Category Archives: New York State

Alan Chartock’s The Capitol Connection: How Cuomo can turn it around

I was recently considering what Andrew Cuomo could do to turn his low polling numbers around. As I have explained in the past, he doesn’t get great numbers upstate. He’s a Democrat, albeit a middle of the roader, and that doesn’t play that well above the burbs. Now he needs to worry about how he’s doing in the Big Apple and its environs.

The Cuomo name has always been gold in the city. His papa Mario has been worshiped as a semi-deity there for years. Since most people know little or nothing about New York State politics, the Cuomo mantel was all that was necessary for Andrew to get approval. But that was before the “Summer of Hell” on the New York subways and the commuter trains in and out of the city. As the appointing authority of the MTA, Andrew took credit for building the Second Avenue Subway so he couldn’t then deny his role in the collapse of the subway system even though he tried to do exactly that. Clearly, he and his cohorts had the mistaken impression that Donald Trump might help out by financing some of the work necessary to repair the mess in the sweltering, accident prone underground system.

So Andrew made sure that Joe Lhota, a real expert on things subway, now heads the beleaguered MTA. That was a good idea and Cuomo and his colleagues deserve credit for the appointment. The problem for Andrew is that Lhota, who already has experience heading the MTA and ran for mayor against — guess who — Bill De Blasio, is a Republican and a Giuliani protégé. It’s no secret that Cuomo has personal problems with De Blasio so he grabbed an opportunity to take a shot at his mayoral nemesis by elevating Lhota to the chairmanship of the MTA. Cuomo never seems to learn that people are fed up with his war on De Blasio. But he gets points for the Lhota appointment because the guy is good. If people perceive that Cuomo is moving aggressively in a bi-partisan manner they may return to the pro-Cuomo fold.

If I were giving Andrew some other advice, I think I would suggest that he do more of what Papa Mario did. Cuomo, like Donald Trump, seems to have his own private war with the press. Papa Cuomo had regular press conferences which he seemed to relish. His son does not. Papa Cuomo was eloquent. Junior is anything but. If you are to win popularity in New York, you need the press on your side. My unsolicited advice to Andrew would be to work on his communication skills. He should make friends by just being honest, accessible, transparent, and open with the people who write and talk about him. That way he would be the beneficiary of a certain kind of respect and camaraderie that often exists on both sides of that relationship. Maybe Cuomo feels that because the press as an institution polls so low, he can afford to ignore them. What’s more, Cuomo should avoid trying to buy loyalty from some members of the press by giving them unfettered access. He tried that in the beginning of his governorship with disastrous results.

As long as I am giving him advice, let me add that he has to be very careful about the amount of power he gives his subordinates. One of the reasons why his numbers are so low is that several of his former close associates face trials that could land them in jail for a good part of their lives. Not only that, his treatment of his fellow political actors like Tom DiNapoli, the state Comptroller, and Eric Schneiderman, the Attorney General, has been disgraceful. People don’t like that. He needs to learn how to play nice. Maybe then his numbers will rise from the low point where they now reside.

Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the State University of New York, publisher of the Legislative Gazette and president and CEO of the WAMC Northeast Public Radio Network. Readers can email him at alan@wamc.org.

He publishes in the Troy Record

Friday Is “Subway Day”! Start Of A Trend?

Just like some bloggers have established Thursday as “Door” Day, we are starting Friday as “Subway” day.

We’ve been over the ways modern infrastructure would help ease the crush of record ridership. But there’s no doubt, the subway system needs to expand. “Sure, it’s necessary! We have more people.”

So why does it cost 4 times per mile than in London?

Then it is not like Dubai, NY City has cables that Thomas Edison put in.

We also have high labor costs here because it’s an expensive city but also we have unions that aren’t necessarily the most efficient way to build a new subway.

And we’ve been building stations that are nice and big but more cavernous than they really need to be. On Second Avenue, the stations account for more than half the total budget.
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McDonald’s doesn’t have its own TV show. Neither does Burger King. Shake Shack doesn’t have one either. That leaves Wahlburgers as the only hamburger restaurant chain with its own TV show that you could describe as a program-length commercial for the brand. Then they own the new Wahlburgers at 85th and Second. This new location seems reasonably successful so far. Plus, it’s near the new Second Avenue subway on a portion of the avenue that has been fixed up considerably. Well played, Wahlbergs.

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Empty stores plague the streets of the Upper East Side like an epidemic. Known affectionately as the ‘Gold Coast’, this area was home to trendy store front like American Apparel, Reebok, BCBG MAXAZRIA and oldies like Filenes Basement, all of whom have since shut. in July there were 82 vacant storefronts along Madison, Lexington, Third and Second avenues between 57th and 96th streets. “That is a lot, and there’s probably 20 percent more that’s on the market,” with space that is occupied but available for lease. It was a LOOOONG Wait for the 2nd Avenue Subway!

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Council Membersare scratching their heads on funding. The hearing comes amid an increasingly testy fight between the city and state over the MTA’s recently announced $836 million rescue plan for the crisis affecting the city’s subways. MTA Chair Joe Lhota, recently appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, has insisted that the city provide $456 million for the emergency upgrade plan to stabilize the system over the next year. Mayor Bill de Blasio has refused to bear those costs, pointing to an equal amount of city-issued funds that have been diverted since 2011 by the state from their intended use in MTA operations. De Blasio on Monday proposed increasing taxes on the wealthy to fund the MTA, but the proposal was quickly dismissed by state Senate Republicans who would have to approve it. “You guys do not know how to spend a dime, how could you spend a billion dollars?”

Talk of a 2020 run for president? First Cuomo must deal with 2018

All those newspapers in New York City and it takes the Watertown Daily Times (a day-long trip from New York City) to put the current subway troubles in perspective.

Read this article…..(and Mr. Cuomo too)

They summed everything up better than I could!

Mayor de Blasio wants to tax the “1%” to fix the Subway

The mayor of New York City wants to tax the wealthiest 1 percent to fund repairs and improvements to the beleaguered subway system.

The proposal comes as Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, both Democrats, continue to squabble over responsibility for paying for repairs to the nation’s largest transit system that has seen growing delays, mechanical failures, power outages and even derailments.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joseph Lhota recently unveiled an emergency plan to stabilize the system. The governor offered to split the cost of the plan with the city, but the mayor refused to commit money to support it.

The mayor’s tax plan is meant as a long-term solution, not a quick fix, he said. It aims to generate nearly $800 million annually with the bulk of the money going toward capital upgrades to subways and buses, and must be approved by state lawmakers. A formal announcement was expected Monday.

“Instead of searching for a quick-fix that doesn’t exist, or simply forking over more and more of our tax dollars every year, we have come up with a fair way to finance immediate and long-term transit improvement,” de Blasio said in a statement Sunday.

The tax would increase the top income tax rate from about 3.9 percent to 4.4 percent for married couples who make more than $1 million and individuals making more than $500,000, city officials said. It would affect about 32,000 of New Yorkers filing taxes in the city, or just less than 1 percent, officials said.

“Rather than sending the bill to working families and subway and bus riders already feeling the pressure of rising fares and bad service, we are asking the wealthiest in our city to chip in a little extra,” de Blasio said.

New Yorkers already contribute to the agency through other taxes and fees. De Blasio’s plan also includes funding to offer half-price fare cards for low-income riders.

The Rider’s Alliance said the push to help low-income riders “has never been so urgent.”

“It’s time to end a system where low-income New Yorkers have to skip meals, beg for swipes or even jump turnstiles in order to get to work or school,” executive director John Raskin said in a statement.

From the Utica OD

Simple, Big Solutions for Penn’s Problems

Gotham Gazette

The original Penn Station was an architectural masterpiece. The most ironic part about removing it in a “monumental act of vandalism,” though, is that as a transit facility the original Penn Station had serious flaws. In fact, the platforms and tracks haven’t been significantly altered in more than a century.

Unfortunately, those flaws are growing more obvious by the day. Narrow, crowded platforms and grossly inadequate stairs and escalators are a constant source of delays, dangerous overcrowding and frustration for commuters. But most importantly, Penn Station is not actually a station for most passengers – it’s a terminal. The difference is not merely semantic; in a terminal, trains must cross each other as they enter and leave, making it far less efficient than a through-running station. Even when this doesn’t cause delays, it severely limits capacity and ensures every train has to travel more slowly in Penn.

Twenty-five years ago, we could tolerate these inefficiencies, but passenger counts from Long Island and New Jersey have skyrocketed. Any major investment plan for Penn Station must be focused on solving the cause of commuters’ misery. Amtrak’s Gateway Program and the new Moynihan Station, if optimized, could do so.

Phase 1 of Gateway would add two new critically-needed tracks between Newark and Penn Station. Phase 2 of Gateway, though, includes a new terminal station—Penn Station South. This would require the demolition of an entire city block at a price tag of $8 billion to build another inefficient terminal, and do nothing to alleviate conditions in the existing station. Those funds are better spent on improving Penn and regional connectivity.

This alternate plan would remove the need for Penn Station South, provide additional economic opportunity for the entire region and the opportunity to invest in projects that create smoother and smarter commutes. Through-running is the key to unlocking the ReThinkNYC vision. Highlights of that vision include:

First, build new facilities in the Bronx and New Jersey so it is possible to operate Penn Station as a through station. NJ Transit trains could be extended to Queens, the Bronx, and then along existing Long Island Railroad and Metro-North Lines; similarly, Metro-North and LIRR could be extended to New Jersey.

Next, widen and lengthen Penn’s existing platforms – and use the 31st Street side of the station for eastbound trains and the 33rd Street side for westbound ones, regardless of final destination. Universal “smart” ticketing between the systems can help erase arbitrary distinctions.

This would allow nearly 50% more trains to use the station.
NJ Transit would no longer need to use Sunnyside Yards, making it possible to instead build a major station across the East River that would have access to all of the region’s 26 commuter rail lines, Amtrak, both Penn Station and Grand Central, and seven subway lines. Sunnyside could be the new East Midtown.

In Port Morris, the light industrial neighborhood east of the Bruckner Expressway and south of Hunts Point, commuters could catch NJ Transit and Metro-North – and an extended Second Avenue Subway serving the Bronx.

An AirTrain under the East River to an expanded LaGuardia Airport would provide a quick, convenient single seat ride for millions.

New Yorkers once dreamed of, and then built, big projects. Now, in this post-Robert Moses, post-urban renewal era, planners are taught to think “politically” smaller. This approach has prevented us from addressing transportation systemically and holistically. It’s time to think big…again.

below is the same chart as the featured image.

Jim Venturi is Principal and Founder of ReThink Studio. On Twitter @jimventuri and @RethinkNYCplan.

Musical Chairs at NY City Transit Authority and Port Authority

NY Post

A shakeup in the highest echelons of the Port Authority reached all the way to the MTA on Tuesday — with the PA’s chief switching over to the transit agency.

Port Authority Executive Director and Bridgegate figure Pat Foye stepped down from his post at the PA in the morning to assume his new role as MTA president, sources said.

Foye — who famously ordered the lanes at the George Washington Bridge to be reopened after they were closed for political reasons in the Bridgegate scandal — will report to MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota, sources said.

Rider advocates said they believe Foye is a good pick for the job at the agency, which has spiraled into chaos because of increasing derailments and delays caused by aging infrastructure.

“Gov. Cuomo has put in place an experienced team,” said Nick Sifuentes, deputy director of the Riders Alliance. “Now they need him to guarantee the sustainable funding source they need to make good on their promise to fix our subways.”

Following Foye out the door at the PA on Tuesday was the agency’s chairman, John Degnan, who had been clashing with Cuomo recently, sources said. Degnan was not given a new position anywhere, at least not yet.

Degnan was a Gov. Christie appointee to the bi-state agency. Foye was a Cuomo guy, as is Lhota.

The departure of both Degnan and Foye from the PA provides a new slate at the agency that both governors can live with, according to sources.

Gov. Cuomo’s trusted special counsel, Rick Cotton, will replace Foye, while former New Jersey legislator Kevin O’Toole is replacing Degnan, officials said.

Cotton and O’Toole will resume the search for a Port Authority CEO and will oversee major projects, including the new La Guardia Airport, renovations at JFK and plans for a new bus terminal, officials said.The departure of both Degnan and Foye from the PA provides a new slate at the agency that both governors can live with, according to sources.

Gov. Cuomo’s trusted special counsel, Rick Cotton, will replace Foye, while former New Jersey legislator Kevin O’Toole is replacing Degnan, officials said.

Cotton and O’Toole will resume the search for a Port Authority CEO and will oversee major projects, including the new La Guardia Airport, renovations at JFK and plans for a new bus terminal, officials said.

Sources said Degnan was pushed out for criticizing the mayor over the search for a new CEO. Last month, Degnan told a media outlet that the governor wouldn’t approve anyone he found for a new CEO position. He had also called the CEO search a failure, while Cuomo prides himself on getting the job done, no matter how difficult a task, sources said.

Meanwhile, the Cuomo administration has repeatedly blasted Degnan for failing to institute oversight at the beleaguered agency.

Foye had expressed a desire to leave the Port Authority for more than a year but stayed on to see Degnan out, sources said.

“Foye wasn’t going to leave until Degnan did,” a source noted.

In addition to Foye’s new post at the MTA, longtime transit-agency honcho Ronnie Hakim will be named managing director of operations, sources said. She will report to Lhota, who in June reclaimed the role he left in 2013

Gondola plans pushing forward in Albany, New York

Detailed ridership, economic impact assessment being prepared.

Just over a year after the concept was first floated to wide publicity, backers are quietly planning construction of an aerial gondola over the Hudson River between the Rensselaer Amtrak station and downtown Albany.

“We have continued our work on the project, developing plans, meeting with stakeholders and raising private investment capital,” said Peter Melewski, project manager for the proposed Capital District Gondola and national director of strategic planning for McLaren Engineering Group of West Nyack, Rockland County.

A detailed ridership and economic impact assessment for the project is being prepared, he said. In addition to providing a scenic option for people arriving at the Rensselaer Amtrak station on business, a feasibility study completed last November concluded an aerial tram would have significant tourism potential. More information is expected after Labor Day, he said.

“The gondola, combined with other visitor attractions, will enhance the area as a major destination,” Melewski said.

The idea, first proposed in July 2016, has received support — at least as a concept — from local officials on both sides of the river.

Since it was proposed, plans for the state to spend $15 million on a gondola at the State Fargrounds in Syracuse were announced — an idea many people have ridiculed on social media. Melewski said the projects are different, and each should be judged on its own merits.

Initial construction for the Albany project has been estimated at costing between $17 million and $20 million, with annual operating costs of about $2.4 million. These costs could potentially be offset by a mix of private funds, passenger ticket revenue, advertising and public funds, according to McLaren Engineering’s November report. Melewski said the current emphasis is on trying to raise private financing. He didn’t have a timeline for how quickly money might be raised.

The rail station is owned by the Capital District Transportation Authority. CDTA CEO Carm Basile said he’s continued to have contact with the backers over the last year.

“They’re legitimately pursuing it,” Basile said Wednesday. “There are still a lot of questions that need to be answered, especially in the financial area.”

McLaren has identified a one-mile-long corridor between the Amtrak station and a proposed station on South Pearl Street near the Times Union Center. In a later phase, the gondola could continue to the Empire State Plaza.

The gondolas would run on cables anchored to towers on each side of the river. Such systems being used for public transportation are rare in the United States, but are found in other parts of the world.

McLaren is working with is Doppelmayr USA, the U.S. branch of Doppelmayr Garaventa Group, an Austrian-Swiss aerial gondola system maker whose projects include the gondola system built for the London Olympics.

A project scenario developed by McLaren has up to 45 gondola cabins operating 16 hours per day, with the potential to move up to 3,000 people per hour. The travel time across the river would be roughly four minutes — less time than it takes to drive between the two destinations, according to Google Maps.

Public officials including U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, and Rensselaer Mayor Daniel Dwyer have expressed support for the idea, though without making any financial commitments.

Andrew Kennedy, president of the Center for Economic Growth, a nonprofit economic development organization in Albany, said he’s attended meetings with McLaren’s engineering and finance teams in recent months.

“We’re excited about the possibility, and from that point of view, you want to be encouraging and hopeful,” Kennedy said. “Something like this, if the numbers make sense and there is limited taxpayer money involved, it would be a great thing to have, giving people another option for getting to and from the train station.”

He cited the credentials of some of the other partners involved as a reason to take the gondola idea seriously.

The partners with McLaren include Doppelmayr, Capital Gondola LLC, Camoin Associates, Lemery Greisler, Urban Gondola Systems LLC, and Harrison & Burrowes Bridge Constructors Inc. So far, all the development work has been self-funded.

The complete study is available on the McLaren website, http://www.mgmclaren.com.

Published in the Schenectady Daily Gazette

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, swilliams@dailygazette.net or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

Cuomo’s attempt to put subway responsibility on city a bit of an about-face

Governor Andrew Cuomo has tried to put the responsibility for the ailing subways on the city and the mayor. It is a bit of an about-face for the governor, who was eager to take credit for the Second Avenue Subway last winter.

Governor Andrew Cuomo was riding high. After years of delays, the much-anticipated Second Avenue Subway was finally set to open on New Year’s Day.

The governor was eager to not only take credit for the success, but also to be held accountable.

“You know who runs the MTA? The governor has the majority of members. And what I said is, I’m going to step up and take responsibility,” Cuomo said at the time. “If this does not open January 1? It’s me. It’s me. I would have failed. And I accept that responsibility.”

Fast forward seven months. The subways are in a state of disrepair. Delays have worsened, and subway rider anger about the system is at an all-time high.

At an event last week, Cuomo quite literally tried to run away from his responsibility for the subways by attempting to avoid reporters’ questions. He was forced to stop and talk, and this time, he hit a very different note about who is accountable for the trains.

“By law, New York City owns the transit system. New York City is solely responsible for funding the capital plan for the New York City subway system,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo has been feuding with Mayor Bill de Blasio on this and many other issues. On Sunday, the mayor rode the train and laid the responsibility for poorly functioning trains solely on his rival.

“The state of New York is responsible for making sure our subways run,” de Blasio said.

Experts back the mayor on this over the governor.

“The state exerts the most control and oversight, both through the number of board appointees that the governor has, more than any other person, including the mayor,” said Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute. “And also from the financing. The state is the taxing entity.”

The governor’s poll numbers have started to sink, particularly over the issue of subways. Some believe that is precisely why the governor has tried to muddy the waters on this issue.

Mayor releases 5-point subway system improvement plan, Lhota fires back.

The mayor wants:
1) Immediate relief for riders, improving service and reliability.
2) The MTA should have public performance goals and standards.
3) Clear accountability for continual improvement.
4) An efficient and fair MTA budget and a reallocation of resources towards core needs.

5) A meaningful state commitment to the needs of subway riders.

“The political posturing and photo opps are getting silly,” said Joe Lhota, MTA Chairman.

To a stupid outsider like me, it sounds like kickoff of campaign for Governor.

2nd railroad track opens between Schenectady, Albany

Daily Gazette

Announcement comes as new design details released on train station

The second railroad track between Schenectady and Albany has been completed, eliminating what has been a major bottleneck for passenger and freight traffic in upstate New York.

The $91.2 million track covering the 17 miles between the Capital Region’s two largest cities went into service June 26 after three years of construction, according to an announcement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.

The long-planned track eliminates a single-track situation that had forced trains to wait for up to 20 minutes in either Schenectady or Rensselaer until an oncoming train cleared the tracks, and is seen as vital if a high-speed rail line across upstate New York is ever to be developed.

The work was arranged jointly by the state Department of Transportation and Amtrak, which has a long-term lease over the tracks between Poughkeepsie and Schenectady, which are owned by freight-hauler CSX Corp.

“The double-track project has provided improved flexibility and scheduling in the operation of Amtrak trains between Albany and Schenectady and will reduce delays in this location, which have been a bottleneck and the cause of delays for years,” Amtrak spokeswoman Chelsea Kopta said. “Amtrak was proud to partner with NYSDOT on completing this project, which will enhance transportation and tourism opportunities in the Capital Region.”

Cuomo’s office announced completion of the track at the same as it released new design details about the plans for a new $23 million train station in downtown Schenectady, on the same site as the old station, which began to be demolished this week. The new station is expected to be completed by late 2018, under a state DOT contract.

“We are grateful to Gov. Cuomo and DOT for completing another significant infrastructure project that is beneficial to Schenectady County. The second track will eliminate delays in train service going west from Albany, making rail travel to Schenectady faster and more convenient,” said Ray Gillen, chair of the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority.

The governor’s announcement also updated several other Capital Region rail projects, all part of an effort to improve rail service in the region:

— At the Rensselaer Amtrak station — the nation’s ninth-busiest Amtrak station — a $50.5 million project that constructed a fourth passenger loading track, extended the loading platforms and upgraded signals wrapped up this spring. A $3.5 million state-funded project to rehabilitate platform elevators and replace the escalators is to be completed by fall.

— Grade crossing and signal improvements have been done south of Rensselaer, on the busy line to New York City, with a little work still remaining.

The three projects together have received $155.5 million in federal funding, nearly all of it from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The state has contributed $23.15 million, according to Cuomo’s office.

Separately, New York was recently awarded $33 million by the Federal Railroad Administration to install positive train control technology between Poughkeepsie and Schenectady. Positive train control systems are designed to prevent incidents such as derailments and collisions by reducing the risks of human error. That work has yet to be scheduled.

Walmart commissioning Griffiss Airport for drone delivery research

From Utica OD

ROME, NY — Drone delivery service just got a little closer to becoming a reality — at least for Walmart.

The Oneida County Legislature Wednesday approved two resolutions that will allow the national corporation to rent and commission research on the possibility of drone delivery for orders.

″(Walmart) is working with another UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) test site; they’ve already started doing preliminary work and they’re working out West,” said Oneida County Aviation Commissioner Russell Stark. “We’re going to basically be the East Coast arm for research and development.”

The first resolution is for a lease agreement for Nose Dock 785 at Griffiss International Airport in Rome. The agreement started July 1 and will end June 30, 2018, for $84,000. Included in the lease, there are provisions for nine one-year extensions following the first year.

The other resolution is for a research services and testing agreement between the county and Walmart. The agreement is for a two-year term, ending June 30, 2019, and will bring in $1,674,816.