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Posts from the "Transit" Category

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Bus Time Set to Expand to Manhattan This Month; Queens and Brooklyn Next

Coming soon to Manhattan. Photo: secondavesagas/Instagram

Nearly a year after the Bronx became the second borough to get real-time bus tracking on all its buses, the MTA’s Bus Time program is set to expand to Manhattan this month, according to signs spotted in Manhattan subway stations by Twitter user David Rose and Second Avenue Sagas.

In March, the MTA announced that Bus Time would go live in Manhattan “this year,” followed by Brooklyn, then Queens. The authority said that by April 2014, all five boroughs will have Bus Time. The program, piloted in 2011 on the B63 in Brooklyn and rolled out to Staten Island last year, is a popular feature for the city’s buses, which have struggled with ridership even as the number of subway passengers has soared.

The MTA says it will be making an official announcement about Bus Time’s Manhattan rollout early next week, and that “all five boroughs will be online sometime in the spring 2014.”

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Eyes on the Street: Painting SBS Bus Lanes on Nostrand Avenue

DOT crews were painting bus lanes on Nostrand Avenue this morning at Carroll Street. Photo: Haruka Horiuchi

Brooklyn’s B44 bus carried more than 12.5 million passengers last year between the base of the Williamsburg Bridge and Sheepshead Bay, making it the city’s fifth-busiest bus route. But the B44, which runs primarily along Nostrand Avenue, is notoriously unreliable and spends less than half of each run in motion. Half the time, it’s stuck in traffic or at bus stops and red lights.

There are 300,000 residents within a quarter-mile of the bus route, and 62 percent of households in that area are car-free, according to DOT and the MTA. Since 2009, the two agencies have been working to bring Select Bus Service to the B44. Limited-stop service would be converted to SBS, while local service on the B44 would remain.

Like other SBS projects, this one will add off-board fare collection, camera-enforced dedicated bus lanes, and transit signal priority to keep buses moving with green lights. It will also include curb extensions at bus stops, also known as bus bulbs, to keep the buses from having to move in and out of traffic every time they reach a stop.

The project, which received a $28 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration, is nearing completion. Workers are painting the red bus lanes, and earlier this month, crews were spotted pouring concrete at a bus bulb near the intersection of Bedford Avenue and Fulton Street.

A presentation from last year [PDF] says the project will be complete by “late 2013,” with the more intensive reconstruction of Nostrand Avenue between Flushing and Atlantic Avenues set to wrap by fall 2014.

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ITDP Study: “A Coming Out for Bus-Based Transit-Oriented Development”

Cleveland's HealthLine is widely considered the best bus rapid transit line in the United States, and it's busted some myths about BRT's power to stimulate transit-oriented development. Photo: ITDP

In a new report making the rounds this week, “More Development For Your Transit Dollar: An Analysis of 21 North American Transit Corridors,” the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy does two things.

First, authors Walter Hook, Stephanie Lotshaw, and Annie Weinstock evaluate which factors determine the impact of urban transit on development, coming up with some extremely useful and not necessarily intuitive results.

Second, they show that BRT projects — only a few of which exist in the U.S. — can in fact spur walkable development. Then the authors go a step further, asserting in no uncertain terms that good bus projects yield more development bang for the buck than equivalent rail projects.

What Makes TOD Successful?

ITDP examined 21 light rail, streetcar, and bus routes in 13 cities across the U.S. and Canada to determine how transit lines affect development. While the report does pick a side in the BRT-vs.-rail debate, ITDP found that three factors are much more powerful determinants than transit type in the outcome of transit-oriented development.

First, what ITDP calls “government intervention” is key. There is a direct correlation between robust TOD investment and robust public policy.

Everything from assembling the needed land to offering incentives for tenants falls under the umbrella of government intervention, but perhaps the most important aspect is to make sure the zoning near transit encourages mixed-use, walkable development.

One of the best things policy makers can do, said Weinstock, is to limit parking. She said that the city of Ottawa’s downtown parking restrictions were a huge boost to transit ridership on the Transitway, a bus rapid transit line which blew every other line ITDP studied out of the water with 244,000 weekday riders (four times more than the next runner-up, Denver’s Central Corridor light rail line).

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Poor Transit Access and Wisconsin’s Staggering Black Incarceration Rate

The state of Wisconsin imprisons a higher proportion of black men than any other state. Almost 13 percent of the state’s African American men are behind bars — nearly twice the national average. In Milwaukee County, according to a recent report from the University of Wisconsin-Madison [PDF], more than half of black men in their thirties have served time in state prison.

Recent transit funding cuts in Wisconsin could put more jobs out of reach for black men in Milwaukee. Image: Milwaukee Community Journal

UM-Madison’s John Pawasarat and Lois Quinn recently explored this problem as an aspect of the major workforce challenges facing the state. One of their key findings was that for black working-age men in the Milwaukee area, transportation barriers are a major obstacle to employment, restricting their prospects.

Among African Americans living in Milwaukee, 47 percent do not have a driver’s license, and the unemployment rate is 24 percent.

“Two-thirds of the county’s incarcerated African American men came from six zip codes in the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee,” Pawasarat and Quinn write. “Most ex-offenders return from prison into inner city neighborhoods that have extremely large gaps (i.e., 25 to 1 in May 2009) between the number of active job seekers compared to available full-time work.”

Black men would have more employment options if jobs were accessible by transit. But that tends not to be the case, Quinn told BBC reporters.

“When we do job surveys, we find that three-fourths of the jobs that are available are outside the bus lines,” she said.

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Lawmakers Push to Permanently Upgrade Transit’s Second-Class Tax Benefit

While the rest of the Capitol prepared for President Obama’s visit to lobby members of Congress on Syria military strikes, three lawmakers gathered under the hot sun with transit advocates to push for a more bread-and-butter issue: tax benefits for transit riders.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, sporting his dashing new goatee, illustrates "even-steven." Photo by Tanya Snyder.

For years, car commuters could claim up to $240 per month in tax-free driving expenses, while transit riders could claim only up to $125. The 2009 stimulus package brought transit commuter tax benefits up to the same level, but the parity provision kept expiring each year, and lawmakers had to scramble to reinstate it. Transit parity wasn’t reinstated for 2012, reverting the maximum monthly deduction back to $125.

A fiscal cliff deal at the beginning of this year not only restored parity for transit riders, it made the change retroactive, setting both transit and parking deductions at a maximum of $245 per month — and creating big headaches for employers. The retroactivity was necessary to restore parity, since otherwise it would have been considered a new change to the tax code. But it was probably more trouble than it was worth, creating a disincentive for employers to offer it.

“Employers have looked at this benefit and said, ‘It goes up, it goes down, you make changes every year; I don’t understand it. Why should I even give this to my employees?’” said David Judd of Edenred, one of the main companies that administers these benefits. “That’s a lousy attitude, given all the benefits of it. But it’s become confusing.”

That’s why Reps. Michael Grimm (R-NY), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and James McGovern (D-MA) gathered outside the Capitol today to push for their Commuter Parity Act (HR 2288). The bill would make the transit and parking benefits equal on a permanent basis — and would include bike-share as a form of transit.

Only two other Republicans have signed on to the bill: Reps. Peter King of Long Island and Robert Wittman of Northern Virginia. But McGovern said he doesn’t know anyone who’s opposed to this bill, on either side of the aisle. It’s good for small businesses, which pay lower payroll taxes when their employees have more tax-free income. And another sweetener is that the measure is revenue-neutral, costing the taxpayer nothing.

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After the Addition of Bike Lanes and Plazas, Manhattan Traffic Moves Faster

Car traffic into Manhattan has basically stayed flat since the recession, while transit ridership has started to rebound. Image: DOT

After several blocks in the heart of Times Square were pedestrianized and protected bike lanes were added to five avenues in the middle of Manhattan, motor vehicle traffic is actually moving more smoothly than before, according to the latest release of NYC DOT’s annual Sustainable Streets Index [PDF].

The report, which gathers data from the MTA, the Taxi and Limousine Commission, and DOT’s own counts, also shows that the volume of traffic entering Manhattan has basically stayed flat since 2009. At the same time, transit ridership has started to rebound from the recession and service cuts.

Even with population and employment levels increasing after the recession, car traffic into the Manhattan CBD declined 1.7 percent in 2011. Since 2003, traffic volumes are down 6.5 percent, while transit trips to the area have increased 11.3 percent.

The drop in Manhattan-bound traffic has come primarily from the Hudson River tunnels, which have seen a 3 percent drop since 2008, while volumes on the free East River bridges remained flat and traffic over the free Harlem River bridges inched up 1 percent. (It’s no surprise why: Port Authority tolls encourage people to take transit or carpool, while the city’s free bridges offer no such incentive.)

In Manhattan below 60th Street, predictions that reallocating space to walking, biking, and transit would only worsen traffic have not come to pass. In fact, average traffic speeds have picked up. GPS data from yellow cabs below 60th Street show that average speeds are up 6.7 percent since 2008. The average speed of a taxi trip, which was 8.9 mph in 2011, inched up to 9.3 mph last year. (Note that these average speeds don’t mean, as Matt Flegenheimer put it in the Times this morning, that “drivers in much of Manhattan can rarely flout the law, even if they try.” In addition to aggressive and dangerous behavior like failing to yield to pedestrians, speeding in Manhattan is still very common even if average speeds are well below the limit.)

Manhattan’s business districts aren’t the only places where transit is on the rise as driving volumes fall. According to metrics incorporating car crossings between boroughs other than Manhattan, citywide traffic volumes declined 1.8 percent in 2011 from the previous year, while transit ridership increased 0.4 percent, despite service cuts and fare hikes implemented the year before. The most recent numbers are in line with a long-term trend: Since 2003, NYC transit ridership is up 9.5 percent, while driving counts have fallen 3.9 percent.

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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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How to Sell Developers and Employers on Transit-Oriented Development

Developers and employers think transit access is great. But if the hurdles are too high, they’ll forgo it — choosing locations that shackle people to car dependence. That’s the finding of a recent report by University of Minnesota researchers Yingling Fan and Andrew Guthrie.

Transit-oriented development is the same as pedestrian-oriented development. Photo: NJSLOM

Fan and Guthrie propose a number of policy changes for the Twin Cities region to promote transit-oriented development. After all, they write, the region is planning to build a network of 14 transitways by 2030, and the success of these transitways hinges on attracting jobs and housing near the stations.

The success of these lines is crucial to the Twin Cities’ regional growth plan, which envisions people making a greater share of their trips on transit. “In addition to attracting increased ridership,” Fan and Guthrie write, “the regional transitway system is expected to serve as the anchor of a more sustainable future regional growth pattern of walkable residential communities and employment centers oriented to transit connections.” These are no small goals, and guiding future development toward transit is critical for meeting them.

The region has its work cut out to halt the destructive development patterns it’s seen recently, with the rise of major suburban employment centers in far-flung areas without transit access. And a study by the Center for Housing Policy in 2011 found that Minneapolis wasn’t as successful as the other cities profiled at raising the value of transit-adjacent properties.

Fan and Guthrie conducted group discussions, online surveys, and in-depth interviews with Twin Cities developers and business leaders to learn their attitudes about transit-oriented development.

“Multifamily residential developers, redevelopment specialists, and large corporate office tenants already show strong interest in transit-accessible sites,” Fan and Guthrie write, but they often get thwarted by high land costs and needlessly complex regulations.

Those points are at the top of Fan and Guthrie’s very useful list of ways the Twin Cities can encourage TOD. The recommendations below are aimed at the Twin Cities but would undoubtedly be useful pointers for other cities and towns with similar goals.

Subsidize it: The higher costs of transit-accessible locations are a testament to the desirability of those sites, but they can also be prohibitive. Subsidies like TOD promotion grants or station-area tax abatement could help. But even better would be to…

Educate developers about the full costs of automobile dependency: Sure, a transit-accessible location might cost more per square foot. But developers need to think of the savings in other areas. Fan and Guthrie recommend using a “site-plus-transportation cost index” (like the Center for Housing Technology’s housing-plus-transportation, or H+T, index) to give developers and employers a more realistic overview of costs, including “parking, employee productivity impacts, and health insurance for a sedentary workforce.”

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Notorious Patent Troll Forced to Stop Targeting Transit Agencies

A patent troll who persistently sued transit agencies for using technology that gives passengers real-time arrival information won’t harass any more transit providers under the terms of a settlement reached in federal court yesterday.

Boston's MBTA was one of the agencies sued by patent troll Martin Kelly Jones. Image: MBTA

The firm known as ArrivalStar — led by a patent holder named Martin Kelley Jones — had sued 11 local transit agencies claiming intellectual property rights over systems that provide real-time arrival information. Many transit agencies chose simply to settle with Arrival Star rather than undergo the expensive and time consuming process of litigation.

In June, the American Public Transit Association filed a counter-suit on behalf of local transit agencies, claiming “ArrivalStar’s patents … were invalid and unenforceable.”

Yesterday, transit agencies prevailed in federal court, reaching a settlement with ArrivalStar in which the company “agreed not to make any future patent infringement claims against any of APTA’s public transportation agency members or any vendors providing goods and services to APTA public transportation agency members,” according to a statement from APTA.

“This is a good day for the public transportation industry and now public transportation agencies and businesses can move forward with innovative technology without threat of baseless litigation,” said APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy.

Jones is one of the top 25 filers of patent infringement suits, having brought more than 100 against various entities. The city of Fairfax, Virginia; Boston’s MBTA; New York City’s MTA; Chicago’s Metra, and the Maryland Transit Authority are among the agencies that have reached settlements with him.

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Will Letters From Two Uptown Electeds Get DOT to Restart 125th Street SBS?

The plan for 125th Street Select Bus Service died on the vine after a lack of support from community boards and elected officials. But now, Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito [PDF] and State Senator Adriano Espaillat [PDF], along with council candidate Mark Levine, are asking Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan to restart plans to bring SBS to the crosstown route.

Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, State Senator Adriano Espaillat, and council candidate Mark Levine are urging DOT to restart planning for SBS on 125th Street. Photo: Benjamin Engle/Instagram

In their letters, all three note that the vast majority of area residents are car-free, that SBS would deliver significant improvements to thousands of crosstown bus riders on a notoriously slow route, and that SBS has the potential to bring more customers to businesses along 125th Street.

Shortly before DOT and the MTA pulled the plug on the SBS project last month, Community Board 11′s transportation committee voted [PDF] to reverse a supportive resolution it had passed earlier in the spring, rejecting SBS unless the M35 bus to Randalls Island — an unrelated bus line — was rerouted. Neighbors had long complained about the route’s passengers hanging out at the busy corner of Lexington Avenue and 125th Street.

In her letter urging DOT to restart SBS planning, Mark-Viverito backed a proposal to move this bus stop, though she did not condition her support of SBS on the stop’s relocation. “I have heard the concerns of El Barrio/East Harlem residents regarding the placement of the M35 bus stop,” she wrote. “The alternate proposal to move the stop in front of the Pathmark is one that I support.”

I asked Mark-Viverito why she had not spoken out publicly in support of SBS as the project was being attacked and scaled back earlier this year. “We had made very clear in conversations throughout the debate around the 125th Street SBS that we supported the project,” Mark-Viverito said in a statement. “When the DOT released a scaled back proposal for SBS, it still kept the project whole in El Barrio/East Harlem, which is the area that I represent.”

When DOT cancelled SBS, the agency said it would be implementing other bus improvements on 125th Street, but there has been no further information about what those changes might be or when they would be implemented. “We received the letters from the elected officials and will be responding,” DOT spokesperson Nicole Garcia said via e-mail. ”We still hope to work to improve bus service throughout the corridor in dialog with the community.”

This post has been corrected to note that CB 11′s transportation committee, and not the full board, voted on resolutions regarding 125th Street SBS. At no time did CB 11′s full board express an opinion on the project.