More Calls For Safer Roads At Complete Streets Summit
“Here we have to rustle up energy to these common sense activities.”
Eric Alexander, executive director of Vision Long Island and emcee for the 2014 Complete Streets Summit, let a little passion slip through at the beginning of Thursday’s conference. He complained how people are still getting hurt and killed on Long Island roads, while other parts of the world have made the necessary changes to protect them.
The second annual Complete Streets Summit, held at the Sustainability Institute at Molloy College in Farmingdale, was a gathering of government leaders, planners, engineers, nonprofits and other community stakeholders who support policy changes to design roadways for all uses – not just automobiles.
For Sandy Cutrone, the Summit was a chance to remind participants of the campaign’s significance. The West Islip resident was an avid bicyclist since her days growing up in North Babylon; she was riding along Montauk Highway in Babylon Village last September when a van turned into her. Cutrone developed neck pain, vision problems and post-concussion symptoms that continue to keep her from working. Her story crossed the world in February after Suffolk County Legislator Tom Barraga criticized her for bicycling in Suffolk County.
Complete Streets, she added, could help prevent similar accidents in the future. That includes designated bike lanes and signage, better pedestrian crossings and traffic lights that display a red left turn arrow when the light turns green for oncoming traffic.
Downtowns would also benefit from more pedestrian and bicyclist traffic, Cutrone said.
“We won’t simply drive through. We will stop [and shop],” she said.
Complete Streets policy could also be a lifesaver, a change too late for Lavena Sipes. The Smithtown resident watched a driver high on heroin smash into her 11-year-old daughter, Courtney, back in 2009. Mother and daughter were crossing Main Street for a music lesson Courtney was looking forward to when an SUV sent her flying under another car and killing the girl.
The family moved from Texas to Smithtown in 2008. With shops along Main Street and people walking in the community, Sipes believed they were alright leaving their car behind.
Since her daughter’s death, the family founded the Courtney Sipes Memorial Foundation. The nonprofit advocates for pedestrian safety and supports youth interest in music and arts.
“It seemed safe. We had our blinders on,” Sipes said. “It’s easy to separate yourself from these tragedies and think it won’t happen to your family.”
Cutrone and Sipes joined Alexander in unveiling the Long Island Compete Streets Coalition at Thursday’s event. The coalition is a contingent of chambers of commerce, civic associations, local governments, engineering and professional trade groups, transit advocates and members of the public who want safe streets for all modes of traffic.
The group will look to coordinate Complete Streets planning efforts, communicate on finding opportunities for local projects, act as a clearinghouse for information and lobby with a united voice for safe roadways.
The keynote speaker at Thursday’s Complete Streets Summit was Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. Referring to Barraga’s comments, the county leader admitted Suffolk was designed auto-centric as Robert Moses developed America’s earliest suburbs. But if Long Island wants to stimulate the economy, create a sense of place and reverse the Brain Drain, he said it’s time to embrace the common sense-solutions of Complete Streets.
“If we’re going to have a vibrant economy and a safe environment for all of us, then Complete Streets is part of the solution,” Bellone said.
Such policies would also play a part in his “Connect Long Island” initiative. The county executive wants to link the existing east-west railways with new north-south options like Bus Rapid Transit to connect universities, jobs and affordable housing. Complete Streets, he said, would help connect destinations without needing a car.
Bellone was flanked by Suffolk County Legislator Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) and Nassau County Legislator Laura Curran (D-Baldwin). He said the effort has to be less about changing culture and more about reminding residents why they moved to the suburbs in the first place, while she said transit-oriented development creates jobs, reduces traffic, keeps young professionals on Long Island, improves sales tax revenues and solves many of the region’s problems.
Under guidance of Tri-State Transportation Campaign Associate Director Ryan Lynch, the Implementation: Challenges and Policies panel began discussing issues facing Complete Streets solutions. Great Neck Plaza Mayor Jean Celender said their village of 6,700 already embraces these policies. Passing Complete Streets legislation in 2012, the village has slowed speed limits, increased access to all modes of transit and added bus shelters and benches.
Celender was optimistic she could return next year with a success story for Welwyn Road and Shoreward Drive. The area currently has one lane of traffic in each direction with heavy congestion, deteriorating pavement, cracked concrete sidewalks and no pedestrian facilities. The village received a $5.1 million grant for enhancements, including brick walkways and raised crosswalks.
In Nassau County, Traffic Safety Coordinator Christopher Mistron focused on the three E’s of planning – education, engineering and enforcement. Instead of having EMS as a fourth E, Mistron said he wanted it to be encouragement. In education, the county official said having conversations about Complete Streets is effective. What starts as a dinner table conversation turns into pedestrian awareness about safety. In enforcement, Mistron said red light cameras have reduced crashes by as much as 40 percent. He also said police officers crossed crosswalks and chased after drivers who didn’t yield. In engineering, he said the county makes changes to their own roads but is limited by local governments.
A late minute addition to the panel, Suffolk Bus Riders Association President Robert DeVito emphasized both education for drivers and bicyclists. They go into schools teaching how to properly ride, but also stress that most bicyclists also own cars. DeVito said spending money on bridging the disconnect between bicyclists and other drivers would go further than infrastructure projects.
In the Town of Brookhaven, Councilwoman Connie Kepert said Complete Streets policies have been a success since the board passed it in 2010. Kepert said she’s finding some opposition to proposed transit-oriented development in North Bellport from neighbors to the south. They were able to install sidewalks and bike lanes on some roads, but the councilwoman said they’re still facing some opposition about Complete Streets.
“It’s not creating Queens in Brookhaven. It’s making the roads safe,” she said.
Led by VHB Director of Transportation Matthew Carmody, the second panel focused on the design and regulation to guide Complete Streets projects.
Babylon’s Director of Downtown Revitalization Jonathan Keyes said they don’t get many opportunities to rebuild communities in Babylon with 99 percent of the town built up. Wyandanch Rising may be “an engineer’s headache” with narrow roads and underground utilities, but wider roads would increase traffic speeds as well as making the work easier, violating the tenets of Complete Streets.
Rich Zapolski is still relatively new to the Town of Islip as their commissioner of Planning and Development, but he’s actively learning about Complete Streets and works with a small, but talented staff. The Town approved a Complete Streets policy in 2010. Complete Streets is part of the planned Heartland Town Square, currently undergoing an environmental impact study, Zapolski said. He added they’re trying to incorporate the concepts in projects throughout the town’s other hamlets.
Southampton Transportation Director Tom Neely admitted his region may be less dense, although it’s geographically large. With lots of roads to worry about, Neely introduced a discussion of the expenses behind accidents. With the average accident in America costing $16,000, the director said his town sees about 2,000 accidents every year.
He urged conference participants and guests to vote for elected officials who want change. Many towns have an elected highway superintendent who operates independently of the town board. Southampton officials took an inventory of sidewalks to go along with their map of bike roads, which their highway superintendent used while plowing snow.
The Town of North Hempstead passed Complete Streets legislation in 2011. Town Planner Wes Sternberg said they used the policies when they put Prospect Avenue on “a diet.” What once was a four-lane road with limited but high speed traffic was turned into a slower, two-lane road. They’re also investigating solutions for Marion Street on the border of Greenvale and Oyster Bay. The neighborhood is fine by itself, but Glen Cove Road and Northern Boulevard traffic speed through as a shortcut. A car drives through ever 53 seconds on weekdays and every 38 seconds on Saturday.
“That’s a lot of traffic that shouldn’t be there,” Sternberg said.
To slow traffic down, he said, the town is considering a few options. That could include a lane choker to restrict to one lane of alternating traffic or using islands to constrict the roads. Other municipalities, he added, could try these solutions out temporarily using traffic cones.
Stepping away from Long Island, Wendel Companies Sr. Landscape Architect Dean Gowen examined Complete Streets through a project in upstate Buffalo. When they considered the $11.3 million-plan, Gowen said they needed to identify specific values, like improving traffic flow, opening up Brownfields properties and serving as a catalyst for revitalization.
Complete Streets, he added, incorporates three basic concepts. Projects must involve multiple forms of transportation, environmentally-sound decisions and include both education and smart technology.
The final speaker of the second panel was a newcomer to engineering firm Greenman Pedersen, inc. Transportation Safety Director Frank Pearsen reflected on his three decades with the New York State Department of Transportation to emphasize the importance of Complete Streets.
He worked on a project along Newbridge Road as a rookie engineer. Back then, he was proud of the four-lane road he created. Responding to elected officials’ complaints 20 years later, Pearsen realized the smarter decision to make it safer for everyone was actually to remove a lane and add traffic signals. He also responded to Main Street in Smithtown after Courtney Sipes was killed, tasked with finding a cheap solution quickly. After getting community input, the DOT used a west-bound lane to create a turning lane, added traffic signal and installed wider sidewalks.
Pearsen cautioned major projects like the NY Route 347 Safety, Mobility and Environmental Improvements project renovating 15 miles of highway are not often feasible solutions. Instead, he urged government officials to seek more practical low-cost solutions.
“The big projects are splashy, but few and far between,” he added.
For more information on how to join the Long Island Complete Streets Coalition, contact Vision Long Island.
State Passes $137.9 Billion Budget With Some Changes
With just 45 minutes to spare and an emergency order from the governor, New York State passed its fourth on-time budget Monday night.
Legislators approved Governor Andrew Cuomo’s $137.9 billion state budget before the midnight deadline. The budget has made news for delaying Common Core standards in New York schools and adding $1.1 billion in education aid.
But the final budget is also larger than the $137.2 billion offering Cuomo originally proposed back in January.
The approved budget does maintain the governor’s provisional tax relief, which was opposed from the Suffolk County Village Officials Association. The 2-percent tax cap for all municipalities will stay on the books. Local governments who do will make their homeowners eligible for property tax rebates in 2014. Come 2015, residents will have to not only live in a community under the cap, but those municipalities must also enact a plan to consolidate services and/or administration. If the local government fails to meet those conditions, their constituents receive nothing.
This spending plan also includes additional funds for the state’s Environmental Protection Fund. Originally, open space, parks, solid waste programs and water quality would have seen extra money. The budget passed Monday adds $9 million to bump the annual spending to $162 million.
Originally, Cuomo proposed giving the MTA an extra $85 million to boost their annual allocation to $4.3 billion. Of that bump, $40 million would have been used to pay off debt incurred by the state on behalf of the MTA. The final budget limits the amount for debt payoff to $30 million.
Plans, however, to encourage spending were trimmed in the budget process. The governor’s January proposal continued the 10 regional economic development councils. With more than $2.2 billion awarded since creation in 2011, he wanted $500 million for a fourth round of competition. What lawmakers passed Monday includes just $150 million in funding plus $70 million in state tax credits for that fourth round.
The final budget also completely cut funding for the state Superfund program – cleaning up contaminated sites – and Brownfields program – reusing polluted sites. Cuomo originally proposed extending the state Superfund program for a year and continuing the Brownfields program for 10 years. The proposal would have limited Brownfields remediation tax credits only to the actual cleanup, while redevelopment credits would be available only to sites that have been vacant for more than a decade, worth less than the cleanup credits or are priority economic development projects. During budget negotiations, legislators tied the overhaul of the Brownfields program to refinancing the Superfund program; neither were included in the final budget. Brownfields planning and cleanup programs have provided limited benefits to Long Island.
Suffolk requests for additional funding for busses were not included in the budget. Targeted speed camera funding for pedestrian safety projects were also left out. Vision Long Island and the Long Island Lobby Coalition will continue to fight for these resources.
For more coverage of the budget, check out Long Island Business News, Newsday (subscription required) and this Cuomo press release.
Survey: Lack Of Jobs A Major Concern In Brain Drain
A new survey reveals how Long Island’s young professionals feel about the brain drain affecting their generation.
Suburban Millenial Institute released a report last week. Of the 752 Millenial-aged residents polled, 30 percent said their future plans involve leaving Long Island. This comes on the heels of the Long Island Index reporting the region losing 15 percent of 20-34 year-olds from the last census period compared to a 5 percent increase across the country.
“This poll clearly indicates that the ‘brian drain’ issue is real, and it’s not going away,” Suburban Millennial Institute Founder Jeff Guillot said. “We need to find public policy solutions to attract jobs and make Long Island affordable before it’s too late.”
Of those surveyed, 30 percent planned to leave the island and 64.12 percent planned on staying. Meanwhile, 83.78 percent of participants currently living on Long Island and 76.20 percent went to high school on Long Island.
Of those looking to stay, participants most frequently cited two reasons. Family and friends are located on Long Island for 78.71 percent, and 77.72 percent see the island as a good place to raise children. More than half of those polled also said Long Island offers and exciting lifestyle, has a population size that matches well with their lifestyle and provides many opportunities for education. Less than 30 percent said the cost of living is reasonable for the region.
The most common argument for leaving Long Island among those looking to leave is a lack of employment opportunities, according to 62.43 percent. More than half also said the area lacks an exciting lifestyle and has an unreasonable cost of living. Less than 25 percent said the population size doesn’t match their lifestyle.
“If you couple the job issue with the exciting lifestyle issue, and you can only get one of them here or both of them in New York City or North Carolina, the choice of clear,” Guillot said.
At the end of the study, participants were given the definition of brain drain, asked if they believe it, whether it’s a detriment to Long Island and if it requires action. Almost 21 percent reported they don’t believe the brain drain exists. Nearly 70 percent believe it has a negative effect on the island, but 17.69 percent believe it has a positive effect and almost 21 percent said it has neutral or no effect. Of those surveyed, less than 18 percent believe it’s not a problem requiring no action. However, 51.54 percent said it’s a severe problem require action and 28.57 percent believe it’s a pretty serious problem but does not require action.
Guillot was surprised the phrase brain drain wasn’t known as well as expected, but said respondents’ reactions changed once they understood the definition.
“People started to realize this is real,” the founder said.
“The eye-opening poll from the Suburban Millennial Institute spotlights a desire among some of our younger folks to stay on Long Island but underscores the need for substantive improvements to make that prospect a reality. Job opportunities, more dynamic lifestyle amenities and improved affordability are the chief barriers to keeping the majority of our millennials on Long Island. There are a plethora of policy, redevelopment and social actions that can be taken but understanding the challenge is the first step. Kudos to the team at SMI for gathering this data and starting to shape the changes to come,” Vision Long Island Executive Director Eric Alexander said.
For additional media coverage of the survey, check out the Long Island Business News (subscription required).
Turbines Proposed Off Montauk Coast For LIPA RFP
Long Island may finally harvest wind power after all.
A Rhode Island companies is submitting plans for a 35-turbine wind farm off the coast of Montauk in response to LIPA requests for renewable energy last year.
Deepwater Wind’s Deepwater ONE project calls for turbines on platforms in 100-120 feet of water 30 miles off Long Island. The 6-megawatt turbines would generate more than 200 megawatts of power by 2018 and hook up to the LIPA electrical system on the East End.
LIPA released a request for proposals last year to generate 280 megawatts of renewable energy. The state-controlled entity is working with Con Edison and the New York Power Authority on a proposed wind farm off the South Shore. LIPA also canceled a wind project off the coast of Jones Beach in 2007 over cost.
Energy produced by the wind farm would be sold both to Long Island and coastal New England states, according to the company. They claim it will produce enough electricity to power about 350,000 homes and displace over 1.7 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually – the equivalent of taking 4 million cars off of the road.
Deepwater ONE would not be visible from Montauk’s shore, company officials said.
The project has also won support from 19 environmentalist and nonprofit groups, like Vision Long Island. They released a public letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo, PSEG-LI and LIPA last week, praising Deepwater ONE and calling the ocean a “world-class” energy resource. Advocates said offshore wind power has provided clean energy to coastal Europe for more than 20 years in Europe without harming marine resources.
“We strongly urge New York to embrace and incorporate the potential of offshore wind power and utilize its close proximity to our increasingly demanding energy markets. For the sake of coastal resiliency, local jobs, increased investments in economic development and manufacturing, wildlife, and future generations of New Yorkers, we thank you for inviting proposals for large-scale renewable energy and look forward to working with you to advance offshore wind for New York,” the letter said.
LIPA is expected to announce a decision by December.
For more coverage of this proposal, check out Newsday (subscription required).
New GPI Traffic Safety Expert Supports Complete Streets
Frank Pearsen called his decision to join engineering firm Greenman-Pedersen, Inc. “act II” of his career.
After spending almost 33 years with the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), Pearson joined the firm in February as their director of transportation safety for the Babylon office.
“I’m too young to stay retired. I’m only 55. I felt I had something to contribute to the profession,” he said.
Pearsen spent his entire career with the NYSDOT working hands on with traffic issues. Before he retired this past November, he was the acting regional director for the Long Island Region 10 area. His background includes traffic safety and/or calming projects along Hempstead Turnpike, Wantagh Parkway and Jericho Turnpike.
Greenman-Pedersen, he said, has the largest traffic-engineering group on Long Island and handled a lot of traffic safety work. Coming on board as the transportation safety boss for the Babylon office, Pearsen is responsible for quality control on active projects and expanding the firm’s role in traffic safety.
Looking into the private sector, New York City was a major pull. Pearsen said he was interested with the safety improvements made for bicyclists and pedestrians over the years, as well as the progress on Long Island.
“We’ve made progress over the last 10 years, but certainly we’re not where we have to be yet. There’s a lot more opportunities for improvement,” he said, referring to Complete Streets. “While I was with the DOT, we did some of that in Hempstead Turnpike and downtown Smithtown.”
Alternative transportation is also an important key to successful downtowns, which Pearsen supports. The Village of Patchogue, he added, has sparked emulation by other municipalities.
“Pedestrians are a mode of transportation, as are transit. I think you have to have a balanced approach,” Pearsen said. “Downtown areas shouldn’t really have much through traffic; it should be for local traffic.”
Bellone, LI Team Presenting At Major Planning Conference
A team from Long Island will present at the country’s premiere planning event this summer.
CNU 22: The Resilient Community is the latest conference hosted in Buffalo by pro-Smart Growth organization Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU).
These conferences, this year’s scheduled for June 4-7, offer CNU members a chance to discuss development practices and public policies, learn from recent work and advance new initiatives to transform communities.
The event is targeted towards architects, planners, developers, nonprofits, environmentalists, citizen activists and public officials. Noted urban planner Andres Duany will lead seminars, along with dozens of Smart Growth, transit-oriented development and sustainable development practitioners and advocates.
From Long Island, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Renaissance Downtowns CEO Don Monti, Vision Long Island Executive Director Eric Alexander and Bill Tuyn will speak about transit-oriented development.
For more information about CNU 22, check out their website.