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Posts from the "New York" Category

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Talking Headways Podcast: A Butterfly Flaps Its Wings In the Metro

At around 800 people per square mile, places go from voting red to voting blue. Image: ##http://davetroy.com/posts/the-real-republican-adversary-population-density##Dave  Troy##

At around 800 people per square mile, places go from voting red to voting blue. Image: Dave Troy

The metro is coming to Loudon County, Virginia. Eventually.

The Silver Line expansion that opens this summer will only go as far as Reston, but by 2018 it’ll be in Loudon, one of the nation’s fastest-growing — and wealthiest — counties.

As the county’s population continues to grow — especially among communities of color – will its density hit 800 people per square mile, which is the threshold at which places magically turn from Republican to Democrat? And if it does, will it turn Virginia from purple to blue? And with such an important swing state shifting solidly to one camp, does that change the national political balance? And what is it with the number 800 anyway?

We try to figure it all out on this week’s Talking Headways. Plus, Stephen Miller, my colleague from Streetsblog New York, joins us to talk about what is — and what isn’tmoving forward as part of the city’s Vision Zero plan.

And: Detroit is tearing down more than 20 percent of its housing stock to reduce blight and still splurges on roads. Is that the way to revitalize a city? The comments section awaits you.

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President Obama’s Hollow Push for Infrastructure Investment

With the Tappan Zee Bridge behind him, President Obama made his case for more infrastructure spending. Photo: ##https://twitter.com/TheObamaDiary/status/466676032834387969/photo/1##TheObamaDiary/Twitter##

With an old highway bridge and the cranes building its replacement behind him, President Obama made his case for more infrastructure spending. Photo: TheObamaDiary/Twitter

This afternoon, President Obama stood by New York’s Tappan Zee Bridge and made a speech pressing Congress to do something about infrastructure investment. It’s part of his Infrastructure Week push for Congress to pass a fully funded transportation reauthorization bill. Many other groups are spending this week sounding the same horn.

“If they don’t act by end of summer, federal funding for transportation projects will run out. The cupboard will be bare,” Obama said today. “Nearly 700,000 jobs will be at risk.”

“So far, at least, the Republicans who run this Congress seem to have a different priority,” he said. “Not only have they prevented, so far, efforts to make sure funding is still in place for what we’ve already got, but their proposal would actually cut job-creating grant programs that funded high-priority transportation projects in all 50 states — they’d cut ‘em by about 80 percent.”

Indeed, Obama has submitted a bill to Congress calling to increase federal transportation investment to $302 billion over the next four years. The problem is, his plan to pay for it — using what he calls “pro-growth” business tax reform and the repatriation of offshore profits — is falling on deaf ears in Congress. Advocates criticize the plan as a one-time gimmick, not a long-term funding source.

The most obvious and simple method of raising more revenue in the long run is to increase the gas tax, which hasn’t been raised since 1993 and has lost an estimated 37 percent of its purchasing power. Experts say an increase of 10 to 15 cents per gallon is needed to fill the gap in the nation’s transportation funding.

But the Obama administration has been adamant in its refusal to raise the gas tax. Though former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood came out in favor of a 10 cent hike almost as soon as he left office, he toed the official line while at U.S. DOT, insisting that a hike was a non-starter. At a Commerce Committee hearing last week, LaHood’s successor, Anthony Foxx, disappointed senators by dodging a question about increasing the gas tax, saying only that he would “listen to Congress.”

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Chuck Schumer Proposes Making Bike-Share Memberships Tax Deductible

If you drive to work, the IRS allows you to pay for parking with pre-tax money. Same goes if you take the train or the bus (though transit commuters can’t claim as much tax-free earnings as car commuters). People who ride their own bikes are also eligible to deduct some associated costs. But if you get to work using Citi Bike, Divvy, Nice Ride, or any of the other bike-share systems sprouting up in American cities, you get no such assistance from Uncle Sam.

Those to use bike share to commute to work may soon be eligible for the same tax benefits everyone else receives. Photo: Steven Vance

People who ride bike-share to work may soon be eligible for tax benefits like other commuters. Photo: Steven Vance

New York Senator Chuck Schumer wants to change that by treating bike-share memberships like other commuting costs. Schumer plans to add an amendment to a Senate package of tax benefit extensions that would specifically list bike-share memberships as an eligible expense for transportation fringe benefits.

“Bike share programs are an efficient, healthy, and clean form of mass transportation, and they should be treated the same way under the tax code as we treat car and mass transit commuters,” he said in a statement yesterday.

The amendment would allow commuters to deduct up to $20 per month in bike-share expenses from their taxable income, the same as regular bike commuters. That would make the entire cost of an annual bike-share membership tax-deductible. Chicago’s Divvy, for instance, is prices at $75 per year, NYC’s Citi Bike costs $95, and at the very high end of the spectrum, Deco Bike in Miami Beach costs $150. For commuters, a low-cost transportation option could become an even better bargain.

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Talking Headways Podcast: Knight Rider Rides Again

It was a dark and stormy day in San Francisco and Jeff Wood stayed dry in Woonerf studios, recording the Talking Headways podcast with co-host Tanya Snyder, who was bitter that days after the spring equinox, Washington, DC, was getting hit with another snowstorm.

But more importantly — what does the future hold after a tumultuous news cycle for New York’s Citi Bike? What can Chicago (and, oh, every other American city) do to create more affordable housing in the neighborhoods everyone wants to live in? And is the self-driving car seriously going to become a reality by the end of this decade? And is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Jeff and Tanya take on all that and more. Or really, pretty much just that.

Enjoy our sweet 16th episode of the Talking Headways podcast, subscribe on iTunes, follow the RSS feed, and talk at us in the comments.

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The 5 Cities Where It’s Easiest — and Hardest — to Walk to the Grocery Store

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New York came in at the top of Walk Score’s ranking of cities where people can walk to buy groceries. Image: Walk Score

Walk Score has put together a new ranking of the best and worst American cities for walkable access to food. The above visualization contrasts New York, city with the best access, and Indianapolis, which brought up the rear in Walk Score’s ratings.

Walk Score used its algorithm to cross-reference millions of walking routes with its database of grocery store locations. Then it ranked cities with populations over 500,000 according to the share of residents who can walk to a grocery store in five minutes. Here are the top five:

1 New York 72%
2 San Francisco 59%
3 Philadelphia 57%
4 Boston 45%
5 Washington D.C. 41%

Walk Score also ranked the places where the lowest share of residents can walk to a grocery store in five minutes:

1 Indianapolis 5%
2 Oklahoma City 5%
3 Charlotte 6%
4 Tucson 6%
5 Albuquerque 7%

Cities including San Jose, California, are using tools from Walk Score to examine and address local food access issues. Walk Score says it welcomes inquiries from planners who would like to see the results of their city.

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If Your Local Elites Have Gone Completely Bonkers, You May Have Bikelash

With a cry of “Code Red Bikelash! Code Red Bikelash!”, “doctors” Aaron Naparstek (founding editor of Streetsblog) and Doug Gordon (blogger at BrooklynSpoke) dashed into the most fun panel the National Bike Summit has probably ever seen.

In their presentation, “Moving Beyond the Bikelash” — a play on the overall Summit theme of “Moving Beyond Gridlock” — the duo outlined symptoms and treatment for a bad case of bikelash, such as the one that plagued New York in 2010 and 2011 after the Prospect Park West bike lane was implemented.

PPW before afterIn that case, bikelashers started with a Facebook page, then retained pro-bono legal representation, then started holding protests (with every hand-lettered sign in suspiciously similar handwriting), and finally sued to stop the lane.

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Families of NYC Traffic Violence Victims Band Together for Safer Streets

On Sunday, New Yorkers who’ve lost loved ones to traffic violence gathered on the steps of City Hall in Lower Manhattan to launch Families for Safe Streets, a new initiative advocating for street designs and traffic enforcement that will save lives. In this moving Streetfilm, members of Families for Safe Streets talk about their goals and why they’re speaking out.

The speakers included Amy Cohen and Gary Eckstein, whose son Sammy was killed on Prospect Park West in Brooklyn; Amy Tam and Hsi-Pei Liao, whose daughter Allison was killed in a Queens crosswalk; Judith Kottick, whose daughter Ella Kottick Bandes was killed while crossing the street in Brooklyn; Mary Beth Kelly, whose husband Dr. Carl Henry Nacht was killed while riding his bicycle on the west side of Manhattan; Greg Thompson, whose sister Renee was killed by a turning truck driver on the Upper East Side; Dana Lerner, whose son Cooper Stock was killed by a taxi driver who failed to yield to Cooper and his father while they were in a crosswalk; and Dave Sheppard, whose fiancée Sonya Powell was killed crossing the street by an unlicensed, hit-and-run driver in the Bronx.

Their message on Sunday was about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan to eliminate traffic deaths in New York. Families for Safe Streets supports the multi-pronged action plan de Blasio unveiled last week, while calling on City Hall to make firmer commitments with concrete benchmarks for reducing traffic violence.

The formation of a survivors group dedicated to reducing dangerous driving of all kinds is also a new development in New York, and perhaps a national precedent. While organizations like MADD have specifically countered drunk driving, the United States has not had an equivalent to the UK’s Road Peace, a traffic violence survivors group formed in 1992 that has become a national voice for overall street safety. Perhaps not coincidentally, since 1990, traffic deaths in Great Britain have dropped by two-thirds, while traffic deaths in the U.S. have fallen by only a quarter.

By turning their grief into activism, Families for Safe Streets is doing something new and powerful. And they are extending an outstretched hand to other victims’ families in New York. “There are thousands of other survivors,” Amy Cohen said at Sunday’s event. “We invite them to join us.”

Stephen Miller contributed reporting to this post.

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Long Island Lawmaker to Injured Mom: No One Should Ride Bikes Here

After his mother was hit by a driver while riding her bicycle, 17-year-old Matthew Cutrone appealed to local lawmakers with a pretty reasonable request: consider adding bike lanes. But this story only goes downhill from there.

Suffolk County Legislator Thomas Barraga told a constituent that no one should ever ride bikes in the county. Image: Newsday

Suffolk County legislator Thomas Barraga. Photo: Newsday

Matthew and his mother, Sandy, were shocked when they received a response from Suffolk County legislator Thomas Barraga saying no one should ride a bike in the county. They posted Barraga’s response on Facebook (h/t @bikesnobnyc). Here’s what he told them:

I have lived in West Islip most of my life and my personal feeling is that no one who lives in our hamlet or for that matter in Suffolk County should ever ride a bicycle or motorcycle. I cannot tell you how many constituents over the years have told me that they are taking up bicycling for pleasure and exercise. I have told them not to do so but they usually do not listen – 90 percent of those people eventually were hit by an automobile, many like your mother with serious physical injuries.

Barraga added that he didn’t think bike lanes would help, saying, “Suffolk County is a suburban county drivers expect to see other drivers on the roads, not bicyclists or motorcycles.”

Sandy, who broke her shoulder blade in the crash, told CBS New York that she was disappointed Barraga seemed to imply she was responsible for the collision. The driver was found at fault because he made an illegal left turn into her while she was proceeding through a green light.

She also questioned Barraga’s 90 percent figure. He responded that it was based on his own estimate of the correspondence he’s received on the topic in his 30-plus years as a lawmaker.

So, no need to make streets safer or try to give suburban residents relief from the unrelenting car-centricity of their streets. Just stop with the biking already!

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Talking Headways Podcast: Vision Zero

The best thing about hosting a Streetsblog podcast is getting to call on other Streetsblog reporters for the lowdown on the biggest news of the week. In this case, Jeff Wood and I called Ben Fried, Streetsblog’s editor-in-chief based in New York, to provide some context for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s big announcement of the campaign to eliminate traffic deaths in the city. Note that the podcast was recorded before the recent outbreak of jaywalking tickets in Manhattan.

We also took a look at how California is changing its environmental laws to stop considering vehicular Level of Service as something to strive for — and how some people miss the nuances of how population density affects transportation planning.

As always, the podcast is also available on iTunes.

Streetsblog NYC 14 Comments

Bixi Bankruptcy: What Does It Mean for American Bike-Share?

The Montreal-based equipment supplier for several American bike-share systems, including New York’s Citi Bike and Chicago’s Divvy, filed for bankruptcy protection yesterday. It’s unclear exactly how the restructuring or sale of the company known as Bixi will play out, but the bankruptcy filing could accelerate the transition to more robust and reliable hardware and software. It also figures to be a messy process, though the company that operates Citi Bike expressed confidence today that it won’t impede their service.

Photo: Citi Bike

Bixi has always been a strange company. An offshoot of Montreal’s municipal parking contractor, it received significant financial backing from the city of Montreal. Bixi both operates bike-share systems in Canadian cities and runs a subsidiary that supplies bikes, stations, and other equipment to bike-share operators in New York, London, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, DC, and other cities. The subsidiary was supposed to be sold off to disentangle Montreal from Bixi’s business ventures, but according to the Times, two deals fell apart and a sale never happened.

The bankruptcy news is not unexpected. It’s most troubling for Montreal, which is owed several million dollars by Bixi, and for the other Canadian cities where Bixi runs bike-share systems. In New York and the cities where Bixi is a subcontractor, the restructuring or break-up of Bixi could be a blessing in disguise, helping to resolve some longstanding problems with the company’s product.

Until 2012, Bixi’s bike-share equipment ran on a software platform developed by 8D Technologies. That’s what Bixi was using when it bid on and won the NYC bike-share contract with Alta Bike-Share. But after an intellectual property dispute with 8D, Bixi went to a different firm to develop replacement software, and the systems that have launched since the switch — including Citi Bike, Divvy, and Bay-Area Bike-Share — have been plagued by delays, glitches, and inefficiencies. While the software has been updated to some extent, in New York, especially, it’s been a drag on operations and an obstacle to system expansion. Both Citi Bike and Divvy, in Chicago, are withholding payments to Bixi because the software is not up to snuff.

It’s not clear yet whether Bixi’s international operation will be restructured as a financially viable entity, or if it will be broken up. Bixi itself contracted out much of its manufacturing — including the bikes — so in the event that the company gets dissolved, American bike-share operators should be able to find suitable replacement suppliers. One company that’s potentially waiting in the wings is 8D, which has developed equipment including kiosks, docking units, and locking mechanisms to go along with its software.

Shifting from Bixi to different suppliers would be a challenging transition for bike-share operators, but it could appear seamless from the bike-share subscriber’s perspective.

For now, operators supplied by Bixi do not expect the bankruptcy to detract from the customer experience. “We are committed to a thriving and expanded Citi Bike system,” said Dani Simons of NYC Bicycle-Share, the subsidiary of Alta Bike-Share that runs Citi Bike. “We’re still sorting out the details but we don’t expect the news from Montreal to affect our operations in 2014.”