagree on what budget gimmicks to use to “pay for” the transfer into the trust fund, but more fundamentally they disagree about how long the patch should be. As we’ve reported before, Boxer prefers a December deadline, saying it’s unfair for this Congress to fail to fix a problem that occurred on its watch and instead kick it to the next Congress. What she means is that she wants her six-year bill to pass and that won’t happen after the end of this year if the GOP wins a majority in the Senate and she loses the chairmanship of the EPW Committee. That’s precisely why the House is gunning for a May deadline.
- The breakdown: The Senate Republicans aren’t as enthusiastic as the House about having to take this up when they’re in charge. Thirteen Rs joined the Ds in pushing for a December sunset, including Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who wants to raise the gas tax and be done already. “Wouldn’t it be great to finish 2014 actually solving one issue; taking one issue off the plate next year?” he said yesterday at a WSJ press breakfast. Only one Democrat, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, voted no on Boxer’s date-change amendment. Notably, David Vitter, the ranking member on the EPW Committee, who has shown great bipartisan unity with Boxer, broke with her on this and voted to essentially flush their six-year-bill down the toilet. His predecessor, James Inhofe, voted in favor of Boxer’s December 19 deadline.
- The fallout: If the GOP does win the Senate in 2014, the conventional wisdom says they’ll lose it again in 2016. Will the Republicans really want to take on a tax increase of any kind during the only two years when they’ll get the lion’s share of the blame? Of course not. The prognosis is that if there’s no long-term bill this term, it’ll be another three years. Three more years of patchwork funding gimmicks is nothing to look forward to.
— stevemiami (@stevemiami) July 28, 2014
After a breakthrough vote from Community Board 10 in May, DOT crews are out remaking 10 blocks of Morningside Avenue as a safer, calmer neighborhood street. This morning, @SteveMiami captured this circular saw operator at what looks like the moment of incision — the asphalt will be cut away to make room for a concrete pedestrian island.
An earlier photo of a pedestrian island outline from Transportation Alternatives’ Tom DeVito gives a nice sense of scale:
— Thomas DeVito (@PedestrianTom) July 24, 2014
The Morningside project will trim the four-lane speedway down to two lanes plus center-median turn bays [PDF]. Pedestrian islands will be installed at four intersections where people cross the street to access Morningside Park entrances, and there will be several painted sidewalk extensions to demarcate expansions of pedestrian space.
Neighborhood residents had requested action from the city to tame dangerous speeding on Morningside, but the plan almost didn’t make it through the gauntlet of Community Boards 9 and 10. The May vote in favor of the project followed nine months of waffling.
Come out to DUMBO next Friday for a bike design party where all proceeds from beer sales will benefit Streetsblog and Streetfilms.
The new bike at the center of the party is the NYC entrant in Oregon Manifest’s 2014 Bike Design Project. Allow me to explain a bit more: The non-profit Oregon Manifest is putting on a bike design competition, inviting teams from five different cities to design the best urban utility bike they can. The winner will be decided via online voting and could get a production contract with Fuji (here are the criteria for the competition).
At the DUMBO Loft next Friday, you can get up close and personal with the prototype from NYC-based design firm PENSA and Horse Cycles. Plus, you can feel really good about visiting the bar repeatedly, because all beer sales will be donated to Streetsblog and Streetfilms.
We’re looking for a few good volunteers who can help out at the event. If you’d like to donate your time, email Kelly Donohue with the subject “bike party.”
The venue is a special landmark in NYC livable streets history — it’s right next to the Pearl Street Triangle, one of the first parking-to-public-space conversions in the NYC DOT plaza program. Here’s where to go:
The Dumbo Loft & Dumbo Triangle
155 Water Street
6 – 9 p.m.
Earlier today, the state Environmental Facilities Corporation unanimously approved a $511 million loan from the state’s federally-funded clean water program to the Tappan Zee Bridge construction project, using funds intended for clean water initiatives in New York City.
In its press release, the board of Cuomo appointees said the loan, which will help the Thruway Authority save at least $17 million over three years, will go to pay for projects that mitigate the negative impact of the highway and “will help keep tolls on the new bridge as low as possible.”
The state says the highway qualifies for the loan — half of which is low-interest, the other half interest-free — because it is an estuary protection project that helps implement an EPA-approved estuary plan. The state claims the Tappan Zee project helps implement an estuary plan dating from 1996 focused on New York Harbor. While the bridge is just outside the plan’s core area, it does fall within its “watershed-based” boundaries.
Advocates aren’t buying it. According to their calculations, only $12.5 million of the $511 million loan would go to “genuine environmentally beneficial projects,” all of which the state agreed to as part of mitigation for the highway. In addition, the Tappan Zee environmental impact statement, completed two years ago, never mentions the estuary plan once. If the bridge project is related to protecting the estuary, why was that never mentioned before the state set out to get a clean water loan?
Robert Pirani is program director for the New York-New Jersey Harbor and Estuary Program, the EPA-funded initiative that created the 1996 plan. “They’re not projects that are discussed in the comprehensive management plan,” he said of the Tappan Zee loan.
Pirani noted that it’s up to the state to determine whether its own highway qualifies for the clean water loan. “There’s a lot of stuff we just don’t know,” he said. “They need to justify to themselves that this is an appropriate use of the funding.”
Advocates are also worried that the state could snap its fingers and turn this loan into funding with no expectation of repayment.
If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to urge key Senate lawmakers to get behind the bill to lower New York City’s default speed limit from 30 to 25 miles per hour.
With just hours remaining in the current legislative session, it’s up to NYC’s two Senate Republicans, Marty Golden and Andrew Lanza, to convince Senate Co-Leader Dean Skelos to see this lifesaving bill passed. Neither Golden nor Lanza have responded to Streetsblog’s requests for comment, but Lanza told Capital New York today that his support for a lower NYC speed limit hinges on passage of a bill that would require stop signs near schools and increase fines for traffic violations in school zones.
While Lanza is horse-trading, Skelos is playing party politics. Senator Jeff Klein, who heads the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference and shares power with Skelos, says he expects the speed limit bill to pass, but Skelos has declined to say if he will bring it to the floor for a vote. Skelos indicated yesterday that Mayor de Blasio’s efforts to secure Democratic control of the State Senate will factor into his decision.
Depending on what emerges from the Senate, the Assembly is likely to act on one of two bills: a duplicate of Klein’s Senate bill, or a different 25 mph bill sponsored by Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell. Each has the backing of Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Lanza and Golden need to hear from New Yorkers who want a lower, safer speed limit in NYC. When asked if she had a message for senators today about the 25 mph bill, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg focused on the public safety benefits. “For every five miles that you slow down the speed of a car, you have some pretty dramatic effects on what happens when you have a collision,” Trottenberg said. “Even a car going five miles slower — the driver has more reaction time, the impact is that much lighter, and you get a 10 to 20 percent reduction in fatalities. So it’s pretty important.”
Here is contact info for NYC’s Republican senators at their Albany offices:
Capital New York’s Dana Rubinstein reports:
“Would you support or oppose a plan to charge tolls on the East River bridges, which go into Manhattan, and at the same time reduce tolls on the bridges between the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island?” a Quinnipiac University pollster asked New York City voters earlier this month.
The voters were divided, 49 percent against, 41 percent in favor.
Support fluctuated by borough — it was strongest in Staten Island and the Bronx — and was about the same among voters who drive to work (51-43 percent opposed) and those who take transit (49-42 percent opposed).
These are stronger numbers than congestion pricing got in 2007 and 2008. The proposal for a road charge below 60th Street in Manhattan during rush hours polled in the 30s, generally, when transit revenue was not mentioned. Pricing polled in the high 50s and low 60s when it was framed as a way to keep fares low.
The Move NY plan, developed by transportation consultant “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz, would establish a Central Business District cordon at 60th Street and add tolls to East River bridges, while tolls on outer-borough crossings would be reduced. The plan calls for removing the Manhattan parking tax rebate and adding a taxi trip surcharge. It would raise nearly $1.5 billion a year, with a quarter of revenue dedicated to road and bridge maintenance and the remainder to transit capital and operating funds.
Congestion pricing has risen in popularity in cities that have implemented it. Despite intense opposition beforehand, after three years 70 percent of Londoners said that city’s road pricing program was effective, and twice as many supported the charge as opposed it. Though it doesn’t yet have a champion in Albany, a coalition of interests, from the Straphangers Campaign to AAA New York, has coalesced behind the Move NY toll reform proposal. There’s room for its poll numbers to climb, if the upside for transit is part of the framing.
Here’s another figure for state lawmakers to consider: In 2007, 87 percent of voters said traffic congestion was a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem. This month it was essentially unchanged at 86 percent.
A New York City commuter who uses pre-tax transit benefits can save hundreds of dollars a year on public transportation. But riders can only take advantage of the tax break if it’s offered as a benefit by their employer. Join us when we ask train and bus riders to sign our petition to Mayor De Blasio and Speaker Mark-Viverito asking them to pass the Affordable Transit Act, which would help hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers access this transit tax break by requiring employers of 20 or more people to offer the benefit to their staff.
DOT will present of safety improvements at Saint Nicholas Place, West 155th Street, and Edgecombe Avenue.
Here we are with just a couple of days left in the Streetsblog spring pledge drive, and we’re two-thirds of the way to our goal of 400 donors. Every contribution makes a difference — please give what you can and support our coverage.
There’s a tremendous window of opportunity in New York right now to win safer streets and better transit, with momentum in both City Hall and Albany. By keeping New Yorkers informed and active on these issues — and by keeping public officials on their toes — Streetsblog makes the most of these chances. We rely on the support of our readers to produce our reporting and commentary, and the contributions we get during our pledge drives help keep us going the rest of the year.
Don’t forget, we also have two fabulous and useful items to give away to a couple of lucky donors. Your tax-deductible contribution before Sunday at midnight will put you in the running for a Cleverhood rain cape or a CINCH belt from Vespertine, available in one of three colors:
One final note: If you are feeling the guilt pangs of a regular Streetsblog reader who has yet to contribute, I suggest giving as soon as possible so you can fully enjoy the beautiful weekend.