(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) When the Newark Star Ledger reported yesterday that NJ Transit would be suspending activity on the so-called ARC tunnel (which stands for "access to the region's core") under the Hudson river, planners sat up in alarm.
The tunnel will allow NJ transit trains to effectively double their capacity into Manhattan, making transit an option for tens of thousands of NJ drivers, and bringing a steady stream of workers to midtown Manhattan ( Thirty Fourth Street and Sixth Avenue, to be precise). There, they'll be able to take the 34th Street bus rapid transit, planned for 2012, to gain access to a major new Manhattan development site, the Hudson Yards, on the far West Side.
The $8.7 billion project is funded half the the Port Authority, half by NJ Transit (which gets a dedicated stream of funding from Garden State Parkway Tolls), and is getting $1 billion in funding from the federal stimulus bill.
It's the largest single infrastructure recipient of stimulus funds under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, or ARRA, and is seen as crucial the the New York-New Jersey region's economic development.
But -- shock of shocks -- it may go over budget, and hence, as the Ledger reported it: " The month-long suspension of all new activity - imposed by NJ Transit Executive Director James Weinstein in the wake of concerns by the Federal Transit Administration - will be used to re-examine the budget numbers."
In the planning community today, there's an awful lot of head-scratching. Did this really come from the FTA, and was the FTA legitimately concerned about costs?
If so, why? Other huge Manhattan infrastructure projects, like the Second Avenue Subway, have proceeded without full funding, the theory being that a significant infusion of funds to get a project going ends up drawing down more funds in future, by creating momentum around a project.
Does this signify that NJ Governor Chris Christie is backing away from ARC, or that he'd like to see the Garden State Parkway revenue go to other projects? Christie has been an opponent of raising the gas tax, and NJ's highway trust fund, like the federal government's is broke.
We're trying to sort this out...let us know what you're hearing.
Find out why GOP designee for New York governor Rick Lazio could lose next week's primary election to insurgent candidate Carl Paladino, what happened to Pres. Obama's "new patriotism" and why local Democrats running for office have not been associating themselves with the president, plus the latest un the Democratic primary race for NY attorney general as WNYC's Brian Lehrer, Andrea Bernstein and Azi Paybarah talk politics over lunch.
Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) I was in Montreal recently, on a family vacation. Upon arriving, I was immediately overwhelmed -- by the number of bikers. Everyone, it seemed, was riding -- families with children, young people, people in fancy suits, kids in school uniforms, hot rods in spandex. Cyclists on fancy machines with aerodynamics helmets, and hordes on the sturdy, gray-and-black Bixi bike share bikes. The two-way protected bike lanes which fill the town were full to the brim, especially around the evening commute, which is when I arrived.
Now, Montreal's outside life is a seasonal thing. The Bixi bikes are stored inside for the harsh winters, and traffic regs for bikes go out of effect November 16-March 31. But for the summers at least, Montreal seems to have achieved what many U.S. cities are after -- a division of the streets that discourages the use of personal automobiles, where cyclists are relatively safe and motorists aren't confused by looming, lawbreaking cyclists.
(Houston -- Wendy Siegle, KUHF) The City of Houston will launch a bike share program "early next year" city Sustainability Director Laura Spanjian tells KUHF. The city was awarded $423,000 by the federal EPA to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. The city will also use the grant to increase its electric car infrastructure. The full story, here.
(Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) Did President Obama do his party a political favor by proposing $50 billion in new transportation infrastructure spending to a budget-weary nation right before the November midterms? Was his labor day infrastructure plan an effort to allow struggling Democrats to distance themselves?
At least one vulnerable Democrat under fire for supporting the president’s first $787 billion stimulus plan now says he’s not on board for any more. And just like that, Sen. Michael Bennett (D-Colo.) has put a little distance between himself and a White House sagging in the polls.
“I will not support additional spending in a second stimulus package. Any new transportation initiatives can be funded through the Recovery Act, which still contains unused funds,” Bennett said in a statement released Wednesday.
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) The NYC DOT wants you to designate a driver by calling him, or presumably her... um "You The Man." The city "You the Man" app will allow drunk New Yorkers to find the nearest car service in any of the city's five boroughs. Presumably, you can use it even if you don't have a car, but just happen to be out and about, needing a ride home.
(Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) Presidents Barack Obama's proposal Monday for $50 billion in new spending on highway and railroad infrastructure has players on Capitol Hill scratching their heads while at the same time predicting the money likely wont pass Congress this year.
Aides to key lawmakers in both the House and Senate said they knew little of Obama's proposal prior to his announcement Monday in front of a labor union audience in Much of what Capitol Hill knows of the White House's actual intentions it has learned from the press, several said.
"We didn't know Obama was going to make the announcement until Sunday and we didn't get any details until yesterday," one House Democratic aide told Transportation Nation. "There are a lot of questions here, a lot of gaps, as to how this is going to work, the aide said.
Obama proposed $50 billion in new spending for new railroads construction, highway installation and maintenance, and other infrastructure improvements. The president billed it as a way to further stimulate job growth, which continues to flag less than two months before the mid-term elections.
The White House has proposed funding the infrastructure bank through increased taxes on oil companies. While such a move could be popular with the public, no one on Capitol Hill who spoke to Transportation Nation was clear on how long the program would last, whether such tax increases would continue beyond a couple of years, or whether the proposed program would temporarily replace a renewal of the national transportation reauthorization bill.
That bill has stalled in Congress as lawmakers struggle to find money to pay for it. The Highway Trust fund used to fund the bill stands as much as $150 billion short of what it would need to pay for proposed infrastructure projects in the bill. The White House has rejected the idea of raising the federal gas tax to make up the gap, and lawmakers have so far failed to agree on an alternative.
Aides on both sides of the Capitol are already skeptical that Senate Republicans would give Barack Obama a legislative victory by allowing the plan to pass before the November elections.
"The White House has chosen to double-down on more of the same failed 'stimulus' spending," House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), said in a statement.
But Democrats aren't exactly predicting success. "I'd be surprised if we passed the infrastructure part of the plan" one Senate Leadership aide said. House and Senate aides both said they expect to be briefed on the plans details by White House or the Department of Transportation in the coming days.
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) How should you get to Broadway? Drive? Cab? Train? In New York City, Transportation Alternatives wants you to bike, and to make it easier, they'll be setting up a "bike valet" on Thursday-Saturday nights through September. Of course, you'll have to stow your helmet under your seat.
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) In New York City this week, Brooklyn residents have been getting a mailer from Forest City Ratner, the developer of the new Nets stadium and mega-building complex near what's called the "crossroads of Brooklyn," Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues. The mailer tells the residents that Flatbush Avenue, a major thoroughfare that connects the Manhattan Bridge to the Atlantic Ocean, will be reduced from six lanes to five until the summer of 2012 for a block at that crucial intersection.
The stadium project was approved only after a prolonged controversy. The mailer seeks to soften the blow by positing that the road closure is to make subway improvements.
We're working getting a traffic analysis, but transpo experts, if you're out there, let us know what you think in the comments page.
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Who runs transportation? In New York, it's the Port Authority, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and the NY Thruway Authority, to name a few. The authorities are quasi-governmental organizations, funded by toll and transit revenue, with not much scrutiny of how they spend their money. In New York, authorities have often been run by political contributors, and have frequently given government contracts or leases to other contributors. My WNYC colleague, Bob Hennelly, has an excellent story on gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo's campaign finances -- and how he takes millions of dollars from obscure business entities -- a legal, but criticized, practice. Listen carefully for the NY Thruway connection.
Comments? Thoughts? Work for an authority and want to tell us your story?
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) When I interviewed New York City Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith last week about public versus private transit, he had pretty clearly-thought out views on the matter:
"I think what you want to do right is more transportation and if there’s more transportation there’s more of a role for both TWU [Transport Workers Union] workers to be fully employed, not laid off as we’re facing, and more private transportation as well, and I think one way to think about this is that there are a lot of people living in this area needing to go to a lot of places and we ought to take the most substantial, densest routes and they ought to be run by the government-run transit systems and then the smaller areas need to be serviced by vans or cabs or whatever. So I don’t view it as this or that, I view it as how to increase the whole of transit in the community.
But as WNYC's Matthew Schuerman reports, the economics can get tricky. When entrepreneur Steve Lowry - know as "Mr. S "-- who runs buses to the Poconos, took over an old MTA route, passengers were grateful. But it turns out Mr. S's buses are a bit shabbier, and have drawn a bit more regulatory scrutiny, than customers would have expected with their old X29 bus from Coney Island to Manhattan. WNYC's Matthew Schuerman has the full story.
(Matt Dellinger, Transportation Nation) You won’t find a clearer policy statement than the domain name for NoTrain.com. The web site was created on behalf of Scott Walker, the republican gubernatorial candidate in Wisconsin, who in a new campaign spot takes a stand against a proposed Madison-to-Milwaukee rail line. Rather than build the $810 million dollar federally-funded “boondoggle,” Walker says, he’d like to “fix Wisconsin’s crumbling roads and bridges.” He’s worried for the “hard-working families who are going to pick up the tab” for a train they may never ride.
The undercurrents are of states rights and fiscal responsibility. The television ad and the open letter that appear on the web site are directed not so much against Walker’s Democratic opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (who supports the rail plan), but against President Barack Obama, who won the state of Wisconsin two years ago by nearly fourteen percent.
Walker isn’t the only Republican gubernatorial hopeful employing the roads-vs-rail rivalry in a state that voted for Obama. California nominee Meg Whitman, the former eBay CEO, has complained that issuing bond debt for high speed rail is unwise in the current economy. She wants the plans put on ice. In Ohio, candidate John Kasich has proposed repurposing the $400 million in stimulus money set aside for faster trains serving Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati, and using that money for roads. And in Maryland, Republican challenger Bob Erlich has taken issue with Governor Martin O’Malley’s goal to “dial up mass transit.” Erlich says he wants to see a better balance of highway and transit projects, and has suggested that a number of commuter rail projects be converted to a bus program.
The party is not monolithic against rail.
New York has the most influence beyond its borders of any global city, followed by London, Tokyo, Paris, and Hong Kong. That's the conclusion of a panel assembled by Foreign Policy magazine, which ranked the world's top 65 cities. Chicago is sixth, Los Angeles seventh and San Francisco and Washington are numbers 12 and 13 respectively. The list aims to "measure how much sway a city has over what happens beyond it's own borders -- its influence on and integration with global markets, culture, and innovation."
Like all such lists, it's subjective, and provocative, but also instructive. And it certainly explains why New York has a keen eye on London's and Paris's transportation solutions.
Half the world's population is now urban, the accompanying article notes, saying:
"What happens in our cities, simply put, matters more than what happens anywhere else. Cities are the world's experimental laboratories and thus a metaphor for an uncertain age. They are both the cancer and the foundation of our networked world, both virus and antibody. From climate change to poverty and inequality, cities are the problem -- and the solution. Getting cities right might mean the difference between a bright future filled with HafenCitys and Songdos -- and a world that looks more like the darkest corners of Karachi and Mumbai."
What do you think of the rankings?
-- (Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)
(Brooklyn, NY- WNYC) Advocates for the disabled have now officially charged the NYC MTA with violating the Americans with Disability Act over its bus line cuts. The suit claims the transit agency has discriminated against those with disabilities who can't ride the subways because they are in wheelchairs or have other physical or mental disabilities that make it almost impossible to navigate New York's subway system. The vast majority of New York subway stops don't have elevators. Ailsa Chang first covered this story earlier this month. Click here for the full story.
(Andrea Bernstein-Transportation Nation) Quick! Which saves more energy: line-drying your clothes or setting your washer to cold water wash? Drinking from a can with new aluminum or a bottle with recycled glass? How much more energy does it take to run central air than to run a room air conditioner? Do trucks consume twice as much energy to transport goods as trains -- or more? (Answers at the bottom)
If you're not sure, you're in the mainstream, according to a new Columbia University Survey. The survey found people tend to believe small actions -- like turning off lights, save more energy than they actually do. And that only a tiny fraction -- 11.7 percent -- cited insulating their homes or replacing inefficient appliances as the "most effective thing they could do to conserve energy." In fact these energy-saving measure are the most effective thing they can do.
When it comes to transportation, respondents similarly got it wrong. They tended to overestimate the energy savings in driving more slowly, but significantly underestimate the gas saved by tuning up their cars twice a year.
When it came to transporting goods, respondents knew airplanes use more fuel than gas, but had no idea trucks use ten times as much gasoline as trains. Most people said trucks and trains were about the same.
There's a problem with the survey - it's not a randomized group, but a survey taken of Craigslist respondents, who were paid $10 for their efforts. Study author Shahzeen Z. Attari acknowledges that was a budget decision (truly randomized polls are costly to perform) but maintains the group was sufficiently heterogeneous to produce meaningful responses.
Answers: Cold water wash, aluminum, three and a half times as much energy, and ten times as much.
(New York, NY - Collin Campbell) Five years of data and 7,000 crash records are showing a rich picture of collisions between pedestrians and cars in New York City. They're at the lowest point in recorded history, the Bloomberg Administration says, and the analysis released today may inform policy decisions to push them lower.
Among the findings from the mayor's announcement today:
• Male drivers are involved in 80% of crashes that kill or seriously injure pedestrians. They're only 57% of registered drivers in New York City.
• Private vehicles – not taxis, trucks or buses – are involved in 79% of crashes that kill or seriously injure pedestrians.
• Pedestrian fatalities in 2009 were down nearly 20 percent from 2001.
(Houston -- Wendy Siegle, KUHF) "Wrong way Driver Detected! Wrong Way Driver Detected." That's what Houston-area highway dispatchers hear when a motorist enters the Westpark Tollway going in the wrong direction, enabling patrols to quickly get to the scene. The technology was installed after a triple fatality in 2006 resulting from a wrong way driver. But the devices are costly, putting them out of reach of many transportation agencies, Full story, here.
First, let me say I'm having a hard time letting go of the moniker "Freedom tower," even though I know the replacement for the Twin Towers' new name is "One World Trade." I was there when it was named, and I'll be there, I hope, when the 1776-foot tall tower is complete.
(Detroit -- Jerome Vaughn, WDET). Detroit is buzzing about word of a leadership change at GM -- it's almost as big news as the Flint serial killer. The Editor of Autoline Daily John McElroy says GM's new CEO, Dan Akerson "fits the bill perfectly for what the[U.S] treasury wanted." But, he adds "if GM is going to have only finance people running the company-- we saw the trouble that it got into in the last decade by having those kind of officers in charge."
McElroy also notes that the company's 1.3 billion profit this quarter "is not a surprising number" and that " what everybody seems to forget is that the Obama administration came into town a year ago, waved a magic wand, and made all of GM's and Chrysler's legacy costs disappear, pouf, they're gone...that was not done by the people who are running GM right now."
McElroy's prediction for the future of the industry: "Three, four years from now the auto industry in Detroit is going to be rocking like we haven't seen in a long, long time."
More on Detroit from today's New York Times "Detroit Goes from Gloom to Economic Bright Spot."
WNYC’s Brian Lehrer, Andrea Bernstein, Bob Hennelly and Azi Paybarah discuss the latest on various local and national political stories.