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Why the West Coast Is Suddenly Beating the East Coast on Transportation

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https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/01/nyregion/transportation-east-coast-vs-west-coast.html

 

 

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Why the West Coast Is Suddenly Beating the East Coast on Transportation

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Los Angeles’s Metro plans to build 100 new miles of rail — essentially doubling the system, which first opened in 1990.

Credit: Monica Almeida/The New York Times Image

 

By Emma G. Fitzsimmons

Jan. 1, 2019

 

When New York City’s transportation commissioner returned from a recent trip to California, she seemed downright jealous. There were electric scooters in Oakland. New train lines in Los Angeles. Self-driving cars in the Bay Area. She tried them all.

“It is an incredibly exciting time to be in urban transportation,” the commissioner, Polly Trottenberg, told a breakfast gathering of powerful New Yorkers, pointing to California’s progress.

Her glee signaled a noteworthy and sobering shift. Wasn’t it her city that was once the envy of the nation when it came to transportation?

Not anymore. The subways on the East Coast that allowed New York, Washington and Boston to thrive are showing their age and suffering from years of neglect, while cities on the West Coast are moving quickly to expand and improve their networks.

The Los Angeles area, the ultimate car-centric region with its sprawling freeways, approved a sweeping $120 billion plan to build new train routes and upgrade its buses. Seattle has won accolades for its transit system, where 93 percent of riders report being happy with service — a feat that seems unimaginable in New York, where subway riders regularly simmer with rage on stalled trains.

“It’s a tale of two systems,” said Robert Puentes, the president of the Eno Center for Transportation, a nonpartisan research center in Washington. “These new ones are growing and haven’t started to experience the pains of rehabilitation.”

In New York, Ms. Trottenberg returned to a laundry list of messes: a subway crisis, buses that move at a snail’s pace, the looming shutdown of the L train between Manhattan and Brooklyn, and the rebuilding of the dilapidated Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

“There is a political will to invest in expansion” on the West Coast, Ms. Trottenberg said in an interview, though she noted that New York’s system was still the country’s largest by far. Its daily subway and bus ridership of nearly 8 million dwarfs Los Angeles’s 1.2 million riders.

Still, transit systems on the East Coast are losing ridership. New York’s subway has not expanded in decades, besides a handful of new stations in Manhattan — one on the Far West Side and three on the Upper East Side.

City officials have been reluctant to embrace electric scooters or self-driving cars, even as scooters have become a popular way to get around a growing roster of cities — including Austin, Tex., and Detroit — and provide an alternative to sitting in clogged traffic. A proposal by Mayor Bill de Blasio for a streetcar in Brooklyn and Queens appears to be stalled.

There is at least one bright spot: Citi Bike has become an essential part of the city’s fabric. The bike-share system has 12,000 bikes across Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn and Queens and recently announced plans to expand under new ownership by the ride-hail company Lyft, which will triple the number of bikes.

Only a decade ago, the New York region was flying high. More than 90 percent of subway trains were on time, compared to about 70 percent today. In the 1990s, New Jersey Transit won a coveted award three times from the American Public Transportation Association.

But in recent years, the East Coast has been notably absent from the awards ceremony, the Oscars of public transportation. Cities including Seattle, Salt Lake City and Houston have captured the title of outstanding transit system.

“In some of these growing communities like L.A. and Seattle, they haven’t been blessed with great infrastructure, and they’re trying to play catch up, frankly,” Paul Skoutelas, the association’s president, said.

When Seattle’s King County Metro won the award in September, it was praised as “a system that is expanding and innovating to meet rising demand” — not to mention a program that offers lower fares for poor riders that has served as a model for New York and other cities. Transit ridership in Seattle is growing, and car use is down.

One key difference is the West Coast has the ballot measure, while New York State does not allow voters to directly approve measures like transit funding. In 2016, both Los Angeles County and the Seattle region approved measures to boost transportation funding. The Los Angeles proposal, known as Measure M, won nearly 70 percent of the vote, greenlighting $120 billion in spending by raising the sales tax.

“The ballot initiative allows them to proceed without the political angst you’d have in Albany,” said Jon Orcutt, a director at TransitCenter, a research group in New York. “It takes some pressure off politicians. The voters go out and do it, and that creates political cover.”

Los Angeles plans to build 100 new miles of rail — essentially doubling the Metro system, whose first rail line opened in 1990. There are now six lines and 93 stations. Huge machines recently began digging new tunnels for a Purple Line extension to the county’s Westside — part of a plan to attract younger people who are more likely to favor transit and worry about the environmental impact of cars.

“We had a political miracle,” Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, said in an interview. “A permanent 1-cent sales tax.”

Mr. Garcetti, a Democrat, hopes the new rail lines will boost transit ridership. The number of train and bus trips in Los Angeles has dropped in recent years, though he blamed that on low gas prices and national trends in declining transit ridership.

Mr. Garcetti makes a point of using the subway. He took the Red Line recently, from City Hall to MacArthur Park, to visit Langer’s for the city’s “best pastrami sandwich.” He is also deciding how best to regulate the electric scooters that have flooded Los Angeles.

“I want to make them work,” he said. “I’m excited by them. They’re generally taking car trips off the road.”

New York has unique challenges when it comes to funding and governance, Ms. Trottenberg said. In Los Angeles, the transit system is controlled by Mr. Garcetti, while New York’s subway is controlled by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state lawmakers, many of whom rarely use the system and have shown little interest in making it a priority.

If New Yorkers had been asked to approve new transit funding in a ballot measure during the midterm election, Ms. Trottenberg believes it would have won.

“It would have to be a mixture so that we’re fixing the old, and you have to put in some new things in, too,” she said.

Instead, the subway’s leader, Andy Byford, is pleading with state leaders to approve new revenue sources when they return to Albany in January. Mr. Byford says it will cost more than $40 billion to fix the system — a figure that does not include any expansion or new lines.

In Seattle, a $54 billion ballot measure approved two years ago will help extend the region’s light rail system to 116 miles from about 20 miles.

Dow Constantine, the executive of King County, which is home to Seattle, said the city’s culture was changing, too.

“Folks are tired of sitting in traffic,” Mr. Constantine, a Democrat, said. “They’re mindful of the environmental implications of driving.”

Seattle also wants to learn from the East Coast’s mistakes, Mr. Constantine said.

“I made sure we included funding for long-term maintenance,” he said, “so you don’t get the situation we’re seeing in New York and Washington where the systems have been neglected and it’s expensive and inconvenient to rebuild.”

 

 

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As the article itself says: this is all brand new. In 40 years when virtually all of it needs to be replaced we'll see what the political/public dynamics are. I also suspect that the transit worker unions are more agreeable out there, any new funding the MTA gets will most assuredly go towards pensions and healthcare. Thirdly, there's so much political pandering in NY's culture that any new subway line will face years of lawsuits and delays over birds nests, noise, political grandstanding, etc. Look at the L shutdown. 

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Good read, save for the premise of the article.... Instead of feeding into & making this some sort of coastal competition, the focus should be on encouraging better public transit worldwide.....

While I don't wish to completely diminish the (value of the) personal vehicle, all things considered, public transit isn't remotely where it should be, ideally.... There is far too much of a reliance on the personal vehicle (or, the for-hire vehicle) - esp. for making relatively (or worse, ridiculously) short trips.....

I was never fond of people touting how great the NYC subway is on other cities' online platforms (or otherwise on non-NYC centric forums), with the major sticking point being that its 24/7...... Goes in line with Trottenberg's comment regarding used to have being some envy of the nation (which it never really was anyway)..... When the homeless population down below is creeping closer to the rat popula...

...oh, nvm.

 

 

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6 hours ago, shiznit1987 said:

birds nests

and ant colonies, mole men, etc.

43 minutes ago, B35 via Church said:

When the homeless population down below is creeping closer to the rat popula...

LOL

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On 1/2/2019 at 7:59 AM, shiznit1987 said:

As the article itself says: this is all brand new. In 40 years when virtually all of it needs to be replaced we'll see what the political/public dynamics are. I also suspect that the transit worker unions are more agreeable out there, any new funding the MTA gets will most assuredly go towards pensions and healthcare. Thirdly, there's so much political pandering in NY's culture that any new subway line will face years of lawsuits and delays over birds nests, noise, political grandstanding, etc. Look at the L shutdown. 

And y'all wonder why I speak so lovingly about my former home's transit systems and funding...

But on this, after LA Metro had that transit strike in 2004(?), transit was all but declared an essential service (essential service means no strike - like with cops and firefighters), and since transit out there is effectively a county department - even when a special district (using NY parlance), the employees are either pensioned through county pensions or the statewide CalPERS pension (and they contribute towards either - stuff that wouldn't happen out here).

And the ballot funding measures are defined purpose - so the tax revenue can only be used on building and maintaining the project(s) it was passed for (meaning Purple Line construction tax money can't be diverted to run the 210/710 buses on Crenshaw).

Lockboxes were built into the legislation, and up until recently (if not still current), Metro can't build the rail lines because of past (MTA)-style issues - the State of California has to create a construction authority that does the building.

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Another issue with LAMTA is that they're building lines, yes, but they're not making the zoning/streetscape changes so that people actually use said lines. Even around the subway, LA is still dominated by single family detached housing with ridiculously wide throughfares interspersed at regular intervals. That density and pedestrian environment is hardly conducive to good transit use patterns -- you need the full package for it to work. 

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Just the thought of what we could do if we all (in the MTA service area) paid an extra half cent on the sales tax.

The gears in my head are moving just imagining the possibilities with all that extra money at our desposal. Money that can't be diverted.

Hell, the Unions may well be willing to relax their hold and allow the MTA to have normal (globally accepted) staff levels on construction projects since more could be built and everybody can still get a piece of the pie. Theoretically, that could possibly bring down costs.

A man can dream...

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13 hours ago, RR503 said:

Another issue with LAMTA is that they're building lines, yes, but they're not making the zoning/streetscape changes so that people actually use said lines. Even around the subway, LA is still dominated by single family detached housing with ridiculously wide throughfares interspersed at regular intervals. That density and pedestrian environment is hardly conducive to good transit use patterns -- you need the full package for it to work. 

The subway runs from DTLA to Hollywood with a spur down Wilshire. All high rises along both corridors.

Wilshire is the busiest bus corridor in LA - with buses every 2 minutes. Wilshire also is the one street in LA where even by car, it can take longer to go one mile than it takes the M14 to go from 7th Av to 2nd Av.

The ridership is there. As for upzoning:

https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-expo-line-density-20180703-story.html

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5 hours ago, LTA1992 said:

Just the thought of what we could do if we all (in the MTA service area) paid an extra half cent on the sales tax.

The gears in my head are moving just imagining the possibilities with all that extra money at our desposal. Money that can't be diverted.

Hell, the Unions may well be willing to relax their hold and allow the MTA to have normal (globally accepted) staff levels on construction projects since more could be built and everybody can still get a piece of the pie. Theoretically, that could possibly bring down costs.

A man can dream...

But instead everyone wants to make Long Islanders pay to cross bridges...

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10 minutes ago, Deucey said:

The subway runs from DTLA to Hollywood with a spur down Wilshire. All high rises along both corridors.

Wilshire is the busiest bus corridor in LA - with buses every 2 minutes. Wilshire also is the one street in LA where even by car, it can take longer to go one mile than it takes the M14 to go from 7th Av to 2nd Av.

The ridership is there. As for upzoning:

https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-expo-line-density-20180703-story.html

Those are localized realities. This video seems to hit the key issues:

http://www.streetfilms.org/los-angeles-the-great-american-transit-experiment/

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Posted (edited)
22 minutes ago, RR503 said:

Those are localized realities. This video seems to hit the key issues:

http://www.streetfilms.org/los-angeles-the-great-american-transit-experiment/

I get all the theory and the Monday Quarterbacking, but you have two factors in California - especially LA - that I think will make that overpriced bullet train from Fresno to the state prison in Avenal fail (aside from not building that the smart way - as a commuter rail):

The earth moves in California.

That San Andreas Fault; the Hayward Fault, factor big into California planning because no one wants to see the images of 1906, or Loma Prieta in 1989, or Northridge in 1994 - where building after building is destroyed, people crushed by debris and whatnot. If you've never experienced the earth quake, you won't understand why that SFR will always be preferable to an apartment in a high-rise. Sure, they exist, people are moving into them, and engineering standards for seismic activity have made them safer than 50 year old homes off Grand Ave and Century Bl, but if one fails, that's potentially 1906 in SF all over again.

Plus, the Yellow Car and Redcar did fine running from mid-Orange and San Bernardino Counties to DTLA while having pretty high ridership. I don't think density is the issue, but I don't think density South of Olympic Bl or in the SFV is necessarily a good thing. California's the living adage of "Good Fences make Good neighbors." 

EDIT: NYC being the exceptional case of density forcing behavioral changes; (NJT) is the 2nd busiest system in the US, and SFRs dominate it outside Hoboken and half of JC. WMATA's #4 and aside from DC - where residents don't have to use it - VA and MD are SFR meccas and still riding it.

I think it's less density than destination parking availability that influences ridership increases.

Edited by Deucey

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The NYMTA needs to 🛑 playing games with the passengers and start building new infrastructure. NYC is experiencing a skyline change that should see new buildings dominate the view by 2030, meanwhile, the MTA is baby favoriting the R160s as a show for new interior design for their future orders minus the R179, which already has these features (😂😂😂😂). Some stations on the outside (The Bronx, Brooklyn & Queens) need enhancements as well.

 

If you look at SEPTA’s Market-Frankford Line on the outside, almost all stations besides Spring Garden are rebuilt. Arrot TC is nearly done with their renovation project. 

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On 1/3/2019 at 6:39 PM, RR503 said:

Another issue with LAMTA is that they're building lines, yes, but they're not making the zoning/streetscape changes so that people actually use said lines. Even around the subway, LA is still dominated by single family detached housing with ridiculously wide throughfares interspersed at regular intervals. That density and pedestrian environment is hardly conducive to good transit use patterns -- you need the full package for it to work. 

Density is not the main issue - Los Angeles is fairly dense because the lot sizes for a lot of that housing is not very big.

The main issue is the sprawl. In New York jobs are pretty concentrated in the central city, and the transit system is really good at connecting to the central city. Los Angeles doesn't have anywhere near that level of centralization and the distances are much greater. Warner Center to DTLA is about the same distance by road as Rockefeller Center to Hicksville or White Plains. You could never build a car-competitive transit system in a region so sprawly.

Even if you were to build dense, urbanist TOD in Los Angeles, you can't make people live next to where they work. And with a two-income household it's basically impossible.

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1 hour ago, bobtehpanda said:

Density is not the main issue - Los Angeles is fairly dense because the lot sizes for a lot of that housing is not very big.

The main issue is the sprawl. In New York jobs are pretty concentrated in the central city, and the transit system is really good at connecting to the central city. Los Angeles doesn't have anywhere near that level of centralization and the distances are much greater. Warner Center to DTLA is about the same distance by road as Rockefeller Center to Hicksville or White Plains. You could never build a car-competitive transit system in a region so sprawly.

 Even if you were to build dense, urbanist TOD in Los Angeles, you can't make people live next to where they work. And with a two-income household it's basically impossible.

Isn't economic sprawl just another form of not-density?

Regardless, pop density in LA runs usually in the 9-10k people/sq mi range. NYC is about 30. If you eliminate uber-dense Manhattan from the equation, you get the Bronx at 34, Queens at 21, Brooklyn at 37, and SI at 8. I'm not saying that everyone needs to be NYC, but I do think that the combination of relatively low densities, an anti-pedestrian environment and a balkanized bus network do have a good-sized effect on ridership.

Economic density is a big issue, yes. But part of that, too, comes back to land use practices -- zoning is restrictive of the development of densified downtown areas, meaning you just get office parks ad infinatum. That in turn disperses geographies, which, for lack of good buses to feed high-capacity corridors, discourages transit use. (It should be noted that while LA is sprawly, the average commute distance is only greater than NYC's by 1.1 miles -- 7.7 vs 8.8). 

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2 hours ago, RR503 said:

Isn't economic sprawl just another form of not-density?

Regardless, pop density in LA runs usually in the 9-10k people/sq mi range. NYC is about 30. If you eliminate uber-dense Manhattan from the equation, you get the Bronx at 34, Queens at 21, Brooklyn at 37, and SI at 8. I'm not saying that everyone needs to be NYC, but I do think that the combination of relatively low densities, an anti-pedestrian environment and a balkanized bus network do have a good-sized effect on ridership.

Economic density is a big issue, yes. But part of that, too, comes back to land use practices -- zoning is restrictive of the development of densified downtown areas, meaning you just get office parks ad infinatum. That in turn disperses geographies, which, for lack of good buses to feed high-capacity corridors, discourages transit use. (It should be noted that while LA is sprawly, the average commute distance is only greater than NYC's by 1.1 miles -- 7.7 vs 8.8). 

No, you can have both or neither. A small town is neither sprawled nor dense. The megacities of Asia are sprawled and dense; no one would say that Tokyo is low density, but jobs are so spread out that average commute time is around an hour each way. Tokyo gets away with it because the highway system is all tolls and rather pitiful compared to the ubiquitous transit, which is the inverse of Los Angeles. But if they had an equivalent road network, all other factors being equal, transit would not out compete the roads in Tokyo.

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, bobtehpanda said:

No, you can have both or neither. A small town is neither sprawled nor dense. The megacities of Asia are sprawled and dense; no one would say that Tokyo is low density, but jobs are so spread out that average commute time is around an hour each way. Tokyo gets away with it because the highway system is all tolls and rather pitiful compared to the ubiquitous transit, which is the inverse of Los Angeles. But if they had an equivalent road network, all other factors being equal, transit would not out compete the roads in Tokyo.

Fair point about sprawling dense cities, but about Tokyo, you’re kidding me, right? The spatial inefficiency of the automobile is immense. Unless a majority of Tokyo land area was highway, you’d have 24/7 traffic. Why? Because it’s dense; despite the sprawl, you wouldn’t ever have the capacity to carry that many people... 

Edited by RR503

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Posted (edited)
On 1/4/2019 at 10:45 AM, Deucey said:

But instead everyone wants to make Long Islanders pay to cross bridges...

Long Islanders must pay to cross bridges because they didn't want the Cross Sound Tunnel in their backyards. Every attempt at proposing a tunnel that links Upstate with the Island has failed due to opposition  from locals who don't want the character of their neighborhood changed, or deal with traffic. 

Edited by NY1635

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12 hours ago, NY1635 said:

Long Islanders must pay to cross bridges because they didn't want the Cross Sound Tunnel in their backyards. Every attempt at proposing a tunnel that links Upstate with the Island has failed due to opposition  from locals who don't want the character of their neighborhood changed, or deal with traffic. 

So that tunnel was going to be toll-free like the Manhattan, QB and Bk bridges or nah?

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14 hours ago, NY1635 said:

Long Islanders must pay to cross bridges because they didn't want the Cross Sound Tunnel in their backyards. Every attempt at proposing a tunnel that links Upstate with the Island has failed due to opposition  from locals who don't want the character of their neighborhood changed, or deal with traffic. 

One minute it's a bridge, next minute is a tunnel, minute after that it's a bridge, minute after that, it's a tunnel again...

2 hours ago, Deucey said:

So that tunnel was going to be toll-free like the Manhattan, QB and Bk bridges or nah?

About as free as the Tappan Zee.

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2 hours ago, B35 via Church said:

About as free as the Tappan Zee.

That's the one thing @NY1635 didn't consider before his hot take reply to me.

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1 hour ago, Deucey said:

That's the one thing @NY1635 didn't consider before his hot take reply to me.

I hadn't considered the toll because every attempt at building the Cross Sound Tunnel, or Bridge has been rejected by North Shore residents on the grounds of environmental and quality of life concerns. On the state's side of things, of course Albany would put a toll on the crossing to generate revenue. 

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1 hour ago, NY1635 said:

I hadn't considered the toll because every attempt at building the Cross Sound Tunnel, or Bridge has been rejected by North Shore residents on the grounds of environmental and quality of life concerns. On the state's side of things, of course Albany would put a toll on the crossing to generate revenue. 

My point in all this is that tolling everything - including CP - turns everyone geographically on the landmass that I'd Long Island turns them into an ATM for (MTA) and any other entity that can draw on toll and CP funds.

That's why I'm against it.

Now if they wanna make the VZ and/or Bronx bridges free in exchange for tolling QB/WB/MB/BB, then my point is moot. Until then, and likely even afterwards, a 1 or 2¢ per dollar food/beverage/alcohol tax is the only way to make it so everyone pays - whether they're Downstaters or from east of the Hudson.

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, Deucey said:

My point in all this is that tolling everything - including CP - turns everyone geographically on the landmass that I'd Long Island turns them into an ATM for (MTA) and any other entity that can draw on toll and CP funds.

That's why I'm against it.

Now if they wanna make the VZ and/or Bronx bridges free in exchange for tolling QB/WB/MB/BB, then my point is moot. Until then, and likely even afterwards, a 1 or 2¢ per dollar food/beverage/alcohol tax is the only way to make it so everyone pays - whether they're Downstaters or from east of the Hudson.

I don't think that's possible unless Albany is willing to weaken the Govenor's control over the MTA and allow Downstate to have more say on the tolls, and transit projects. 

Edited by NY1635

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On 1/6/2019 at 10:08 PM, NY1635 said:

Long Islanders must pay to cross bridges because they didn't want the Cross Sound Tunnel in their backyards. Every attempt at proposing a tunnel that links Upstate with the Island has failed due to opposition  from locals who don't want the character of their neighborhood changed, or deal with traffic. 

 

On 1/7/2019 at 5:22 PM, NY1635 said:

I hadn't considered the toll because every attempt at building the Cross Sound Tunnel, or Bridge has been rejected by North Shore residents on the grounds of environmental and quality of life concerns. On the state's side of things, of course Albany would put a toll on the crossing to generate revenue. 

 

On 1/7/2019 at 6:42 PM, Deucey said:

My point in all this is that tolling everything - including CP - turns everyone geographically on the landmass that I'd Long Island turns them into an ATM for (MTA) and any other entity that can draw on toll and CP funds.

That's why I'm against it.

Now if they wanna make the VZ and/or Bronx bridges free in exchange for tolling QB/WB/MB/BB, then my point is moot. Until then, and likely even afterwards, a 1 or 2¢ per dollar food/beverage/alcohol tax is the only way to make it so everyone pays - whether they're Downstaters or from east of the Hudson.

I'm sure the (MTA) is/has been whispering in Albany's ear that a Cross-sound Tunnel would reduce toll revenue on MTA Crossings. 

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On 1/3/2019 at 9:39 PM, RR503 said:

Another issue with LAMTA is that they're building lines, yes, but they're not making the zoning/streetscape changes so that people actually use said lines. Even around the subway, LA is still dominated by single family detached housing with ridiculously wide throughfares interspersed at regular intervals. That density and pedestrian environment is hardly conducive to good transit use patterns -- you need the full package for it to work. 

Same for Denver. They keep adding lines, but ridership isn't really going up.

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