Welcome to “The Mobile City,” our weekly roundup of new and newsworthy transportation developments.
Gov. Cuomo Picks Sarah Feinberg for New York MTA Chair
In a move that the New York Daily News characterized as part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s effort to solidify his control of the nation’s largest transit agency, Sarah Feinberg has been tapped by the governor to serve as the chair of the New York MTA. She’d be the first woman to serve in the role.
Along with Feinberg’s nomination, which must be approved by the New York state Senate, Cuomo submitted a bill to the legislature that would split the roles of MTA chair and CEO. Pat Foye, who currently holds both titles, will become head of New York State’s economic-development agency, the Empire State Development Corporation.
Under the terms of the bill, the MTA CEO would be in charge of the day-to-day operations of the agency. The CEO would serve at the pleasure of the governor and not require Senate confirmation. Cuomo announced that he would nominate current MTA Chief Development Officer Janno Lieber for that post.
The New York Times’ report on the announcement notes that Feinberg will face several challenges as the MTA’s new chair, including bringing back riders lost during the pandemic, shoring up its finances, modernizing the subway system and addressing concerns about crime and safety.
Cuomo’s bill, submitted just three days before the end of the legislative session, would undo 2009 legislation that combined the two positions. Richard Ravitch, a former MTA chair who spearheaded that legislation, told the Daily News that the unbundling would be “a terrible mistake.”
Rider advocates and government watchdogs quoted in the Times story echoed that criticism. “There should be no last-minute backroom deals on a major governance change for the state’s largest authority that serves millions of riders and manages a $17 billion operating budget,” said Rachael Fauss, senior research analyst for the watchdog group Reinvent Albany.
But Lisa Daglian, the executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA, said that Feinberg’s ties to the governor could serve her well at a time when the region is returning to a new normal, noting that she has already managed the subways during a time of severe stress.
Marylanders Object to Rush to Approve a Freeway-Widening Project
In Maryland, the state Transportation Department has had plans to significantly widen I-270 in Montgomery County as well as most of the Capital Beltway around Washington. Those plans got scaled back last year to simply adding two managed HOT lanes to I-270 and a short section of the Beltway. DCist’s report on the Maryland Transportation Authority board’s recent vote to approve the project notes that not only do environmental and transit advocacy groups still oppose it, but so do the governments of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, through which these roads pass.
Critics of the vote said it was improper for the board to give even preliminary approval to the expansion project before a full environmental review was complete. “It is irresponsible of the board to rush to approve a $50 million contract before the environmental review of the project is complete,” Arthur Katz, with the group Citizens Against Beltway Expansion, told board members. “The draft environmental impact statement had many deficiencies that must be addressed in the final environmental impact statement. For example, the draft failed to assess whether the project’s adverse impacts would be disproportionately borne by communities of color and low income communities.”
Tesla Subway Passes Capacity Test in Vegas
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority announced June 8 that The Boring Company’s Las Vegas Convention Center people-mover had met the 4,400-persons-per-hour threshold the agency set as the minimum throughput needed for it to accept the tunnel and make the final payment on the project, according to a news report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The convention authority actually conducted the test on May 28, before the people-mover was scheduled to enter service for the World of Concrete trade show, which opened June 7. For the test, 300 volunteers rode the 0.8-mile, two-tube, three-station shuttle for one hour straight. The passengers rode in 62 human-operated Tesla cars — the three-passenger (not counting the driver) Models 3 and Y and the four-passenger Model X — for the duration of the test. Riders boarded one car at one station, were driven to another, got off, then waited for another vehicle to pick them up, simulating real-world operating conditions.
The successful test comes as good news for the convention authority, The Boring Company and founder Elon Musk, but as the report notes, the company had promised something more: Specifically, automated driverless vehicles that could hold 16 people at a time. According to the article, “there’s been no indication that a high-capacity vehicle, to operate on Tesla chassis, is under consideration.” And the Review-Journal could not reach Boring Company officials for comment.
And while successful, the test was barely so: in the test, the vehicles carried a total of 4,431 passengers.
While convention authority president and CEO Steve Hill told the Review-Journal that “there’s some possibility that we’ll bring higher-capacity vehicles in,” he continued, “Really, the smaller vehicles have provided the capacity we expected and wanted here at the Convention Center.”
This news, however, will probably not dampen the continuing skepticism observers have expressed about Musk’s boring vision for the future of transit.
CTA Red Line Riders Will “Ride with Pride” This Summer
Railway Age notes in passing that the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) unveiled its 2021 “Pride Train” on Monday, June 7.
This year’s version of the train acknowledges the expanding diversity of the LGBTQ community by incorporating the colors of two Pride flags. One is the “Philly Flag,” the eight-color version of the iconic rainbow flag first displayed in that city; the other is the pink, white and, blue transgender pride flag.
The CTA’s news release announcing the train’s debut notes that this is the fifth year the Pride Train has operated; the first one, in 2017, featured an undulating rainbow ribbon flowing along its four cars. The CTA is the first transit agency in the United States to decorate vehicles in honor of LGBTQ Pride Month.
CTA President Dorval R. Carter Jr. told Railway Age, “We are a progressive and open-minded organization that has long supported equality and inclusion, and we want all our riders and employees to know that no matter who they love or how they identify—they are welcomed at the CTA.”
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Next City contributor Sandy Smith is the home and real estate editor at Philadelphia magazine. Over the years, his work has appeared in Hidden City Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other local and regional publications. His interest in cities stretches back to his youth in Kansas City, and his career in journalism and media relations extends back that far as well.