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Andrea Bernstein

Andrea Bernstein appears in the following:

More Criticism Rains down on Scott from FL Officials for Killing High Speed Rail

Friday, February 25, 2011

This just in from Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown:

PRESS RELEASE
THE HONORABLE CORRINE BROWN

THIRD CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT OF FLORIDA

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  February 25th, 2011

Congresswoman Brown:  Rick Scott Puts Florida Jobs on High Speed Train to California

(Washington, DC) Congresswoman Brown delivered the following statement:

"Today is a very sad day for the state of Florida.  As the Ranking Member of the House Railroad subcommittee, I am more than disappointed in the Florida's governor's decision to return $2.4 billion in funding for a high speed rail system.  Just yesterday, Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica and I attended a previously scheduled listening tour to obtain input from Americans nationwide on the upcoming six year Surface Transportation Reauthorization bill.  The hearing, which was jointly held with Senator Barbara Boxer and attended by several Members of the California congressional delegation, was widely attended and attracted a great deal of interest in the Los Angeles area.  Sadly, I must admit that many of the California delegation members thanked Congressman Mica and me profusely for the high speed rail money Florida Governor Scott is about to hand over to their state.  It was extremely painful for me to hear these types of remarks, as well as to physically be, ironically, in California at the same time our governor is working hard to give away over $2 billion in high speed rail funding destined for our state.

Unfortunately, Florida's governor is much more interested in politics than in creating jobs or improving the transportation system for Florida residents.  And his decision will not do anything to bring down Florida's 12% unemployment rate. 

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Does The Spoke and Hub Transit System Still Work?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Transit systems in New York, Chicago, and many other cities were designed a hundred years ago to get people in and out of downtowns, where most of the employment was.  A new report from the Center for and Urban Future in New York suggests that's outdated, and that many people now live and work in the boroughs outside Manhattan.   Click here for Brian Lehrer's interview with study author David Giles.

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BREAKING: Florida High Speed Rail, like ARC Tunnel, Dead Again

Thursday, February 24, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  UPDATED WITH US DOT COMMENTS: Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott is sticking to his decision to kill the Tampa to Orlando high speed rail.

Scott's decision is a major setback to President Obama's goal, put forward in his state of the union, to link eighty percent of Americans to high speed rail within 25 years.

In an unusually sharply worded statement, U.S. Department of Transportation spokeswoman Olivia Alair said “The U.S. Department of Transportation has addressed every legitimate concern Governor Scott has raised with respect to plans to connect Florida through high-speed rail. We have repeatedly and clearly told Governor Scott and his staff that Florida would not bear financial or legal liabilities for the project, and that there is strong private sector interest in taking on the risk associated with building and operating high-speed rail in the state.”

Last week Scott abruptly announced he would be pulling the plug on the $2.7 billion rail line, the first true high speed rail in the U.S.   The Tampa to Orlando line, which was also to stop at Disney World, was to have been complete in just four years -- by 2015.  Scott said Florida's $280 million investment carried too much risk, and that he would return $2.4 billion to the federal government.

But a day after Scott's decision,

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Florida High Speed Rail Line Dies a Second Death

Thursday, February 24, 2011

WNYC

For the second time in four months, a governor is returning billions of dollars to the federal government for a major infrastructure project.  Like Governor Chris Christie before him, Florida Governor Rick Scott is sticking to his decision to kill the Tampa-to-Orlando high speed rail, the Mayor of Tampa said.

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Mayor-Elect Rahm Emanuel Seen As Pro-Bike, Pro-Transit

Thursday, February 24, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Chicago -- America's third largest city -- is getting a cyclist Mayor. And one who's interested in transit funding,  large-scale bike-share, car-share, and the nitty gritty of bike lane design. (And one who has some atoning to do for something he neglected to say -- but you'll have to read to the end of the post to find out what.)

We've already written about Rahm Emanuel's transportation plan, which he put forward as a candidate.

But now we've got some fresh details that shed light on what he'll likely do as Mayor of Chicago. About a month ago, Emanuel met with a group of transportation advocates and environmentalists to be briefed on transit and transportation issues. The meeting, according to those present, lasted a full hour.

This kind of meeting seems to have laundered Emanuel from a former White House Chief of staff reviled by Republicans for pushing health care, an energy bill, and an $800 billion economic stimulus package -- and by the left for the way he pushed those things -- to an energetic young Mayor with a bunch of new ideas overwhelmingly supported by Chicago voters.

"Everybody knows about his style and that he’s very direct and smart" the Center for Neighborhood Technology's Sharon Feigon told us. Feigon is also the CEO of I-GO car share, a non profit Chicago-based car share outfit.

"I was impressed that he knew as much detail about all the stuff he’s talking about. A lot of  candidate meetings -- they end up being very general. This struck me as more detailed. He had done some homework"

The participants presented Emanuel with a "Sustainable Transportation Platform," which

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While We Were Nudging the MTA for Data...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Jeremy Soffin, the NYC MTA's chief communications officer, got married.

Congratulations Jeremy, and have a nice honeymoon!

And don't worry, TN readers, we'll keep asking questions.  But maybe we'll give Jeremy a break -- Transportation Nation

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Prospect Park Lane Bike Opponents Support Moratorium on All Bike Lanes

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Cars driving on Prospect Park West on Friday around 5:30 pm. A row of parked cars is on the right, to the far right is the two-way bike lane.

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes issued a press release yesterday with this headline:

"Groups Applaud City Council Legislative Package That Seeks to Report Bike and Pedestrian Accidents; Support Alternative PPW Bike Lane Route, Suspension of New Bike Lane Installation; Call for DOT Meeting."

The press release goes on to say:

"Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes (NBBL) and Seniors for Safety today applauded City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Council Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca and the entire City Council for passing a package of three bills that will, for the first time, report bike and pedestrian accidents. They also support the moratorium, called for by Speaker [Christine] Quinn and Councilman [James]Vacca, on the imposition of new bike lanes until this background data is available online. This is exactly what both groups say was missing on Prospect Park West." (full release after the jump)

But according to city council spokesman Jamie McShane, "neither Speaker Quinn nor Councilman Vacca support a moratorium on bike lane construction."  In fact, McShane said, the question came up at a press conference after the traffic safety bill was passed, and the council specifically rejected the idea of a moratorium on bike lane construction.

NBBL said it had based their press release on their understanding of a news report.

The bill the group was applauding does require the Bloomberg administration to more fully and quickly release data on traffic accidents -- with information on crashes caused by bikes, pedestrians, and cars.  Its heaviest champion was Transportation Alternatives, a pro-bike advocacy group deeply behind the PPW bike lane.

Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes was formed as the two-way protected bike lane along Prospect Park West was being installed last spring. The group, which represents many Prospect Park West residents, has criticized the city for what it sees as insufficient community outreach  and too little data collection before installing the lane.  Its supporters including Brooklyn College Dean Louise Hainline, former Deputy Mayor Norman Steisel, former city DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall, and her husband, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer.

The city says the lane did go through the local approval process, and was supported by the local community board. Community Board 6 wanted both to provide more space for bikes to ride safely through Park Slope in both directions and reduce traffic speeds along Prospect Park West.   The DOT says by both measures the lane has been a success -- the number of weekday cyclists has tripled, and the number of cars driving over the speed limit has dropped sharply.  Before the lane, it says, three of four vehicles drove over the speed limit, now just one in five does.  The DOT says pedestrian hit by a car driving 40 miles an hour will almost certainly die, but a pedestrian hit by a car driving 30 miles an hour has a two-thirds chance of survival.

The DOT has posted the data on line, but Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes says the data is incomplete, and doesn't give a full picture of what traffic conditions were like before the lane was installed.  Their full release is here.

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Back of the Bus Now on iTunes

Monday, February 21, 2011

Our Transportation Nation documentary, Back of the Bus, on transit and civil rights is now on iTunes!   Hear Rosa Parks, archival tape of 1968 riots, national experts on transit and civil rights...and lots of riders!  For instructions and to download from iTunes, click here.

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Back of the Bus Airing Soon in NM, DC, IL, SF, Dallas, Pittsburgh, El Paso

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Airtimes in Washington, DC, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Dallas, El Paso, Pittsburgh,  Central Illinois, Southern Missouri,  Little Rock, San Francisco, Wyoming, Montana, Minnesota (or listen anytime by clicking here or on icon at right)

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Do More Cyclists Mean Safer Streets?

Friday, February 18, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  The latest data comes from Minneapolis ' League of Bicyclists. (hat tip: Streetsblog) which shows steadily fewer bike accidents as more cyclists hit the streets.  In 1999 there were three hundred some-odd bike crashes -- a decade later, that number was 269.  During the same period, daily bike commuters jumped from 3000 to 8000.

New York's trend has been similar: city data shows a huge spike in cycling in the latter part of the last decade.  But overall bicycle crashes have not been rising, according to the New York City DOT.   Bicycle deaths did increase from 2009 to 2010 -- to 18. That's up from 12 in 2009 but down from 26 in 2008.

New York's pedestrian safety report also found that the installation of bike lanes makes those streets safer for all users, whether on foot, in a car, or on a bike.

But San Francisco is showing the opposite trend -- as Kate and Casey reported earlier this month . According to a pretty lengthy analysis by the Bay Citizen, crashes are rising faster in San Francisco than the number of cyclists.

What's going on here?  Planners &c, please weigh in!

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Back of the Bus Airs Today in Knoxville, Cleveland...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Want to know when to listen to "Back of the Bus" in your area?  Here are some upcoming airdates in Ohio, San Francisco, Illinois, Washington, DC, Missouri, Montana, Wyoming, and Minnesota. (You can also listen anytime by clicking on the icon to your right, or here.  The icon to listen online or download is on the right of your screen once you click over to the site.)

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BREAKING LaHood: Give Us A Week on Florida High Speed Rail

Thursday, February 17, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) After a meeting with Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida and a group of Florida Congress members, the U.S. DOT wants a deal put together in a week  in which a third party assumes all the financial risk of building a high speed rail line.

More soon.

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U.S. Senator Nelson's Office: Florida Planning Organization Wants to Take Over High Speed Rail

Thursday, February 17, 2011

From Florida Senator Bill Nelson's office:

"Officials now studying ways to help Florida, despite governor’s rejection of federal money for high-speed rail.  Today:

"Ø  A metropolitan planning organization in Tampa and a rail authority in South Florida have volunteered to step forward in place of the state to accept oversight of the bullet-train project and the $2.4 billion from Uncle Sam.  Lawyers are researching how to do it.

"Ø  At 1:30 p.m., U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson will meet on the plan in Washington with the federal transportation secretary and members of Florida’s congressional delegation."

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Florida Rejects President's High Speed Rail Plan

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has said thanks — but no thanks — to $2 billion in federal funds that were meant to create a high speed line between Orlando and Tampa. Joining us to talk about the implications of this setback for the Obama administration's rail plan is Andrea Bernstein, Director of Transportation Nation, a public radio project produced by our flagship station WNYC Radio says this was the marquee project for the Obama administration's plans for high speed rail.

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BREAKING: LaHood to Meet with Florida Delegation to Salvage Florida High Speed Rail

Thursday, February 17, 2011

LaHood rides high speed rail in Japan last year with Central Japan Railway Chair Yoshiaki Kasai

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  A DOT official tells us "Secretary Ray LaHood has agreed to meet with the Florida delegation to discuss options for salvaging the [Florida high speed rail] project without the state's involvement."  The meeting comes a day after Florida Governor Rick Scott said he was returning $2.4 billion dollars to the federal government for the project. That move was met with widespread criticism, including from the Republican Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, John Mica.

More coverage below and here.

The meeting between LaHood and the Florida congressional delegation  is set for 1:15  today.  We'll update as we get details.

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WMFE: LaHood and U.S. Senator Nelson Looking to Restore Florida High Speed Rail

Thursday, February 17, 2011

On our partner The Takeaway this morning, Mark Simpson of our newest partner, WMFE in Orlando, reports:

"Readers of the tea leaves might have been able to anticipate this was coming. Last week Governor Scott was speaking with Wisconsin Governor Walker Scott who also rejected high speed rail money.  So you might have been able to anticipate this was coming up soon, but still it really did rock the Florida political establishment.

"But I wonder whether it really is dead, because you've already seen U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and U.S Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood working on just finding out if there is a legal work-around to still do this project without state participation."

Here's video of Nelson, who says "We are exploring how we could keep this project going forward since the state of Florida will not participate."

Simpson added:  "Rick Scott has kind of seen his base become the Tea Party in Florida.  When he unveiled his budget just a few weeks ago he didn't do it in the capitol Tallahassee, where all the establishment legislators could come hear the announcement, instead he went to a small town north of Orlando with a hand-picked crowd of Tea Party supporters to unveil the budget, kind of disavowing the Republican establishment that's been ruling Florida for a good long time. "

Listen to the Takeaway segment below.

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High Speed Rail Will Not Come To Disneyworld

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sadiqa Muqaddam had been hoping for work on the high speed rail line

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) When I was in Tampa before last November's election, I met a man named Sadiqa Muqaddam.  Muqaddam told me he'd found his first job as an iron worker building ships in Pascagoula Mississippi.  "You know," he told me, "this is what I went to school for.  When I was coming up, I was taught by my people, the only way for you to have something in America, is for education."

For half a century, Muqaddam said, there was more work than he could handle. "One day I was going all over the state of Florida. I was working out of Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, everywhere, I was everywhere, you know? And now, when I look around, there’s no jobs. There’s no jobs.” In the last year, Muqaddam lost his home. “I’m renting, now I’m back renting. Before I used to own. I’m used to walking in my three bedroom house, two cars, my little Chihuahua. I don’t have that no more. Even my dog died. Lost my cars, everything.”

But there was one thing that Muqaddam was thinking about -- a bullet train from Tampa to Orlando.  "That right there would give me work. I fall in that category, of messing with iron, steel, whatever." But there will be no high speed rail line in Florida.

Saying "the risk far outweighs the benefits," Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican elected last November, called  U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Wednesday morning. Scott said he would be rejecting $2.4 billion in federal funds for high speed rail. This makes him the third Republican Governor to do so, after Scott Walker in Wisconsin and John Kasich in Ohio. But those projects were far less significant than the Florida plan, which was to be the first fully functioning true high-speed rail anywhere in the Americas.

This was to be a marquee project for the Obama administration, so important that the President announced his high speed rail program in January 2010.  It was going to stop at Disneyworld -- something that cheered planners, who figured happy tourists would ride the high speed rail, and then carry its banner back to their home districts.

Florida's Planned High Speed Rail Route

The Florida project had all the land it needed along the I-4 corridor. It had almost all the funding. But it did not have the political support of Republican Governor Rick Scott, and in the end, that's what mattered.  Scott said Wednesday:

  • "The truth is that this project would be far too costly to taxpayers and I believe the risk far outweighs the benefits."
  • "Historical data shows [sic] capital cost overruns are pervasive in nine out of 10 high speed rail projects and that two-thirds of those projects inflated ridership projections by an average of 65 percent of actual patronage.
  • "It is projected that 3.07 million people will use the train annually.  Keep in mind that Amtrak’s Acela train in Washington, D.C., Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore only had 3.2 million riders in 2010. And that market’s population is eight times the size of the Tampa/Orlando market.
  • "President Obama’s high-speed rail program is not the answer to Florida’s economic recovery."

Scott's announcement comes just a week after Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Philadelphia to announce an Administration push for $53 billion for high speed rail funding over the next six years. President Barack Obama has made high speed rail a signature initiative of his administration. But his goal, announced with some fanfare in his State of the Union address last month, to link 80 percent of Americans to high speed rail by 2036, has suffered a significant setback with the Florida cancellation.

Neither the President's nor the Vice President's office would comment on the political ramifications of Scott's action, instead referring us to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood's statement:

“We are extremely disappointed by Governor Rick Scott’s decision to walk away from the job creating and economic development benefits of high speed rail in Florida. We worked with the governor to make sure we eliminated all financial risk for the state, instead requiring private businesses competing for the project to assume cost overruns and operating expenses. It is projects like these that will help America out-build our global competitors and lay the foundation needed to win the future. This project could have supported thousands of good-paying jobs for Floridians and helped grow Florida businesses, all while alleviating congestion on Florida’s highways. Nevertheless, there is overwhelming demand for high speed rail in other states that are enthusiastic to receive Florida’s funding and the economic benefits it can deliver, such as manufacturing and construction jobs, as well as private development along its corridors.”

But Petra Todorovich, the head of America 2050, and a general optimist about the future of high speed rail in the U.S., isn't so sure. "The funds will be distributed," she noted (Florida itself had been a beneficiary when newly-elected Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker sent back his state's high speed rail money), most likely to California, which already has some $12 billion in funding for its San Francisco to L.A. high speed rail.

But, she said in a phone interview, "It becomes much trickier now. The next project on line is California. It becomes much larger, much more complicated, much farther away.  This could set high speed rail back years, even decades."

In a poll released earlier this week, the Rockefeller Foundation (full disclosure, they support Transportation Nation) found that 71 percent of Americans agreed that "building a high speed rail system in the U.S. will be a benefit to travelers and to the U.S. economy."   Sixty-seven percent of independents, 56 percent of Republicans and 52 percent of tea party affiliates agreed.

But that doesn't mean Scott and other Republican governors haven't tapped into unease about how to pay for big programs like this, or what seems to weigh heavily on voters minds: whether the government should be spending at all on big projects just now.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was the first to curtail a big infrastructure project,  when last October he sent three billion dollars back to the federal government that was to have been spent on a transit tunnel under the Hudson River.  It would have been the largest transit project in the nation.  Christie said NJ's portion of the bill -- another 2.7 billion --- could run too high, with cost overruns

Gov Christie, whose name is widely bandied about as a GOP presidential candidate, either in 2012, or 2016 is repeating his wariness of spending on big infrastructure projects like a mantra, and each time he does so, he becomes more full-throated (video) "I look at what is happening in Washington DC right now and I'm worried," Christie told the American Enterprise Institute Wednesday.

He continued "[The President] says the big things are high speed rail. The big things are high speed internet access for almost  80 percent of America,  or something,  by some date.  A million electric cars by some date.  Ladies and gentlemen, that is the candy of American politics.

"Those are not the big things, because let me guarantee you something:  if we don't fix the real big things there's going to be no electric cars on the road. There's going to be no high speed internet access -- or if there is you're not going to be able to afford to get on it. We're not going to be able to care about the niceties of life, the 'investments' that Washington wants to continue to make."

"This really was a world class high speed rail system," lamented Petra Todorvich, of Building America's Future. "It defies logic why a governor would kill a project like this -- private investors were just chomping at the bit. If the concerns were overruns, those questions could have been answered," she said.  "A deal could have been structured where the private sector took the risk."

Private sector firms certainly were coming forward, spending big money on lobbying campaigns. Everyone wanted to be able to build the first high-speed rail line in America.

In a sit-down interview in his headquarters in New York's Empire State Building, Mike McNally, CEO of  Skanska USA told me that Skanska was dying to take over big projects like high speed rail in Florida.  But he was worried about the signals some Governors are sending by canceling big projects after they began.  "The private sector can't, we don't operate that way. We're here to do what the governments -- they're our customers -- we want to do what they want to do. We need to know what they want to do and these are not short term decisions, these are long term commitments. You just can't keep changing every two fears or nothing's going to happen.

Even Republicans who've expressed reservations about the Tampa to Orlando line (it' was short, it had many stops, neither Tampa nor Orlando has much of a real downtown or a transit system to shuttle passengers to high speed rail) like John Mica, the Chair of the House Transportation Committee expressed regret at Scott's decision.

"I am deeply disappointed in the decision to not move forward with the Orlando to Tampa passenger rail project," Mica said in a statement. "This is a huge setback for the state of Florida, our transportation, economic development, and important tourism industry.''

Politicians from other states are already putting their hats in the ring to collect the money Florida just turned away. U.S. Senator Charles Schumer of New York was one of them. He said, "Florida’s loss should be New York’s gain. Other states may not be ready to unlock the potential of high speed rail, but it is a top priority for upstate New York. We can put these funds to use in a way that gets the best bang for the buck. The administration should redirect these funds to New York as quickly as possible.”

But the sentiment of doubt about paying more taxes for anything remains real, and widespread.  Even people like unemployed iron worker Muqaddam have hesitations. When I went to Florida last fall, I was there to investigate how voters felt about a sales tax to fund a local light rail, another big transportation project.  I asked Muqaddam about that.  Initially, he was pretty sure he was against it. "We don’t have -- It’s just like you’re taking, you know, we ain’t got.  And then the little bit we do got, you’re taking, you know?”

A sentiment Rick Scott is speaking to.

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Christie Calls Infrastructure Investments "Candy"

Wednesday, February 16, 2011




Speaking  earlier today, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called Obama's high speed rail and electric car goals "the candy of American politics" in a speech before the American Enterprise Institute Wednesday.

Watch in the video above, starting at 20:14  in for the transportation  comments.

Transcript:

"I look at what is happening in Washington D.C. right now and I'm worried. I'm worried. And, you know,  I heard the president's State of the Union speech, and it was two weeks after mine and he said America is about doing the big things. Now I'm not saying he copied me... But I think its important to note it because of what he thinks the big things are.

"He says the big things are high speed rail. The big things are high speed internet access for almost  80 percent of American or something  by some date.  A million electric cars on the road by some date.  Ladies and Gentlemen, that is the candy of American politics, those are not the big things, because let me guarantee you something  if we don't fix the real big things there's going to be no electric cars on the road.  There's going to be no high speed internet access, or if there is you're not going to be able to afford to get on it.  We're not going to be able to care about the niceties of life, the 'investments' that Washington wants to continue to make."

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Waiting for "Go" Dough

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

(Matt Dellinger, Transportation Nation)  They say attention spans are getting shorter. But great patience is required in the transportation world, where big plans don't always include... well, plans.

by Chuck Kennedy, via Wikimedia Commons

Obama's robust transportation budget (pdf), a wonky valentine on Monday, was greeted with the predictable enthusiasm from activists and equally expected groans from Republicans. Tea-Party-beloved Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) called the proposed increase in transportation spending evidence of the President's "fiscal irresponsibility," while the Public Interest Research group said it proved that the administration was "serious about investing in the future."

The reactions were unsurprising, in part, because so were the proposals: The ideas put forward in the budget read like a greatest hits from the past two years of rhetoric. You've got the half-trillion-dollar reauthorization commitment coupled with program streamlining that former Rep Jim Oberstar (D-MN) floated two years ago, before being swept out of the House in the November GOP takeover. And there's that upfront $50 billion in stimulus that Obama proposed to a crowd on Labor Day. A heap of high-speed rail. A dash of TIGER-like grants. Add the perennial Infrastructure Bank idea (to be specific, the much poo-poo'd version that would have the "I-Bank" live within the USDOT), and you've got yourself a budget.

No word on how to pay for it all, though.

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The Politics of Driving

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn got a whole bunch of attention (including from WNYC), for her proposal, packaged to land with maximum punch in her state of the city address, to ease the lives of those New Yorkers who feel they are a slave to alternate-side-of-the-street parking and other motorist-related hassles.

As WNYC's Azi Paybarah reports it, Quinn said in her speech Tuesday: "almost every New Yorker has a story about getting a ticket they didn't deserve."

Azi explains: "new legislation would be written to allow ticket agents to literally "tear up" a ticket when a motorist presented proof that they stepped away from their car in order to purchase a parking ticket at a nearby meter. The problem, Quinn said, of those wrongfully issued tickets was bountiful."

But. The politics of driving in New York City are far from simple. Unlike every other city in America, the majority of New Yorkers take transit to work. More than 90 percent of people who work in Manhattan don't get there by private car.  But in politics, the beleaguered middle class driver -- like "Joe the Plumber," an archetype with great political hold -- is a powerful icon.

Since I've been covering this issue, candidates for Mayor (and Quinn is widely expected to be one 2013) have tried, with varying degrees of success, to tap dance around it. To take a walk down memory lane, in an August 2005 mayoral debate I asked (page 11 of the transcript) the democratic candidates about whether traffic into Manhattan should be limited by tolling East River bridges (which unlike some other crossings into Manhattan, are free).

There were four candidates at the time vying to be the Democratic nominee against Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the time: former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer (who went on to be the nominee against Bloomberg), Congressman Anthony Weiner (who didn't run in 2009 because, he said, there was too much important work to do in Washington, but who very well may run in 2013), Gifford Miller, the City Council Speaker (Quinn's current job) and Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields. None of them were for charging drivers to enter Manhattan by tolling East River bridges. To Weiner, it was "a tax on the middle class."

Throughout the 2008 fight on congestion charging, that's how opponents portrayed it. Quinn, however, stood up and took the heat. Through arm-twisting,  cajoling, and pleading, she pushed forward Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposal to charge motorists $8 to enter the busiest parts of Manhattan during peak hours. Proponents, including Quinn, argued that the charge would ease traffic, reduce driving and help the environment, and make hundreds of millions of federal dollars available for mass transit.

“This is a bold decision… which will send a message to the state Legislature that we are sick and tired of our streets being clogged with traffic," Quinn said after the relatively narrow council vote of 30-20. (Narrow, because Quinn is the Democratic Speaker of a Council that is almost entirely composed of Democrats, and can usually get upwards of 40 council members to support her on any given measure.) But the council didn't actually have the power to enact the charge -- the state legislature did. And that body never voted, leaving some city council members who'd gone along with Quinn bitter that they'd been forced to take a stand on a relatively controversial issue.

Congestion charging did not come to be in New York City. The federal government took back its offer of hundreds of millions of dollars in transit aid. Partly because of that, the MTA faced down an $800 million budget gap last year, imposed the most severe service cuts in a generation, and raised fares.

Of the candidates who may run for Mayor in 2013 in New York, Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio is on record as opposing congestion charging. He was one of the 20 votes against Quinn. Weiner has remained opposed, and most recently, when former MTA chief and transit eminence gris Richard Ravitch put forward a plan to save the MTA with bridge tolls, Weiner wasn't for that, either. City Comptroller John Liu, formerly a city council member from Queens and chair of the transportation committee, supported congestion charging -- but not bridge tolls. And then of course, there's Quinn.

All of this is the backdrop of Tuesday's speech, which comes in the wake of general outer-borough fury at Mayor Michael Bloomberg for failing to plow the streets in a timely manner after the blizzard of 2010. That's been rolled into general Bloomberg-fatigue (he's now in his third term after promising to serve for only two), resistance to some of Bloomberg's reforms that are seen by some motorists as anti-automobile (bike lanes come to mind), and general frustration by middle class New Yorkers suffering the third year of a recession as property taxes, water rates, and parking fees rise.

And thus Quinn's refrain, in a speech that usually ricochets with resonance, that among her lofty goals "is just making it easier to find a parking spot."

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