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Transportation Nation

NYC Mayor Bloomberg: Cities Are Ahead Of Nations In Reducing Greenhouse Gases

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (photo by NYC Mayor's Office)

(New York, NY - WNYC) By the end of the decade, climate-related actions taken by cities around the world will reduce greenhouse gases by 250 million tons per year. That's what New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told delegates at the Rio Earth Summit. He added that by 2030, the annual reduction of greenhouse gases by major cities could be a billion tons per year--the combined output of Mexico and Canada.

Bloomberg was addressing the Rio+C40 Summit, which he said includes 59 cities "from Bogota to Berlin, from Jakarta to Johannesburg, and from my New York."  One of every 12 people on the planet live in those cities, he said, and account for about 14 percent of the world’s total carbon footprint.

“The world is rapidly urbanizing," Bloomberg said. "Cities are becoming bigger and bigger. Our problems are sometimes harder and harder to tackle. Yet we continue to make major progress, even in times of tough budget cuts."

He said New York City has shrunk its carbon footprint by 13 percent in the past five years, and praised other cities for taking similar steps.

“Let me point out that nearly two-thirds of the climate change actions the C40 cities have taken have been paid for solely from our budgets – without support from our national governments," he said. "That’s because cities recognize our responsibilities to act; we haven’t waited for our national governments to go first."

Bloomberg also announced initiatives to improve the management of city solid waste, including reducing the release of methane and other greenhouse gases, and a web site "to provide a broad, deep, and constantly updated library on what the world’s cities are doing about climate change – and about the tools and resources cities can use to further their work."

Go here to read the mayor's full remarks.

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Transportation Nation

Loudoun Leaders Leaning "No" on Silver Line to Dulles Airport

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

After four hours of debate Monday night,  the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors only inched closer to deciding how to fund its $270 million commitment to Phase 2 of the Silver Line rail project to Dulles Airport and west into the county, leaving some Metro-to-Loudoun supporters on the board visibly frustrated and raising the probability that a majority of supervisors will decide to opt out of the project when a final vote is held in two weeks.

“I’ve been saying all along it’s 50/50. I still think it’s 50/50,” said Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles), a Phase 2 supporter, after Monday night’s marathon work session.

If the county opts out of the $2.7 billion dollar project, construction of the rail link to connect Washington DC with the international airport would be delayed by at least 18 months.

The supervisors met to determine how the county would finance the project but only settled on submitting three options to the board staff for further consideration: creating 1) a county-wide commercial and industrial tax, 2) special tax districts around the two future Metro stops that
would levy taxes on commercial properties, 3) tax districts based on the borders of the county’s planning sub-areas.

“In my view we eliminated too many options from the table. The board took off the table any use of the general fund whatsoever, which I think is a mistake. We could fund the entire project our of general fund revenue with an impact of $98 a year for the average homeowner,” Letourneau said.

On the nine-member board four supervisors are considered “opt in” votes, but it’s not clear if they will be able to sway any of their colleagues to reach the five-vote majority necessary to support Metro rail-to-Loudoun. Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) made a show of voting against every financing option, declaring “Metro is evil.” When asked to clarify his remarks by a reporter Delgaudio declined to comment, saying he was “very busy.”

Of the four remaining supervisors leaning toward “opting out,” three signed and submitted just hours before the work session began a list of 21 demands they would like satisfied in order to support the project.

Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) initiated the “opt-in consideration” which included proposals outside the Loudoun board’s power. For instance, Higgins is asking the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to seat two additional Virginia board members. When asked how the proposal relates to Phase 2’s financing, Higgins responded, “The [MWAA] board doesn’t have the greatest reputation for openness and the way they have approached things. If it’s no big deal why have they refused to seat those people?”

The board’s three Phase 2 supporters who were present (Chairman Scott York was absent) touted the findings of a new survey conducted by the University of Virginia. Using a sample of 1,000 county residents in mostly suburban zip codes, the survey found that 77 percent want access to Metro rail. In rural areas support is 57 percent; in non-rural areas support rises to 81 percent. However, supervisors who are leaning toward opting out questioned the survey’s methodology, implying that the questions were designed to prompt favorable answers.

"There were no specifics with respect to [supporting rail]… if it means raising your taxes,” said Board Vice-Chair Janet Clarke (R-Blue Ridge). “That’s what this board is grappling with."

The supervisors plan to hold one final work session to determine if they can provide a financing framework before deciding the county’s ultimate participation in a public meeting scheduled July 3. Letourneau said opting out would hurt the county for decades, let alone delay construction by
at least 18 months.

“It is possible the project would get completed to Dulles Airport, but it will stop at Dulles Airport. There will be a rail line behind it which would make it impossible for it to ever be continued into Loudoun County. That’s the worse case scenario for us, where we are paying very high tolls, we are getting no economic benefit, our commuters have no access to the airport station, and they will have very limited access to the station’s in Fairfax County,” he said.

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Transportation Nation

Virginia County Still on the Fence about Funding Silver Line to Dulles

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Construction crews work on the Silver Line to Dulles International Airport in Virginia.  (Photo CC by Flickr user Wayan Vota)

With time running down to a critical deadline, the Loudoun County, Virginia Board of Supervisors is weighing a range of options to pay for the $270 million commitment to Phase 2 of the Silver Line Metro rail project to Dulles Airport.  The alternatives under consideration — and the scant time to reach a decision — are raising questions long asked by the project's critics, who say the multi-billion dollar undertaking is poorly planned and unfair to local taxpayers.

Loudoun County lawmakers have until July 4 to decide whether to opt out of the $2.7 billion project that would complete the rail link between the Washington D.C. Metro system, the airport and beyond it into the county suburbs.  Phase 1 of the Silver line will end short of the airport at Wiehle Avenue in Reston.

The Loudoun County Board will hold a work session Monday, June 18 on the proposed funding options, which include creating special tax districts to tax developers around the planned Metro stops, a countywide transportation service district that would provide money for both rail and road improvements and a commercial and industrial tax.

Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles), who is leaning toward voting to opt into the project, released a letter to his constituents on Tuesday in which he laid out the financing options and his reasons for supporting the county's participation in the project.

"Depending on exactly how we finance the project, the amount that we'll have to spend each year is fairly easily absorbed in the budget without having to do anything significant to raise taxes," said Letourneau, who has argued that the county's general fund could  possibly cover the Phase 2 costs.

The board would not have adequate time to actually implement any long-term financing plan before the July 4 deadline, but may present to the public a framework of its intentions.  Some supervisors say a mere framework is inadequate considering the potential burden on taxpayers for years to come.

"It's going to take a combination of having a dedicated funding for highways, buses, and rail for me to support the project," said Supervisor Ken Reid (R-Leesburg), who is leaning toward voting to opt out.  "I would love to have a special tax district. The problem is there are not a lot of tax ratables there to keep the rate reasonable," referring to the current lack of development around the future Metro stops west of the airport, a sentiment shared by Letourneau.

"Frankly, those [tax districts] would not generate a tremendous amount of revenue, especially in the next couple years, because our areas are not developed," Letourneau said. However, as he described in his letter to constituents, Letourneau is satisfied the county can afford the project and should opt in while still figuring out the financing.

Supervisor Reid said the process is backwards.  "If you don't get economic development, which is very likely because it is at the end of the rail line, then taxpayers are stuck holding the bag," he said.

Reid also doubts a tax only on businesses would work. "If you tax our businesses only to pay for Metro, it puts them at a disadvantage to businesses in Fairfax, Prince William and other jurisdictions," said Reid, pointing to Loudoun's less densely developed landscape. "The promise of Metro for Loudoun County is not what a lot of people think it will be."

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Transportation Nation

Ray Kelly: We Investigate Accidents In Case of Serious Injury or Death

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly (photo by Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

Police commissioner Ray Kelly Tuesday affirmed the NYPD's policy about how -- and under what circumstances -- the police department bike and pedestrian crashes.  Transportation Nation first reported  on this back in April.

Kelly was at One Police Plaza Tuesday for the department's annual Medal Day ceremony. In the Q&A afterwards, he was asked by a reporter about this issue. The question came a day after a lawsuit was filed accusing the department of failing to thoroughly investigate when pedestrians and cyclists are struck by cars.

You can read the exchange, or listen to the audio below.

Q: Do you want to respond to transportation advocates who are questioning whether the department investigates deaths (and) injuries of bicyclists who are not likely to die?

Kelly: What is the question? I'm not..what is the question? 

Q:  The transportation advocates are saying the department doesn't investigate deaths...(Kelly: deaths?) involving bicyclists unless the bicyclists are likely to die. Is that something that you -

Kelly: We have a policy for accidents. We don’t have a different policy for bike accidents or accidents involving bicycles. We have -- if people are seriously injured, our accident investigation squad does an investigation.

Q: So they would investigate all accidents involving bicyclists?

Kelly:  Involving serious injury or death.

Q: Serious injury or death?

Kelly: Yes.

 

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Transportation Nation

MAP: Most Abandoned Bikes Won't Be Removed

Monday, June 11, 2012

Click around the map above to see the photos of the bikes and the latest updates on their status. You can update the map yourself, so please let us know if one of these gets removed, or tagged.

Listen to the radio version of this story:

WNYC listeners submitted over 500 pictures of abandoned bicycles in New York. But most of them will not be removed by the city. Here's what happened when we tried to bring the issue to the city's attention with what we thought were all the modern tools necessary: a stack of pictures, a spreadsheet of geocodes, and a veritable army of crowd-contributors.

The life cycle of a bike left to rot on NYC streets is long, and intentionally so.  The complaint process is as clunky as the cast off bikes themselves and the criteria for removal is stiffer than the U-lock holding this pilfered cruiser to a bike rack on Bleecker Street.

The first obstacle is that what you consider an abandoned nuisance taking up your prime bike parking is property to someone else. Most bikes reported to the city as abandoned aren't abandoned enough to be removed (see definition below).

Before we started collecting abandoned bike photos, the City received 429 official complaints since July, the start of the fiscal year. Of those, just 60 bikes were removed, less than 15 percent.

That's because a bike has to be more than abandoned to be claimed by the city. It has to also be officially derelict, as Henry Ehrhardt, director of customer relations at the NY Sanitation Department patiently explained to me while I showed him my stack of hundreds of bikes in various states of decay.

“I think it’s important to remember that the Department of Sanitation’s job is to, essentially, remove junk and garbage from the city’s streets,” he told me.

Like these two, which were tagged and removed after we submitted them.

After a bike complaint is called into 311, a sanitation inspector heads out to the scene to determine if the bike is junked enough.  Most bikes just don't make the cut.

There are many obstacles that prevent the Sanitation Dept from removing a seemingly abandoned bike. First the regulations:

The bike must be affixed to public property (not your front gate or a privately-owned bike rack).

To be derelict a bike must meet three of the following five criteria:

  • The appearance is crushed or not usable;
  • Have parts missing from bicycle other than seat and front wheel;
  • Have flat tires or missing both tires;
  • Handlebars and pedals are damaged, or the fork, frame or rims are bent;
  • 75 percent of bicycle is rusted.

These bikes, while seemingly derelict were not removed -- possibly because the Sanitation Department inspected a different nearby bike instead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And of course, many people call in bikes that just aren't abandoned or derelict at all.

“When we’re taking it we’re essentially recycling it, it’s going to be taken away and put in the recycling truck and processed as scrap metal,” Ehrhardt said.

That's a shame to some bike advocates who argue the city should be more proactive in claiming abandoned bikes for recycling or sale. A nonprofit, Bike Rescue Project, has proposed claiming the bikes while still salvageable to repair and sell for charity, but by the time they fall under the jurisdiction of the Sanitation Department, it's already too late. The city of Hoboken does a yearly sweep and collects about 50 bikes a year that get put up for sale at auction. That city's DOT tells Transportation Nation it gets no complaints about wrongfully removed bikes.

Vito Turso, a deputy commissioner at DSNY, says the criteria are strict to make sure no bike gets removed that is still someone's property. Changing that would mean changing the law. “That sounds to me like something a person who is interested in having these removed might want to bring to the attention of their local elected official and then have that local elected official take it the next step.”

He doesn't want to run the risk of claiming property. He deals in junk.

The green mountain bike below, for example, isn't derelict by the criteria. Though partially rusted, it’s in usable condition and the only parts missing are the seat and front wheel, possibly removed by the owner for security.

This green mountain bike didn’t meet the derelict criteria at 97th and Riverside.

However, this is an example of the tricky business of reporting abandoned bikes. Our submission was not intended to be this bike, but rather this insectile black former-road bike across the street and a bit into Riverside park. At this intersection there are actually two streets named Riverside Drive (see map) so an address and intersection weren't enough, and wasted a trip by a Sanitation worker, he wouldn't have seen a copy of a photo, just a written description because there is no official online or digital submissions process.

That's the other obstacle to action, and the main hurdle we encountered. Calling in a complaint takes about 14 minutes and involves speaking with two operators. 311 handles all the intake then forwards the information to the Sanitation Department.

That means a bulk submission of 500 bikes had nowhere to go. Neither agency had the staff to take a spreadsheet and enter it into the correct databases for action. 311 agreed to take two spreadsheets -- after Transportation Nation agreed to filter out the non-derelict looking bikes.

After two batches totaling 150 bikes (or bits of bike parts), 100 of them are being investigated this week. From the first batch of 50 bikes, 24 could not be found on location. Several weren't derelict despite my best vetting efforts, and in the end, 19 were tagged and removed, either by owners or the DSNY.

Of the 350 remaining bikes in our database, they have to be called in.

If you do so, please update the map above. Here's the full gallery of photo submissions.

 

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Transportation Nation

Manhattan On Track To Get Its First Slow Zone

Monday, June 11, 2012

Proposed Slow Zone for the Inwood section of Manhattan (NYC DOT)

(New York, NY - WNYC) - Manhattan, where the standard rate of movement is an all-out manic sprint, is about to be told by the NY Department of Transportation to slow down. At least in part: a couple of dozen blocks at the island's northern tip in the neighborhood of Inwood are on track to become the borough's first traffic Slow Zone.

NYC DOT unveiled Slow Zones last year. The program calms traffic by lowering a neighborhood's speed limit to 20 miles per hour--the lowest in the city--and fitting it out with safety measures such as speed bumps, signs and street markings that either force or urge drivers to slow down. The city would also remove more than 20 parking spots in the neighborhood to open up sight lines at intersections.

Inwood's community board passed a resolution in February that unanimously supported the Slow Zone, which would cover the blocks west of Broadway from West 218th down to Riverside Drive near Dyckman Street. A vote by the full board will be held on June 26. Should the Slow Zone be approved, as expected, the NYC DOT is set to install it this summer.

Inwood is frequently used as a short-cut by northbound drivers who cut through it, especially during the evening rush hour, to avoid paying the toll on the Henry Hudson Bridge, which spans Manhattan and the Bronx. Drivers have also learned to avoid the traffic lights on Broadway by traveling on Seaman Avenue, a parallel street that is heavily residential.

In general, Inwood's streets are hilly, narrow and almost wholly disconnected from the street grid. For those reasons, the NYC DOT not only approved the neighborhood's Slow Zone application but doubled the size of the proposed area.

Resident Dave Thom, for one, is pleased. "Our neighborhood is packed with schools, churches and young children," he said. "I have a two year-old and three year-old myself and it can be nerve-wracking to see a car racing down our streets."

The city's first and only Slow Zone was installed in the Claremont section of the Bronx last year. NYC DOT is considering adding another 13 Slow Zones, including the one in Inwood, by the end of 2013.

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Transportation Nation

Broken Permitting System Forces NYC Food Trucks Into Black Market

Thursday, June 07, 2012

The line on a recent afternoon for Korilla food truck. (Ilya Marritz/WNYC)

(Ilya Marritz - New York, NY, WNYC) Running a food truck may be the hippest job around. But there is a shadowy side to food trucks’ fun and quirky image.

In order to get started, many of these gourmet trucks flout the law, and pay high prices to obtain black-market vendor permits. They say they have no choice.

Ed Song is a part of the new wave of gourmet trucks. Together with two friends, he started Korilla, a group of three bright orange trucks that sell bulgogi, burritos and tofu tacos.

Ed Song (photo by Ilya Marritz/WNYC)

Speaking from his office in Ridgewood, Queens, the spiky-haired 26-year old sporting a Mickey Mouse T-Shirt said he decided to start a food business shortly after graduating from Columbia with a degree in economics and mathematics.

It was the year Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers failed, and striking out on his own seemed like the best path.

“All the jobs in finance were all drying up. And so I decided to take the opportunity to do what I wanted to do. And follow a passion,” said Song, whose parents emigrated to New York from South Korea.

Then Song discovered the fact that confronts every new food truck entrepreneur: to sell prepared food on the streets of New York City you need a permit. It’s a little bit like a driver’s license, authorizing the holder to be on the road.

A Mobile Permit Road Block

There are only 3,000 citywide, two-year permits, and there are so many names on the wait list (more than 2,000) that the Department of Health hasn’t taken names since 2007.

“There really is no legal channel to go through to obtain a permit,” he said.

So Song turned to a middleman for the permit for one of his three trucks (the other two permits he obtained by going into partnership with existing permit holders).

Recalling his first contact with the middleman, Song said “it was scary. You’re giving them a lot of hundred dollar bills without a receipt. It’s just the nature of the business.”

After an initial down payment, Song took the truck to the Department of Health for inspection, and when it passed, he paid the balance and received the white sticker that’s now on the side of the truck. In total, it cost about $20,000.

Several others in the food truck business confirmed the existence of a large and robust underground market for permits. But only Ed Song allowed his name to be used.

One popular vendor told WNYC anonymously that turning to the black market went against her instincts, as someone who’d worked in a variety of retail and service businesses.

“All the other jobs or businesses I was involved with were much more straightforward in terms of paperwork or how you get a license for something,” she said.

Vendors say the city’s Health Department does a thorough job of checking sanitary conditions in trucks. And traffic police frequently chase trucks out of spaces where vending is not allowed. But by ignoring the trade in permits, the Health Department forces them into the black market it claims it’s trying to eliminate.

It’s not known how many trucks operate under illicitly procured permits.

Song isn’t even sure whose name is on the permit he uses, and treats as his own.

“I could try to remember. I do have his name somewhere,” he said. “I don’t think this person even lives in New York City.”

How it Works

Where red-brick residential Brooklyn gives way to a grittier industrial neighborhood, there’s an unmarked asphalt lot where permits can easily be bought and sold.

This is a commissary, a one-stop shop where food truck entrepreneurs can get everything they need: purchase a vehicle, order meat and vegetables -- and secure a permit too.

On a recent visit to the lot, WNYC asked about buying a permit. A worker took the reporter into a store room full of jars of mayonnaise and pickles, and dialed a number on a cell phone and handed the phone to the reporter.

The man on the other end of the line, who called himself Mohammed, said he could obtain a second-hand permit in a few days, and it would cost $18,000.

New York City’s Health Department charges just $200 for the same document, so the street value is nearly 100 times higher than the official price. In 2011, the Wall Street Journal reported the street price was around $14,000, up sharply from just a few years earlier.

Vendors say the black market thrives because permit-holders can renew their papers year after year, for decades, without proving that they still operate a truck.

Like an illegal sublettor with a rent-controlled apartment, the vendor pockets the difference between the price set by the government and the market price.

A Longstanding Problem

Authorities are aware of the problem. In 2009, six people were arrested for trading in black market permits, which can be a felony offense. The arrestees included a Queens woman, Ifigenia Tsatsaronis (PDF).

Today, Tsatsaronis still runs a permit-services business out of a storefront on a quiet, tree-lined street in Astoria. The window of Effie’s, as the business is known, functions like a bulletin board for vendors – including those selling permits, as a recent visit by WNYC found.

“New Mobile Food Vendor Truck With Permit” said one. Another sign touted a “full-service lunch truck” including a two-year permit (no price given).

Tsatsaronis expressed surprise when a reporter pointed out these notices, which would seem to violate the city code forbidding the sale of permits.

“People put things in the window, I don’t check everything,” Tsatsaronis said, as she pulled down the flyers.

Tsatsaronis said the charges against her were eventually dropped, and that she was never prosecuted (the records of the case are sealed). And she said her work today is 100 percent legit: she works as an expediter, handling paperwork that can cut into the time vendors would otherwise spend on the street.

But she acknowledged the Department of Health’s current system of issuing permits is frustrating and “should be more systematic.”

Very Slowly, the City Responds

In a joint press release after the arrests, the Departments of Health and Investigation said they were discussing “improvements that would eliminate the criminal conduct found in the investigation, including the creation of a competitive, sealed bidding process to, in essence, replace the illegal payments with legal payments.”

WNYC recently asked the Health Department what changes have been made since the 2009 arrests. For weeks, the Department was silent.

On Wednesday, as this story was about to be published, the Health Department abruptly released new draft regulations covering permitting, among other things. Dan Kass, deputy commissioner for environmental health, conceded it’s a problem that longtime permit holders don’t need to show up in person to renew.

“We’re changing that,” Kass said. “We’re gonna require that the permit holder appear at least every two years, partly so that we can photograph them, we know who they are, to keep them close to the operation and to communicate that we fully expect them to be deeply involved in the operation of their cart as the law expects them to be.”

This could cut down on illegal transfers. But even Kass concedes it’s hard to eliminate a black market when the government limits the quantity of something valuable, and sets the price artificially low.

Song suggested the city raise the official price to reflect the street value and let the city collect that cash.

He reached for a calculator and did some quick math: $20,000 multiplied by 3,000 permits equals $60 million.

“That’s a lot of money,” Song said.

Song said he wanted to go public to draw attention to the issue, even if it meant putting the little Korilla food truck empire in jeopardy.

“That’s the risk that we take,” Song said. “Hopefully somebody will hear this, hopefully in the government, and would want to regulate and make a change in this industry. ‘Cause they’re leaving a lot of money on the table.”

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Transportation Nation

Political Pressure Kills Labor Provision in Rail-to-Dulles Silver Line

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Listen to the audio version of this story at WAMU

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority voted 11-1 to drop a pro-labor provision from the rail-to-Dulles project.

The Project Labor Agreement was to be part of the agency's plan for Phase 2 of the Silver Line rail project to build a rail extension connecting the Washington, D.C. subway to Dulles International Airport and beyond into suburban Loudoun County, Viriginia.

The MWAA's board of directors surrendered to political pressure from the Virginia Governor, Republican lawmakers in the state's general assembly and the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors who opposed the PLA.

The PLA preference would have given prime contractors a significant bonus in the bidding process for choosing a union workforce to construct the $2.7 billion rail link. Virginia officials claimed the PLA violated the Commonwealth’s right-to-work laws. The state of Virginia threatened to withdraw $150 million in funding. Loudoun County did the same with its $270 million commitment.

“I think it is important we send a signal to Loudoun County that we really wish to encourage their participation. It’s critical to the success of the project,” said MWAA chairman Michael Curto moments before voting in favor of dropping the PLA.

Board member Robert Brown cast the only no vote, saying he did not trust Virginia to follow through on its funding commitment despite recent assurances from Governor Bob McDonnell himself.

“I don’t find that believable,” Brown said.  “I would find believable a grant agreement signed by the Commonwealth and the Airports Authority to provide these funds. I don’t see any reason to believe a man who’s been governor three years is suddenly going to change his mind.”

In an interview with Transportation Nation, Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton confirmed his state will participate in the project.

“We've always been in. The question has always been just how much we can be in due to some of the things that the MWAA board was attempting to put in the contract,” said Connaughton, referring to the PLA.

The death of the Project Labor Agreement preference does not guarantee Loudoun County’s participation in the Silver Line. Local funding battles of the ilk that stymie many an infrastructure project remain contentious. The county Board of Supervisors has until July 4 to opt-in, and board members are still divided over funding options. Supervisors from eastern counties where the rail line would be built have different ideas than representatives from other parts of the county where residents will rarely use the Silver Line.

For instance, the future Dulles Airport stop requires an operating subsidy that will cost Loudoun County $5 million to $7 million per year, even though  Loudoun residents are not expected to heavily use that stop.

Chairman Curto said the MWAA board would be willing to open further talks with Loudoun officials to ensure they opt in.

“There's been outreach by MWAA, by the Commonwealth and by the Department of Transportation. I think all of those stakeholders and funding partners are willing to go out to Loudoun County and answer any questions regarding the project to facilitate their yes vote,” Curto said.

A decision by Loudoun County to withdraw from Phase 2 would delay the project at least 18 months, according to MWAA’s CEO Jack Potter.

Now that the PLA is dead, the Silver Line’s critics are expected to focus on coming toll increases on the Dulles Toll Road that are supposed to finance a significant percentage of the project’s cost.

The Reston Citizens Association, which represents 58,000 residents in Fairfax County, says tolls may have to rise dramatically over the next several decades to pay for the rail line. Virginia’s $150 million commitment “will allow toll rates to edge up to $4.50 full toll over three years rather than double to that level next year,” said the association’s Terry Maynard.

“If Virginia follows through with additional incremental financing as many have promised… the tolls will still reach $18.75 by mid-century, but they would edge up year-to-year rather than in two dollar or larger increments every five years,” Maynard added.

In Loudoun County, the board of supervisors is considering a slew of potential tax increases, including creating a county-wide commercial and industrial tax or special tax districts near two future Metro stops west of Dulles Airport where commercial development is expected.

 

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Transportation Nation

Airport Authority Vote Clears Way for Dulles Rail Project to Move Forward

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Protest Over Dulles Rail Dispute (photo by Martin Di Caro/WAMU)

(Washington, DC -- WAMU) The next phase of the Dulles Rail project will not give preference to construction contractors who promise to hire union workers. The 11-1 vote by the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority means that the imperiled project will go forward, and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell will release $150 million for the project's next phase.

"Today's vote is a major turning point for the Dulles rail project," said Airports Authority Chairman Michael A. Curto in a statement. "This project is vital to the economic growth of this region and the Board is determined to do whatever is necessary to finish the project as quickly and cost effectively as possible."

Although the MWAA Board previously included a project labor agreement (PLA) as part of the construction plan, board members voted this morning to remove the PLA from the project in order to ensure continued state funding for the rail line. Only one board member, Robert Brown, voted to keep the agreement.

State funding is instrumental to determining whether Phase 2 of the Dulles rail project will be delayed. Today's vote came amid threats of the Commonwealth of Virginia and Loudoun County pulling hundreds of millions of dollars in funding out of the project. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and Republicans in the General Assembly have said the project labor agreement (PLA) violates the state's right-to-work law by giving a preference to contractors who would choose union labor.

Most Virginia construction workers are non-union. MWAA officials have publicly defended the PLA, saying that if Virginia withdraws its money, tolls on the Dulles Toll Road could double, and the project could be delayed. Also key for the project's future will be tonight's Loudoun County Board meeting. Board members heard from residents both for and against continuing funding for the project Monday night, and the board is expected to discuss the $270 million that represents Loudoun's share for Phase 2.

Loudoun has until July 4 to make a decision.

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Transportation Nation

Dulles Rail Supporters, Opponents Plead With Loudoun Board

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Phase 2 of the Metro Dulles rail project, known as the Silver Line, is either a boondoggle or the key to Loudoun County’s economic future, depending upon whom you ask.

Nearly 200 people packed a public hearing before the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Monday night to weigh in on whether the county should remain part of the $2.7 billion plan to connect Metro rail to Dulles International Airport and further into the county.

Loudoun County's financial commitment to Phase 2 will cost it $270 million. The Board of Supervisors has until July 4 to decide whether the municipality is in or out.

Vehement support — and opposition — for Silver line

In kelly green t-shirts printed with the words "Loudoun Rail Now," supporters outnumbered opponents at the public hearing. While fewer in number, anti-rail residents were nonetheless determined to convince the board to pull out of Phase 2.  Bob Constantino even wore a prop inside the Loudoun government center: a Viking helmet.

"During their time they were known for pillage, they were known for plunder and they were known for thievery," Constantino said of the Vikings. "It's my contention that the Metro Silver Line Phase 2 in the context of Loudoun County is virtual railway robbery."

Opponents do not support a project they fear might raise their taxes to benefit those who would ride the Metro beyond Dulles Airport. The county's long-term funding commitment is also a point of contention. Loudoun's operating budget for the future Metro stop at the airport itself would be $5 million-$7 million per year, even though county residents are not expected to heavily use it.

Supporters of the plan, including businesses, urged the board to keep its commitment to the project.

"…The long term benefits of the Dulles Rail project offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to Loudoun County," said Tony Howard, the president of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce.

Another pro-rail speaker, Mindy Williams, urged the board to see the Silver line as an opportunity. "The opportunity to increase the commercial tax base, the economic opportunity, and the ability to leverage the tremendous asset we have in Dulles airport…" she said.

Loudoun residents not the only ones divided

The nine-member board, composed entirely of Republicans, is split. Board chairman Scott York supports the project, but his colleagues on the board remain divided. The supervisors will weigh a variety of funding options, including the creating of new taxes, at another meeting Wednesday night.

Also on Wednesday, the board of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is expected to decide whether to drop a controversial pro-labor provision -- a project labor agreement or PLA -- for the entire project that would favor bidders that choose a union workforce to build Phase 2.

The PLA is a sticking point for the Loudoun County Board, but even if MWAA drops it, the county's support is not a sure thing.

Supporters worry about missed opportunity

"The worst thing about saying, 'no' is you don't want the project to end at Dulles Airport," said Carol Wilte, a 20-year employee at the airport and rail supporter. "You don't want to add all that commuter traffic on top of all the travelers going to and from an airport that already has $25 million passengers."

Phase 1, which is nearing completion, will terminate at the new Wiehle Avenue Metro station in Reston, requiring passengers to take another form of transportation to the airport.

If Loudoun opts out of Phase 2, the project will most likely be delayed significantly while MWAA and the state of Virginia seek funding options, including charging significantly higher tolls on the Dulles Toll Road.

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Topping the Nation in Pedestrian Deaths, Orlando Launches Safety Campaign

Monday, June 04, 2012

Metro Orlando tops the national list of dangerous cities for pedestrians, according to Transportation for America. On average one pedestrian is killed every week and two are injured every day.

Local civic leaders believe a new initiative can reduce the number of crashes and fatalities. They’ve set an ambitious goal of cutting the pedestrian crash rate by 10 per cent a year over the next five years, which they say can be done through a combination of education, enforcement and road improvements.

Launched last week, Best Foot Forward is a joint initiative of Bike Walk Central Florida, local governments, law enforcement and health groups including the Winter Park Health Foundation and Orlando Health.

Coalition chair, former Orange County Mayor Linda Chapin, says pedestrian safety should be a priority in Central Florida.

“It’s about safety, of course, because people are dying. They’re dying every week,” says Chapin.

She says drivers and pedestrians both have to change their behavior to bring down the accident rate. She says residents have to make a choice about the kind of city they want to live in.

“Will it be the kind of friendly community we’ve all visited and recognized, where drivers acknowledge pedestrians with a smile and wave as they slow and then stop for a crosswalk?”

With about 730 pedestrian injuries and 45 deaths a year, Orlando has some way to go.

But Mighk Wilson, MetroPlan Orlando’s Smart Growth Planner, says bringing the rate down by 10 per cent a year can be done.

“It certainly is ambitious, but it is doable. Fatalities are really tough to deal with,” says Wilson Reducing crashes as a whole has to be more of the strategy.”

Wilson says one design fix will be to increase street lighting, although that can be expensive.

Another improvement is retrofitting roads with medians.

“Having a refuge in the middle of a roadway greatly improves safety for pedestrians,” says Wilson.

Ultimately, he says, a lot of the responsibility for preventing crashes falls on drivers.

“What we’ve forgotten as a culture is that there are crosswalks at every intersection, whether they’re marked or not,” he says.

“While it’s true that many crashes involve a pedestrian who’s crossing mid block and doesn’t yield to traffic in the roadway, they could walk fifty feet over to the nearest intersection and cross in an unmarked crosswalk, but no one’s going to recognize that crosswalk.”

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer (third from left) wants to curb Metro Orlando's pedestrian death toll

So the coalition will also focus on educating pedestrians to use crosswalks, and letting drivers know Florida’s law requires them to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks.

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings says drivers who don’t stop for pedestrians can expect to get tickets.

“There will be individuals who initially when we begin will be given warnings, then they’ll be cited,” says Demings.

“The best way we probably can change the behavior of pedestrians and drivers is to ensure that we have appropriate enforcement.”

Bike Walk Central Florida says it will cost about 350 thousand dollars a year to roll out its program across Orange County; it’s applying for a grant from the Florida Department of Transportation to help with funding. The money will be used for education programs for pedestrians, drivers and law enforcement officers, and low cost road improvements.

Meanwhile the city of Orlando is also trying to make the environment safer for pedestrians. Currently it’s halfway through a 4 million dollar, federally funded program to add 18 miles of sidewalks to city streets.

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Vote On Pro-Labor Clause For Silver Line Scheduled For This Week

Monday, June 04, 2012

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Board of Directors is expected to vote Wednesday on whether to keep a controversial pro-labor provision in its plans for Phase 2 of the Silver Line.

Publicly, the airports authority leadership has defended the project labor agreement, or PLA, that caused the Republican-led Loudoun County Board of Supervisors and the Virginia General Assembly to threaten to pull out of the project. Privately, MWAA leadership is conceding the $2.7 billion rail link will not go ahead as planned if they insist on keeping the PLA.

The PLA would provide bidding contractors a 10 percent bonus on their technical evaluation scores if they choose a union workforce to build Phase 2 to Dulles International Airport and beyond into Loudoun County. Opponents have argued the PLA violates Virginia's right-to-work law and would lead to out-of-state union workers dominating a Virginia project.

"If the project labor agreement is part of this, then I am absolutely certain that Loudoun County would not be part of the project," says Loudoun Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles). "Phase 2 would not move past Wiehle Avenue in Reston if there is a PLA for the foreseeable future."

Loudoun County has until July 4 to decide if it will confirm its funding commitment of $270 million to the Silver Line. Virginia lawmakers are threatening to withdraw $150 million over the PLA. Loss of those funds would send Phase 2 stakeholders back to the table, likely delay the project, and almost certainly lead to higher tolls on the Dulles Toll Road to make up the difference.

Today, there's a public hearing in Loudon County where residents will have the opportunity to weigh in on Dulles Phase 2. The Board of Supervisors is considering creating new taxes or tax districts to fulfill its funding obligation.

Construction on Phase 2 is scheduled to start next year.

 

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BREAKING: Judge Halts Mayor Bloomberg's Taxi Plan

Friday, June 01, 2012

(photo by d-w via Flickr)

(New York, NY -- WNYC) A state supreme court judge has -- at least for now -- brought the city's 5-boro taxi plan to a screeching halt, based on the theory that allowing the state to approve the plan was "an unconstitutional power grab."  The judge acted on a law suit brought by the yellow cab industry.

The plan, set to get underway this month, would have brought street-hail taxi service to northern Manhattan and the outer boros.  The sale of the additional medallions -- essentially, licenses to operate street-hail vehicles -- was to bring over $1 billion to city coffers.  The city has been offering seminars for fleet owners on how to convert outer-boro livery cars to taxis, and even designated a color for the new street hails --"Apple Green."

Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engron, who was a cabbie himself while he was an undergrad at Columbia, wrote in his decision:  “The court has trouble seeing how the provision of taxi service is a matter that can be wrenched from the hands of city government where it has resided for some 75 years. And be handed over to the state.”  He added that the restraining order “seeks to preserve the status quo until a more complete examination of the plaintiffs claim can be made.”

But the city's reaction was swift and scathing.

Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo, NYC's top lawyer, said, "We are deeply disappointed by today's decision.  We think the court was mistaken in its analysis and are exploring our appellate options.  We intend to so do expeditiously, so that we can proceed with this important new initiative.  The program is geared to providing improved transportation options to segments of the City which are now woefully underserved.  In addition, because we are enjoined from issuing additional medallions, we are prevented from proceeding with a program which will provide significant benefits to the disabled and garner the City approximately $1 billion in critically needed revenues."

The medallion industry has bitterly fought the Bloomberg plan, hiring consultants, organizing opposition rallies and threatening to litigate. The industry complained that allowing cars other than yellow taxis to pick up street hails would devalue the billion dollar medallion industry because for more than 80 years only they enjoyed that right.

One of the plaintiffs, the fleet group the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, is celebrating the Judge’s decision. Spokesman Michael Woloz said “By preventing the Taxi and Limousine Commission from issuing any outer borough street hail permits the court has prevented a trampling of the NY State constitution as well as an economic disaster from taxi owners and drivers who invested their life savings into what they regarded as the American dream—the taxi medallion. "

TLC Commissioner David Yassky called the last minute decision "unfortunate."

“We share the disappointment of the 80% of new Yorkers who live and work outside Manhattan and are waiting for safe, legal and reliable taxi service as well as the thousands of livery drivers who stand ready to provide that service," Yassky said.

The city was poised to start issuing the permits this month. The yellow medallion auction that’s scheduled for July and is estimated to bring in about 1 billion dollars to the city ‘s budget is now also on hold.

 

Here's the ruling:

SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK
COUNTY OF NEW YORK: PART 52
--------------------------------------------------------------------x
TAXICAB SERVICE ASSOCIATION, et al.,
Index Number: 102553/12
Plaintiffs,
Oral Argument Date: 5/31/12
- against -
Temporary Restraining Order
THE STATE OF NEW YORK, et al.,

Defendants.
----------------------------------------------------------------x
METROPOLITAN TAXICAB BOARD OF TRADE,
et al.,
Index Number 102472/12
Plaintiffs,
Oral Argument Date: 5/31/12
- against -
Temporary Restraining Order
MICHAEL R. BLOOMBERG, in his official capacity
as Mayor of the City of New York, et al.,

Defendants.
------------------------------------------------------------------x
GREATER NEW YORK TAXI ASSOCIATION
et. al.
Index Number 102783
Plaintiffs,
Oral Argument Date 5/31/12
- against -
Temporary Restraining Order
THE STATE OF NEW YORK, et al.,

Defendants.
------------------------------------------------------------------x

Arthur F. Engoron, Justice

Every New Yorker worth his or her salt knows the following basic facts about taxicabs: only “medallioned” cabs are allowed by law to pick up street hail passengers; the City limits the number of medallions (NYC Charter § 2303(b)(4)); and finding a medallioned cab outside of lower- and mid-Manhattan and the airports is usually quite difficult. Indeed, in the so-called “outer-boroughs” (which for the sake of this order includes Manhattan above East 96th Street and West 110th Street) persons needing taxi service must, practically speaking, either telephone a livery cab company, or hail a “gypsy” cab not authorized to make the pickup. For decades, the problem of the lack of legal, reliable taxi service in the outer boroughs has proven intractable.

Recently, the executive branch of defendant City of New York, i.e., the mayor’s office, asked the legislative branch, i.e., the City Council, to increase the number of medallions and to authorize licenses for outer-borough hails. When negotiations broke down, the executive branch asked the State Government for the same. The result is the legislation at issue in these three roughly parallel (and fascinating) cases: Chapter 602 of the Laws of 2011, and Chapter 9 of the Laws of 2012, collectively known as The Street Hail Livery Law. These enactments essentially, and greatly simplified, allow the mayor to issue 2,000 more medallions; allow the Taxi and Limousine Commission, a part of the executive branch, to issue 18,000 outer borough hail licenses, and mandates certain handicap accessibility quotas.

Plaintiffs in the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade case are medallion owners and New York City Council Member Lewis A. Fidler. Plaintiffs in the Taxicab Service Association (“TSA”) case are credit unions and the like that finance the purchase of medallions. Plaintiffs in the Greater New York Taxi Association case are medallion owners and one individual. Defendants in both cases are, simply put, the State of New York, the legislative and executive bodies thereof, the City of New York, the Mayor thereof, the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, and the Commissioner thereof.

As plaintiffs would have it, the trek to Albany was an “end run” by the Mayor. Be that as it may, end runs are legal in football and in politics. The most basic question (among many others) presented here is whether the legislation violates the “Home Rule” provision of the State Constitution. See NY Const. Art. IX § 2(b)(2): the legislature . . . [s]hall have the power to act in relation to the property, affairs or government of any local government only by general law, or by special law [i.e., a law affecting only one locality] only . . . on request of two-thirds of the total membership of its legislative body or on request of its chief executive officer concurred in by a majority of such membership.” As this Court has determined, in the roughly 24 hours since oral argument ended yesterday, and on the business day just prior to the one on which significant aspects of the legislation are to go into effect, that plaintiffs are likely to succeed on their claim that the law does the State Constitution, and that plaintiffs have demonstrated “irreparable harm” and a “balancing of the equities” in their favor, this Court hereby issues this Temporary Restraining Order, enjoining defendants from implementing any aspect of the law (which contains a so-called “poison pill,” pursuant to which if any aspect of the law is held to be constitutionally infirm, the whole law falls).

Since The Great Depression the legislative branch of New York City has governed, and limited, the issuance of taxi medallions. Even when, twice in the last two decades, the City Council modestly increased the number of medallions, the Council issued a home rule message to this effect. Under the Home Rule provision of the State Constitution, the State Legislature may override the laws of a local municipality only in “matters other than the property, affairs or government of a local government.” The question here is basically whether the number of taxi medallions and the rules of outer-borough hails is primarily a matter of local or state concern. Obviously, anything that affects New York City affects the state in which it is situated, and just as obviously non-New York City residents can (and do, in droves) spend time in New York City. But, generally speaking, these facts cannot satisfy the Home Rule requirements or nothing would be left of the rule but the exceptions. The argument that the City is in the State, and so is a State concern, simply proves too much. This Court has trouble seeing how the provision of taxi service in New York City is a matter that can be wrenched from the hands of City government, where it has resided for some 75 years, and handed over to the State. Both governments are democracies, but only one is solely answerable on election day to the constituents of the five boroughs, those directly affected by the taxi service at issue here.

In a memorandum in opposition to plaintiff’s request for injunctive relief, defendant City quotes the New York State Senate Introducer’s Memorandum in Support of the legislation, in part, as follows:

The bill would allow the City to implement a taxi plan that will more effectively service all five boroughs of New York City and greatly increase the availability of accessible taxicabs and for-hire vehicles. The creation of this plan was prompted by three persistent mobility problems: the lack of accessible vehicles for people with disabilities; nearly non-existent taxi availability in underserved areas of the City (e.g., boroughs outside Manhattan); and insufficient taxi supply in Manhattan’s central business district.

There is nothing in here about Nassau or Westchester Counties, much less Buffalo or Rochester.

As the TSA plaintiffs put it (Memorandum of Law dated 5/17/12, at 7), “the Street Hail Livery Law infringes on Plaintiffs’ constitutionally guaranteed right to have their local government representatives decide issues relating to the local taxi industry, in which they are longtime and central participants.”

In addition to showing a likelihood of success on the merits, this Court finds that plaintiffs have demonstrated irreparable injury (see generally Ambrose v. Malcolm, 414 F Supp 485, 493 (S.D.N.Y.1976) (suggesting that deprivations of constitutional rights ipso facto demonstrate irreparable injury, or substitute therefor)), and a balancing of the equities in their favor (briefly keeping the status quo will not harm defendants).

Because of the afore-referenced severe time restrictions, today’s order does not address the numerous other complex objections (alleged unconstitutional takings and inadequate environmental review to name just two of many) plaintiffs have raised to the subject legislation. Today’s order also does not address the wisdom, or lack thereof, of defendants’ good-faith efforts to address age-old problems. Today’s order only seeks to preserve the status quo until a more complete examination can be made of plaintiffs’ claim (among others) that the legislation at issue represents an unconstitutional power grab, and of defendants’ response that the State government has properly regulated an area of state-wide concern.

Thus defendants are hereby temporarily restrained, pending further order of this Court, from implementing any aspect of the subject legislation, conditional on plaintiffs collectively posting a bond of $600,000 (the TSA plaintiffs claim to be a multi-billion dollar business) by Thursday, June 7, 2012. The Court will attempt to resolve with all deliberate speed plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction, defendants’ request for summary judgment, and the ultimate merits of this litigation.

Dated: 6/1/12
Arthur F. Engoron, J.C.C.

Sincerely,

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Transportation Nation

BREAKING: Report: Big NY Gambling Casino Plan Scrapped

Friday, June 01, 2012

The Associated Press is reporting that NY Governor Andrew Cuomo's big plan to build a huge casino and convention center near Kennedy Airport has been scrapped after talks with the developer broke down.

The plan had caused lots of head-scratching among transit advocates, since the area is not now well-served by efficient public transportation to Manhattan -- presumably a destination of many prospective convention goers.

According to the AP Gov. Andrew Cuomo says his grand plan for the nation's largest convention center at Aqueduct race track has been scrapped.

He says the proposal unveiled as a centerpiece of his State of the State speech isn't going forward, but he hopes to have developers compete next year for a project that could include a casino.

Cuomo made the announcement in a late Friday afternoon appearance on WOR Radio.

He says he's talking to other developers after talks broke down with the Genting Organization, which was to provide the funding.

Cuomo said in January the $4 billion convention center would help boost the economy and allow a new use for the Javits Center in Manhattan.

Aqueduct is a possible site for a casino if an amendment to the constitution is passed.

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Big Decisions Approach for Big Dulles Rail Project

Friday, June 01, 2012

A month before Loudoun County, Va. officials must decide whether they will withdraw from one of the the largest public transportation projects currently under construction in the country, they have big decisions to weigh about how they might fund the county’s $200 million dollar commitment to the $2.7 billion Phase 2 of the Dulles Metro Rail project, if they fund it at all.

All nine members of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors are Republicans, but the board is divided over funding options.  Supervisors who represent eastern districts are opposed by lawmakers in other parts of the county.

“Those of us who represent districts in the east, we understand the clear transportation benefit to having Metro or to having some other path out of the county.  My constituents are sitting in traffic.  I sit in traffic every day,” says Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles).

On Monday the board will hold a public hearing where taxpayers can speak out about the funding options under consideration, among other issues: creating a countywide commercial and industrial transportation tax, or creating special tax districts near the future Metro stops.

Letourneau says it is possible to fund the project without raising taxes, but it is possible the average homeowner in Loudoun County could see an annual property tax increase of $98 per year.

On Wednesday supervisors will meet to discuss their options.  No final decision is expected before July 4, the deadline for the county to decide whether it will pull out of the project altogether.  Letourneau, who is serving his first term on the board, says the changes are 50/50 for Loudoun to contribute to Phase 2, which would complete the 23-mile rail link to Dulles International Airport and beyond into the county.

Also on Wednesday the board of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is expected to decide whether it will drop a controversial pro-labor provision – a project labor agreement or PLA – that would provide bidding contractors a ten percent bonus on their technical evaluation scores if they choose a union workforce to build Phase 2.  Even if the PLA is dropped, Letourneau says the county’s commitment to the project will still be a 50/50 proposition because of other outstanding issues.

“For instance, the Dulles Airport stop has an operating subsidy associated with it that Loudoun County is going to have to pay every year.  I don’t think that’s especially logical.  Our residents aren’t going to be using that stop, but it’s going to cost us between $5 million and $7 million per year to pay for that stop,” he says.

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25 Bands Win Approval to Perform in NY Subways

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Members of the Mariachi Flor de Toloache, prior to performing (photo by Kate Hinds)

(New York, NY -- Abbie Fentress Swanson, WNYC Culture) A reggae fusion band, a female mariachi group and a wind quintet were among the 25 new musical acts selected to be part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Music Under New York program. They join some 370 groups allowed to play with amplification in the subway's busiest spots.

Sixty-four acts auditioned for spots in the program in front of a panel of judges in Grand Central Terminal on May 16.

Here's the full list of musicians chosen:

  • Acapella Soul - Male acapella
  • Afrikumba Utibe Drummers - Drum ensemble
  • Aria - Eclectic vocal and guitar duo
  • Petula Beckles - Gospel and jazz singer-songwriter
  • R. M. Bridgewell - Guitar, Mozart to Metallica
  • Allan Chapman - Guitar and vocals, originals & covers
  • Chicken Barn Heros - Bluegrass trio
  • Jason Cordero - Piano, romantic classical
  • Keith Dorgan - Vibraphone and bass duo
  • Melissa Elledge - Accordion, classics to originals
  • Holliewood Ft. Venor - Alternative hip-hop duo
  • Emily Hopkins - Harp, classical to pop
  • Atsumi Ishibashi & Robin’s Egg Blue - Guitar and duo, pop and folk
  • Richie Kaye Music - Jazz duo
  • Karikatura - Latin, gypsy, ska, reggae fusion band
  • Leah Laurenti - R&B and jazz singer
  • Buster Marengo - Piano, classical
  • Mariachi Flor de Toloache - Female mariachi band
  • Jeff Masin - One man band
  • Caesar Passée - Steel drums
  • Matt Pless - Singer-songwriter
  • Ryutaro Shibuya - Guitar, contemporary jazz
  • Nadine Simmons - Pop and gospel singer
  • Charles Tighe - Handpan player
  • Washington Square Winds - Wind quintet

And we're still map YOUR videos of music underground...click here for more (scroll to end of post)

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Transportation Nation

Houston City Council Approves Plans for International Terminal at Hobby Airport

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Houston Mayor Annise Parker

(Houston, TX — Gail Delaughter, KUHF)  The nation's fourth-largest city will have a second international airport, now that the city council has approved plans for Southwest Airlines' new terminal at Hobby Airport. The 16-1 vote gives the discount carrier the go-ahead to build five new gates and a customs facility at Hobby to accommodate flight to Mexico and the Carribean. Southwest hopes to begin those flights in 2015.

The vote came despite the protests of United Airlines, the main tenant at Houston's larger hub airport, Bush Intercontinental. As part of a massive PR campaign against the plan, United presented city officials with a study saying a split international gateway would cost the local economy about $300 million. The carrier says it would also be forced to cut over 1,000 jobs, reduce flights, and drop its plans for a new $700 million terminal at Bush. That's in contrast to a study from the Houston Airport System which says international service at Hobby would translate into a $1.6 billion economic gain as well as cheaper flights for travelers.

Hobby is the smaller of Houston's two commercial airports, handling just under 10 million passengers in 2011. Bush Intercontinental handled about 40 million.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker called the vote a big win for Houston and the traveling public. "Competition will lead to jobs, lower fares, and a positive economic impact for the city. My goal is a strong international presence at Hobby and a continued strong presence at Bush Airport. We will also continue our commitment to ensuring there is adequate customs and immigration staffing at Bush and at Hobby when international service begins there in 2015."

Employees and executives packed city council chambers to witness the vote, with supporters from Southwest dressed in yellow t-shirts and United's contingent in blue.

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Transportation Nation

The New York City Council Praises Sadik-Khan, Instead of Burying Her

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

NY City Council Member James Vacca during a 2011 hearing (photo by William Alatriste via flickr)

Let's go back in time to December 2010. The city's tabloid editorial pages are just beginning to sink their teeth into the transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, for -- among other things -- her avid support of bike lanes and pedestrian plazas. In Brooklyn, well-connected residents are preparing to sue to remove a bike lane.

On December 9, New York's City Council holds a standing-room-only, overflow-room-inducing, five hour-plus hearing on bikes and bike lanes in New York City. Bronx councilman James Vacca, who chairs the council's Transportation Committee, kicks things off first by warning the crowd to be polite, then sets the stage by pointing out "few issues today prompt more heated discussion than bike policy in New York City."

In the hours that followed, he was proven correct: Sadik-Khan was grilled, interrupted, and accused of ignoring the will of the public, prevaricating, and acting by fiat.

And she was put on the defensive, repeatedly exclaiming "That's what we do!" when yet another council member excoriated her for not soliciting sufficient community input.

At one point, Lewis Fidler, a council member from Brooklyn, told Sadik-Khan her answer was "kind of half true. I don't say that to be snooty. I say it because I think maybe you're not aware."

And then he reeled himself him. "This is not like you've got to be for the cars or you've got to be for the bikes or you've got to be for the buses. It's really not...the cowmen and the farmers can be friends."

The mood at this week's Transportation Committee hearing, held in the same hearing room as the 2010 hearing -- and with many of the same players in attendance -- was markedly different.

Now more New Yorkers are biking. More than two-thirds give the city's bike share program, which is launching in July, a thumbs-up. Traffic fatalities are at record lows.

"I want to first off say thank you to the agency," Fidler started, before launching into an encomium. "Quite frankly I don't always get the answer I like from DOT, but we get a lot of answers from DOT. And they're very responsive, your agency, your Brooklyn office continues to be a very responsive one."

He then waxed on about major construction work going on on the Belt Parkway -- a roadway almost entirely in his council district. "I will say for a project of that size to have gone on, without my getting repeated complaints from constituents -- that says something all by itself, and the work that's been completed looks really good."

Back in 2010, Fidler's questioning of Sadik-Khan was one of that hearing's most contentious exchanges, with the two of them repeatedly interrupting each other. Fidler at that time told Sadik-Khan that her answers were "half true;" he later accused the DOT of failing to solicit community input on bike lanes -- a charge Sadik-Khan repeatedly denied.

On Tuesday, Fidler asked Sadik-Khan to look into repairing a bike lane in his district (a lane under the Parks Department jurisdiction since it's on their land. Sadik-Khan said she'd make sure her office reached out to the Parks Commissioner, Adrian Benepe.)

So maybe the cowmen and the farmers might be friends after all.

(You can listen to the audio from the 12/2010 hearing -- and read the transcript -- here. A video of the 5/29/12 hearing can be found here; the transcript isn't available yet.)

To be fair, Tuesday's hearing was not one in which members of the public could comment (public hearings on the budget will be held next week), and biking wasn't the only topic on the agenda.

But still:

Peter Koo is the Queens councilman who represents Flushing (a neighborhood so heavily trafficked by pedestrians that the DOT said Tuesday that it's slated for a sidewalk expansion project.) At the 2010 hearing, Koo complained that bikes lanes had been implemented at the expense of motorists and pedestrians, and that they were empty. "I hardly see any people using the bike lanes," he said at the time. (Transcript here; Koo's remarks begin on page 39.)

At Tuesday's hearing, Koo had a different complaint. "I find a lot of bicycles chained to the fence, to the trees, light poles, meter poles, everywhere." He wants the NYPD to cut the chains of bikes that are illegally parked. But before that happens, he said, "we have to find a place for them to park."

Letitia James   -- long a bike lane supporter, put the cherry on the Charlotte Russe. "Commissioner, I want to thank you for all the docking stations in my district. I want to thank you for the bike share program. I want to thank you for using my picture, my image, on your website, on the bike -- it's absolutely fabulous. Thank you for the plazas in my district...thank you for all the street renovations...thank you for the bike lanes, thank you for recognizing that we all have to share the space and no one is entitled to a city street."

A few minutes after James spoke, the May 29th hearing ended.

"I do think since that hearing in 2010, many actions my committee has taken, and the legislation that we have passed, has brought New York City DOT to a realization that they could do a better job when it comes to community consultation," Council transportation chair Jimmy Vacca said in a phone interview.  "I think there's been more outreach, there's been more involvement, so I think that the strongly held views that existed in 2010 have somewhat been mitigated by DOT realizing that it's better to work with local neighborhoods where possible and to try to seek areas of consensus."

And is he happy with bike lanes? Yes -- even though he said the ones in his Bronx district weren't heavily used. "I do think in time, though, people will be bicycling more in neighborhoods where they are not bicycling now. And I think the groundwork that we've laid legislatively will make that reality more positive, have a more positive impact on neighborhoods throughout the city."

Vacca said the Bronx bike lanes have been successful in reducing speeding.  "They've had an impact in slowing down vehicular traffic, and that's always a positive thing," he said, adding that that's a persistent issue for his constituents. "In my neighborhood there's not a block party I go to, there's not a civic association I go to, where people are not demanding speed bumps, where they're not demanding police enforcement for ticketing of people who speed in their cars."

Next up for the City Council: reigning in rogue delivery people -- a project they're collaborating with the DOT on. "We cannot have commercial bicyclists driving the wrong way on one-way streets, we cannot have them ignoring red lights, we cannot have them on sidewalks," Vacca said, adding that he's working on legislation to address this. "I think within the next several weeks we should have a consensus bill that will reflect my views as well as the views of the Department of Transportation. We're working together to come up with type of bill, and I think we're making good progress."

 

 

 

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Transportation Nation

No Bike Share on the Upper West Side Until June 2013: Sadik-Khan Discusses Biking, Parking -- and Bike Parking, in NYC Council Testimony

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

NYC DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, flanked by DOT officials Lori Ardito and Joseph Jarrin (photo by Kate Hinds)

The Upper West Side of Manhattan won't see bike share until June 2013. That's according to New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, in testimony before the New York City Council Tuesday.

The date isn't exactly a surprise -- the city acknowledged at the launch of its Citi Bike program that some neighborhoods won't see bike share until next spring, but the June date puts it at the outer edge of that timeline.

Sadik-Khan also defended the cost of the program, noting that an annual membership in New York gives riders 45 minutes of free riding compared to 30 minutes in London.  And she pointed out that New York's is "a privately operated system" while most other city's bike shares are not.

In other questioning, Queens council member Leroy Comrie wanted to know what Citibank's $47.5 million will be used for.  Sadik-Khan told him "it's going to pay for the purchase of the bikes, the stations, the operator that is going to be servicing the bikes 24/7, rebalancing the bikes, moving them around the city -- so all of that money is going to pay for the operation of that system."  She added that the program will bring about 200 jobs to Brooklyn. "The initial launch site will be in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and then we will be doing the permanent facility (which) will be located at Sunset Park, 53rd and 3rd."

On other subjects, Jimmy Vacca, who chairs the transportation committee, asked the commissioner what was happening with plans to privatize parking meters -- would people be laid off? Would we have dynamic pricing? Sadik-Khan said it's in the very early stages and the city is just putting out feelers by issuing a Request for Qualifications (RFQ).  "We've agreed to study the possibility of a public/private partnership for our parking program to see if there are opportunities for further improvement," she said, "but I would say that we run the most efficient and effective system in the country; we have  a 99% uptake in terms of operability of our Muni Meters, and so we're thrilled with the performance of our programs to date, but again, we are checking to see...if there are options that could provide other, better service for New Yorkers (but) the benchmark is a high one."

She added that the feedback from the RFQ will determine whether or not the city moves forward with actual procurement. (Side note regarding NYC's parking meter program: 70% of parking meter revenue comes from credit cards.)

Sadik-Khan was also asked about a parking sensor pilot program on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx; she said the city was still in the middle of the pilot and would evaluate it after it was done.

Peter Koo, who represents Flushing, said bikes are chained everywhere in the neighborhood; the commissioner was sympathetic. "We've increased the speed with which we've put bike racks out there," she said. "We have over 13,000 racks out there right now, we continue to do more, but there are some parts of the city where if you stop walking for a second someone is going to chain a bike to you," Sadik-Khan said, saying that she knew the demand for parking was high. "We have to find a place for them to park!" Koo echoed, who added that he'd seen garages offering $8 a day bicycle parking. "It's really expensive! You can take the subway for $5 a day!"

"Well, for $9.95 a day, you can have a bike share bike ," Sadik-Kahn countered.

Following the hearing, reporters asked the commissioner about residential parking permits. Residents of the downtown Brooklyn neighborhood where the Barclays Center is opening this September have been pushing for a residential parking permit program. But it would require state legislation to enact, and Sadik-Khan said even after legislation cleared Albany, it would take nine months to get such a program off the ground.

Sadik-Khan also expressed support for legislation that would hold business owners accountable for delivery cyclists who don't follow traffic laws, and said she's working with the New York City Council to craft it.

 

 

 

 

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Transportation Nation

New York City Parking Rules Now on an Online Map

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

WNYC

Now let it be told, New York City residents can find out street parking regulations by clicking on the New York DOT online parking sign map.

If you go to the map and click on the parking sign, you can see, in plain text form, what the rules are for that block.

The map also shows DOT's street condition assessments -- most are "good" -- as well as surfacing information.

On my browser, the map had an annoying habit of blowing up any time I requested information, but so far as I could tell, the info seems to be accurate.

And of course, it doesn't tell you where you'll find a spot. For that, try roadify.com.

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