Q Poll: Car-Free Times Square a Smash Hit; MTA Skepticism Still High

If you’re a livable streets optimist, you probably suspected that car-free Times Square critics like Andrea Peyser, Susan Dominus, and John Liu were out of touch. After all, most New Yorkers don’t own cars, and many of those who do spend more time as pedestrians than drivers. And really, how many people were driving their own private vehicles right through the middle of Times Square, anyway?

But maybe you had your doubts. Maybe the "It’s just for tourists!" argument seemed like it might gain some traction. Maybe fears of Carmaggedon would win out.

Today’s Q Poll settles the question: Car-free Times Square is a hit. Fifty-eight percent of New Yorkers think it was a good idea to close Broadway to cars and give more space to pedestrians, compared to 35 percent who don’t. A surprisingly high number of New Yorkers — 44 percent — say they’ve seen the new Broadway for themselves. That translates to about three and half million people.

When it comes to transformative regional transportation policies, however, advocates still have a steep hill to climb. Majorities oppose East River bridge tolls and congestion pricing, even when the question explicitly states that funds would be used to limit future transit fare increases. Skepticism about the MTA’s ability to deliver mega-projects like the Second Avenue Subway and the 7 line extension is very high.

Perhaps most importantly, among transit riders who think the quality of service has declined recently, blame falls on the MTA more than the state legislature. Much more, in fact — 59 percent to 19 percent. This is troubling.

For the time being, it looks like Pedro Espada and company can rest comfortably in the knowledge that they won’t be held accountable for shortchanging our transit system.

But if you’re one of the optimists, here’s something to build on. Overall support for congestion pricing stands at 40 percent. Okay, that’s pretty sobering, but it’s significantly higher than the 29 percent support for bridge tolls (maybe labels do matter). It’s also higher than the level of public support for congestion charging prior to implementation in Stockholm. And back when congestion pricing was all over the news, we saw this number swing up and down rather dramatically, depending on the phrasing of the question.

We know the needle can be moved. The next time pricing comes up in the legislature, will advocates mobilize a broad enough coalition to move Albany along with it?

  • Ian Turner

    This was a poll of registered voters in NYC. Although that’s relevant for the public policy implications, you can’t extrapolate to say that 3.5m new yorkers have seen the new Times Square. My guess would be less, on the theory that active citizens are more likely to be out and about, but at this point we can only guess.

  • Shemp

    Check out the Republican world view shown up in question #39.

  • J

    I am a little skeptical of this blog’s general reluctance to blame MTA for any of the problems. Granted the legislature shortchanged the system and the MTA is saddled with debt. However, there are many glaring examples of MTA misuse of funds, general secrecy, and generally poor leadership. Prominent members of the MTA board have scoffed at the notion of using the system they run. Any movement towards reform must address these issues openly and directly, as the problems with the MTA have clearly captured the public’s opinion. Stubbornly defending the MTA in the face of these issues is not going to make them go away and it may come across as condescending to the public, costing the movement credibility. Once the inherent problems with MTA are solved, Espada won’t have a leg to stand on when fighting against congestion pricing or bridge tolling.

  • A little skepticism toward public institutions is healthy. But the MTA gets bashed way more than it should. This has got to be a morale buster for people who work there and earnestly try to do their jobs well. It also makes funding the operating and capital budgets a losing proposition for pols. Why send money to an agency the public hates? It may be crucial to the health of our region and its economy — but tell that to the MTA bashers, who rehash the same tired talking points over and over again and ignore anyone who corrects them.

  • Ian Turner

    J,

    A couple questions to think about:
    1. What does it mean to blame the MTA and not the legislature and governor, when it is the legislature and governor that appoint MTA board members? That’s like saying that GM is to blame for its problems, but that its executive leadership is blameless.
    2. Can you give some examples of the “misuse of funds”, “general secrecy” and “generally poor leadership” that you refer to? The only one I’m aware of is the Atlantic Yards giveaway, which is pretty clearly coming not from the MTA but (again) from the legislature — look at the ESDC’s pretty much equivalent approach.

  • oscarfrye

    i agree with J

    too much of “just fund the mta and all will be fine” on this blog IMO
    Plenty of blame to go around between the state, the MTA and the TWU

  • “Just” funding public transportation seems to work pretty well in Paris.

  • Shemp

    In a lot of places outside NY you see a bit more urgency and a lot less sloppiness in the day to day running of transit systems (like car cleaners at terminals that give two swipes of the mop and move on or subways that pull into stations and the conductor takes 30 seconds to open the door – what the hell is that?)- I think people confronting that kind of thing every day level blame at the agency and deservedly so. That kind of stuff is management failure. And PR/message management there has been abysmal – Lee Sander defending his raise amid fiscal meltdown is just the tip of the tip of the iceberg.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    On the most pro-transit blog in NYC the MTA can only get 50% favorable in this fairly small sample. That pretty much says it all as far as public opinion goes. As to the merits of the public’s opinion, who cares? AAA will do way better than that in the public opinion poll but as to the merits of that position, decide for yourself.

  • So Oscar and J, when the State DOT decides to waste our money with lots of pointless, unsustainable highway expansions and drags its heels on pedestrian safety improvements, do you blame the legislature and the governor, or do you blame the DOT Commissioner?

  • J

    People,

    Let me be clear. The legislature is certainly responsible for much of the funding issues here, and my point was not to let them off the hook. My point was that there are some very serious systemic problems with the way the MTA is run, that this blog seems to ignore or defend.

    First, let’s talk about secrecy: We have multiple major capital projects such as the Fulton Transit Center, East Side Access, and the 7 train extension with budgets that reach into the billions of dollars. Yet information on those projects in scant at best. The website for the 7 train extension hasn’t been updated since November 2008, East Side Access was updated in January 2009. We’re talking multiple billions of dollars and they can’t update the damn websites. CBTC has been delayed for years, with minimal explanation. MTA spent a ton of money on bus and train locators systems. The bus ones don’t work and the train ones are on one line. Where is there information on this project? Can you show me a website? Other agencies have information for projects a tenth of the size. Is it unreasonable for the public to be aware of where this money is being spent? When the MTA keeps these projects secret, it makes people wary of giving them more. If there is nothing to hide, why hide it?

    Did you read about the LIRR conductors taking disability benefits? That didn’t happen by accident without anyone noticing. If something on that large a scale has been happening for years, is it unreasonable to think that it’s probably not the only instance.

    Look, I’m all for pinning responsibility where it lies, and a huge portion lies with the legislature and elected officials. And yes, there is a lot of mindless MTA-bashing out there, probably more than there needs to be. HOWEVER, some of it is deserved, and ignoring or defending these problems is counterproductive. That is all I have to say on the matter.

  • Pursuant

    Ian – Secrecy usually refers to the two books issue a couple of years ago.

    As for the mismanagement the Atlantic Yards giveaway is just one of a series of boondoggles and giveaways.

    Capital Improvements Gone Wild

    1. MTA Headquarters – cost overruns and fraud by convicted MTA employees.
    2. Second Avenue Subway – way over budget and no one in sight
    3. Fulton Street Station Upgrade – Big hole in the ground almost a billion spent?
    4. South Ferry Station – Over budget
    5. Siemens L train switch upgrade – Over budget
    6. Lockheed Security Cameras – In litigation with Lockheed suing MTA

    Boneheaded Deals and Giveaways

    1. Atlantic Yards
    2. West Side Yards – Gave
    3. 7 train Extension

    I love me some public transit, but when Mark says people don’t know facts and that these are “tired talking points” there is a certain amount of unreality that one cannot gloss over.

    On top of this, capital improvements are geared toward big shiny public works like the nearly 1 Billion dollars spent on Fulton Street that could have funded a hell of a lot of BRT for outer boroughs.

  • I don’t have a problem with criticizing the MTA. My only problem is when people use that criticism as an excuse to defund subways and buses.

  • J

    I think you make a good point Cap’n, but by not acknowledging that there are some serious problems with the MTA, we lose credibility and sound like a shill for the MTA, giving tacit approval to the status quo there. Calls for increased funding for the MTA should be accompanied by calls for greater transparency. You are correct, though, that calls for transparency were recently made in lieu of funding the system.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    And these are transit’s friends, presumably thoae whose support is necessary against the fare-hike four etc. How dare Sander defend the salary he negitiated before he took the job. If you are a stakeholder in the system this debate is a strong argument for abandoning coalitions and generalized reciprocity in favor of quid pro quo and protect your own turf. You are convincing me.

  • vnm

    Pursuant, the Fulton Street station (and the new South Ferry terminal) were federally funded as a way to help Lower Manhattan recover after 9/11. The feds and local policymakers were only interested in one thing at the time the decisions were made about what projects to support downtown. Turning their money down wouldn’t have helped bring BRT into reality. Similarly, the #7 extension is paid for by the City. Take that one up with Bloomberg, not the MTA.

    Not as a defense of particular cost overruns, but the MTA is not the only agency that revises cost projections upward after infrastructure projects begin. In fact, it is the global norm.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    “the MTA is not the only agency that revises cost projections upward after infrastructure projects begin”

    You are correct about that VNM but,,,it is actually sort of unique in its mandates to report monthly in public every detail of its operation, to hold endless public hearings every time it makes a change in fare or service policy in every community, and to publish every morsel of its budget.

    For this, the MTA is rewarded with an accusation of “secrecy” the Scarlet S, when the citizens either can’t be bothered with or can’t understand the mechanical details and the human complexity of running a system that employees 67,000 living people plus a small army of subcontractors.

    There are really no other public or private authorities that are more transparent than the MTA but still…it goes on and on. And the Liberals, even more than the conservatives, hold forth with endless solutions that the way to “rescue” the MTA is to cut wages, salaries and benefits.

    The MTA is really the perfect scapegoat and still moves millions of people in and out of a city of eight million people everyday for a couple bucks a ride.

    Defending this situation earns one the title of “shill”.

  • J

    Niccolo,

    There is no doubt that the MTA performs an incredible task every day. Its complexity is astounding, and it is quite difficult to comprehend. However, blindly defending the status quo seems unreasonable and unproductive. It is very possible to both support the MTA system and still call for reform. Is that not the very essence of democracy?

  • AlexB

    What has the effect on businesses been? Delivery costs and # patrons up I would suspect, but I don’t know.

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