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Quinn Says She Still Supports Congestion Pricing

After some pressing from Capital political reporter Azi Paybarah, Christine Quinn followed up her evasive and pessimistic statements about congestion this morning with a firmer but still pessimistic statement about her position:

“I supported congestion pricing. I support congestion pricing. I do not see it coming back in Albany but my support for congestion pricing has not changed.”

So, if Quinn gets elected, don’t expect her to make the first move on this.

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Ray LaHood: “It’s Not Just About Emissions”

This is the third and final installment of our exit interview with departing U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. In the first, he talked about his proudest accomplishments, why he decided to leave, and why it’s important to fund bike/ped improvements with federal dollars – and he made it clear he’s still not giving us any answers about where to find more money for transportation. In the second, he talked about Republicans who get it, why TIGER was a game-changer – and he let slip some good news about the Chicago Riverwalk. Part three is more of a grab-bag — I hadn’t expected to get almost 40 minutes one-on-one with the secretary!

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will be leaving his post soon. Photo: Fast Lane

Tanya Snyder: You mentioned high-speed rail. In California, the line is going to cost upwards of $68 billion. The federal government has put in about three and the funding is still a big question mark there. Do you think that, in the future, going forward with the high-speed rail program, it would make sense to pick sites where the federal government could put in a more substantial proportion of the final funding?

Ray LaHood: High-speed rail is not going to be accomplished by the federal government putting an enormous amount of money in. The money is just not here. And so what we have done is we jump-started passenger rail in America and asked private businesses to come in and make a commitment, to make an investment.

I traveled to 16 or 18 countries in the first two years in this job, looking at high-speed rail. And every place that I went, I asked people come to America, make an investment, hire American workers, and build these trains in America. And now there are a lot of companies in California, in Illinois, along the Northeast Corridor, in Nevada, thinking about making investments.

We’re not going to accomplish our passenger rail, our high-speed rail dreams and aspirations with funding coming from Washington. Some of it can. But the lion’s share will have to be private investment and the states’ commitment to this.

In California, the assembly there passed last year the selling of bonds, between $6 billion and $10 billion worth of bonds. That’s a huge investment. In Illinois, the governor there has made huge investments in high-speed rail. We’ve made some, but he’s made some, and private companies have made some. This is going to have to be a true public-private partnership in order to get this accomplished, and frankly, that’s what happened in Europe and Asia, too.

TS: There was an Anderson Cooper segment a couple weeks ago that underlined for me the fact that maybe the message really hasn’t gotten out about higher-speed rail — that that was part of this package too. It’s not just about getting trains over 110 mph but it’s also about getting trains that have been going 30 mph up to 70 mph. Do you feel like that’s a message that hasn’t really come across? That people see “high-speed rail” and think it should be going 220?

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Eyes on the Street: Road Collapse Closes Tillary Street Protected Bike Lane

The two-way protected bike lane on Tillary Street in Downtown Brooklyn is blocked. Photo: Trammell Hudson on Flickr

Tillary Street between Adams Street and Cadman Plaza East is a critical connection for cyclists from Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill and Red Hook to the Brooklyn Bridge, with a protected bike lane separating them from drivers on the extra-wide street.

While the two-way lane has long been a favorite of illegal parkers, for the past week or two it’s been blocked by construction barriers, according to reader Trammell Hudson, who sent in this photo. As a result, cyclists are shunted into a lane of general traffic, and the sudden closure forces some cyclists to ride against traffic approaching the dangerous intersection with Adams Street.

A section of the street collapsed in recent weeks, and while DOT has done some work on the site, more work is needed, according to Gene Corcoran of the U.S. District Court, which is located on this block of Tillary Street. Streetsblog has an inquiry in with DOT to learn more. We’ll let you know if we hear anything.

Update: According to DOT, as of this morning there’s now a bike detour here that separates cyclists from car traffic. The detour will be in effect until DOT and DEP fix the depression in the road.

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Search Is on for Hit-and-Run Driver Who Killed Carlos Carlo, 65, in Queens

Left, Carlos Carlo, 65, of Rochdale, Queens, was killed by a hit-and-run driver. Right, Carlo's granddaughter and daughter, Samantha and Melissa Martin. Right photo: Mona Rivera/1010 WINS

Police are looking for the driver of a dark sedan who fled the scene after striking and killing Carlos Carlo, 65, as he tried to cross Rockaway Boulevard at 137th Avenue in the Rochdale section of Queens at approximately 12:30 a.m. last night.

Police say Carlo was returning home after getting off an MTA bus, according to the Daily News, though his daughter, Melissa Martin, told the Post that he was returning from a leisure walk. Her father often walked to lower his cholesterol and improve his health, she said.

The driver was traveling northbound in the right lane when the crash occurred. When first responders arrived, Carlo was unconscious with body trauma. He was transported to Jamaica Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

Rockaway Boulevard has two lanes in each direction. Instead of a pedestrian refuge, there is a center turn lane down the middle of the road. The intersection with 137th Avenue does not have a traffic signal; the nearest striped crosswalks are blocks away at Conduit Avenue or 134th Avenue.

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One Year and 280+ Deaths Later, No Council Progress on NYPD Crash Reforms

Christine Quinn remains noncommittal on whether NYPD should investigate maimings and killings on NYC streets. Photo: James Estrin/New York Times/Redux

It was a year ago today that the City Council transportation committee, led by James Vacca and Peter Vallone Jr., convened a hearing on pedestrian and cyclist safety and the failure of NYPD to properly investigate traffic crashes.

“Driving in our city is a privilege, not a right,” said Vacca, to a room packed with victims of vehicular violence and their loved ones, safe streets advocates, and media. Of dangerous drivers, Vacca said: “I want to know what the police department is doing to track down these scofflaws. We have to bring these people to their senses. We don’t accept gun violence as a way to die. We shouldn’t accept traffic deaths as a way to die either.”

Vacca and Vallone listened sympathetically to hours of testimony from those whose lives were forever altered by traffic crashes, and whose misery was often compounded by an inept and indifferent NYPD. Council members learned that the department has just 19 officers assigned to its Accident Investigation Squad, and that no one else on the force has the authority to charge a motorist with careless driving, much less a serious crime, unless the officer witnesses a violation.

“There will be laws arising out of this,” said Vallone, who grilled NYPD brass alongside Jessica Lappin, Gale Brewer, Dan Garodnick, Steve Levin, Letitia James, Brad Lander, Dan Halloran, and Vincent Ignizio.

Five months later, council members introduced the Crash Investigation Reform Act. Among its provisions was the formation of a multi-agency task force charged with reforming NYPD crash investigation protocols, which allow thousands of serious injuries to go uninvestigated every year, in violation of state law.

Since last July, the Crash Investigation Reform Act has gone nowhere. Vallone has pretty much been a no-show on matters of street safety, while Vacca spent the rest of the year targeting delivery cyclists and working to make it easier for motorists to park.

Speaker Christine Quinn, whose imprimatur is essential to moving legislation through the council, has not taken a position on NYPD crash investigation reforms.

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Chris Quinn: “I Don’t Anticipate Congestion Pricing Coming Back Around”

Dana Rubinstein reports that City Council speaker and current mayoral front-runner Christine Quinn is bearish on congestion pricing’s political prospects:

“I don’t anticipate congestion pricing coming back around,” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn told an audience at New York Law School today, when asked about its near-term future. “It didn’t do well and I don’t expect that proposal to come back around in that way.”

Is this disappointing? Sure, it would be great news for New York City if a mayoral candidate ran in support of the single most transformative traffic and transit policy out there. And Quinn, who helped shepherd congestion pricing through the City Council in 2007 and 2008, is one of two contenders with a voting record in support of it. (The other is John Liu, who voted for congestion pricing when he was a City Council member representing Flushing, then turned around and opposed bridge tolls in 2009, when he had a citywide campaign to worry about. Bill de Blasio, meanwhile, voted against congestion pricing but is on the record supporting East River bridge tolls pegged to the subway fare.)

But is this significant? Well, I don’t think it means a whole lot.

Noted congestion pricing champion Michael Bloomberg, for instance, never campaigned on congestion pricing. He floated East River bridge tolls in 2002, a month after getting elected for the first time, but stopped pressing for them after then-governor George Pataki ruled out the idea. Running for re-election in 2005, Bloomberg again didn’t make congestion pricing a campaign issue, but it turned out to be his single biggest policy initiative in 2007 and 2008. Democratic Governor Eliot Spitzer backed the idea, and if he wasn’t such a weak-willed dirtbag, who knows, he might have steamrolled congestion pricing through Albany.

So mayoral candidates aren’t going to campaign on road pricing, even if they believe in it, and in the end, the person who has the most power to make it happen is the governor. If the NYC region is going to get a rationally priced road network and a well-funded transit system, it’s up to Andrew Cuomo to get things started — from the looks of it, preferably sometime after the mayoral election.

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Lessons From London After 10 Years of the Congestion Charge

A Republican member of Congress told me last week that he recently was in London for the first time in a long while. “Traveling was so much better,” he said. “You can actually get around. That traffic-charging system they’ve got seems to be doing a lot of good.”

London’s system — known formally as congestion charging — started up 10 years ago this Sunday, on February 17, 2003. In the decade since then it has been meticulously monitored, analyzed and debated — perhaps more than any traffic-managing scheme since Moses parted the Red Sea. It has also spawned a raft of charging programs elsewhere, most notably in Stockholm, and, starting last month, in Gothenburg, Sweden’s second city. Of course, an all-out effort to enact a comparable system here, the proposal to toll motor vehicles entering Manhattan south of 60th Street, died in the state legislature five years ago.

Ten years on is a good time to take stock. Let’s have a look.

What It Is: Cars and trucks pay £10 (roughly $15.60) to drive into or within the charging zone between 7 am and 6 pm on weekdays. The zone is London’s commercial and financial hub and, at 8 square miles, rivals Manhattan’s 8.5-square mile Central Business District. Taxis are exempt, as are qualifying low-emission vehicles. Cars registered to zone residents, who account for 2 percent of Greater London’s 7 million people, pay one-tenth the standard charge.

How Drivers Pay: London’s system deploys 1,360 closed-circuit cameras at 348 sites within the charging zone and on its boundaries to record the license plates of vehicles entering and moving within the zone. The plates are continuously matched against a database of monthly accounts, and “spot” payments are made via Internet or at kiosks, drawing down accounts or billing license-plate holders. This cumbersome system arose not only from the absence in the U.K. of electronic toll collection systems such as E-ZPass when the system was launched a decade ago, but also from the decision to charge for car trips entirely within the zone in addition to vehicle entries. A byproduct is the relatively meager net revenue available for transport improvements.

Traffic Outcomes: In its first few years, the London charging scheme was heralded as a solid traffic-buster, with 15-20 percent boosts in auto and bus speeds and 30 percent reductions in congestion delays. Most of those gains appear to have disappeared in recent years, however. Transport for London (TfL), which combines the functions of our NYCDOT and MTA and which created and operates the charging system, attributes the fallback in speeds to other changes in the streetscape and traffic management:

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Litmus Test for Transport Spending: Will It Benefit Our Kids?

Here’s an important consideration in how we expend our public resources that doesn’t find its way into your conventional cost-benefit analysis. Craig Benjamin at the Cascade Bicycle Club’s Bike Blog writes that every transportation investment should be held to this one standard:

How will they benefit from our transportation spending decisions? Image: Cascade

Next week our representatives in Olympia will introduce a multi-billion dollar package of transportation investments. When I see their proposal, I’ll ask one simple question: Will it create a better world for our children?

Will it make it safer for our kids to bike and walk to school? Will it make it easier for hard-working families to bike, walk or take transit to work, school, shops, restaurants, and places of worship? Will it focus on fixing our existing roads while making them safer for everybody?

For too long big corporations that profit from building highways have successfully pushed a roads-only approach. Well-heeled highway lobbyists have convinced politicians to spend most of our money on costly new highways instead of focusing on fixing the roads we already have and providing families with more options to get around.

They’ve rigged the system and made our cities less livable for working families and less safe for kids. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Cascade is urging its members to contact their state representatives and simply ask them to adopt a transportation spending package that will make the world a better place for the state’s children.

Elsewhere on the Network today: RTC TrailBlog explains how a South Carolina town used trail development to revitalize its main street. Wash Cycle thinks that President Obama’s “Fix it First” proposal would be a big win for cyclists. And Greater Greater Washington reports that AAA is fighting against efforts to reform D.C.’s parking minimums.

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Today’s Headlines

  • More on Bloomberg’s Final State of the City: NYT, PostWNYC
  • The Times’ Car Blog and TransNat Detail the Mayor’s Electric Vehicle Parking Plan
  • NY1-Marist Poll Shows Christine Quinn Still Not as Popular as Bike Lanes (CapNY)
  • Touting Car Theft Numbers, DA Richard Brown Has Nothing to Say About Traffic Deaths (Gazette)
  • Livery Cab Owners Sue to Stop Hail Apps (WSJ)
  • CUNY and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Dangle Park Improvements for UES Parking (DNA)
  • Rehab of 215th Step-Street in Inwood Delayed, Again (DNA)
  • Schoolmate Honors Hit-and-Run Victim Ronald Tillman Through Cycling Advocacy (Wagner Mag)
  • Streets Still Perilous After Hit-and-Run Deaths of Terence Connor and Mathieu Lefevre (Bushwick Daily)
  • “Driving in Our City Is a Privilege, Not a Right.” — James Vacca, February 15, 2012

More headlines at Streetsblog Capitol Hill

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Bloomberg’s Final State of the City Captures the Contradictions of His Legacy

Michael Bloomberg’s twelfth and final State of the City address neatly encapsulated the internal contradictions of his transportation and planning policies. In his prepared remarks, the mayor called the impending launch of bike-share “the biggest change to our transportation network in ages,” but the speech was also peppered with boasts about stadium-related mega-projects that are going to generate torrents of traffic on city streets. Also in the mix: some references to the welcome push for transit-oriented density in Midtown East, and an electric-car incentive that we’ll be taking a closer look at in the days ahead.

A note to prospective mayors: There are many ways to differentiate yourself from Bloomberg’s legacy on the built environment that won’t totally alienate New Yorkers who want safer streets for walking and biking. The mayor’s prepared remarks today contained a few opportunities on that front.

Bloomberg delivered the address from the Barclays Center, the arena built over the Vanderbilt rail yards thanks to a sweetheart land deal with the MTA, copious public subsidies, and a whole lot of eminent domain. In an unintentionally fitting touch, the mayor compared the project to a highway tunnel that was thankfully never built:

Remember: after the courts stopped the Westway highway project in the early 1980s, you’d often hear people say that big projects like this were no longer possible in New York City. And for a long time, that certainly seemed to be largely true. But not anymore. Over the past 11 years, working with our partners in the City Council and in Albany, we have overcome the defeatists and shown that this big city of big dreams can still get big things done.

After subsidizing the Nets arena and new stadiums for the Mets and Yankees, including thousands of parking spaces, the Bloomberg administration is still treating stadium construction as an economic development strategy. The city is pushing for a new stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and Bloomberg pledged today to “work with Major League Soccer to bring soccer back to our city for the first time since the Cosmos left in 1977.” The proposed stadium site is farther from the 7 train than the existing sports facilities by Willets Point, and neighborhood residents fear that new highway ramps will end up being part of the bargain.

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