Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1985 Tue, 12 Dec 2017 10:17:50 +0000 en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) What's The [DATA] Point? $1.5 billion http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7131:what-s-the-data-point-1-5-billion http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7131:what-s-the-data-point-1-5-billion whats the data point


What's The Data Point? Episode 9 -- $1.5 billion, [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

For this episode of the podcast, we were joined by Alex Matthiessen, President of Blue Marble Project and Campaign Director for Move New York, the "congestion pricing" plan that aims to help repair and improve the city's mass transit, roads and bridges, while reducing traffic and creating more equity in tolling around the city.

Matthiessen expains the details of the Move New York plan and its place in this new, unique political moment -- Governor Cuomo has recently said that he's looking at some version of a congestion pricing plan and there is immense attention on how the city and state can improve mass transit, reduce traffic congestion, and repair, sustain, and expand the subway and other transportation options. Matthiessen addresses the next steps for Cuomo, whether Mayor de Blasio should come around to back Move New York or some version of it, and where things are heading for a new paradigm in New York transit.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis (@MariaDoulis) of CBC (@cbcny), and special guest Alex Matthiessen (@MoveNewYork). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What's The [DATA] Point? $1.5 billion Thu, 17 Aug 2017 01:16:01 +0000
Calls for Small & Large Fixes to City Congestion, Transit Woes http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6975:calls-for-small-large-fixes-to-city-congestion-transit-woes http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6975:calls-for-small-large-fixes-to-city-congestion-transit-woes trottenberg chan mccarten

Cmsr Trottenberg, right (photos: John McCarten/City Council)


The New York City Council Committee on Transportation held a hearing Monday to discuss sources of, and solutions to, traffic congestion in the city.

City Council Member Ydanis Rodríguez, chair of the committee, began the hearing by lamenting New York City’s heavy traffic. “As most New Yorkers can tell you, our streets look like parking lots,” said Rodríguez, a Democrat from upper Manhattan. In addition to economic impediments and general inconvenience, the Council member framed congestion as a safety issue as well. “More cars in our road means more dangerous conditions for cyclists, pedestrians and other street users,” he said -- Rodriguez has been a champion of the city’s Vision Zero street safety program.

Council Member Mark Levine, also an upper Manhattan Democrat, agreed with Rodríguez’s characterization of the situation and highlighted its urgency. “Congestion is at crisis levels in this city,” he said. “This is a threat to our economy, our environment, it is a safety threat and frankly, for drivers, it is driving them crazy to be stuck in traffic.”

The Council members attributed an apparent recent dramatic increase in congestion to the prosperity of various home-delivery and app-based car services alongside longstanding New York City issues such as double parking and placard misuse.

However, a portion of the uptick in clogged New York City streets is a product of some unavoidable, as well as wholly positive, developments, argued new York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, who was the main representative of the de Blasio administration at Monday’s hearing.

In conjunction with population growth, tourism to the city and a booming economy have contributed, Trottenberg said, citing a 68% increase in visitors since 2000 and an addition of 4.3 million jobs in New York City since before the recession. ”While on the one hand, increased congestion is a sign of a thriving economy, we hear loud and clear from community boards, elected officials, businesses, and New Yorkers who drive, are stuck on the bus, or use crowded sidewalks, that they are frustrated by congestion and are asking the city for answers,” Trottenberg said.

Trottenberg discussed the two most impactful ways to address the issue: congestion pricing, which would create a new tolling system to, in part, disincentivize driving in the city, especially into Manhattan, and subway expansion, which would encourage more people to choose a train over a car. The commissioner did not indicate that the de Blasio administration is supportive of a congestion pricing plan -- Mayor de Blasio himself said Monday that it has no hope of passage in Albany, so it is not worth fighting for. The de Blasio administration also has little control over subway expansion, given that the MTA is a state-run authority, but could pursue some additional stops if it chose to make that a priority, which it has not.

With a handful Council members, Trottenberg discussed secondary areas over which the city has direct control, such as car placard abuse, which take up parking spaces or block traffic, large truck deliveries which often block streets, and bus lane enforcement, to prevent slowing MTA buses.

Council Member Margaret Chin, for example, floated the idea of imposing harsher penalties on placard abusers and those that unlawfully veer into bus lanes. NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas M. Chan acknowledged Chin’s concerns, adding that his department is exploring ways to court additional officers to the approximately 3,200 officers tasked with enforcing traffic law. De Blasio recently announced a new crackdown on placard abuse that coincided with his decision to allow tens of thousands of placards to school personnel.

But not all Members were on-board with shifting focus towards small fixes over the meat and potato endeavors to ameliorating New York City’s traffic woes.

Council Member Corey Johnson, a Democrat representing the West Side of Manhattan, said the city’s proposed congestion-fighting efforts to which it has shifted attention amounted to mere “tinkering around the edges.” Council Member Brad Lander, Democrat of Park Slope, Brooklyn, took issue with the less ambitious approach as well, declaring that anything that did not include transportation investment would be “fooling around at the margins.”

Mayor de Blasio, for his part, threw cold water on the city taking action on ambitious as well as extensive and long-term issues, stating that the political climate in Albany is not ripe for passing a congestion pricing program while continually, and accurately, noting that potential MTA augmentations and fixes fall under Governor Andrew Cuomo’s jurisdiction. Instead, on transit the mayor has favored an approach more immediately implementable steps that do not rely on state approval.

When asked at a press conference Monday morning if, absent investment in new subway stations, the city could properly address congestion, de Blasio articulated his approach. “This is going to have to happen in phases over years [in] how we address the problem,” said the mayor. “We need to first think about the things we can do right now…” he said, name-checking expanded ferry service, Select Bus Service, and the BQX lightrail streetcar as the types of New York City mass-transit successes he’s unveiled. “Those are the things that are going to have a big impact for people’s lives right now,” de Blasio said.

Though de Blasio said that there is a “real possibility” that New York City would have to build more subways 10 to 15 years down the road, “The things we’ve done right now, are the things we could do right now,” he said. The Select Bus Service “is a real workhorse,” he said while answering a follow-up question.

In a similar vein, in lieu of congestion pricing, de Blasio favors other measures to free-up traffic. “There are people who double-park in an abusive manner that blocks up the street for everyone else. There should be enforcement of that,” he said. He doesn’t want overly-strict, nit-picking tickets, he said, but “ticketing that is about keeping the flow of traffic...I want to ticket those that are blocking traffic on a  prolonged basis…I want to ticket people who block the box.”

Like for much else in New York City politics, the ongoing feud between de Blasio and Cuomo loomed in the background of the transportation hearing and the mayor’s Monday morning press conference. Although the hearing focused on congestion, the MTA’s woes and traffic issues were treated as inextricably linked even without Cuomo being blamed by name for the MTA’s terrible state of disrepair.

While Council Member Donovan Richards, a Democrat from Southeast Queens, noted that it is indubitably Cuomo’s responsibility to manage and adequately fund the MTA, he stated that finger-pointing would not cut it moving forward. Richards said his constituents call his office about transportation and don’t care about whose jurisdiction the MTA is. Thus, it was his position City Hall must take it upon itself to solve the city's transportation crises.

One way would be to push for a congestion pricing plan without state government approval, by citing a 1957 state law that allows cities home to over a million people to implement their own bridge tolls. This proposal, as reported by the Wall Street Journal Sunday, was brought to the forefront by Move NY, an organization that has the most popular current congestion pricing plan, and New York University Law School Professor Roderick Hills. New York City DOT spokesperson Scott Gastel dismissed the proposal, telling the Journal “...legal experts in both the current and previous administrations determined the city does not have this authority.”

When asked about the idea during a press gaggle following the Monday Council hearing, Trottenberg echoed Gastel, saying, “I think the city has determined it’s a losing legal fight...In this case, unfortunately, we just don’t have that legal authority.”

Furthermore, Trottenberg insisted that piecemeal congestion-fighting proposals have begun to flow from the administration and that more are coming; she did not answer directly whether what she had described reflected the mayor’s anti-congestion positions. She also said that the anti-congestion plan the mayor promised in his February State of the City speech are already partly in process and soon to be more clear.

“It’s one of the first elements of it,” Trottenberg said regarding the enforcement pieces she laid out. “I think the congestion plan, it turns out, is going to be kind of a rolling plan, you’ve heard the first pieces of it today, and there will be more to come in the coming weeks.“

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Calls for Small & Large Fixes to City Congestion, Transit Woes Mon, 05 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo Makes Transit a ‘Personal Priority,’ Advocates Want More Funding Details http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6466:cuomo-makes-transit-a-personal-priority-advocates-want-more-funding-details http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6466:cuomo-makes-transit-a-personal-priority-advocates-want-more-funding-details cuomo prendergast mta

Gov. Cuomo & MTA Chair Prendergast (photo: Philip Kamrass, Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo has made mass transit a major focus of late, holding a series of events over the past year regarding airport redevelopment, railroad expansion, new transportation hubs and vehicles, and more. Early last month he described the Metropolitan Transit Administration (MTA) as a new “personal priority” and announced an effort to modernize the agency, beginning with the purchase of over 1,000 new subway cars.

This, with the accompanying significant funding allocation toward the MTA, is something of a change of course for Cuomo, who has a history of diverting money from the MTA. Now, the governor’s ambitious transit plan includes updating the MTA, repairing tunnels and bridges throughout the New York metropolitan area, building a new Tappan Zee bridge, rebuilding LaGuardia Airport and Penn Station, and creating a new tunnel under the Hudson river.

With federal corruption convictions having toppled two recent leaders in the state Legislature, among other former Albany lawmakers, and investigations into his own administration, Cuomo appears to have seized on a concrete, quality-of-life issue in mass transit that has also been brought into focus by the dire state of the state’s transportation infrastructure.

Cuomo’s commitment came after calls from transit advocates, business people, and lawmakers urging the governor to allocate funding to the MTA’s five-year Capital Program in the state’s budget to meet the staggering needs outlined by the authority. After spending $1 billion in the first year of the Capital Program last year, Cuomo agreed to provide an additional $7.3 billion last fall. New York City will provide $2.5 billion, and the MTA, a state body whose chair is appointed by the Governor, will itself provide $17 billion.

Cuomo did not finalize the spending plan for the Capital Program until late May, but has widely publicized his support of the program since. The state’s contribution to the Capital Program is included in the Fiscal Year 2017 budget, providing $2.9 billion in the coming year on top of the $1 billion provided in Fiscal Year 2016.

At a June event celebrating groundbreaking at “the new LaGuardia Airport,” Cuomo put the magnitude of his “$100 billion infrastructure program” on display, calling it “the largest reinvestment in New York’s infrastructure in modern history,” which, he said, was “long overdue.” A key part of it, the governor said, “is a $27 billion investment, largest capital investment in history in the MTA because that is going to be the future. Moving more and more people through mass transit rather than through cars and I am proud to be the governor who made the largest investment in the MTA’s history.”

While some transit advocates view the governor’s recent embrace of the MTA as a victory, not all are reassured by the promise of capital funding.

“It was a great win in many ways that the governor said he would allocate the necessary funding at least this year to the capital plan,” Masha Burina, an organizer for the advocacy group Riders Alliance, told Gotham Gazette. “But our major concern going forward that we still have and that we're going to be pushing for in our campaign is to get a sense of where this money is coming from.”

Burina said the push to secure budgetary funding for the Capital Program was aided by Assembly member James Brennan, a Democrat from Brooklyn, who penned a letter signed by 35 other Assembly members and sent to Cuomo in February. However, Burina added that Cuomo has not detailed how the state will pay for the capital program.

Without a new source of funding, the state—or the MTA—will have to borrow. The MTA is already over $35 billion in debt. Because one of the only revenue generators within the MTA’s control is passenger fares, Burina said she is worried going further in debt would make a looming fare hike to $3 even more likely (the current cost of a subway or bus ride is $2.75).

But the Fiscal Year 2017 budget stipulates that the state can only provide its share of the funding via a revenue stream or direct payments, which means no debt related to the state’s contribution to the Capital Program can be passed on to the fare-payer, according to Morris Peters, a spokesperson for the New York State Division of the Budget.

Peters also touted the $3.9 billion state contribution already signed into law as part of the past two years’ budget, pointing out that this places the state ahead of schedule in providing its $8.3 billion pledged contribution.

“Through the Enacted Budget, the state’s commitment of $8.3 billion in new funding for the MTA is now law. Anyone who thinks this isn't a priority clearly doesn't know what they're talking about,” Peters said in an email to Gotham Gazette.

Nonetheless, transportation advocates are likely to continue questioning where exactly the money is coming from and pressuring Cuomo as they have in the past, urging the governor to find ways to pay for the capital plan, according to Burina.

“It's great that he's come out and stepped up saying that these are his priorities, but we want to make sure that this doesn't translate into unsupported debt borrowing,” Burina said.

Several possible options for funding exist, but none have yet been embraced by the governor. One possibility is raising motor fuel taxes, which brought in $503 million for the state last year. But Nicole Gelinas, the Searle Freedom Trust Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, said raising the gas tax is unlikely to provide enough funding for the Capital Program.

“I don't think we'll get much from a higher gas tax,” Gelinas said in an email to Gotham Gazette. “We could double it, and take in another half billion [dollars], but that doesn't solve the MTA's problems.”

Increasing motor fuel taxes has not been endorsed by Riders Alliance and has drawn skepticism from elected officials who support increased transportation spending, especially since motor fuel tax revenue is expected to decrease by $9 million in the coming year.

“All our public policy is, quite properly, aimed at saying ‘use fewer gallons of gasoline.’ We want to be more energy efficient, we want to have less fumes and we want to have more miles per gallon,” Jerrold Nadler, a Democratic congressman from Manhattan, said at “On Transportation,” a forum hosted by City & State NY at the New School on Tuesday. “So the amount of revenue in real terms from the gasoline tax is going down steadily, and we have to substitute for it.”

Riders Alliance has, however, endorsed the Move NY Fair Plan, which would increase tolls in areas of high transit availability like major East River bridges and decrease tolls in areas of low availability, including bridges over the Harlem River. But the plan would generate “only” one billion dollars per year for transit projects through 2019, as well as $375 million per year for road and bridge improvements during that time.

“The Move NY is a much better plan, except that even it is not a panacea,” Gelinas said by email. “It buys us the debt for one five-year capital plan, at most. But we're now two years into that five-year capital plan. So what do we do in three years' time?”

As advocates continue to push for a source of funding for the MTA, Riders Alliance hopes to use Cuomo’s “prioritization” of transit to gain momentum for more specific causes they’ve spearheaded in recent months, including compiling a plan to support commuters affected by the L Train’s upcoming closure, subsidizing fares for low-income New Yorkers, and updating the subway signaling system, which would allow for expanded countdown clocks and more trains per track.

And while some have been bolstered by Cuomo’s pledge to be an advocate for transportation, others are less satisfied. New York State Senator Leroy Comrie, a Democrat from Queens who serves on the Senate’s infrastructure committee, said that regardless of its sources of funding, the Capital Program neglects parts of his constituency.

“I represent Southeast Queens, which is a transportation desert. The MTA five-year capital plan addresses no solutions for Queens other than repair and maintenance of the existing bridges that are there,” Comrie said at the City & State forum on Tuesday. “The project for LaGuardia was necessary and important, there’s no access for our community to actually get to work.”

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by Aaron Holmes, Gotham Gazette

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Cuomo Makes Transit a ‘Personal Priority,’ Advocates Want More Funding Details Wed, 03 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000