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Measuring Street Performance

3:39 PM EDT on April 10, 2006

Council member Gale Brewer of Manhattan's Upper West Side has introduced a new piece of legislation that would compel New York City's Department of Transportation to completely re-conceive of the way it measures and evaluates its own performance and the performance of the city's streets.

Currently, DOT's metrics are set up mainly to measure the minutia of day-to-day operations. You get a good sense of this in the Mayor's annual Management Report (PDF document), where DOT accounts for things like the percentage of "traffic signal defects responded to within 48 hours of notification" and "on-street parking meters that are operable."

The city, of course, needs its traffic signals and parking meters to function. But is that all we need from our transportation agency? DOT's operations-oriented goals start to look profoundly lame when you see the kinds of goals that other world cities are setting for themselves. In London, England, for example, the city's transportation agency has set aggressive ten year targets for reducing overall traffic congestion, improving air quality, increasing bus and bike ridership, creating 100 new public spaces, and even reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. Once the goals are in place, the city then creates policies to help achieve them.

Can you imagine New York City's transportation agency functioning as though it actually had a responsibility to do something about global climate change? It's hard enough just to get them to install a speed bump in your neighborhood. Intro. 199, conceived with the help of Transportation Alternatives, would finally rectify this situation and, hopefully, in the process, force New York City's government to establish a real set of citywide transportation and public space policies. The new bill would force DOT to establish and meet specific "performance targets and indicators" that work "towards the goal of reducing traffic congestion citywide."

Brewer's legislation would mandate that DOT put in place targets and indicators with the aim of "reducing commute time citywide, reducing household exposure to roadway emissions, reducing the proportion of driving to the central business districts, and increasing the proportion of walking, biking, and the use of mass transit to the central business districts." There are still some rough spots in the language of the bill and only a few Council members are signed on, but this looks like a really great piece of legislation. New York City needs a transportation agency that measures its success by more than just the number of pot holes it fills and traffic signals it fixes each year.

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