During yesterday s Railroad Day on Capitol Hill, meetings between the freight industry and New Jersey s congressional representatives tensely broached the subject of how a potential New Jersey Transit rail strike would impact more than just daily commutes. Freight companies use many of the same tracks as NJ Transit, and without the folks that work the signals and keep the tracks in good order, the network of trains that carry freight throughout the state 15 short lines and Class 1 railroads such as Conrail and CSX would be stopped in their tracks. Industry representatives ominously outlined the potential domino effects:
- Bayway Refinery would shut down. This refinery, the second largest on the east coast, converts crude oil that comes through the port into gasoline, jet fuel and heating oil that is then transported to customers up and down the east coast. Bayway is also a major producer of plastics, but without the ability to move goods, workers will be left with nothing to do.
- Hazardous materials would be sitting illegally in rail cars. As industry insiders said, there are plenty of good reasons why safety regulations don t allow hazardous materials to sit in rail cars.
- Restarting freight movement will take two to three times longer than the strike itself. Paralyzing is probably a mild term, said Steven Friedland, President of Short Line Data Systems Inc. It takes time to untie that knot, and every major industry in New Jersey south of Philadelphia will be affected.
While Congress has the ability to override a strike, as Congressman Leonard Lance noted, they are reticent to do so. The last override was in 1987 when Congress ordered Long Island Rail Road workers to go back to work. And although Congress did not step in after LIRR workers went on strike in 1994, given the more wide-reaching impacts of New Jersey s potential strike there s speculation that this time may be different. Roughly 105,000 New Jersey commuters who use NJ Transit rail each day may wonder exactly how they ll get to work next week given the inadequate contingency plan that was released yesterday. But if a strike does happen, many more Garden State residents could soon find themselves wondering why their supermarket shelves are empty, why they can t fill up their gas tanks, and why the doors to their jobs have been shuttered.
- ^ Nadine Lemmon (blog.tstc.org)
- ^ Railroad Day on Capitol Hill (blog.tstc.org)
- ^ New Jersey Transit rail strike (www.nytimes.com)
- ^ impact more than just daily commutes (twitter.com)
- ^ Bayway Refinery (en.wikipedia.org)
- ^ Short Line Data Systems Inc (www.sdsrocs.com)
- ^ Congress ordered Long Island Rail Road workers to go back to work (www.upi.com)
- ^ did not step in (www.nytimes.com)
- ^ inadequate contingency plan that was released (www.nj.com)
By the standards of most transit agency budgets, Sound Transit s next round of rail expansion plans will be expensive. Critics, constructive or not, wonder if there s a cheaper way. There is, in principle, if the transit agency can simply ignore other stakeholders instead of buying them off. The biggest savings comes from simply taking grade-separated freeway space and kicking out as many cars as necessary to ensure free flow of buses. But that presumes a totally different set of politicians, voter attitudes, and institutional structures from what precipitated the sorry defenestration of Transportation Secretary Peterson earlier this month. Her departure was related to several issues, but the direct cause ($) was the entirely foreseeable backlash against reserving uncongested road space for carpools and transit. Indeed Senate Transportation Chair Curtis King publicly wonders if WSDOT is extracting enough transit dollars from Sound Transit to pump back into the road system. While Republicans are generating all the juicy quotes, Democratic majorities didn t keep the HOV lanes clear either. Passing a small ST tax package and assuming that WSDOT will deliver good ROW would be foolish in the extreme. In this environment, truly reliable transit has to build its own right of way. Some Seattle residents snicker at the Everett-Tacoma light rail spine , and there are legitimate criticisms of that project. However, it would deliver a commute free of ever-escalating driving times and frequent congestion collapse due to accidents.
STB will always wholeheartedly support using precious road space to carry lots of people on transit instead of a few people in cars (or worse, to store cars). It s at least plausible to achieve this when local leaders and voters are self-identified transit advocates, as they usually are at the city and county level, and therefore open to pro-transit arguments. Regrettably, the city and county don t own much freeway right of way. At the level of government that does own most of it, the center of gravity of the debate is over subtle impacts to SOV travel times. The overwhelmingly positive impact on bus riders is both undisputed, and irrelevant. Choosing freeway rapid transit as the long-term solution forever holds transit hostage to the whims of a state that considers its fate a low priority, and forever allows highway widening to masquerade as a pro-transit measure to ensure the free flow of buses. It s one reason why people all over the region are hoping for ST3 to deliver them from this trap with light rail on its own right of way. Martin joined the blog in Fall 2007 and became Editor-in-Chief in 2009. He is originally from suburban DC, but has lived in the Greater Seattle area since 1997. He resides with his family in Columbia City and works as a software engineer in Lower Queen Anne.
If there s one thing people like to talk about, it s millennials, and what they re up to. So the shift of young working-age Americans (18 to 34) to dense, walkable and transit-accessible communities (not just big cities) isn t anything new. But some regions still aren t prepared to meet the housing preference shift for the largest generation in American history. According to a recent analysis by the Rauch Foundation, Long Island is facing a significant shortfall of multi-family housing, especially in walkable communities. Between 1990 and 2014, Nassau and Suffolk Counties lost 16 percent of its young working-age population. If Long Island communities are interested in recovering some of those residents, there s no time to waste on investing in safe walking infrastructure and embracing denser development. Construction of multi-family developments including assisted-living facilities and mixed-use projects has been on the upswing on Long Island in recent years, enough so that industry employment grew 19 percent between 1990 and 2010. Based on current production rates, Long Island is projected to add 64,000 housing units by 2030, of which 40 percent (26,000) will be in multi-family developments. Nassau and Suffolk Counties, however, are expected to gain upwards of 158,000 households by 2030. Two-thirds of those new households (roughly 104,000) will prefer walkable, mixed-use communities. The report forecasts Long Island will be able to meet just 40 percent of its total projected housing needs for 2030, and only 30 percent of the demand for units in walkable neighborhoods.
Potential younger working-age residents, however, are not the only ones affected by the housing gap. Aging Long Islanders looking to downsize face limited options since construction has not kept up with increasing demand for multi-family housing, meaning desirable options are often unaffordable. The Long Island Index suggests zoning changes, including increased building heights and lot coverage, to allow for even denser multi-family housing to improve affordability. As Long Island communities welcome denser, more mixed-use development patterns, local and county governments must continue to invest in safe walking infrastructure. Both Nassau and Suffolk Counties have already adopted county-wide complete streets policies. But progress on reducing pedestrian fatalities has been slow: between 2011 and 2013, roughly the same number of pedestrians were killed by drivers on Long Island streets (220) as in Manhattan and Queens (222), despite significantly lower pedestrian exposure rates for Nassau and Suffolk residents. There are plenty of young adults who want to live on Long Island, but they need affordable housing and transportation options. Embracing walkable, mixed-use development especially around transit nodes is one way to help fill the gap between what is being built and what the region needs.
- ^ millennials (www.wsj.com)
- ^ not just big cities (gizmodo.com)
- ^ the largest generation in American history (www.whitehouse.gov)
- ^ recent analysis (www.longislandindex.org)
- ^ Rauch Foundation (www.rauchfoundation.org)
- ^ including assisted-living facilities and mixed-use projects (www.newsday.com)
- ^ local and county governments (blog.tstc.org)
- ^ Nassau (blog.tstc.org)
- ^ Suffolk (blog.tstc.org)
- ^ roughly the same number of pedestrians were killed by drivers on Long Island streets (220) as in Manhattan and Queens (222) (blog.tstc.org)
- ^ affordable housing (www.newsday.com)
- ^ transportation options (www.newsday.com)
- ^ the gap between what is being built and what the region needs (www.longislandindex.org)