Highlights From Today’s City Council Transportation Infrastructure Hearing

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, center, with NYC DOT deputy commissioners Bob Collyer, left, and Joseph Jarrin, right.

Today, the City Council transportation and economic development committees held a marathon joint hearing on New York’s transportation investment needs. Top staff from the MTA and NYC DOT, including Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, fielded questions from council members for the better part of the day.

Here are some highlights:

  • Council members Jimmy Van Bramer and Julissa Ferreras both asked for more bike lanes in their Queens districts. “We are striving to build out the bike infrastructure in all five boroughs,” Trottenberg said, “and we have a couple of really big projects planned in Queens.”
  • Van Bramer also pushed for more details on when the delayed Pulaski Bridge protected bike lane would open. Deputy Commissioner Bob Collyer said the project’s contractor received final sign-off from DOT two weeks ago and will release a construction timeline soon. Collyer expected the bikeway to be complete sometime this spring.
  • Bus Rapid Transit also came up during today’s hearing. Responding to a question from Council Member Donovan Richards, a vocal proponent of BRT on Woodhaven Boulevard, Trottenberg said the city is speaking with U.S. DOT about securing funds for street redesigns that feature full-fledged BRT.
  • Not all council members were as enthusiastic about BRT. I. Daneek Miller questioned the wisdom of Select Bus Service between Flushing and Jamaica, which led Trottenberg to say the project is “not written in stone.”
  • Trottenberg said the mayor’s housing plan demands coordination between new housing and transportation infrastructure, and that BRT on the North Shore of Staten Island should be accompanied by zoning changes near stations to maximize ridership.

  • Prompted by Streetsblog’s Brad Aaron, Transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez asked the MTA what it is doing to improve bus safety. Bizarrely, MTA representatives responded by talking about subways, but eventually said they are looking at technology that warns bus operators about nearby vehicles and pedestrians and are working with DOT on street design at specific choke points on bus routes.
  • Recent reports from the Regional Plan Association and the Citizens Budget Commission urged the MTA to devote more resources to Communications-Based Train Control, which upgrades subway signals to improve reliability and allows for more frequent trains. Craig Stewart, senior director of capital programs at the MTA, said one big limitation on CBTC installation is finding contractors for the job. Right now, the MTA has two bidders qualified for CBTC and is in the process of approving a third potential bidder, which Stewart said could take years.
  • The MTA issues its CBTC contracts through a “design-build” process, which shifts the risks of project delivery to the contractor and can save both money and time for agencies that use it. Trottenberg said today that DOT is hoping to secure design-build capabilities through state legislation, and is focused on using design-build on some of its bridge repair and construction projects.
  • City Council economic development chair Dan Garodnick and William Wheeler, who serves as the MTA’s director of special project development and planning, engaged in a long conversation about what types of projects would make up the next generation of MTA expansion. Garodnick noted that East Side Access, the Second Avenue Subway, and other expansion projects have been discussed for years, and that while he would like to use the zoning code to secure financing for more transit projects, the MTA has not been clear about how it is looking to expand once it completes its current generation of mega-projects.
  • Rodriguez asked both MTA and DOT about funding solutions for the MTA capital program, including the Move New York fair toll proposal. While Trottenberg stuck with her line of refusing to take a position on the plan, Wheeler was a bit more receptive, though still careful. “We’re glad that Move New York is out there talking about innovative ideas to raise funds for transit,” he said, before adding, “It’s not an endorsement.”
  • Wheeler said the MTA Reinvention Commission, which convened a group of international transportation experts at the request of Governor Andrew Cuomo, is expected to release its recommendations “any time now.” The commission, which is set to consider everything from funding to system operations and expansion, met over the summer but has not convened since early September. Most observers expect its recommendations to come out after election day.

Mark your calendars for the next round of action in the transportation committee. Today Rodriguez announced an oversight hearing on the city’s bicycle policies on November 20.