Four years after Michael Bloomberg launched New York City’s sustainability agenda with congestion pricing as the marquee item, transportation reform is no longer the centerpiece of PlaNYC.
The first in what should be a series of regular four-year updates of the plan was released this morning, and it includes 132 initiatives. While those encompass significant transportation improvements like bike-sharing, faster buses, and the extremely important addition of parking reform to the city’s green agenda, top billing today went to other initiatives.
Headlining the mayor’s speech today were plans to eliminate dirty home heating oil, provide financing for energy efficiency improvements, and install solar panels on top of landfills — projects that while eminently worthy, reflect a shift in the administration’s emphasis.
“Unlike every other city in the country where 80 percent of pollution comes from transportation and 20 percent from buildings, in New York City it’s exactly reversed,” explained Bloomberg. On transportation, the PlaNYC update goes for a slew of incremental changes rather than any new signature program, although it does give the city’s previously announced commitment to bike-share some more momentum.
During his speech, the mayor praised Select Bus Service, saying that “it gets some cars off the road and some pollutants out of the air,” though he didn’t mention any new plans to expand it. In discussing the steady progress on the 7 train extension, Bloomberg called MTA chief Jay Walder “a godsend to our city” for his management of the transit system. Finally, Bloomberg touted the impressive reductions in traffic deaths over the last decade. He did not mention any new transportation initiatives.
Bloomberg also had no choice but to address what he called the elephant in the room: congestion pricing. “The problems of not enough mass transit and too much congestion on our roads, too many pollutants spewed out by combustion engines still persist,” he said. “I don’t think we should look back and say why it didn’t get done,” he continued, saying he was still willing to work with the state to find answers to those problems.
The PlaNYC update discusses the need to find a stable source of revenue for the MTA and fund the agency’s capital program, but offers only a promise to work with the state toward finding a solution.
Beyond those few mentions, however, transportation didn’t really make it into Bloomberg’s speech.
In the update itself, the biggest transportation-related addition is the inclusion of parking policy, which was all but left out of the original plan. Unlike congestion pricing, major parking policy reforms can be implemented by the city without needing a vote in Albany. While the update hints at the potential reforms, the new PlaNYC still contain few firm or ambitious commitments to use parking policy to tame traffic.
In terms of on-street parking, it promises to expand the congestion-cutting Park Smart program from Greenwich Village, Park Slope and the Upper East Side to three more neighborhoods. (NYC DOT has publicly had the goal of rolling out Park Smart pilots in six neighborhood for some time now, however.)
Reforming off-street parking is mentioned twice, though in neither case with any kind of firm commitment. The city will complete two studies of parking requirements, one in the Manhattan core and one in the rest of the city, to shape future decisions on parking policy.
It is a breakthrough, albeit a limited one, that PlaNYC now states that “requiring too much parking to be built in a dense city like New York can encourage driving, contribute to congestion, and unnecessarily raise the cost of new development.” Up until now, the Department of City Planning’s position has been that parking requirements do not significantly affect car-ownership rates, much less congestion.
Parking requirements were also mentioned in the specific context of affordable housing, where forcing parking into new buildings increases housing prices and decreases supply. PlaNYC now commits to determining whether parking minimums add unnecessary costs to affordable housing development (they do), though it appears the study will be limited only to more densely populated neighborhoods with lower car-ownership rates.
Here are some more observations and details from the plan itself:
- On many transportation issues, the PlaNYC update proposes little new. In its section on cycling, for example, the plan promises to meet its 2007 goal of tripling cycling by 2017 through “continued expansion of the bike network, initiatives for bike parking, education, and implementation of a bike-sharing program.” Those are all previously announced initiatives, though it’s fantastic news to see bike-sharing included in a mayoral-level policy agenda, with a firm 2012 launch date and the promise that an annual membership will cost less than a 30-day MetroCard. In terms of the bike network, however, this is actually a less detailed commitment than what’s in the original plan, which promised to build out 200 miles of bike lanes by 2009.
- Similarly, the update mentions past programs like the car-sharing zoning amendment passed last year and the mayor’s State of the City promise to expand metered taxi service outside the Manhattan core, but no new initiatives in those areas.
- The upgrade announces plans for further improvements to the city’s slowest-in-the-country bus system. In addition to expanding Select Bus Service to Nostrand Avenue and Hylan Boulevard, as planned, the update says that the city is studying how to improve bus service to LaGuardia Airport. Transit signal priority, which holds green lights a little bit longer for buses approaching the intersection, will be rolled out on 11 bus routes in all five boroughs. Finally, buses will in some way be given priority going across the Queensboro Bridge, a project which has been underway for a while.
- In terms of rail, the PlaNYC update touts Staten Island’s North Shore as a possible location for new transit. Both the MTA and the city Economic Development Corporation are already developing plans for the corridor.
- As we’ve reported, the Department of City Planning’s over 100 rezonings have generally placed areas slated for growth near subway stations, ensuring that new residents and businesses will be able to easily access the transit system. The update promises to continue this pattern in neighborhoods like West Harlem and East Fordham Road. It doesn’t, however, mention the city’s many downzonings, which have simultaneously made it more difficult to build near transit in many parts of the city.
- The central premise of PlaNYC is that the city needs to find room for a million new residents by 2030, and an important challenge is finding room to house everyone. When discussing possible areas for new development, the update mentions the city’s ongoing study of the area around the Sheridan, suggesting that building on the footprint of a torn-down highway is on the table. And of course, anything that allows more people to live the very low-carbon lifestyle of a New Yorker is critically important.
- In terms of public space, the update commits to continuing the popular Summer Streets program on Park Avenue as well as opening 15 smaller Play Streets each year. It promises to have completed 13 of DOT’s pedestrian plazas by 2013 and mentions the current roll-out of new pop-up cafés.
- Pedestrians can expect to see 32 more Safe Routes to Schools projects and new guidelines for parking garages to minimize conflict as cars cross the sidewalk.
- On freight transportation, PlaNYC promises to work with businesses to increase off-peak deliveries, increase turnover in loading zones through parking meters, expand rail and barge transport at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal, and ensure that the redesign of the Hunts Point market allows food to be brought in by rail as much as possible.