Thursday, August 16, 2012
By Kate Hinds
The county executives of Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam counties are finally giving their official blessing to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's $5.2 billion plan for a new Tappan Zee Bridge -- now that he's agreed to form a task force to firm up future transit options.
The current bridge plan includes dedicated bus lanes, but no timetable for bus rapid transit on either side of the Hudson River crossing.
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino says that discussion is now back on the table. "Unless there was going to be some transit options," he said, "this bridge would just have the same old congestion and pollution and problems that the current one does. It would just look shinier."
Astorino has been pushing for a 12-mile BRT corridor. He said that he, Rockland County executive Scott Vanderhoef, and Putnam County executive MaryEllen Odell have been in talks with the governor for a month.
The transit task force will make recommendations within a year.
The county executives sit on a council that must unanimously approve the Tappan Zee Bridge plan to make it eligible for federal funding. That vote had been delayed, but now it is expected to move ahead quickly.
Governor Cuomo has spent the summer lining up local support for the bridge. On Thursday, he sent out a delighted email trumpeting the executives' support.
"Building a new, better bridge to replace the Tappan Zee and ending the dysfunction that has delayed this project for over ten years has been a top priority since I took office,” he said. “County Executives Robert Astorino, Scott Vanderhoef and MaryEllen Odell have consistently supported our efforts to replace the Tappan Zee and I am pleased that they are pledging to vote for our plan to build a safer, transit-ready bridge that will reduce congestion, provide a dedicated bus lane, and create tens of thousands of jobs. We will continue to work with local leaders and stakeholders as we move forward with one of the biggest and most critical infrastructure projects in New York.”
Thursday's announcement also won support from another corner: advocacy group the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, which has long been pushing for mass transit options for the new bridge. The group's executive director, Veronica Vanterpool, said in an email that "this bridge project is taking a turn for the better." She added: "A firm commitment from Governor Cuomo’s office for dedicated bus lanes on the span from day one is a real victory that will improve commutes for bus riders and drivers from the day the bridge opens. But, without additional measures for bus rapid transit in the future, the bus lanes themselves will do little to address the mobility needs of the I-287 corridor. This initial investment shows that the governor’s office has moved beyond the rhetoric of “transit-readiness” to a concrete transit provision."
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
By Kate Hinds
In the greater New York City region, older pedestrians are almost two-and-a-half times more likely to be struck and killed by a vehicle than those under age 60.
That's the conclusion in a new report by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign (TSTC), which also found that elderly pedestrians in the NYC area suffer higher fatality rates than the national average.
According to the TSTC, between 2008 and 2010, 435 pedestrians aged 60 years and older were killed on the region’s roads. That age range makes up just over 18 percent of the area's population -- but accounts for 34 percent of pedestrian fatalities.
For those who walk slower, it can be difficult to cross an intersection before the light changes. That's partly why the older a pedestrian gets, the more likely she is to be hit and killed by a car. Those aged 75 years and older fared worst of all, with a fatality rate 3.09 times the rate of those under 60.
According to the report, "older pedestrians in Litchfield County, Connecticut have the highest fatality rate in the region, representing 75 percent of all pedestrian fatalities in the county, but only 22.1 percent of the population."
Nassau County, Queens and Brooklyn in New York and Hudson County, New Jersey, rounded out the top five of worst counties for elderly pedestrian safety.
NY Gov Cuomo: We're Paying for the New Tappan Zee With Tolls -- And Mass Transit Would Increase Them Even More
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
By Kate Hinds
At a press conference today announcing the state's revamped 511 travel information system, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo reiterated his position that putting transit over the Tappan Zee Bridge could double construction costs -- which would then be passed on to toll payers.
"Money matters," he said. "If you asked toll payers do they wanted to pay double the toll, my guess is the answer would be no. If you asked the taxpayers do they want to pay $10 billion, the answer would be no."
But mass transit advocates dispute the state's cost estimates of adding bus rapid transit (BRT) to the new bridge.
Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said New York had never accurately analyzed the cost of a simple BRT system and was relying instead on old projections for a much more elaborate project. “If the state's BRT cost analysis only considered installing bus rapid transit in the context of a massive I-287 overhaul, it made a mistake," said Vanterpool in an email. "You don’t need to dig a tunnel to paint a bus lane."
Westchester County executive Rob Astorino echoed that thought Tuesday. In an appearance on the radio show "Live From the State Capitol," he said: "If the average mile is considered to be about $166 million, according to the state, that is about ten times more than the average bus rapid transit mile in the nation."
But Cuomo said during his press conference that his problem was not with the idea of transit, but with the reality of paying for it.
"In theory is a mass transit system across the state a great idea? Of course, of course," he said. "You're not going to get anyone -- certainly the people around this table -- to say anything but they support a robust mass transit system all across the state. The question then becomes the reality of the situation, and the cost of the situation. And to put in a bus system now, for Rockland County and Westchester would roughly double the cost, from five billion to ten billion. And that is a significant increase, and one that I believe is not advisable at this time."
Cuomo said the financing plan for the bridge had yet to be finalized, but one thing was certain: "The basic source of financing will be the tolls," he said. "So the bulk of the financing will come from the tolls. And that's why whatever the cost of the bridge is, whatever you add on is going to be financed by the tolls. And it's very simple at one point. We make it complicated. You can build whatever you want. You then have to pay for what you build."
When pressed about tolls, he said "we'll have it broken down to what the toll will go to for various options, and then the people will decide."
The governor has long said mass transit on the bridge would lead to toll hikes -- and that if the counties want it, they can pay for it. Earlier this year the governor's press office sent out an email saying "the Counties have no plans in place to construct these 64 miles of mass transit. The entire bridge is only three miles and will support mass transit, if and when the Counties build it."
In a phone interview with TN Tuesday, Rockland County executive Scott Vanderhoef called that type of thinking "cynical" and said a BRT system would serve more people than just Rockland and Westchester. "I don't buy that argument. It's a thruway system, a federally-funded, state-funded thruway system. And ultimately you're talking about multiple jurisdictions that it would have to serve...so it's a regionally important area."
"But," he said, "I'm also not insisting that [BRT] be built now." What he wants "is to move people across this bridge, a new bridge, in any way that you can...to keep them out of cars." Vanderhoef said he was encouraged by the state's recent announcement that it would create rush-hour bus lanes on the new bridge.
Vanderhoef and Astorino -- along with Putnam County executive MaryEllen Odell -- have asked the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council to defer voting on the Tappan Zee Bridge until they get more information about the project. "No one disagrees that the bridge needs to be replaced," Vanderhoef told TN. "The question is: what are you buying?" He said the final environmental impact statement, which will be released later this summer, would address those issues.
A NYMTC vote on the project -- which is necessary in order to secure federal funding -- could take place in September.
You can listen to Governor Cuomo's remarks below.
Monday, April 02, 2012
By Kate Hinds
Environmental group Riverkeeper is calling New York State's plans for a new Tappan Zee Bridge "a a fatally flawed project that is obsolete from day one without mass transit, and would inflict severe damage on the Hudson River ecosystem."
The Tri-State Transportation Campaign says the state must figure out a way to include transit on the bridge.
The groups' comments were submitted in response to the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) released earlier this year. That statement, which is part of the review process the state must undergo for the project, says there are no compelling environmental barriers to constructing a new bridge. The period for public comment on the DEIS closed last week.
New York State wants to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge with a $5.2 billion span built so as to "not preclude" transit in the future, and has said that the cost of including a bus rapid transit corridor would be as expensive as building the bridge itself. But some environmental groups call those numbers flawed, and say that if the state doesn't include transit, the bridge will be outdated from the moment it opens.
“Governor Cuomo is trying to circumvent all of New York’s planning and public participation laws and ‘Robert Moses’ this project,” said Paul Gallay, Riverkeeper's president, in a statement. "The governor doesn’t get to make up his own rules, but even if he did, he’s getting this one all wrong. Riverkeeper is not about to stand by when so much damage to the river is about to be done by such a flawed project."
Kate Slevin, the executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, told TN "we're still hoping that the state will come to its senses and provide some provisions for transit in this project." She said there are still many unanswered questions about the project, and wants the state to address them before moving forward.
The New York State Thruway Authority, which is managing the project, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The state has previously said it will submit its final environmental impact statement to the federal government by July, and hopes to begin construction of the new bridge in late summer or early autumn.
Monday, January 17, 2011
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) The appointment by NY Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday of Joan McDonald to be his new transportation commissioner is drawing mixed reaction from those familiar with her work in Connecticut, and, earlier, in New York.
First, the ecstatic: Tom Wright, the Executive Director of the Regional Plan Association (a group that's done a lot of transit-oriented development planning in CT), emails "Fantastic appointment. She was great in CT. We're thrilled."
The Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a transit-advocacy group that also focuses on "smart growth," was also pretty happy.
"Since 2008, NYSDOT has lacked a commitment to progressive transportation policy and this choice marks a new era for the stagnant agency, " the group said in a statement. "Ms. McDonald showed a clear commitment to promoting an economic investment strategy focused on transit oriented and smart growth development while Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development. We expect Ms. McDonald’s solid experience to guide the way towards a more progressive transportation agenda and to further promote Governor Cuomo’s sustainability goals."
Now, the less-than ecstatic. Sources in CT who've watched McDonald, who was appointed by former Republican Governor Jodi Rell, note that she ran Connecticut's economic development department at a time when that state dropped to "dead last" in job growth. And, as one source familiar with CT state government pointed out to me, CT's economic development website is literally static when you compare it to say, Virginia's .
There's also concern among some urban planners and environmentalists that McDonald, who served as Deputy Commissioner for Planning and Traffic Operations under former New York City DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall, has views on traffic closer to Weinshall's, than to Janette Sadik-Khan's, the current commissioner. Weinshall's views on traffic were recently expressed in a letter to the editor of the New York Times opposing a bike lane on Prospect Park West.
"When new bike lanes force the same volume of cars and trucks into fewer and narrower traffic lanes, the potential for accidents between cars, trucks and pedestrians goes up rather than down," Weinshall, former Deputy Mayor Norman Steisel, and others wrote in the letter.
Assuming that traffic volume is fixed -- and that DOT commissioner's jobs entail making that fixed volume moves more quickly -- has been a hallmark of DOT thinking in the past, in pretty much every DOT in the country. By contrast, Sadik-Khan and a new group of urban planners argue that traffic volume is mutable, and that good design can lower the amount of automobile traffic on a given by-way, without hindering people's ability to get from point A to point B.
There has been no NYS Transportation Commissioner since 2009, when Astrid Glynn departed after an unfortunately timed vacation in Borneo, just after the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- the stimulus bill -- was signed.
McDonald requires confirmation by the NY State Senate. A date for those hearings has yet to be set.
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Friday, January 07, 2011
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's announcement yesterday that he was putting forward a "responsible transportation capital plan," drew a quick torrent of criticism from transit advocates already stung by huge fare hikes and, later, the death of the trans-Hudson passenger rail ARC tunnel.
Christie's move does seem to take NJ transportation funding back to the future -- to a time when road-building was prioritized over transit. In the 1950's and through the end of the twentieth century, U.S. transportation policy favored road funding over transit funding at a ratio of about eighty to twenty percent. In the last decade, everyone from urban planning graduate students to President Barack Obama have decried the sprawl such funding formulas created.
But for Christie, the ARC tunnel was an unsustainable project, getting built as NJ's Highway Trust Fund was broke and roads were falling into disrepair. By re-purposing this funding, Christie says, he's taking the fiscally responsible route.
"Over each of the next five years the Christie Plan will increase cash contributions used to fund transportation projects while at the same time decreasing the use of borrowing.
Friday, January 07, 2011
New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg accused Gov. Chris Christie of using money that would have gone to the nation's biggest transit project as "a fix for his political problems." Christie, who killed a $9 billion commuter rail project under the Hudson River last Fall, is planning to use some of the funds that had been designated for the ARC tunnel elsewhere.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) "People who use New Jersey Transit have to pay for New Jersey Transit." That's what Governor Chris Christie told the Star-Ledger Editorial Board last spring. NJ Transit fares hadn't been raised in years, he argued, and that wasn't responsible. But neither, a member of the board pointed out, had the gas tax. In fact, the fare had been raised three years earlier -- the gas tax, not in 21 years. "What's the difference between a gas tax hike and a fare hike -- besides who it lands on?" asked another of the journalists.
"That's the difference," Christie said. "My policy choice is that drivers have paid increased tolls two years in the last four years and I didn't think it was their turn to feel the pain." (The Tri-State Transportation Campaign fact-checks that -- they say it's actually been one raise, in seven years.)
Christie seems to making a similar policy choice today: with the highway trust fund broke, and no money to pay for roads, Christie says he's reluctant to use state funds to pay for a transit tunnel. Not when there are so many other pressing infrastructure needs. "And if I can’t pay for it, then we’ll have to consider other options," he told reporters.
Monday, September 13, 2010
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Seems like New Yorkers have hardly gotten over the jolt of dozens of bus line cuts, service reductions, and more crowded and dirtier trains, but here it is already. Tonight the NYC MTA begins hearings on a round of proposed fare hikes that would both raise and limit the use of "unlimited" cards and make other unsavory upward adjustments.
But a coalition of groups is trying to shift the focus from the MTA to the State Legislature.
"Unless the State Legislature makes funding the transit system a real priority," the groups (Straphangers, TriState Transportation Campaign, Transportation Alternatives, and the Pratt Center) say in a statement "subway and bus riders will continue to face a world of hurt – from soaring fares to cuts in service to more unreliable trains and buses to a crumbling system."
The groups also want MTA Chair Jay Walder to release the authority's underlying data on usage of the various MTA discounts -- a test for the historically secretive agency which has pledged a new era of transparency.