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Virginia Governor Promises Action on State's Transportation Funding Woes

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Interstate 495 - Virginia (photo by Doug Kerr via flickr)

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell offered no specifics in his “comprehensive transportation funding and reform” plan to raise an additional $500 million per year to prevent the state from running out of money to build roads by 2017.

Speaking in Fairfax County at his annual transportation conference, Governor McDonnell called on lawmakers to stay in session next year until they find a solution to Virginia’s long-term funding woes, which are exacerbated by the transfer of money from the state’s construction fund to required highway maintenance projects.

“I don’t think we can wait any longer,” McDonnell said. “I don’t think I can continue to recruit businesses to Virginia and see the unemployment rate go down unless we are able to get a handle on and provide some long-term solutions this session to that problem.”

The Republican governor, who is one year from leaving office, did not specify what he will ask lawmakers for when they convene in Richmond in January.

“I’ll tell you when we’re ready… before the session,” the governor said in brief remarks to reporters following his speech. “These are plans that take a lot of work to put together.”

He refused to take a position on whether the state’s gas tax should be increased, although he indicated that doing so alone would not generate adequate revenue. The tax of seventeen-and-a-half cents per gallon, which currently accounts for about one-third of the state’s transportation funding, was last increased in 1986. It has lost 55% of its purchasing power when adjusted for inflation.

Improved automobile fuel efficiency and the rising costs of highway construction materials have reduced the gas tax’s buying power, McDonnell said.

“A key ingredient of asphalt has increased by approximately 350% over that same time,” he said.

Critics contend the McDonnell administration cannot be trusted to direct new revenues wisely. One of the most vocal critics points to a record of highway construction instead of transit projects as evidence, especially from the $4 billion dollar package approved for the administration by the legislature.

“He squandered most of that,” said Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “It’s gone to rural highway projects that have very low traffic demand and are not high priorities given the traffic congestion within northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.”

Schwartz listed State Rt. 460 in southern Virginia, the Coalfields Expressway, bypasses in Charlottesville, and plans for an “outer beltway” in northern Virginia as examples of poor spending priorities by the administration, while transit projects like the Silver Line Metro rail and existing roads like I-66 need help.

“They are not targeting the areas of greatest need. You are not getting the best bang for your buck. You are spending a few billion dollars on the wrong things,” said Schwartz.

New revenues would likely be directed to construction projects under the state’s transportation trust fund, which currently loses hundreds of millions of dollars annually to required maintenance.  The trust fund’s formula directs fifteen percent of its monies to transit projects.  The remainder is for road building.

Governor McDonnell denied his administration is neglecting transit and other modes of transportation.  “It’s going to be a multi-modal approach.  Road, rail, and mass transit, all of those will be beneficiaries of a funding plan,” he said.

 

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Calif. County Cancels Transportation Tax Recount

Thursday, December 06, 2012

BART train (photo by Keoki Seu via Flickr)

(Jon Brooks -- San Francisco, CA - KQED) The Alameda County Transportation Commission has called off the partial recount of votes on Measure B1, which lost in the squeakiest of squeakers this election. The measure, which needed a two-thirds majority, fell just 0.14 percent shy -- about 700 votes out of 350,000 cast.

B1 would have doubled the county's transportation sales tax to one cent in order to raise almost $8 billion for transportation projects over 30 years.

Arthur Dao, executive director of the ACTC, told us today that the partial recount focused on precincts that had shown both the highest level of support and also a high number of undervotes for B1, all in Berkeley. Yesterday's recount examined about 28,000 ballots, with just seven additional yes votes found, Dao said. "That's a very small number statistically to get us to the 750-800 yes ballot we'd need to get us to the two-thirds threshold."

Dao said the cost of the recount was under $8,000.

Plans are in the works for another measure, he said. "We will be regrouping, remobilizing, and rethinking with the objective of going back to the voters."

The county's current half-cent transportation sales tax expires in 2022. Last week, Dao cited inadequately paved streets, cuts in AC Transit bus service, and increased demand for transportation in the face of requirements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as pressing projects that need to be addressed by the county.

Read more over at KQED.

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Transportation Nation

Hey, I'm Parking Here

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

New York City Council Member Jimmy Vacca (2nd from right.) Photo by Kate Hinds

The New York City Council Transportation Committee met Wednesday to discuss a slate of bills designed to make life easier for New Yorkers who park.

Three bills are under consideration: Int. 762 would make it easier for vehicles to stand near a school or day care center; Int. 527 would require the DOT to post notice of permanent street sign changes that affect parking, and Int. 824 would make it expressly legal for homeowners to park in front of their own driveways -- something committee chair Jimmy Vacca called "a simple bill -- quite frankly, it should be a no-brainer."

That last idea didn't fly with Kate Slevin, the New York City Department of Transportation Assistant Commissioner testifying on behalf of the NYC DOT.

"It's unclear what issue the bill attempts to address," she said, adding it was "particularly troubling" that the bill, as written, could effectively provide 'blanket forgiveness" for a variety of parking violations.

Slevin also said the DOT wouldn't support the other two bills. The no-standing regulations near schools, she said, are necessary to protect children. And as for posting advance notice for permanent parking sign changes: Slevin said the DOT maintains over 1.3 million signs -- of which 20 percent are devoted to parking. Providing advance notice, she said, would "essentially double the workload" of staff people who change signage, which would result in increased costs.

Rather than debate if people should read signs, or signs about signs, the hearing first focused on a topic not on the agenda: prices, specifically an already-rescinded rate increase notice the DOT had sent out to people who use municipal parking facilities.

Jimmy Vacca, reading from the letter, said "Effective January 1st, the City Council has approved rate increases for all New York City DOT municipal parking facilities."

"This City Council never approved any rate increase," Vacca said, adding that the same letter had been sent out last year. "This is two years in a row that this is a mistake."

He took the occasion to argue for more Council control over parking regulations, and said he wanted the City Council to be brought in as a partner when it comes to parking rate increases -- not an afterthought. "I don't appreciate agencies telling me what they're going to do, after they've decided what they're going to do."

The often-tense hearing did deliver some choice exchanges that reveal a persistent tension in city transportation planning.

"What do people do who have cars in this city?" Vacca wanted to know.

"Well, luckily for us, we have a wonderful transportation system," said Slevin, "and less than 50 percent of the households in New York City own cars, so there's a lot of other options people use to get around town."

This did not placate Vacca.

"Some people who live in boroughs outside Manhattan do need a car," snapped Vacca. "I hate to break that to DOT. Some people who do not live in Manhattan, especially, need a car. We do not have mass transit options that you think we have, or that we should have."

Slevin told him the new municipal parking lot rates were going into effect in February 2013.

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Homeowners Group Notches Up Fight Against Billion Dollar Highway Expansion

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) A state project with federal money is meeting with local opposition, in a sign that construction and infrastructure expansion often sparks not-in-my-backyard resistance. A homeowners group in a Washington, D.C. suburb says studies performed by traffic and environmental analysts it hired show the construction of a highway ramp near their homes will ruin their quality of life.

Members of Concerned Residents of Overlook, an upscale community adjacent to I-395 in Alexandria, Va., pleaded with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Tuesday night to support their request that the Virginia Department of Transportation suspend construction of the ramp, which is the planned northern terminus of the future 95 Express Lanes, 30 miles of high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes extending from the Edsall Road area in Fairfax County to Garrisonville Road in Stafford County. The $1 billion public-private project is scheduled for completion in December 2014.

“VDOT has usurped its responsibility. It has provided only a regional analysis of the impact of pollutants and traffic congestion. They haven't evaluated the public health risk to the residents,” Sue Okubo, an Overlook resident, told the board.

“This ramp, if it goes through as proposed, will bring major congestion as well as major amounts of pollution,” said Mary Hasty, Okubo’s neighbor.

The county supervisor who represents their neighborhood, Penelope Gross, rebuffed their plea, telling them to contact VDOT because it is a state project on state property, although staff of Board Chairman Sharon Bulova briefly met privately with Okubo to listen to her concerns.

The Overlook group claims VDOT failed to adequately study noise and air quality impacts that will result when traffic exits the new express lanes onto I-395 or local roads. The neighbors fear exiting highway traffic will back up and idle on the exit ramp.

“Our experts say that they will be standing for extended periods of time. That’s going to cause a concentration of pollutants that well exceeds EPA standards for safety for humans,” Hasty said. “One of the pollutants exceeds EPA standards by four-thousand percent.”

Concerned Residents of Overlook hired the national law firm of Shrader & Associates to manage their independent analyses. Shrader has litigated cases involving plaintiffs who claimed they were harmed by toxic chemicals and dangerous products.

The Virginia Department of Transportation has denied that it failed to adequately study the environmental impacts on the 95 Express Lanes project.

“It would be very difficult to make a change at this point having gone through a lot of the studies and approvals at the state, regional, and federal levels,” said John Lynch, VDOT’s regional transportation director for Virginia megaprojects, in a prior interview.

“We went through the federal requirements and developed an environmental assessment which includes analysis for both noise and air quality,” Lynch said.  “The bottom line is those studies met all the federal requirements and it was reviewed by both the Federal Highway Administration and Environmental Protection Agency. We wouldn’t have gotten approval to move forward with this project if it didn’t meet those requirements.”

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Transportation Nation

New Tappan Zee Bridge Design Released

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Rendering of  Design Proposal 1 for the new Tappan Zee Bridge, NY, estimated to cost $3.142 billion. (New York State Thruway Authority)

A selection committee has recommended a futuristic design for the new Tappan Zee Bridge, with suspension supports leaning outwards, giving the bridge the look of a stripped-down building by Santiago Calatrava.

Calatrava has designed the World Trade Center transit hub, the Milwaukee Museum of Art, and the Athens Olympic stadium.

The New York State Thruway Authority -- the agency in charge of the project -- will consider the design, along with two others, for a new Tappan Zee Bridge. The three designs were released at Governor Cuomo's cabinet meeting Wednesday.

The designs range from $3.142 billion to $4.059 billion when all estimated costs are totaled. All three proposals are being called "transit ready," though images of the bridge being recommended don't show buses or transit on the roadway.

Details of how the proposals will be financed still haven't been released. Governor Cuomo said both the bridge's full cost and the amount of federal financing (still unknown) would have to be tallied before a bridge financing plan could be released.

The three designs will be considered December 17th by the Thruway Authority board.

The state had said the bridge would cost $5.2 billion, but had been hoping the cost would be adjusted downward -- in part to lower future tolls  on drivers.

For more on why the bridge matters nationally, and the planning process to date, see our previous coverage.

More soon on the design details.

Design Proposal 1, seen in daytime, for the new Tappan Zee Bridge. (New York Thruway Authority)

 

Design Proposal 2 for the new Tappan Zee Bridge. Estimated cost, $3.99 billion. (New York State Thruway Authority)

 

Design Proposal 3 for the new Tappan Zee Bridge, estimated cost $3.99 billion. (New York State Thruway Authority)

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Transportation Nation

(UPDATED) Uber Now Legal in D.C.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

(photo by David Carmelo via flickr)

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) The battle between Uber the taxi hailing app and the District of Columbia is over.

After clashing for months over proposed regulations that Uber's CEO once claimed would cripple his business, the D.C. Council voted Tuesday to approve legislation creating a sedan class of vehicles-for-hire – separate from taxis – that will allow Uber to charge its customers fares based on distance and time as "digital dispatch" vehicles.

D.C. had been one of the more drawn out and contentious efforts to expand for Uber, and that says a lot. Uber has taken a confrontational approach to growing it's business from it's start in San Francisco a few years ago. Chicago sued the company for violating local regulations on pricing disclosure and safety. San Francisco has fined the company for breaking regulations on driver insurance. This summer Boston issued a cease and desist order to Uber.  New York chased the company out of it's iconic yellow cabs saying it violated safety regulations among others. Taxi unions in several cities have also filed suit against the upstart tech company.

The D.C. ruling isn't likely a harbinger of amity between those other cities and Uber. The D.C. council created a separate class of cab that can use Uber. Official metered city taxi cab drivers still can't use the app to snag passengers. New York, for example, already has such a category for non-metered livery cars that are permitted to use Uber all they want.

The ruling is, however, is certain to embolden Uber's confrontational growth strategy.

“Today was a fantastic victory for Uber but also for innovation, for our consumers here, and the drivers that partner with us,” said Rachel Holt, Uber’s general manager in Washington, D.C.  She thanked customers for helping convince the council as well as the District’s taxi cab commissioner to back away from more stringent regulations CEO Travis Kalanick once described as “from the draconian to the inane.”

“It's not about anything we did or won. I think what really won was that the fact that we have a passionate consumer base here,” she said. Over the past several months Uber customers flooded council members with complaints about proposals that threatened the company’s business model.

Uber’s black sedans are not hailed on the street. Instead, customers use Uber's smart phone app to order a car to their location using the phone’s GPS and pay with a registered credit card number.

The new legislation requires greater pricing transparency.

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Transportation Nation

Deal Reached in Los Angeles Port Strike

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Port workers protest outside of the APM terminal on December 4th, 2012 at the Port of Los Angeles. The clerical workers claim terminal operators are outsourcing their well-paid jobs – a claim that shippers deny. (Photo by Mae Ryan/KPCC)

(Wendy Lee - Los Angeles, KPCC) The eight-day strike that has crippled the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is over.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced Tuesday night "we've got a deal and people are going back to work," he said. He added that the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will open again Wednesday.

The agreement will now go to the rank and file for their approval. One ILWU representative told reporters he's confident it will be approved.

Federal mediators were brought in Tuesday to negotiate a deal between International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63 Office Clerical Unit clerical workers and the Harbor Employers Association.

The 450 workers had been on strike since November 27. They have been picketing in front of the entrances to several terminals, prompting closures because thousands of longshoremen refuse to cross the picket lines.

Read the whole story at Southern California Public Radio.

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Transportation Nation

Prediction: D.C. Area Highway and Transit Crowding Will Get Worse

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Washington DC - I-395 from D NW (photo by thisisbossi via flickr)

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) The Washington metropolitan region faces worsening traffic congestion and transit crowding as its population and job growth expand over the next three decades, according to a forecast released on Wednesday by a regional planning group.

The forecast by transportation planners at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments says large investments in infrastructure and improved land use policies are necessary to reduce the burden on an overtaxed highway and rail system.

“We’ve had a long period of time of inadequate funding for transportation,” said Ron Kirby, the director of the council’s Department of Transportation Planning, whose forecast says transit and roadway congestion will increase despite the expected billions of dollars in investments between now and 2040. It will take even more money, he said.

“The issues of Metro’s rehabilitation are well known but perhaps less well known is the lack of capacity expansion. We haven’t gotten to eight-car trains on Metro rail,” Kirby said, referring to Metro’s ongoing multi-billion dollar rehab project that does not include the addition of rail cars.

If 50 percent of Metro trains consist of eight cars by 2040, the forecast says the red, orange, yellow, and green lines will be congested (100-120 passengers per car) or highly congested (120+ passengers per car). Only the blue line would be rated satisfactory. If 100 percent of Metro trains consist of eight cars by 2040, the orange, yellow, and green lines will still be congested, according to the forecast, which is an aggregation of statistics and projections provided to the council by its member jurisdictions.

The forecast for the region’s highways is similar. Morning congestion traveling in the direction of the region’s core will worsen along I-95 in Prince William County, I-70 East in Frederick, I-270 South in Frederick and Montgomery Counties, I-66 East in Prince William and Fairfax, and the Dulles Toll Road Eastbound in Loudoun and Fairfax. The inner and outer loops of the Beltway will be more congested in Maryland, the forecast says.

“Carpooling is expected to increase some, because we do have some facilities coming on line,” said Kirby, referring to the just-completed 495 Express Lanes and under-construction 95 Express Lanes. “But there’s been relatively limited new highway capacity. At the same time, we are having very strong growth in the outer jurisdictions where there is relatively little transit. So those trips, whether they are work trips or non-work trips, are very dependent on the road system.”

The forecast says the region’s population will grow by 24 percent to 6.5 million by 2040. Employment is projected to grow by 37 percent, adding 1.1 million jobs.

As people and jobs flock to D.C. and its suburbs, choice of transportation mode will not dramatically change, according to Kirby’s projections. By 2040, 57 percent of all commuting trips will be made by people driving on their own, a four percent decrease from current levels. Carpooling is expected to increase from 11 to 14 percent of commuting trips, transit will remain steady at 24 percent, and biking and walking will increase from four to five percent.

Some lawmakers who sit on the Council of Governments board take issue with the forecast, saying its extrapolations do not account for changes in policy and other factors.

“It would be a mistake to think that’s what the future is going to be,” said Chris Zimmerman, a member of the Arlington County Board and proponent of transit-oriented development.

Zimmerman disagrees with the forecast’s projection that employment will grow fastest in the outer jurisdictions of Virginia, although the highest concentration of jobs will remain in D.C., Fairfax County and Montgomery County.

“The real question is where do you want the growth in jobs and population to be? That’s not a foregone conclusion,” Zimmerman said.  “Almost all the growth in this region and the rest of the country is happening in more developed areas because the market is pushing it that way. If land use regulations change in ways that accommodate what the market wants to do, we’ll see an accelerated trend.”

Zimmerman says the future should not be seen as a competition between either cars or transit; transit-oriented development that combines retail, office, and residential properties in close proximity to a Metro station also encourages more walking.

“The reason for doing transit-oriented development is not simply to get more people on transit, but to get more people out of having to use any kind of vehicle for five, six, seven trips a day,” he said.

Zimmerman acknowledges the highway system will always need significant funding for maintenance and improvements, but if a million more jobs are coming to the region by 2040 it makes more sense – in his view – to attract them to places that workers can reach without a car.

Kirby’s forecast says the average number of jobs accessible within 45 minutes by transit will increase from the current 419,000 to 499,000 in 2040, a projection Zimmerman says will change with better land use policies.

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Transportation Nation

Virginia to Study Traffic over Potomac River

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Woodrow Wilson Bridge, stretching over the Potomac River in Virginia (photo by catface3 via flickr)

The Virginia Department of Transportation will study traffic volume over the Potomac River in an effort to determine where the most people and goods will cross as the region’s population grows, the agency said Tuesday.

The study – scheduled for completion next spring – will not recommend a solution but instead provide a basis for consultations with transportation officials in the District of Columbia and Maryland about how best to improve transportation across the river from Point of Rocks in the west to the Route 301 bridge in the east.

“We want to essentially gauge and develop the data from which we can make some informed decisions regarding the best alternatives to deal with the current traffic conditions and what we expect in the future,” said Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton in an interview with Transportation Nation.

Connaughton downplayed the possibility his office would push for the construction of a new bridge over the Potomac.

“We’re really not prejudging anything. In fact, we’re not really getting into what’s the best alternative,” he said.

The study already has its critics, who say the Republican administration of Governor Bob McDonnell has been pushing for a new Potomac River bridge for years.

“They are pushing for another bridge even though the real fixes we need to make are at the American Legion Bridge,” said Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which supports expanding mass transit instead of road expansions.  To Schwartz, a new bridge connecting Virginia and Maryland would lead to more congestion and sprawl.  He favors implementing transit options on the American Legion Bridge.

“In the near term, that can be buses on dedicated bus lanes with frequent service, connecting the Red Line and the Silver Line, connecting Tysons Corner and Fairfax County job centers with the Montgomery County job centers,” he said.  “Fortunately, Fairfax County and Montgomery County have already met and are pursuing the transit investments that are needed both short term and long term.”

Connaughton disputes the allegation the McDonnell administration is after a new “outer beltway” at the expense of mass transit investments.

“This is one of the things that will be the hallmark of the McDonnell administration, is that we are pursuing increased transit opportunities, as well as dealing with congestion on our roadways, and looking for bike paths and pedestrian paths.  We are doing everything.  This is not a one-solution-fits-all,” he said.

If Virginia officials privately favor building another Potomac River span, they may meet resistance across the river.  In an October letter to Secretary Connaughton, Acting Maryland Secretary of Transportation Darrell Mobley clarified his agency’s position.

“The Maryland Department of Transportation’s (MDOT's) highest priority remains the preservation of our existing infrastructure and the safety of the traveling public. MDOT does not intend to revisit the years of debate regarding new crossings of the Potomac River,” the letter said. “We are interested in the study of potential improvements to existing crossings, including: the Governor Nice Bridge along the US 301 corridor, the American Legion Bridge on the Capital Beltway, and the potential addition of transit across the Wilson Bridge.”

Connaughton said he believes D.C. and Maryland officials are in agreement that a study of future traffic volume is necessary. As far as a possible solution, he said, “we haven’t gotten there yet.”

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Transportation Nation

PHOTOS: Hurricane Damage Devastates NJ Transit

Thursday, November 01, 2012


The totality of the damage done to New Jersey Transit by Hurricane Sandy can't be fully ascertained at this point, but the list on the agency's website is daunting.

Rail lines have suffered catastrophically: washouts, downed trees, waterlogged equipment, and track damage. The iconic Hoboken Ferry Terminal is flooded. The agency reports that even the Rail Operations Center--"the central nervous system of the railroad"--is engulfed in water. Although most bus service returned Thursday, nine of its bus garages continue to operate on back-up generator power. And in a letter requesting federal aid, Senators Lautenberg and Menendez write: "the only passenger rail tunnel into New York City—which connects thousands of people to the city each day—is shut down."

Earlier this week, Governor Christie said it could take seven to 10 days to resume PATH train service.

There is no timeline for resumption of rail service. The agency says it is continuing to inspect the system and that "the blow delivered by Hurricane Sandy will continue to impact customers for days to come."

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Put Away That MetroCard: No Transit Fares in NY on Thursday, Friday

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Flooding at the South Ferry subway station (photo courtesy of NY MTA)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday night that he was "declaring a transportation emergency" and authorized the MTA to waive fares on subways, buses, and rail lines through Friday.

Cuomo said that decision was prompted in part by the grueling traffic in Manhattan on Wednesday. He called the gridlock "dangerous" and said he wanted to encourage people to use transit.

But the subway system that will be up and running Thursday will not be the system New Yorkers are used to. Only 14 of the 23 lines will be operational, and even those will be running in segments. LIRR service is being slowly phased back in. Cuomo said one bright point was that roughly 50% of regular customers would have normal service on the Metro-North commuter rail line.

"Bear with us," said MTA head Joe Lhota, who was seated next to the governor at the last-minute press conference. He called the damage done by Hurricane Sandy the "most devastating event ever to happen to the MTA."

There are still subway tunnels flooded with water from "floor to ceiling," said Cuomo. Beginning Thursday, the Army Corps of Engineers will begin deploying 250 "high-speed pumping devices" to aid water removal. These will be operated around the clock until the tunnels are clear.

Meanwhile, to shuttle passengers between Brooklyn and Manhattan, the MTA will put 330 buses into service to act as a bus bridge. Late Wednesday night the New York City Department of Transportation released more details about how the bus lanes will be structured. DOT spokesman Seth Solomonow said the city was creating a "surface subway."

Starting at 6am tomorrow -- timed to coincide with the start of the subway -- buses will operate over Manhattan Bridge via a two-way bus lane on the lower level. These bus-only lanes will be operational 24/7 and will be enforced by the NYPD. Buses will also go over the Williamsburg Bridge. In both cases, buses will make major stops on their way uptown via the Bowery and Third Avenue along a dedicated curbside lane -- which he said will also be enforced by the NYPD.

The buses will run up to 55th Street, then turn around and head back to Brooklyn on Lexington Avenue.

For more information about transit service in New York, visit our Transit Tracker.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Here's the NY Gov. Order for Transit System Shutdown

Saturday, October 27, 2012

UPDATED: Sunday 12noon: Here's the latest release from the NY Governor's office about Hurricane Sandy transportation shutdowns and evacuation orders. Scroll down for previous statements.

 

 

GOVERNOR CUOMO ANNOUNCES MTA TO SUSPEND SERVICE IN ADVANCE OF HURRICANE SANDY

Orderly Suspension of Subway, Bus and Commuter Railroad Service Begins at 7 p.m.

Transportation System Must Be Suspended to Protect Customers, Employees and Equipment

Monitor mta.info and Media Outlets and Call 511 for Latest Transportation Information

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) will begin the orderly suspension of all subway, bus and commuter railroad service at 7 p.m. Sunday to protect customers, employees and equipment from the approach of Hurricane Sandy.

The New York City subway system will begin to curtail service after 7 p.m., and the New York City bus system within the following two hours. Metro-North Railroad and the Long Island Rail Road will start their final trains by 7 p.m. Subway and railway stations will be closed after the last trains.

Customers who need to travel today should do so as soon as possible and not wait until the last train or bus is departing. Anyone who does not leave for their destination before 7 p.m. runs the risk of being stranded when service is suspended. New York City Transit, Metro-North and the LIRR will cross-honor each other’s passes today to speed the process of returning customers to their homes.

“The transportation system is the lifeblood of the New York City region, and suspending all service is not a step I take lightly,” Governor Cuomo said. “But keeping New Yorkers safe is the first priority, and the best way to do that is to make sure they are out of harm’s way before gale-force winds can start wreaking havoc on trains and buses.”

The MTA Hurricane Plan calls for suspending service hours before the approach of winds of 39 mph and higher. That gives MTA crews time to prepare rail cars, buses, tunnels, yards and buildings for the storm, then return to safety. Winds of 39 mph and higher are predicted to reach the metropolitan region during the predawn hours Monday.

“The MTA proved it can suspend service in an orderly manner when it did so last year for Tropical Storm Irene, and we have refined our Hurricane Plan since then to help us prepare for Hurricane Sandy,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph J. Lhota. “This storm will batter the MTA, but the precautions we take now will allow us to recover much more quickly.”

The MTA has for days prepared for the possibility that conditions would require a service suspension by readying recovery equipment, clearing drainage areas, moving vehicles from low-lying areas in bus and rail yards and sealing some tunnel access points.

The duration of the service suspension is unknown, and there is no timetable for restoration. Service will be restored only when it is safe to do so, after careful inspections of all equipment and tracks. Even with minimal damage this is expected to be a lengthy process.

Metro-North Railroad’s special “Train to the Game” for today’s Jets game in the Meadowlands has been cancelled. Customers who return promptly to Penn Station after the conclusion of the game will be accommodated on MTA services leaving by 7 p.m.

Outbound Access-A-Ride trips are being scheduled only until 12 p.m. today, and return trips will continue until 5 p.m. Any previously scheduled trips after that time, including subscription trips, are cancelled.

The Staten Island Railway will attempt to continue to operate until the Staten Island Ferry suspends service, in order not to strand any customers in the ferry terminal. However, the railway will not operate if conditions are deemed unsafe.

Customers and the media should monitor the mta.info website or call 511 for the most current service information.

 

POSTED: Saturday, 2:45 p.m. Just in from the New York Governor's office, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will begin taking the first steps of what could become a total subway and transit system shut down for the New York City area in response to Hurricane Sandy.

A decision will be made Sunday.

The MTA hurricane plan calls for shutting down any above ground subway service in high winds, or especially heavy rains. For a bit more on why a total subway system shutdown might be called for, see our article from yesterday, and our coverage from Tropical Storm Irene last year, the first  preemptive total system shutdown in the 108 year history of the NYC subway.

Full statement from NY Governor Andrew Cuomo's office:

GOVERNOR CUOMO DIRECTS MTA TO BEGIN PLANNING FOR POSSIBLE ORDERLY SUSPENSION OF ALL MTA SERVICE IN ADVANCE OF HURRICANE SANDY
Final Decision Whether to Suspend Service Will Be Made by SundaySubways, Buses and Commuter Railroads Will Prepare to Suspend Service Sunday Evening to Protect Customers, Employees and EquipmentState Preparations Continue for Department of Health

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today directed the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to begin planning for an orderly suspension of all subway, bus and commuter railroad service, if Hurricane Sandy continues to bear down on the New York City metropolitan area. In addition, the Governor continued oversight of state preparations for the storm, including actions taken by the State Department of Health (DOH). 

Department of State Operations Howard Glaser, DOH Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah, MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota, and PANYNJ Executive Director Pat Foye gave an update on preparations at the Governor’s Office in New York City today. 

A final decision on whether to suspend service will be made by Sunday, but the MTA must begin preparing immediately for a possible suspension to protect its customers, its employees and its equipment.

If a decision to suspend service is made by Sunday, New York City subways and buses would begin an orderly suspension of service at 7 p.m. Sunday. Metro-North Railroad and the Long Island Rail Road would suspend service at 7 p.m. Sunday. Some lines may be curtailed over a period of several hours before all service is suspended, but no one would be able to rely on any MTA service after 7 p.m. Sunday. 

All customers leaving the Sunday afternoon Jets game in New Jersey would be accommodated before service is suspended. However, the special through train from New Haven to the Meadowlands has been cancelled. 

“I have directed the MTA to put its Hurricane Plan into action to help New Yorkers prepare for the storm and protect the vital assets of the region’s transportation system,” Governor Cuomo said. “New Yorkers need to take action now to protect themselves, and as the transportation system prepares to possibly suspend service, no one should wait until the last minute to prepare.” 

The MTA Hurricane Plan is designed to secure equipment and protect employees before dangerous sustained winds of 39 mph or higher and storm surges of 4 to 8 feet reach the area. This process must begin hours in advance of the storm’s arrival, as thousands of rail cars, subway cars and buses must be pulled from service and stored safely.

“Suspending the largest transportation system in North America is a monumental effort, and it is imperative that we start the process before we make a final decision, and before the worst of Hurricane Sandy reaches us,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph J. Lhota. “That means all of our 8.5 million daily customers need to prepare for the storm and be ready to complete their travels by 7 p.m. Sunday.”

Before any final decision on suspending service, MTA crews will follow the Hurricane Plan by moving rail cars, locomotives, subway cars and buses from low-lying yards to higher ground; preparing recovery equipment and clearing drainage areas; and deploying sandbags and other protective materials at tunnel entrances, station entrances and other locations vulnerable to flooding. Taking these pre-emptive measures before the full brunt of the storm arrives will help in the MTA’s recovery efforts after the storm passes.

MTA subway and railroad stations are not designated shelters and would be closed in the event of a service suspension. Those in need of assistance would be directed to designated shelters nearby.

Service would be restored following the storm only when it is safe to do so, after careful inspections of all equipment and tracks. There is no timetable established for restoration. Customers and the media should monitor the mta.info website or call 511 for the most current service information.

Details of each agency’s suspension plans are provided below.

New York City Transit

If a decision is made to suspend service, all New York City subway and bus service would need to be suspended by early Monday morning to allow crews to secure stations, tracks and tunnels before the onset of sustained winds of 39 mph or higher.

On the subway system, where the orderly suspension of service takes eight hours, service would begin to be curtailed after 7 p.m. Sunday. While some trains may continue to run for several additional hours, there would be no guarantee of any subway service after that time, so all customers who rely on the subway would have to plan to complete their travel by 7 p.m. Sunday.

The bus system requires six hours for the orderly suspension of service, so buses would be able to remain on their normal routes for as much as two hours after 7 p.m. Sunday. There would be no guarantee of any bus service after that time.

The MTA would run normal service until those times, with sufficient capacity to allow customers to leave vulnerable areas and reach safe destinations before service is suspended. Those who use the MTA to evacuate would be allowed to carry pets. Dogs must be leashed and, if possible, muzzled. Cats should be in carriers.

Subway stations in flood-prone locations such as lower Manhattan would be evacuated and secured. Critical track-level components would be removed from tunnels under rivers so they will not suffer the corrosive effects of salt water if they are flooded. Workers would secure all elevated stations to protect against damaging winds.

There would be no Access-A-Ride trips scheduled after 12 p.m. Sunday. Customers will be able to schedule trips until then. 

Metro-North Railroad

If a decision is made to suspend service, Metro-North Railroad would run its final trains at 7 p.m. Sunday to prepare for the arrival of high winds and heavy rain. Customers are urged not to wait for the last trains when making their travel plans.

Grand Central Terminal, including its shops and restaurants, and all outlying Metro-North station buildings would be closed for the duration of the service suspension. In preparation, train equipment is being moved out of low-lying locations known to be prone to flooding, such as the Highbridge and Mott Haven yards in the Bronx. 

As the storm approaches, Metro-North has secured its infrastructure by moving trucks and equipment such as backhoes, cranes and bulldozers, to higher ground. 

Parking lots that usually flood, such as the ones at White Plains and Beacon, would be barricaded. Connecting ferry service at Beacon and Ossining would be suspended. The Hudson RailLink that serves Spuyten Duyvil and Riverdale would be suspended.

Metro-North has asked many employees to shelter during the storm at a Metro-North facility, so they will be immediately available to begin recovery efforts when the worst of the storm has passed.

Long Island Rail Road

If a decision is made to suspend service, Long Island Rail Road would run its final trains at 7 p.m. Sunday. Service would be suspended earlier on some outlying parts of the system because crews would be required to secure or remove 690 gates at 295 railroad crossings across Long Island to prevent them from being damaged by wind. Customers are urged not to wait for the last trains when making their travel plans.

This process takes approximately 12 hours and must be completed prior to forecasted sustained winds of 39 mph or higher. Crews would begin by removing gates east of Ronkonkoma on the Main Line to Greenport, where weekend service does not operate at this time of year. Additionally, crossing gates would start being removed on the Montauk Branch east of Speonk beginning Sunday morning, so train service would be replaced with buses from 9 a.m. Sunday until the full service suspension takes effect at 7 p.m. 

Long Island residents, pedestrians and drivers need to be aware that the third rail remains electrified even during a service suspension and equipment trains may be operating. Please act in a safe manner in and around tracks.

In order to restore service, train equipment and crews must be repositioned, all crossing gates re-installed and fully tested and power to the crossing gates restored. In addition, any debris, such as fallen trees, must be removed from tracks and the right of way inspected.

Preparations by State Department of Health 

Based upon the latest weather models, the greatest risk to the New York City metropolitan area and the entire state, due to rain and strong winds, will be prolonged power outages. These prolonged outages may last at least 48-72 hours beginning as early as Sunday evening. This could also lead to flooding, which is a chief concern.

Statewide, the Department of Health has released general guidance for all health care facilities, including hospitals, nursing homes, and adult care facilities, to be prepared for a prolonged power outage and to check generators, fuel levels, food and water levels, etc. Health care facilities should focus on planning for patients who are dependent upon electrical equipment such as ventilators, dialysis patients, oxygen concentrators, etc. Dialysis facilities statewide should consider staying open on Sunday and dialyzing as many patients due for dialysis Monday through Wednesday as possible. Facilities should report power outages to their local county/NYC Emergency Operations Center and to DOH. Facilities needing assistance due to prolonged power outages should make requests through their local EOC who will then request state assistance if needed.

In the New York City metropolitan area, with the MTA closure possibly planned for 7 PM Sunday, DOH has required all adult homes and nursing homes to bring staffing levels to 150% of standard shifts by 5 PM Sunday. Staff should be prepared to stay for 48-72 hours. The State Human Services Task Force is responding to a request for 700 volunteers for pre-landfall deployment and 2,500 for post-landfall deployment to staff shelters.

DOH has designated a “Slosh Zone” which includes Zone A, the Rockaways, northeast Queens and eastern shore of the Bronx. All nursing homes in these areas are required to move ventilator dependent patients to facilities outside of the Slosh Zone by 5 PM Sunday. Ambulances are currently at home stations awaiting directives to support the movement of vent patients. 

DOH is in regular contact with hospitals, nursing homes and adult care facilities in Slosh Zones, county health commissioners and local health directors statewide. DOH staff is also deployed in the New York City Office of Emergency Management (OEM), Healthcare Facility Evacuation Coordination Center (HEC). 

To get the latest updates on the storm, follow the Governor on Twitter and subscribe to our Storm Watch list. You can also visit www.governor.ny.gov or connect with the Governor on Facebook for more information.

Visit www.dhses.ny.gov/aware-prepare/ for safety tips from DHSES on how to be prepared.

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Transportation Nation

Hurricane Sandy (aka Frankenstorm) Could Shut Down NYC Subway

Friday, October 26, 2012


The NY MTA began placing service advisories in subway stations Friday.

UPDATE 2:43 p.m. ET Saturday: NY Gov Andrew Cuomo has ordered the NY MTA to begin the preparations needed for a total subway and transit system shutdown. Full details here.

ORIGINAL POST: (New York, NY -- WNYC) The New York City subway system will be running Saturday, but Sunday ... that's wait and see. As Hurricane Sandy bears down on the mid-Atlantic region charting an ominous course north, transit agencies in the New York area are getting ready for potentially crippling rains. Subways, buses, railroads, bridges, tunnels could all be affected.  (See below for full MTA press release)

New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg said the NYC subway system -- which turns 108 years old on Saturday -- could be shut down if Sandy brings sustained winds of higher than 39 mph, according to a standing MTA hurricane action plan. As of Friday at 4 p.m., no decisions on shut downs had been made, though warnings, cautions and caveats were flowing from all levels of government.

“Our first priority is always safety, and the MTA is taking no chances with the safety of our customers, our employees and our equipment,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph J. Lhota in a statement.

NY Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency across the state. "With unpredictable weather conditions, we are taking the greatest precautions – especially after our experience from last year’s storms,” he said, referring to tropical storms Irene and Lee.

If Hurricane Sandy holds course toward New York City, it threatens to be especially dangerous because it would join with a second winter storm, creating what the National Weather Service called Frankenstorm.

Hurricane preparation for a large subway system is long and elaborate process that takes at least 8 hours once ordered.

Last year, the subway system shut down a day ahead of Tropical Storm Irene to allow MTA staff to flood proof tunnels and move trains and buses out of harms way. (See photos) A report following a 2007 storm, found that subway drainage systems are designed to handle no more than 1.75 inches of rain an hour.

This time, MTA workers began flood-prevention preparations Friday afternoon -- two days ahead of the storm's expected arrival -- by covering subway ventilation grates with plywood in low lying areas. After severe flooding crippled the subway in a 2007 storm the transit agency began the slow process of raising subway grates a few inches above street level, but many are still at street grade.

An MTA statement listed what else would need to happen this weekend:

"The Hurricane Plan also contains detailed protocols for New York City Transit, Metro-North Railroad, the Long Island Rail Road, Bridges and Tunnels and Capital Construction to prepare for the onset of a storm by moving equipment such as rail cars and buses from low-lying storage areas or vulnerable outdoor tracks; by staging recovery equipment such as generators and chainsaws near areas where they would be needed; by clearing catch basins and sewer lines; and by installing protective barriers to keep floodwaters out of buildings, tunnels and storage yards."

Most planned construction in the subway system is cancelled. The  NY Buildings Commissioner ordered a similar halt to all exterior work at construction sites in New York City starting Saturday at 5 p.m.

Amtrak said all trains are operating as usual as of Friday afternoon and had not made any plans to cancel service, though some equipment was being moved into place for emergency action if needed.

 

Here's the full MTA Hurricane Sandy Press Release:

 

MTA Prepares for Hurricane Sandy

 

Service Shutdowns Possible as Forecasts Develop; Subways, Buses, Railroads, Bridges and Tunnels Preparing for High Winds and Heavy Rain

 

Monitor mta.info, Media Outlets and Call 511 for Latest Transportation Information

 

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is monitoring the progress of Hurricane Sandy and taking necessary precautions to protect its transportation network. The storm is tracking toward New York and holds the potential for high winds and heavy rain that could make it unsafe to operate subway, bus and railroad lines, as well as to allow vehicles on the MTA’s seven bridges and two tunnels.

 

The MTA is working closely with the Governor’s office, the Mayor’s office and state and local Offices of Emergency Management to prepare for the storm and respond in a coordinated manner.

 

“Our first priority is always safety, and the MTA is taking no chances with the safety of our customers, our employees and our equipment,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph J. Lhota. “We are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. Whatever happens, we’ll be ready.”

 

The MTA Hurricane Plan calls for an orderly shutdown of service before the arrival of sustained winds of 39 mph or higher. No decision has been made whether to suspend some or all service in advance of the storm, but ample notice will be provided of any suspension. Customers and the media should monitor the mta.info website, which is updated continuously with service information as it becomes available. Customers can also call 511 for service information.

 

The MTA last suspended service during Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011, when it successfully helped people get to safety before the storm, then shut down its transportation network in an orderly manner to protect employees and equipment.

 

The Hurricane Plan also contains detailed protocols for New York City Transit, Metro-North Railroad, the Long Island Rail Road, Bridges and Tunnels and Capital Construction to prepare for the onset of a storm by moving equipment such as rail cars and buses from low-lying storage areas or vulnerable outdoor tracks; by staging recovery equipment such as generators and chainsaws near areas where they would be needed; by clearing catch basins and sewer lines; and by installing protective barriers to keep floodwaters out of buildings, tunnels and storage yards.

 

Details of each agency’s storm planning are provided below.

 

New York City Transit

 

Most scheduled weekend subway service changes for construction projects have been cancelled, with the exception of changes planned for the 7 and J lines, which are now scheduled through Saturday only. Crews are inspecting and clearing main drains and pump rooms throughout the subway system. Personnel are checking and cleaning all known flood-prone locations and these areas will continue to be monitored.

 

Extra workers and managers are prepared to staff New York City Transit’s Incident Command Center, situation room, satellite desks, depot operations and facility operations as necessary. The Incident Command Center will be activated starting at 8 a.m. Sunday. Among those present in the ICC throughout the duration of the storm will be Customer Advocates, who will ensure that all decisions made during the event will reflect a focus on customers. They fill a position created after reviews of the agency’s performance during Tropical Storm Irene.

 

Trains will be removed from outdoor yards prone to flooding and moved to more secure locations. Subway ventilation grates vulnerable to flooding will be sandbagged and tarped over. Many station entrances and ventilation grates in low-lying areas have been successfully modified in recent years to raise them above street level, making it more difficult for floodwaters to enter the system.

 

All portable pumps and emergency response vehicles will be checked, fueled and made ready for service. Outside contractors have been asked to prepare their work sites for heavy weather.

 

Bus operators are ready to move buses that normally park in low-lying depots to areas of higher ground.

 

Metro-North Railroad

 

Metro-North personnel are stockpiling material in preparation for possible washouts or bank erosion, and are securing road crossing gates when necessary.

 

Much of Metro-North’s territory runs along rivers and the Long Island Sound With nearly 800 miles of tracks to take care of, Maintenance of Way workers have already begun preparing for Sandy at known trouble spots.

 

Culverts are being cleared of fallen limbs and other debris. Ditches and swales are being cleaned out. Pumps are being tuned up and put in place at known low spots such as New Haven Yard and Mott Haven Yard, while generators at all rail yards are being fueled and tested.

 

Cranes and excavators and back hoes are being positioned along the tracks, and a tree service contractor is on call to respond rapidly if needed.

 

Long Island Rail Road

 

Long Island Rail Road is preparing facilities and infrastructure by clearing drains, securing work sites against possible high winds, fueling equipment, stocking supplies and making plans to move equipment and supplies away from low-lying areas. Chain saws, generators and pumps are ready for use as well.

 

The LIRR’s scheduled track work this weekend for the replacement of concrete ties between Jamaica and Queens Village, and the resulting bus service for Queens Village and Hollis customers, is now scheduled to end at 11:59 PM Saturday evening.

 

Extra personnel will be assigned to report for duty before the storm is forecasted to make landfall on Long Island.

 

Crews will be prepared to remove crossing gates from LIRR crossings in advance of the storm if necessary, to protect them from high winds and assist in a quicker recovery. Service must be suspended if crossing gates are removed.

 

Bridges and Tunnels

 

All roadway and drainage systems at Bridges and Tunnels facilities are being checked and cleared of debris. Construction areas will be secured, backup generators are in place, and wrecker trucks and other response vehicles are readied to help motorists who may become stranded. In addition, staffing levels were checked and emergency personnel have been put on standby.

 

Motorists are advised to reduce speeds when winds are between 40 and 49 mph in dry conditions, and 30 to 49 mph in windy and wet conditions.

 

When the winds are 50 mph or more in dry or wet conditions, certain vehicles will be barred from using MTA crossings. These include motorcycles, tractor trailers, step vans, mini buses, trucks with open backs, cars pulling trailers, motor homes and vehicles carrying plate glass.

 

If there are sustained winds of 60 mph or above, the MTA may close one or more bridges to all traffic.

 

Capital Construction

 

All contractors at Capital Construction projects – East Side Access, the Second Avenue Subway, the 7 Line Extension and Fulton Center – will secure all materials and equipment, including cranes, to prepare for high winds and flooding.

 

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Transportation Nation

New Laws On the Books for NYC's Commercial Cyclists

Thursday, October 25, 2012

(photo by Ed Yourdon via flickr)

Mayor Bloomberg has signed off on a package of legislation designed to regulate the behavior of commercial cyclists.

The laws create civil penalties for businesses whose bicyclists fail to adhere to rules already on the books, like wearing reflective vests and helmets. It also requires commercial cyclists to complete a safety course, and revises the identification requirements for cyclists.

The New York City Council overwhelmingly passed the legislation earlier this month. The New York City Department of Transportation is currently going door-to-door to commercial businesses to make sure they understand the new requirements.

Starting in January, the DOT will begin issuing fines to businesses whose cyclists fail to comply with the new laws.

From the DOT's "commercial bicyclist safety" poster

 

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Transportation Nation

"We Command You:" NJ Pol Hits Port Authority Execs With Subpoenas

Thursday, October 25, 2012

(UPDATED with Port Authority comment) A top New Jersey Democrat has issued subpoenas to four executives of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who chairs the state Assembly's Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities committee, said the agency has failed to adequately respond to repeated requests for information on toll increases, the cancellation of a trans-Hudson tunnel, and possible patronage hiring.

“We gave the Port Authority numerous chances to cooperate and time and time again it failed to adequately do so,” Wisniewski said. “The Port Authority is an out-of-control agency that has forgotten it serves the public. It would prefer to hide information on toll increases, the decision to halt the tunnel project and potential patronage, but it’s time to get straight answers. The Port Authority can no longer obfuscate. It must now finally respect the public.”

This is the latest skirmish in a series of rancorous exchanges between elected officials and Port executives. Last year, in the midst of a public outcry over toll and fare hikes at the agency’s bridges and tunnels, outside consultants took a detailed look at the authority and described a dysfunctional bureaucracy with a debt load that had more than doubled, due, in part, to ballooning redevelopment costs at the World Trade Center site. Also last year, the Automobile Association of America brought suit against the NY-NJ Port Authority, claiming it was using toll revenue to fund the WTC -- a charge the agency denies. That suit is still pending.

And this spring, a Senate hearing ostensibly about the fairness of the 2011 toll hike went off the rails when Port executive Bill Baroni went after New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg -- an ugly exchange that generated still more correspondence between Democrats and the agency.

Wisniewski's subpoenas were delivered to Patrick Foye, the Port's executive director; Bill Baroni; deputy executive director; Karen E. Eastman, board secretary; and Daniel D. Duffy, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey FOI administrator. According to the subpoena, they are required to respond by November 8.

Ron Marsico, a spokesman for the Port, said: “We have received the subpoenas and are reviewing them. In addition to previously turning over thousands of pages of documents to the Committee, the Port Authority’s finances were thoroughly reviewed by two international consulting firms.”

You can read one of the subpoenas here.

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Transportation Nation

NY MTA Chief Talks Fare Hikes & Why President Reagan Was A Hero Of Mass Transit

Thursday, October 25, 2012

NY MTA Chairman Joe Lhota. (photo by Stephen Nessen / WNYC)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Joe Lhota, chairman of the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority, was a guest on The Brian Lehrer Show Thursday, where he predictably resisted prompts to choose between two proposed flavors of subway and bus fare hikes: raising the base fare or the cost of unlimited cards.

"Reporters all want me to say what I want to do one way or the other," he said. "Here's what I want to do: I want to listen to the public." Eight public hearings on the fare and toll hikes will begin on November 7 in Long Island. Lhota said he'll participate in some of the hearings "until the wee hours of the morning," if necessary, to make sure every question has been answered.

(Go here for dates, times and directions to the hearings.)

Less predictably, Lhota held up President Ronald Reagan as an object lesson for Congressional Republicans who would cut mass transit funding. "We cannot be a car-only society," Lhota said, claiming that Reagan, too, "had that vision."

He then praised Reagan for dedicating six cents from an increase to the federal gas tax to mass transit.

"When I go to Washington and I talk to the folks in the majority in the House--and I have to deal with all of the Republicans, as well as the young Republicans who are part of The Tea Party movement--I'm constantly reminding them that the best and biggest supporter of mass transit in the 20th Century was Ronald Reagan," Lhota said.

Lhota also talked about Hurricane Sandy, which is expected to hit New York City on Monday. He said he'd already taken two conference calls to discuss preparations like "sandbags and getting buses to higher ground." But he didn't think he would have to shut down New York's subway and bus system, an unprecedented move that the authority took last year in advance of Hurricane Irene.

Listen to the entire interview:

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Transportation Nation

NYC DOT Study: Street Redesign Good for the Economy

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Union Square's pedestrian plaza (photo by Kate Hinds)

New York City's Department of Transportation says redesigned streets have been very, very good to small businesses.

A new report says that retail sales are up along city streets that have bike paths, pedestrian plazas, slow zones, or select bus service.

In some cases, the increase is dramatic: on Brooklyn's Pearl Street, where the DOT maintains retail sales have increased by 172 percent since a parking triangle was turned into a pedestrian plaza.

In Measuring the Street, the DOT lays out metrics for evaluating street redesign projects. These include benchmarks like injuries, traffic speed and volume. And now it includes retail sales data along redesigned routes.

The report casts the city's street redesign in a favorable light just as hundreds of planners descend on the city for the Designing Cities conference, happening this week at New York University.

"For the first time, we have years of retail sales that were reported to the Department of Finance, and we were able to look at that data and apply it directly to the SBS corridors, the bike lane projects, etc.," said DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.

Sadik-Khan ticked off a list of streets that she said economically benefited from being overhauled.

"On Fordham Road [in the Bronx], we saw the growth in the retail sales by local businesses -- and these are not chain stores -- grow 71 percent following the introduction of the SBS route there in 2008, which is three times the borough-wide growth rate."

The report says that along Ninth Avenue, retail sales are up 49 percent -- sixteen times the borough growth rate -- three years after that street's protected bike lane went in. Manhattan's Union Square, which was revamped in 2010, reports a lower commercial vacancy rate.

Sadik-Khan said the reason for increased sales is straightforward: if you build it, the people will come.

And presumably those people have wallets.

"We've seen anywhere between a 10 to 15 percent increase in ridership on all the SBS bus routes," Sadik-Khan said, "amid a citywide decline of 5 percent on bus routes."  She said more riders along a route means more people getting on and off the bus, which means more foot traffic.

The DOT looked at sales tax records reported to the city's Department of Finance. The data excludes large chain stores and non-retail businesses.

 

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Smart Phone Thefts on the Rise on Mass Transit

Monday, October 22, 2012

(Photo CC by Flickr user real.tingley)

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) When you sit on the bus or stand on a train platform nonchalantly holding your smart phone inches from your eyes, you are an easy target. Thefts of mobile devices are soaring in major cities across the country with many of the robberies occurring in mass transit systems.

In the District of Columbia, Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier estimates 60-70 percent of robberies are cell phone related. Thieves often leave the victims’ wallet or other valuables while demanding – or snatching – a smart phone, said Lanier in an interview with WAMU. Exact robbery statistics are not available but Lanier said they are in the process of being compiled.

In the Metro system, roughly half of robberies involve high-end mobile devices including smart phones and tablets, said WMATA Deputy Chief Ronald Pavlik.

“We’re reminding our customers to be aware of their surroundings,” Pavlik said. “Try not to use it in plain view. Don’t sit near the train doors. A lot of the robberies occur near the train doors. The thief times it perfectly as the doors are opening and closing.”

Anyone who owns a smartphone understands why they are targeted by thieves. Stolen devices can be resold for hundreds of dollars and they store loads of personal information ripe for identity crimes.

“It’s my lifeline, all my numbers, everything,” said Andrea Caulfield as she rode a Green line train Monday afternoon. “I do have it passcode protected. When I take it out I just take it for granted that it’s still going to be there when I put it away.”

In the first nine months of 2012 Metro police reported 314 thefts of mobile devices, a slight increase from the same period last year. Fifty-five additional “thefts” resulted in arrests as a result of WMATA’s “crime suppression teams” that consist of undercover officers holding smartphones acting as decoys in troublesome areas.

More promising is an FCC initiative that takes effect October 31. Smartphone owners will be able to register their devices in a database that police will use to identify and disable it if it’s stolen, rendering it useless for resale on the black market. Both the MPD and WMATA police are partners in the FCC initiative.

Owners will need basic information about their phones to register, according to Deputy Chief Pavlik. “They’ll have to know their own phone number, the serial number, date of purchase, things of that nature,” he said. The database, compiled by wireless carriers, is supported by the wireless advocacy group CTIA (Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association), based in Washington, D.C.

CTIA vice president Christopher Guttman-McCabe calls the database a “key component” of an effort to dry up the black market for stolen phones. He said police chiefs, carriers, and the FCC approached his organization seeking a solution to the rise in cell phone-related robberies.

“The goal is to find a way to take a device and make it valueless after it’s lost or stolen,” he said. “We are also starting a concerted effort to try to get consumers to use PINs or passwords to lock the phone if it gets lost or stolen.”

The Associated Press reported the problem is growing in other major cities, too. In San Francisco nearly half of all robberies involve cell phones. In New York City the figure is forty percent.

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Transportation Nation

Blueprint for New York's "Energy Highway" Unveiled

Monday, October 22, 2012


The "energy highway" proposed by New York Governor Cuomo at this year's State of the State address now has a blueprint.

The plan, which was released at a cabinet meeting in Albany, details plans to increase energy transmission in the state.

Read the press release below. The full blueprint can be found here.

GOVERNOR CUOMO RECEIVES PLAN TO MODERNIZE THE STATE'S ENERGY INFRASTRUCTURE AND SPUR BILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN PRIVATE SECTOR INVESTMENT
Plan for Up to 3,200 MW in Additional Electric Generation and Transmission Will Spur $5.7 Billion Investment, Helping Ensure Clean, Reliable, Affordable Power for New York's Future

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today received the Energy Highway Task Force's Blueprint, a comprehensive plan that will add up to 3,200 megawatts (MW) of additional electric generation and transmission capacity and clean power generation through up to $5.7 billion in private investments. The 3,200 MW outlined in this blueprint would provide enough energy to power approximately 3.2 million homes.

The Energy Highway initiative, introduced in the 2012 State of the State address, is a centerpiece of the Governor's Power NY agenda, which was put in place to ensure that New York's energy grid is the most advanced in the nation and promotes increased business investment in the state.

"As we work to grow New York's economy, we need reliable, affordable, and clean power to leverage significant private sector investments, to allow businesses to grow, and to create jobs," Governor Cuomo said. "The energy highway will ensure that businesses and residential consumers across New York State have access to the affordable power they need to plan for not just today, but also for the future. An economy built to last requires a power infrastructure that gives businesses the confidence and security they need to hire new workers and plan for years to come, and this Blueprint continues to position New York State as a national leader in clean energy production and investment."

The Blueprint includes specific actions designed to add up to 3,200 MW in new generation and transmission, including plans to:

· Invest $1 billion for 1000 MW of new electric transmission capacity
· Initiate $250 million in new renewable energy projects, leveraging $425 million in private investment and creating 270 MW of new power

· Modernize and repower existing inefficient, high emission plants to create 750 MW of power, enabled by approximately $1.5 billion investment.

· Generate 1,200 MW of additional capacity through approximately $1 billion investment to help meet reliability needs to address retiring power plants across the state.
· Accelerate $1.3 billion of investment in existing transmission and distribution projects to enhance reliability, improve safety, reduce cost to customers and reduce emissions.
· Invest $250 million to develop Smart Grid technologies and create the most advanced energy management control center in the country.
· Initiate field studies of Atlantic Ocean offshore wind development potential

The interagency Energy Highway Task Force will begin swift implementation of the proposed actions. These steps will significantly reduce the time required for development of energy infrastructure and includes a first-of-its-kind solicitation of new transmission projects by the Department of Public Service.

The Blueprint reaches every corner of the state with both locally focused and statewide actions to provide system reliability and economic development benefits. In Northern New York, strategic investments in transmission system upgrades will facilitate access for renewable energy projects to electricity markets. Western New York will undergo an immediate review of the viability of repowering options for power plants that have announced retirement plans and could benefit from a new Community Support Plan in the event plants are closed. Repowering, reducing transmission congestion, and offshore wind initiatives in the downstate region will help to green the power plant fleet supplying the highest energy demand area of the State. Upgrades throughout the state will support regional job growth and economic development.

The Energy Highway Task Force created the Blueprint after reviewing 130 responses provided by 85 entities including investor-owned utilities, private developers and investors in response to its Request for Information (RFI), issued in April. Public comments submitted on the RFI responses were also considered in the development of the plan as were publicly available reports and analyses. In April, along with the issuance of the RFI, the Task Force convened two conferences—an Energy Highway Summit at which power industry leaders explored the State's energy issues and challenges, and a Conference of RFI Respondents and Interested Parties.

Governor Cuomo provided his vision for the Energy Highway in his 2012 State of the State address. He named Gil C. Quiniones, president and chief executive officer of the New York Power Authority, and Joseph Martens, commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation as co-chairman of the Task Force. Joining them on the Task Force are Kenneth Adams, president, chief executive officer and commissioner of Empire State Development; Garry A. Brown, chairman of the New York State Public Service Commission; and Francis J. Murray, Jr., president and chief executive officer of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

To view the Energy Highway Blueprint, visit www.NYEnergyHighway.com.

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Transportation Nation

Road Trip: NY Transit Officials Head Upstate to Inspect Subway Hatchery

Thursday, October 18, 2012

This car will one day ride the rails in Chicago. (Photo by Pat Bradley/WAMC)

(With reporting from Pat Bradley, WAMC) Earlier this week, New York MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota and NYC Transit President Tom Prendergast made a 300 mile pilgrimage north to a place of significance to city transit riders: the Bombardier manufacturing plant in Plattsburgh, New York.

"My understanding is two-thirds of all the equipment that's been made here has actually shown up at either the New York City Transit Authority, or the Long Island Rail Road, or Metro-North," said Lhota.

(Pat Bradley/WAMC)

And that trend will continue: in June, the MTA signed a $600 million contract with Bombardier to build 300 new subway cars. Those cars are in the design phase and will be delivered to NYC in 2015.

Bombardier also makes rail cars for systems across the country, including BART, CTA, and NJ Transit.

(Pat Bradley/WAMC)

Lhota told reporters that while he toured the facility, he paid attention to the little details. "When I was on the train that's being built for NJ  Transit," he said, "I was noticing they put little coat racks behind each one of the chairs, where someone could put a coat or a sweater, or put their purse -- that's a great little feature."

A future NJ Transit rail car (Pat Bradley/WAMC)

He also took the opportunity to point out that what's good for downstate transit is good for upstate.

"Whenever I go to Albany, and I want to talk about the MTA -- for those folks who are not from the New York metropolitan area, they're going to say 'well, why should we care about the MTA?'" Lhota recounted. "Most of what we spend on our capital program -- the billions of dollars that we spend on new cars, on rails -- most, not all of it, but a huge majority of it, is made in New York State....we need the product, we help people up here get the jobs."

A NJ Transit rail car (Pat Bradley/WAMC)

Listen to WAMC reporter Pat Bradley's story about the visit.

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