What Should NYC’s Sustainability Plan Tackle Next? Vote Today


New York’s citywide sustainability initiative — PlaNYC 2030 — is getting an update next Earth Day, and the public outreach is already underway. A series of “community conversations” about what comes next continues this week with a workshop in Manhattan tomorrow. Meanwhile, one place you can make your voice heard without even getting up from your desk is a new website where you can submit your own ideas for improving sustainability and vote for those you like best (or vote at the top of this page, where we’ve embedded the same program).

Since the sustainability plan debuted on Earth Day 2007, major transportation initiatives like the launch of Select Bus Service, the expansion of the bike network, and the creation of pedestrians plazas have been pursued under the PlaNYC rubric. The 2011 reboot could reinforce those initiatives and add new ones, like carrying out off-street parking reform or implementing a world-class bike-share system.

The new site, launched by the Mayor’s Office of Long-term Planning and Sustainability and powered by the “All Our Ideas” voting software, works by pitting two different ideas against each other — say, “Increase access to EBT at farmers markets” and “Make delayed green lights for motorists so pedestrians can cross safely.” Click on one or the other, and your vote is logged. If you like both, or neither, there’s also an “I can’t decide” button. You’ll then get two new options. Continue until you get tired; there’s no limit to the number of votes you can cast.

Among transportation-related initiatives, four were tied for first place as of this afternoon. Those were: implementing congestion pricing (got that, state legislators?), building more safe bike lanes, shipping farm goods on commuter rail tracks during off-peak hours, and the vague-but-admirable “Invest in multiple modes of transportation and provide both improved infrastructure and improved safety.”

Overall, the most popular idea is currently to enforce recycling rules in large buildings.

The transportation suggestion with the fewest votes was countdown clocks on crosswalks. That idea, which is already being rolled out at 1,500 locations, had a score only half as high as the earth-friendly but constitutionally dubious “Mandatory Meat-free Monday.”

Important suggestions that could be incorporated into public policies, like “reduce the amount of parking built into new developments,” “develop more bus-only lanes for new Select Bus Service lines,” and “provide better transit service outside Manhattan” ranked somewhere in between.

If you want to make your voice heard in more traditional ways, the Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability is accepting ideas for the update through an online form available here. Or show up in person to one of the community conversations, which will be held in Lower Manhattan, the Bronx, and West Queens over the next three weeks.

  • JK

    The first principal of medical ethics is “Do no harm.” That would be a good first principal for PlaNYC and New York City. PlaNYC 2 has to reintegrate business and sustainability — especially in the mayor’s mind. The mayor has total control over EDC. That agency needs to do a 180 and promote walkable, transit friendly development instead of using scarce tax dollars to subsidize giant parking garages and car dependent big box retailing. EDC mega-projects should be models of sustainability, not grotesquely out of scale, anti-neighborhood development. Likewise, another mayoral agency, City Planning is making mistakes that will be written in stone for centuries by requiring absurd amounts of parking in new developments.

  • Glenn

    I travel around the country for work and I have seen so many mid-sized cities that have their core urban areas hollowed out and made into high density auto-centric land use. It means that every multi-story building has a near equal sized companion building for parking that is constructed for peak capacity and zero transit/walking/biking. Those cities basically roll-up the sidewalk at 5:30pm and are vacant all weekend.

    The best cities embrace their density and mixed usage and adapt by adding adding a light rail line or re-using an old industrial building for apartments.

    Buildings should be made for people, not cars. It’s the people that work, live, play in buildings, not cars.

  • It must be understood that adaptation responses will ultimately be futile if mitigation of CO2 production is insufficient to stop the current state of runaway climate change.

  • Recycling enforcement is great, green education is great, urban organic gardening is great, but the most important step toward sustainable living in NYC is the elephant in the room:

    ‘Get people out of their cars whenever possible’.

    Driving by yourself in NYC should be an infrequent, expensive proposition. Taking 2000 pounds of pollution spewing metal over a bridge onto a densely populated island should require a toll (I’m looking at you East River bridges). And yes, this means that public transit and bike lanes would need to accommodate the extra load.

    Parking lots in new developments should be underground if built at all. Existing lots in NYC could be required to devote a certain amount of space to free bike parking, or pay an opt-out tax. We need more bike racks on streets and by subway and bus stations. And on and on. Organic squash and solar panels are a drop in the proverbial bucket compared to reining in our addiction to our cars. (Yes, I own a car)

    We should be asking this question with incredulity:

    “You DROVE here?”

  • fdr

    Writing a new PlaNYC is fine but any plan that calls for bridge tolls, congestion pricing, etc. will have to find a way to persuade the State Legislature members from the outer boroughs that there is enough support from their constituents to give them the courage to pass these initiatives.

  • Mike

    Biped, while your sentiment is understood, it’s worth pointing out that transportation emissions make up about a quarter of CO2 emissions in NYC – buildings account for a much larger share. So it’s a bit hyperbolic to say that “the most important step toward sustainable living in NYC is … Get people out of their cars whenever possible”.

  • The setup of the voting system on the site is really excellent; I encourage everyone to go to it and vote a few (or a few hundred) times.

  • #6 Mike, “transportation emissions make up about a quarter of CO2 emissions in NYC”

    Deeply entrenched in both local and global economies accurate capture of all emissions from externalities related to transportation in New York City is likely much more than 25%.

    And, simply based on New York’s global iconic status the argument may be made that removing cars from the city would have a global affect on emissions many times greater the local emissions savings.

  • Not only is transportation a relatively small portion of NYC emissions, but also it’s the city’s biggest advantage over the suburbs, even more so than its building efficiency. This means that the most important thing is not to slow down traffic in the city, where it’s already bad for drivers, but in the suburbs, which have three times the per-capita car ownership as well as higher per-car VMT.

  • We have waited too long and CO2 emissions mitigation efforts need to be dramatic 10 times and more.

    PlaNYC should adopt Amory Lovins’Factor 10x Engineering
    http://www.rmi.org/Default.aspx?Id=2318&vid=2386&cat=

    Factor Ten Engineering Design Principles
    http://www.rmi.org/rmi/Library/2010-10_10xEPrinciples

  • I think it’s cool they’re floating around an idea of “meatless Mondays”–could be a real culinary godsend to vegans and vegetarians in this city!

  • My comment about getting people out of there cars had a lot more to do with general quality of pedestrian/street life than a simple CO2 emission cut.

    All of you who pointed out that vehicular emissions make up a a quarter of NYC carbon footprint are absolutely correct – but those cars do a lot more than spew carbon.

  • @Biped: the coal plants are every bit as polluting as the cars.

    @Urbanis: as long as they remember that chicken and fish don’t have higher carbon footprint than vegetables, but on the other hand dairy is nearly as bad as red meat, it’s a very good idea. It’s time people realized that what they eat is a lot more important than whether it’s locally grown.

  • Ken

    Here’s a plea for folks to add “Car-free Central and Prospect Park” under “Add your own idea.” This no-brainer would have only a modest impact on actual CO2 emissions but it would have a huge symbolic impact, sending a clear message throughout the world that the City is serious about promoting green transportation.

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