New York City’s Opinion-Makers Turn Attention to Traffic

Today’s Times Select, a subscriber-only web site, has published a lengthy manifesto on New York City traffic and transportation by Carolyn Curiel. It urges Mayor Bloomberg to listen to the ideas being generated by the Citywide Coalition for Traffic Relief, and suggests that his legacy depends on it. Increasingly, one gets the sense that the groundwork is being laid for the Mayor to come out with a major announcement on this issue. We’ve re-published the article in-full and below are some choice
excerpts:

Even as Mayor Michael Bloomberg has taken bold steps to improve the other dampers on the quality of life – like crime and smoking in public indoor spaces – he has done little about New York traffic.

There are a few simple steps New York should take. The city has too many cars, and not enough streets and roadways to put them on. There needs to be fewer cars and more cyclists, pedestrians, and mass-transit riders.

One bold way to make this happen is "congestion pricing," an approach that is being tried with success in other large cities around the world.

Chicago and Paris have gone another route, concentrating on improving pedestrian walkways and cycling lanes, reducing car usage for short
trips.

The city continues to grow, with its population projected to reach nine million in the next quarter century. New office towers being planned and built now put an even bigger burden on the city’s badly overburdened streets. Now is the time to draw up a workable plan that prevents New York from being immobilized by its own spectacular success.

Every day, 3.6 million people – half of them workers – pour into Manhattan south of 60th Street. People rightly complain most vehemently about trucks, which are the loudest, most menacing, and most exhaust-spewing traffic. Still, trucks account for just about 14 percent of the traffic. According to a study this year by Bruce Schaller, a transportation consultant, 60 percent of the trips are made by persona  autos, and most of these trips could have been accomplished by mass transit. That makes cars the heart of the problem.

Whether by design or not, the city enables many of these self-indulgent commuters. It has provided free parking – or inexpensive metered parking – on
even the narrowest of streets.

New York should also rethink free parking. Much of the parking in the city is free, even for non-residents – which is not the case in many parts of the country, where residents get special parking permits. New York also hands out parking permits to many municipal employees which they use like entitled diplomats with immunity. Limiting such passes would immediately help to make streets passable, especially in Lower Manhattan, where many municipal offices are located.

New York’s approach to transportation – like most cities – has been described as first making sure that "all the cars are happy." That should change.

The priority should be making sure that New Yorkers, and the people who spend their days here, have a safe, clean, and efficient environment for going about their business and recreation. If that means burdening cars, that’s what should be done.

The boldest step of all would be imposing serious fees on people who bring cars into the bottom third of Manhattan.

The Bloomberg administration, which did a brilliant job in selling the smoking ban as the cure for an occupational health hazard, could certainly justify congestion pricing in some form as a health issue – curbing emissions to lengthen and strengthen lives. There are questions about whether the city even has the jurisdiction to collect a road fee.

Most issues of taxation and transportation fall to the state. But with the winds of change sweeping through Albany this year, this is as auspicious a time as any to get the city the authority it needs.

Clearly, New York needs a traffic strategy.

Mayor Bloomberg has made it clear that he wants to leave a big mark on the city before his second term is over. He has tended to think about a legacy with bold building projects, like the proposed West Side Stadium.

By coming up with a bold plan for changing traffic patterns in New York, he could make the city safer, cleaner, and more livable – and New Yorkers would be thanking him for many years to come.

  • Much of the parking in the city is free, even for non-residents – which is not the case in many parts of the country, where residents get special parking permits.

    Seriously. This is a no-brainer. Chicago, Baltimore, Boston all have resident parking stickers. I’m sure other cities do too. NYC government may not want to piss off city residents, but why should we care about non-city residents? Let them pay.

  • But then they won’t come in and spend their money here! It’s cars or nothing! Not being able to move or breathe is a sign of economic prosperity!

  • It would certainly please the folks in my area to have residential parking stickers as long as:

    – It’s free
    – You always get a spot on your block

    Unfortunately you have to choose between these two. Parking is either plentiful or free, but it can’t be both in Manhattan.

  • Dave

    Permit parking would probably annoy a lot of car-owning city dwellers who either:

    – register their cars elsewhere to save on car insurance
    – have their primary residence elsewhere to save on city taxes

    Permit parking should be reserved to those of us who pay city taxes and car insurance. Let the others take their cars elsewhere.

  • Sean

    The fact of the article was a good thing, and she came to the right conclusions.

    Unfortunately, it isn’t a terribly sophisticated analysis. As a result, it will probably persuade fewer people who need persuading.

    For instance, she never mentioned the theory that reducing traffic actually increases the number of people who visit. The number who don’t come by car is more than offset by the increase who come by other means and are more motivated because the decrease in traffic makes the city a more attractive business/shopping/entertainment/etc. destination.

  • Dave – good points. Let’s definitely see annoying those folks as a plus side of congestion pricing 🙂

  • AD

    Glenn – you live in a wealthy area, right? Don’t you think that given the choice between plentiful parking that costs money versus free but impossible-to-find parking, your neighbors would choose to pay for spaces?

  • More accurate: I live in the poor section (East of Second Ave) of a wealth neighborhood (UES):)

    I’m not so sure. It seems like simple economic supply and demand, but I’m thinking the price would have to hurt quite a bit in a wealthy area such as mine. Like maybe the permit costs $25-50/day or $500-800 a month, like a garage space. People on Park Ave don’t even have parking meters (the only major Avenue that doesn’t have them I believe). That might be more based on aesthetics than economics though…I’m really not sure.

    I guess that would be a great market research question: How many people would be willing to pay $500+ to always get a spot within one block of their apartment? Probably quite a few who currently park in those smelly, dirty garages.

  • Mitch

    A city can charge a lot of money for residential parking permits, but they don’t have to do that to make the program work.

    Where I live, I pay $21 per year for a parking sticker, which allows me to park all day on my street (without a sticker, there’s a two-hour limit between 8 am. and 6 pm. on weekdays). To get a permit, you just need to show an address within the neighborhood, so students can get permits even if their cars are registered at their parents’ addresses.

    These rules sound scandalously easygoing, compared to what’s being discussed here for New York, but they do work for us: they discourage commuters from using our neighborhood as a parking lot, and they allow me and my neighbors to park our cars all day while we bike or walk or take the bus to work or school.

    It’s probably different in Manhattan and Brooklyn, but maybe not. How many of the parked cars on those streets belong to people who live on those streets?

  • podsednik

    Glenn– Meters (almost?) always go in commercial area. Since Park Avenue uptown is all residential, it makes sense that there are no meters.

  • podsednik – It’s a little more mixed use than it appears. The ground floor of many buildings have doctor, dentist, psychiatrist, physical therapy offices which seem like pretty commercial enterprises to me. There are even a couple of dry cleaners and at least one pharmacy that might be legacy. In any case, everytime I pass Park Ave on my way to the park, I see disabled and elderly folks being off/on loaded from cars or vans to go to the MD offices.

    It would be much better if they had meters or dedicated handicapped parking in front of these buildings to allow easier access or at least better loading and unloading zones.

  • podsednik – Glenn is right. Park Ave isn’t a cacophany of businesses like 2nd Ave, but it has plenty of commercial activity. I had an ENT specialist who moved his offices there, and I see enough other businesses there.

  • podsednik

    I think the entire city should be meters, and the rate should be $15 an hour, similar to garages.

    But I was talking about what the city does — not what I would like.

    If there are businesses there that feel like they are not getting the turnover they need from the parking spaces, they should appeal to the city to add them. But as far as I can tell, that’s about the only reason that’s permissible.

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