Albany 2012: Transit Funds, Traffic Cams Top Transportation Agenda
1:11 PM EST on February 2, 2012
Many of Albany's biggest transportation issues this year -- the bloated and transit-free Tappan Zee, the unfunded MTA capital plan -- will be decided by Governor Cuomo. But transportation advocates also have a slate of bills they hope to see make it through the legislature. Last year, the complete streets bill passed after a few prior attempts. Here's what's on the table for 2012.
Last year, lockbox legislation sponsored by Assembly Member James Brennan and Senator Marty Golden passed the legislature unanimously, only to have Governor Cuomo "eviscerate" the bill by amendment. The sponsors have vowed to try for the original language again.
The politics of the lockbox could be different this year if downstate legislators team up with their colleagues upstate. Buffalo Republican Mark Grisanti has introduced his own lockbox meant to protect dedicated funds for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. He is amenable to working with those hoping to protect the MTA. "If we can get the upstate folks talking about a lockbox bill in the same breath as the MTA, then maybe that sends a louder message to the governor," said Nadine Lemmon, Albany legislative advocate for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.
Assembly Member Deborah Glick's legislation to allow speed enforcement using automated cameras hasn't gone anywhere in the past, but advocates have declared it a top priority for this year. "It's speed cams all the time when it comes to Albany," said Juan Martinez, general counsel for Transportation Alternatives.
The bill has support not only from transportation advocacy groups, but the New York City DOT and public health organizations. "There is a good coalition that's gotten around it," said Lemmon. That said, the bill still doesn't have a Senate sponsor, an indication of how much work is left to be done.
Red Light Cameras
Three bills to increase the number of red light cameras permitted by the state, one each for New York City, Nassau County and Suffolk County, passed the Senate last year only to die in the Assembly transportation committee. Assembly transportation chair David Gantt has a history of blocking bills that would allow localities to implement life-saving traffic technology.
The red light camera bills didn't have sufficient outside support last year, said Lemmon, who expects more action on the issue in 2012. If necessary, she said, the bills' Assembly sponsors might be willing to use a parliamentary procedure to force a vote in committee. In the Senate, the bills are sponsored by Marty Golden, Chuck Fuschillo and Owen Johnson, respectively.
Transit Commuter Tax Benefit
The federal government may have let the tax benefit for transit fall to $125 per month while raising the parking perk to $240, but that doesn't mean New York State has to. Senator Chuck Fuschillo's legislation would reinstate the full benefit for state taxes. The benefit reduction doesn't matter much for New York City residents -- even now, the tax benefit covers a monthly MetroCard -- but for those commuting into Manhattan on the LIRR or Metro-North, it's a major incentive to take transit.
Fuschillo's bill passed the Senate but died in the Assembly last year. Though it previously didn't have outside advocates behind it, that will change in 2012.
Commercial Cyclist Responsibility
It seems that almost every community board in Manhattan has complained about unsafe riding by working cyclists. In order to effectively and equitably improve commercial cyclist behavior, Transportation Alternatives is lobbying for a bill sponsored by Senator Liz Krueger and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh.
The legislation would place responsibility for traffic violations by working cyclists on their employers. "It's the business owner who is in the best position to guide the cyclists' behavior," explained Martinez. "In order to make those deliveries, they feel they have to ride the wrong way or ride on the sidewalk." On construction sites, Martinez said, employers receive violations for workers who don't wear hard hats; he said the principle should be the same for cyclists.
Transportation Alternatives' push for the bill comes as City Council Member James Vacca is launching his own campaign to regulate commercial cyclists. Under Vacca's proposal, police would step up enforcement of existing rules and working cyclists would be required to take a new bicycle safety course.
Curbside Bus Regulation
The curbside bus industry is booming, to say the least. In 2007, 4.2 million people rode MegaBus, Fung Wah and other curbside buses along the Northeast Corridor, compared to zero a decade before, and the number of riders continues to grow rapidly. That means it's easier to travel the East Coast in a way that's both affordable and sustainable, but it's also created significant pressures on the neighborhoods in which the buses load and unload, where passengers and luggage cramp the sidewalks.
A bill sponsored by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and State Senator Dan Squadron would, for the first time, allow the city to regulate how curbside buses work. In theory, the city would be able to shift curbside operations toward streets with more room, or to locations that otherwise fit the city's transportation vision. Legislation along these lines was proposed by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign in a 2009 report on improving regional bus service.
The bill doesn't allow for a situation like that in Washington, D.C., however, where the city attempted to charge bus companies an $80,000 annual fee, which the industry said would result in higher fares. Under Silver's law, the maximum annual fee for a permit is $275.
Last year, the Assembly passed the bill but it died in the Senate. With Silver's name at the top, its future likely depends on his willingness to wheel and deal with the Senate.
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