Will Transit, Bikes, and Peds Get a Stimulus We Can Believe In?

2547408350_8ecd03abd1.jpgThe Smith/9th St. subway station is one of many that could benefit from stimulus spending. Photo: Victoria Belanger/Flickr

Sam Schwartz has an op-ed in today’s Daily News urging New York’s leaders to get ready for the massive stimulus package taking shape in Washington:

Billions of dollars are being dangled in front of big cities in the form of President-elect Barack Obama’s proposed public works stimulus. A queue has already started forming — as Philadelphia, Phoenix, Atlanta, Connecticut and North Carolina have dusted off plans with ready-to-go projects.

Gov. Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg must act now to ensure that New York doesn’t miss the boat — or the train, or the bus.

The competition for funds is not just between regions, but between modes as well. The Times reported yesterday that APTA has identified a bundle of transit projects as candidates for stimulus spending:

The American Public Transportation Association, which represents
local mass transit authorities, said there were $8 billion in "ready-to-go" projects that could preserve or create thousands of jobs
and provide more energy-efficient transportation.

Beverly A.
Scott, the chief executive of Atlanta’s transit agency and head of the
national association, told Congress in October that the projects
included diesel-electric hybrid buses for Chicago; a new bus
maintenance shop for Eugene, Ore.; and a set of crossover tracks to
allow San Francisco’s rapid transit trains to turn around more quickly
and carry more riders.

Is $8 billion aiming high enough when a consensus has emerged for stimulus spending of at least $300 billion for each of the next two years?

In October, Reconnecting America released a report identifying $248 billion in transit projects on the drawing board. Not all of those would qualify for stimulus funds, which are supposed to be directed toward projects that can get underway and create jobs within 90 days. (We’re told there might be a second stage of stimulus spending that would be more conducive to bigger capital projects.) But some worry that transit providers are so accustomed to getting outspent by highway builders that they won’t make the most of this opportunity. "Aim low and you’ll hit Mt. Everest instead of the moon," says Reconnecting America’s Jeff Wood.

There’s also the question of bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and whether those projects will get more than crumbs. Portland, as usual, looks like a leader in this regard. Bike Portland reported last month that PDOT included a $24 million, 110-mile bike boulevard project as part of a larger federal funding request.

When we asked local transportation agencies what projects they would seek stimulus funds for, the MTA had a list of "ready to go" projects prepared (posted below). NYCDOT has not returned inquiries, and the state DOT told us its list is still a work in progress.

Potential MTA Stimulus Proposals

The MTA has a variety of capital and operating initiatives that have been designed or planned but have not been implemented due to budgetary issues.

They fall into the following categories and could be underway and “on the street” within 60-90 days and create immediate employment opportunities.

There are between $800 million and $1 billion worth of projects that fall into these areas:

  1. Full and Partial Station Rehabilitations
  2. Station Painting at Deteriorated Stations
  3. Bridge Painting
  4. Accelerating Track Replacement
  5. Accelerating Flood Prevention Measures
  6. Advancing Bus Depot Rehabilitations and Expansions
  7. Station, Track and Car Cleaning
  8. Improvements to Employee Facilities
  9. Improving Elevator and Escalator Repairs
  10. Providing Pedestrian Overpasses at some LIRR/MNR stations
  11. Commuter Railroad Parking Enhancements
  12. Commuter Rail Right of Way Cleanup and Tree Trimming
  • Larry Littlefield

    Wouldn’t Silver, Skelos, Smith and the Gang of Three have to approve a capital plan revision? Kiss the money goodbye!

  • Rhywun

    It also wouldn’t hurt if the government dispensed with some of the massive amounts of red tape required to do anything.

  • for transit, yes. For bike and ped. I doubt it.

    the cultural mind-transfer from mega-highways to mega rail/trains/subways will be much easier for both the American public and politicians to muster.

    the mind-shift from mega-highways to people using their own power to move around will be quite difficult for folks to make…and i fear that bike/ped will get left behind in the race for funding.

    also… what bike and peds need are better policies, not just projects. you’d think that fact would make it easier to improve them, but with the emphasis on mega-projects that create good jobs, improving bike/ped in this regard isn’t a slam dunk either.

    this is the time, more than ever, that bike/ped advocates will be tested. if they fail, we all lose. if they rise to the occasion, and take all of us with them, we might, just might, make the major changes that are so long overdue.

  • JK

    This is an astute piece. National media has been obsessing on high speed regional rail, as has the NY Daily News. But but by far the biggest number of trips American’s make are under five miles. It’s a good bet that the benefit/cost of bike/ped spending is much, much higher than high speed or heavy rail. London is spending a billion dollars on it’s bike network over the next five years. That seems like a big number, but they are aiming to transform their transportation system and greatly ease the peak hour pressure on the tube/subway. Even in expensive New York City, a few billion dollars spent on protected bike-ways, sidewalk widenings, public space improvements and BRT would produce profound results. The problem with the U.S. transportation system is not getting people to stop driving between LA and San Francisco, or NYC and Albany. It’s getting people to stop driving their kids a mile to school or driving two miles to get a quart of milk.

  • JK

    It’s not the advocates who will be tested, it’s the political system and imaginations of elected officials. Bike/ped advocates are small political players compared to the massive contractors who build highways, bridges and transit systems. Those contractors (Whose alumni include both the head of the MTA and the NYC DOT)are major campaign contributors, and employ powerful lobbying firms. The bike/ped, smart growth, and sustainable transportation people will do their best. But they are much smaller, poorer and less influential than traditional transportation interests.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    All true, all true JK. Perhaps their pedigree in the consultancy has determined their aversion to leveraging the current financial crisis to pry open Federal support for operating funding for mass transit. Maybe that would weaken MTA-DOT claim to more capital funding from the Feds. Small local, if cheap, capital projects get treated like operating funding.

  • Good point JK about driving short distances for small fries. I’m not a parent, however if I were, I would not want to let my kids take a bike let alone walk in some parts of Phoenix.
    I heard the story about the Mayor Gordon/PHX and just to fill in the blanks, if approved, our “federal stimilus check” would actually come in the form of a bridge loan to get going on a train connecting our new light rail system directly to the airport. The work is underway, the loan would speed up the completion date.

  • gecko

    Serious money for a public bike program targeting 40% cycling in NYC would be transformational and start a revolution in urban transport.

  • gecko

    A one-time charge to achieve a 40% cycling New York would likely be significantly less than the MTA’s annual budget with immediate benefits, cost savings, and incomes such as from tourism, increased business development, and jobs to offset this expenditure.

  • Tim

    How about a transit stimulus that can prevent the MTA from raising subway and bus fares?

  • J. Mork

    Tim — google “kheel plan 2”. HTH.


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