The New DOT is Still Using the Old Measuring Stick

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Setting the tone: In its performance report, DOT starts off by measuring how quickly it fixes traffic lights.

A preliminary version of the 2008 Mayor’s Management Report was released last week [PDF], and the Department of Transportation section is déja vu all over again. Ten months after the end of the Iris Weinshall regime, DOT is still grading itself almost entirely according to how well it manages traffic flow, keeps highways looking tidy, and other car-oriented metrics.

Even the few new livable streets metrics in this year’s MMR, like the number of speed humps installed near schools, fail to provide meaningful information. The MMR is legally mandated by the City Charter to serve as "a public report card on City services affecting the lives of New Yorkers." Yet, it tells us nothing about how the 101 new speed humps installed in 2007 have affected speeding and pedestrian injuries around schools or if more kids are walking and biking to school because of them. Rather, the report depicts a city agency that is more concerned with its own, internal bureaucratic activity than the outcomes of its policies.

The contrast with London couldn’t be sharper. That city’s transportation agency, Transport for London, sets targets and measures public policy outcomes, like reductions in carbon emissions, noise, particulate matter pollution, and traffic congestion — as seen in it’s detailed, 279-page, annual monitoring report on congestion pricing [PDF]. The report even goes so far as to gauge the effect of pricing on
London’s employment growth and economic trends, sector by sector,
beginning on page 74. TfL’s report does exactly what the MMR is supposed to do: It provides a treasure trove of data on how city transportation policies are affecting the lives of Londoners.

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Graphs from TfL’s Fifth Annual Report on congestion pricing.

Next to TfL’s rigorous measurements and focus on actual policy outcomes, New York City’s Mayor’s Management Report looks laughably inadequate.

"There’s nothing there on mode shift, nothing on reduction of VMT," says Paul Steely White of Transportation Alternatives. "The other thing that’s missing is traffic fatalities — there’s no target there. There’s still a reluctance to really lead on that, and that’s unacceptable."

Instead of setting a goal for reducing traffic fatalities, the MMR measures differences year-to-year. True, this is the first year the MMR has tracked pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities separately from motorist fatalities, but compare that small step to TfL’s safety goals, spelled out in its Five-Year Investment Programme (page 37 of this PDF):

  • A reduction of 40 per cent in numbers Killed and Seriously Injured (KSI) by 2010 compared with 1994-1998 overall
  • Separately for pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, a reduction of 40 per cent in killed and seriously injured by 2010
  • A 50 per cent reduction in the number of children killed or seriously injured
  • A reduction of 10 per cent in the slight casualty rate per 100 million vehicle kilometres

London is not the only city to set such targets. Ottawa, Ontario, for instance, has adopted the goal of reducing VMT per capita. But in New York, even though PlaNYC has funneled more money to bike infrastructure and pedestrian improvements, the gears of city government apparently grind too slowly for the MMR to reflect new priorities at DOT.

The situation could have improved last year, with the passage of Intro 199. That was the bill City Council Member Gale Brewer proposed in April 2006, which would have given DOT a mandate to reduce traffic and to measure, among other things, how many people switch from driving to biking and transit. Instead, then-commissioner Weinshall helped torpedo the bill right before leaving DOT.

Better performance measures still could have been introduced after the bill failed, without
legislation. "Traditionally, the way these targets have been changed is
the Mayor sitting down with the agency," says White.

Now, Brewer is in talks with DOT to bring a successor to Intro 199 before the City Council later this year. "Ideally what’s happening is that the Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability is working with Council Member Brewer to codify PlaNYC in the MMR," says White. That needs to happen if New York intends to narrow the transportation accountability gap with London.

  • Red

    Ben Fried has been doing a great job. Good pickup, Streetsblog.

  • lee

    the same old measuring stick, used for the first time this year.

    It is interesting that the page image you show from the MMR uses measurements that are all entirely new to the report this year (page60.) It’s only deja vu if you are from the future.

    Also comparing the MMR to a report solely designed to assess congestion pricing results is not a fair comparison. Especially since the DOT does not operate buses. If you want those stats go look at the MTA reports. http://mta.info/mta/ind-perform/per-nyct.htm

  • Ben Fried

    Thanks Red. Having great editors sure helps.

  • Spud Spudly

    Isn’t the average time it takes to fix a traffic light something more than a “car-oriented metric?” Isn’t every single person who is being transported on the surface of NYC in any manner at all dependent on traffic lights in a major way?

  • Jeffrey Hyman

    I agree with lee; one report studies 22 square kilometres and the other provides a top-line analysis of the entire city of New York.

  • Dotty

    OK, Lee. DOT tweaked some of the categories a little bit this year. Whoopee. This is still essentially the same report as last year and the year before.

    As noted above, the MMR is supposed to provide us with an annual report on how city services “are affecting the lives of New Yorkers.” Knowing the number of traffic signals fixed and the time to do the repairs doesn’t meet that mandate. This is a measurement of DOT’s internal function. The London comparison is apt, I think, because we see a city transpo agency that is setting real public policy goals and measuring their progress towards those goals.

    And, Jeffrey, who says the MMR is supposed to be nothing more than a top-line accounting (“analysis” is too generous) of city agency operations? That’s not what the City Charter says its supposed to be.

  • Josh

    London has been doing bureaucracy for longer than we have, doesn’t it stand to reason that they’re better at it than we are?

  • lee

    ok, well it is pretty sloppy to have a headline talking about old measurements and a graphic showing new ones. It makes me wonder how closely the writer read the report.

    The MMR and the TfL report are not comparable. One is a citywide report encompassing all agencies. The other focuses on a single (though wide reaching) program of a single agency. A fair comparison would be between the TfL report and the DOT’s River Crossings report.

  • Ed

    Hey I agree that the report is behind the times, but it says that 10 new measures were added to this year’s report, including traffic fatalities. Isn’t that some progress?

    New DOT indicators
    – Average time to fix traffic signals (hours)
    – Average time to repair priority regulatory signs after notification (days)
    – Average time to repair streetlights – by DOT (days)
    – Average time to repair streetlights – by ConEd (days)
    – Traffic fatalities – motorists/passengers
    – Traffic fatalities – bicyclists/pedestrians
    – Percent of metered spaces that have muni-meters (multi-space meters)
    – Percent of all NYC highways that receive a cleanliness rating of good

  • Josh

    Ed wrote:
    “- Percent of all NYC highways that receive a cleanliness rating of good”

    Zero point zero zero?

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