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Brooklyn-Queens Connector set to skip Sunset Park, cost more and be finished later



brooklyn queens connector

After more than a year of speculation that the mayor’s streetcar dreams were dead, the Brooklyn-Queens Connector is plugging forward under a scaled-back vision.

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday released the first detailed report on his streetcar, known as the BQX, unveiling a shorter, more expensive route that will take longer to build and require at least $1 billion in federal funding — despite initial claims from the mayor that the project would pay for itself when he first proposed the concept in 2016.

“There’s a whole lot of people whose lives essentially just take place in Brooklyn or just take place in Queens, or between Queens and Brooklyn, who see [the BQX] as a real advantage to provide more transportation,” said de Blasio at an unrelated news conference Thursday. “We believe it can be done and will be a huge contribution to New York City’s mass transit.”

The adjustments come after nearly two years of street studies and public meetings with residents to hash out the streetcar system, which the city aims to run on city roads along the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront with at least 70 percent of the route reserved for exclusive streetcar right of way.

The route has been reduced from 16 miles to 11 miles and will no longer include a southern terminus at Sunset Park, due to an estimated low ridership and high cost of construction, according to the report, which also found that the nearby R train was a faster option for commuters in the neighborhood.

It will instead terminate at Red Hook and run north to Astoria. The city has also altered the streetcar’s alignment to move an elbow of the route out of DUMBO and into downtown Brooklyn in an attempt to boost ridership in the more bustling area.

De Blasio’s estimated price tag of $2.5 billion has increased to $2.7 billion, with about half of the cost coming from value-capture financing, in which the city collects additional tax revenue from the development’s increasing of nearby property values.

The city also no longer expects to break ground on the project in 2019 and begin running streetcars in 2024. Construction is now expected to begin approximately three years after de Blasio leaves office at the end of 2021, with the streetcar system beginning to run in 2029.
With an estimated ridership of 50,000 per day, the streetcar would be slightly busier than the most popular buses in the city — the B46, M15 and Bx12 — which carry between 41,700 and 46,100 riders on an average weekday.

The BQX will save riders anywhere from two to 10 minutes of commute time, depending on origin and destination, when compared to existing transit options, according to the report. Commuters taking the streetcar from Greenpoint to downtown Brooklyn would see the most time savings, between seven and 10 minutes. But the BQX would make traveling from downtown Brooklyn to Red Hook only two or three minutes faster.

Many transit experts and even residents who agree that the city needs more and better mass transit have questioned every element of the project — from the cost to the route and the feasibility of actually running a functional streetcar amid other traffic.

The streetcars are expected to run at 12 mph on rails built into the roadbed and to be powered by overhead cables. They would make 26 stops, running every five minutes during peak hours and every 10 minutes during other hours of the day. Waits would increase to 20 minutes during late night hours, from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. The city is still debating whether it would run service from 1 to 5 a.m.

Jon Orcutt, a spokesman for TransitCenter, which has heavily criticized the project, said that many American cities have returned to building streetcars without much success. He said the city has more pressing priorities, like reviving ever-slowing and increasingly unreliable subway and bus service.

“I don’t think they vetted this well in 2016 and that’s obvious now that they have to make these concessions,” said Orcutt, who still believes the project is effectively dead.

“I suspect they don’t want to admit the mayor was wrong here and found a way to continue the project without making the decisions. This timeline basically leaves the big decisions for the next mayor,” Orcutt continued. “I think it sort of stays as a zombie project until a set of candidates or the next mayor says, ‘no, we’re not going to do it.’”

But the de Blasio administration will press on and is now working on its environmental impact statement for a project that was first envisioned by the private developer Two Trees Management.

The mayor was hopeful that after the 2018 elections, a potentially more left-leaning Congress would be more willing to fund projects like the streetcar, as well as existing transit, like subways and buses.

“My hope, and I think it’s a realistic one, is under new political leadership there’s going to be a lot more money for subways and buses, too,” de Blasio said. “And we need all of the above.”


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MTA News

Three separate homicides across city this weekend under investigation





The weekend was especially busy for homicide detectives across the city as three people were killed since Thursday night in separate murders, police said.

Police were also seeking a possible wounded person from a shooting on a Brooklyn train Saturday night.

The violence began Thursday, Nov. 14 at about 9:05 p.m. when police from the 34th Precinct responded to a 911 call of shots fire in the vicinity of Sherman Avenue and Thayer Street in the Bronx.

Upon arriving at the scene, law enforcement sources said, officers were told about a 20-year-old man who had arrived at New York Presbyterian Hospital, via private means, with gunshot wounds to the legs.

The victim, identified as Luis Dela Cruz, of 36 Arden Avenue, was subsequently pronounced deceased at the hospital. There are no arrests and the investigation remains ongoing.

On Friday, Nov. 15, at about 9:15 p.m., 17-year-old Talasia Cuffie of Vernon Boulevard in Long island City, Queens, was found stabbed in the chest multiple times along 166th Street in South Jamaica. Paramedics rushed her to Jamaica Hospital. where she was pronounced dead.

Sources said Cuffie was stabbed only hours after attending a memorial for her friend, Aamir Griffin, 14, who was shot to death on by a stray bullet 21 days earlier.

Hours later, at about 3:44 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, police in Brooklyn responded to a 911 call of male shot in front of the Lafayette Garden Houses, a NYCHA development. Officers found a 34-year-old man shot multiple times in the chest. EMS rushed him to Brooklyn Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The victim has not yet been identified, and no arrests have been made.

Shooting aboard train

Meanwhile, cops are also investigating a reported shooting on board the Franklin Avenue Shuttle in Brooklyn Saturday evening.

Police say a group became embroiled in a dispute either aboard or on the platform of the Franklin Avenue shuttle as it sat in the station at Prospect Park and Flatbush Avenue Saturday night at about 8:40 p.m. Police were checking hospitals in the borough for possible person shot, but could not confirm that anyone was hit.

A transit worker inside a maintenance room at the station said he heard a large group of teens running from the station, but he didn’t hear the shots. Police were holding the motorman after the shooting for questioning.

The suspect was described as male black, 5’9″ with a dark hoodie.

The shuttle was shut down for the duration of the investigation as evidence collection units collected spent shells and a bullet that may have been lodged in a wall of the train.

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By  Todd Maisel

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MTA News

Advocates: MTA Board Must Get Moving On Congestion Pricing Details




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In less than one year, the state-mandated Traffic Mobility Review Board can issue its nuts-and-bolts recommendations for how congestion pricing is supposed to work, what it will cost, and who will get much-desired exemptions from the toll.

Of course, there’s a few things that need to happen first — primarily Mayor de Blasio and the MTA Board have to actually appoint members to this obscure board, get it an office so it can start the work of setting those tolls and exemptions, and start holding meetings (which are supposed to be public, but might not be!).

On Friday, a coalition of 20 good government and transit advocacy groups including Reinvent Albany, the Permanent Citizens Advisory Council, the Citizens Budget Commission and the Straphangers Campaign fired the first warning shot, with a letter reminding the politicians who passed the tolling scheme earlier this year that the hard work of actually designing and then implementing congestion pricing still needs to be done before it supposed to (magically!) begin in January, 2021.

The Traffic Mobility Review Board is supposed to comprise one chairperson and five members: one appointed by Mayor de Blasio and the rest appointed by the MTA Board/Gov. Cuomo, though two members must be from the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North service areas.

Asked if the MTA Board had held any discussions about the board and who will be appointed to it, de Blasio’s MTA Board appointee Veronica Vanterpool told Streetsblog it had not. Noting that she felt it could wait until after December’s decision on the 2020 MTA budget, Vanterpool still urged the Board to prioritize the TMRB going forward.

“All eyes are on NYC for this rollout, so we shouldn’t squander time,” Vanterpool said. “January, 2021 is around the corner.”

A spokesperson for Cuomo referred Streetsblog to the MTA, and a spokesperson for de Blasio did not respond to a request for comment on potential board appointees.

Nov. 15 was an auspicious date for the good-governance groups to send the letter, because Nov. 15, 2020 is the date when the TMRB can release its recommendations, per the congestion pricing agreement that the state legislature passed this year (observers have pointed out releasing the recommendations on Nov. 15 allowed legislators to avoid any potential consequences in the 2020 election, which is a week earlier).

If those recommendations are approved by the Triborough Bridges & Tunnel Authority, the MTA can start collecting the congestion toll fee as soon as Jan. 1, 2021, although there’s no requirement that the tolling begin that soon (clearly, there is a huge potential for delay). Although the TMRB has not yet been appointed, the MTA has at least selected a vendor to design and operate the tolling infrastructure once the fee is instituted.

With no TMRB holding meetings, there’s no way to know what congestion pricing will look like or even what the price might be. For now, thanks to state lawmakers carving out exemptions, we know that emergency vehicles, vehicles transporting disabled people and drivers passing through the congestion toll zone on the FDR Drive or West Side Highway will be exempt from the fee. In addition, CBD residents making less than $60,000 per year will get a tax credit equal to what they spend on the tolls each year, and an exception is being worked out for drivers who have to move their cars in and out of the CBD border because of alternate-side parking.

Other than that though, the public is only left to speculate. At Tuesday’s state legislative hearing on the MTA’s historic $51.5-billion 2020-2024 capital plan, MTA Chairman and CEO Pat Foye promised that before the tolls and exemptions are set, there would be pointless kvetching sessions robust public hearings with the TMRB so that MTA Board members could be properly informed.

In September, the Regional Plan Association issued a series of suggestions as to how the congestion toll could be set. The plan that seemed to do the most good, in terms of raising money and reducing congestion during peak hours, was a fee of $9.18 to enter the CBD during the morning rush and the same fee exit it during the evening peak. That charge would raise $1.06 billion and increase traffic speeds in the Manhattan core by 15.6 percent.

The TMRB’s decisions will have enormous consequences for the success of the congestion pricing program, and for the MTA’s historic capital plan. The MTA is banking on raising $1 billion per year with the congestion fee, which they can then turn into $15 billion in bonds for the agency’s capital spending. In addition to setting the tolls and exemptions, the TMRB is also supposed to review the 2020-2024 capital plan at some point, which makes actually appointing its members somewhat urgent since next year is…let’s see here…2020.



By Dave Colon

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MTA News

Contract talks break down between TWU, MTA





NEW YORK (WABC) — Talks between Transport Workers Union Local 100 and the MTA have broken down after both sides have been meeting for the last three days, officials say.

The transit union president claims that the MTA contract demands have “only made the already tense situation worse.”

The union released a statement Thursday evening about MTA Chairman Pat Foye.

“These two days of bargaining have actually set us back,” union president Tony Utano said. “Foye presented us with a new set of demands today that are substantially worse than the insulting package he threw across the table three months ago. Foye not only appears unwilling to negotiate in good faith, he is intentionally spoiling for a confrontation.”

No new talks are scheduled.

The main issues are wages, pension and health benefits, but it all comes amid rising tensions at the MTA and accusations of widespread overtime abuse.

On October 30, members of Transport Workers Union Local 100 rallied outside MTA headquarters, from bus drivers and subway operators to station cleaners and track inspectors. All of them, working without a contract for nearly six months.

MTA officials claimed they have been bargaining in good faith. But unionized workers from the Long Island Rail Road and Metro North are also working without contracts.

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