Quick Impressions of the MTA’s Sustainability Report

mta_sustainability.jpgThis afternoon the MTA released a draft of its eagerly anticipated sustainability report, which has been in the works since September 2007. The product of a "blue ribbon commission" featuring heavy hitters in the transportation world, the report reads like the MTA’s version of NYCDOT’s "Sustainable Streets" strategic plan.

Much of the report deals with making the MTA’s own operations more energy efficient, but the overriding message is that transit is inherently an instrument of sustainability: The agency can be at its greenest by extending access to transit, expanding capacity, improving performance, and ensuring that new development is transit-oriented.

I’ve combed through the synopsis of the report [PDF], and the legislative agenda it lays out does not skimp on ambition. The policy recs run the gamut from the current federal stimulus package to state legislation on bus enforcement cameras to New York City parking meter rates. It hits several items on the livable streets agenda and should prove to be a useful barometer of progress going forward. The major takeaway: New Yorkers and others who rely on the MTA need legislators to step up and deliver on these sustainability goals.

I’m still working through the full report, but I can say that it heats up on page 53 of this PDF, with "Transformational Recommendations" for smart growth and transit-oriented development in the region. Highlights from that section posted after the jump.

Smart Growth/TOD Working Group: Top Recommendations

  • The MTA should capture two-thirds of all new vehicle miles traveled (VMT) generated within its region through 2030. To achieve this, the MTA should advise communities and collaborate with them on how to create and expand feeder and distributor lines and eliminate gaps in the regional transit network.
  • The MTA should promote clustered development throughout its region, seeking to draw two-thirds of all new development to within a quarter-mile to a half-mile of transit access within the MTA network.
  • The MTA should take the lead in closing the "last mile" transportation gap by improving access to transit through robust, flexible feeder and distributor services, as well as pedestrian and bike improvements.
  • The MTA should develop a systemwide TOD program that articulates principles and guidelines for TOD project development and should assist communities, developers and stakeholders throughout the region in planning these community-based initiatives.
  • Adam

    I looked at the report in one of its later draft stages. Internally the document doesn’t provide much direction to the operating units of the various MTA agencies. It’s full of much more ambition and big ideas than a path forward. Most of the recommendations aren’t even under the MTA’s control. Rather its more of a laundry wishlist. Where this document can hopefully succeed is in creating the dialogue among the public and the politicians about the value of the MTA in a ‘green’ economy, and from that could spring some new initiatives.

    I’m interested in hearing what others think of this report. Is this fluff or substance? Will politicians listen to the recommendations?

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Are fluff and substance the only two choices Adam? I think its kind of funny coming in a context of service cuts. What greener could the MTA possibly do than run trains?

  • Larry Littlefield

    While one little group at the MTA was thinking about sustainability, the system was being bankrupted financially.

    (What greener could the MTA possibly do than run trains?)

    Exactly. Transit-oriented development isn’t up to the MTA, and only works if there is transit.

    A couple of things the agency could do:

    One is promote dynamic carpooling as a part of the transit system, one that works where mass transit does not, because it doesn’t require a mass. I submitted a business plan to their suggestion program when I worked there. They gave me an award for it, but nothing happened. Since the drivers would purchase the cars, the city would provide the roads, and the riders would pay a fee to the drivers, there would be little public cost, WHICH IS THE CRITERIA FOR ANY SERIOUS PROPOSAL FOR THE INDEFINATE FUTURE.

    Second — bicycles connection to transit, as an alternative to the money losing-bus system that will collapse with the rest of public services. Limited public capital costs, no public operating costs. You’ve got the low-cost solution right on this blog. The MTA seems to be waking up to this.

    People just don’t get what is coming. The worst case economic and fiscal scenarios are damn awful, and almost no one seems to get it.

  • vnm

    The most important recommendation in this report, the one with the most profound implications for livable streets, is the recommendation that at least 25% of the revenue from a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system should help fund public transit.

  • infirm

    If it’s studying environment & sustainability & whatnot, wouldn’t it in fact be a GREEN ribbon commission har har har sorry.

  • puhleeze

    Give me a break. Sustainability by 2050? The MTA might as well say that they’ll install teleporters by then. They can’t even figure out how to clean the subway system, provide useful messaging, or install working elevators. This is just a PR sham.

  • Ian Turner

    The MTA is already one of the most sustainable and environmental institutions in the country. By removing millions of automobiles from our roads each day, the subway improves the environment in ways unimaginable through any other means.

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