Chris Ward: NYC Truck Traffic “an Economic and Environmental Crisis”

Truck traffic in Maspeth. Photo: slowpoke_taiwan ## Flickr.##

Speaking at the Municipal Art Society’s annual summit this afternoon, outgoing Port Authority chief Chris Ward said he wouldn’t be sending any parting shots at the New York region’s leaders, but he didn’t hold back from proposing some big and bold ideas. With only a few weeks left at the Port Authority, Ward issued a call for the construction of a cross-harbor freight tunnel and a rail freight distribution system for the city, as well as the abandonment of container shipping at the Red Hook terminal in Brooklyn.

“The city is bedeviled by intraregional truck trips,” said Ward. Having large diesel trucks criss-crossing the dense, congested region 364 days a year, he said, “is an economic and environmental crisis.”

“We must, we must finally realize small-scale rail freight distribution within this city,” he declared, noting that under his leadership, the Port Authority had acquired facilities in New Jersey needed to eventually build a long-desired cross-harbor rail freight tunnel. Beyond that, said Ward, the region needs to develop small, clean vehicles capable of carrying freight the last mile from rail stations to final destinations.

Ward also argued for a rethinking of the Brooklyn waterfront, which he called the last great challenge for the city from a planning perspective. “[The] Red Hook [shipping terminal] has to move down to the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal,” Ward said. “Red Hook is the wrong location.” Container shipping there, he said, is both inefficient from a transportation perspective and standing in the way of the city’s other plans for the waterfront, including the eventual development of the southern portion of Governor’s Island. “You will not be able to get the needed amount of people, whatever the use is, to Governor’s Island as long as you have a container terminal there.” With the container port moved, he argued, new transportation infrastructure could connect Red Hook and Governor’s Island and spur major new development in the area.

Bold thinking about the future of Governor’s Island also came from Columbia professor Vishaan Chakrabarti, the former head of the Department of City Planning’s Manhattan office. In a speech laying out a vision for radically densifying New York City, Chakrabarti highlighted a project by some of his students that imagined connecting the Battery to Governor’s Island with landfill, extending the subways to the island and opening it up to new development. The amount of landfill needed, he said, was a tiny fraction of what’s currently being put down in Hong Kong or Tokyo Bay.

Chakrabarti put forward a number of proposals to spur major new development, along the lines of the Hudson Yards project he helped usher through. The buildings along Park Avenue, he said, were built once Grand Central transformed transit access to that part of Midtown. Once East Side Access is complete, Chakrabarti said, “we should really be thinking about whether this area needs to be rezoned, changed into taller, greener buildings.” New York should complete the full Second Avenue Subway and then explore intense densification on the Lower East Side along the new subway line.

Manhattan, Chakrabarti said, is one of the most dense, productive and desirable places in the entire world. “Right outside of that, we have the density of Los Angeles,” he said, flashing a photograph of Long Island City. “We have one and two story buildings 15 minutes outside of our urban core.”

  • Larry Littlefield

    As I wrote to the Cross Harbor freight group, they should consider never building a rail freight tunnel from Ridgefield NJ to the South Bronx rail yards for truck distribution from there (or, for non-double stacks, movement over the Hell Gate Bridge).

    Rather than not building a rail freight tunnel to Brooklyn where it would dead end in Queens, with a truck transfer point opposed by Queens NIMBYs.

    My non-proposal would be a fraction of the cost.  And if properly configured at the Bronx end (emerging southbound on the old New Haven line heading directly for both the Broxn freight yards and the Hell Gate Bridge) could be used for dual mode commuter rail access from Rockland and Orange to GCT via the new tunnel, the Hell Gate Bridge, and East Side Access.

    But a tunnel at a fraction of the cost is too much, because we are broke.

  • Divinity School

    I would love for Chris Ward to be mayor of NYC.

    Sadly, I think he might be too smart, human, policy-minded, practical and non-corrupt to have any hope of winning a Democratic primary.

    But, man, what if he somehow slipped through and won? He’d be a great leader for the city — so much better than all of the other apparent choices.

    If Chris Ward ran, I’d work for the campaign. 

  • Larry Littlefield

    The NYC Republican Party has traditionally made itself available to non-political reform candidates in past (for 150 years), and could again.

    The problem is, running for office without being duly authorized by the powers that be ends your career in government, and Ward many not want that.  As it was once said in a book for technical experts in the public sector I once read, if you are going to shoot at the King you’d better not miss.

    A very cynical book.  It advises experts to manipulate elected decisionmakers by mixing expert advice with their own values.  My view was that in a democracy experts should provide information and alternatives for elected decisionmakers to use when making decisions, and not think they have more authority than they do.

    Little did I know that the so-called elected so-called decisionmakers are generally not interested in information.  The alternatives are chosen at fundraisers.  And rather than decisions, they make deals and then make non-decisions to keep them the way they are.

  • Driver

    “Ward’s solution, which he called the “deconsolidation model,” relies on
    creating distribution centers. Comparing the idea to the invention of
    ZIP codes by the Postal Service, Ward explained that all goods sent to a
    given geographic area would have to pass through a local distribution
    center. From there, a single distribution company, which would bid for
    the franchise, would deliver the goods to surrounding neighborhoods. ”

    This model would cripple thousands of small businesses in the metropolitan area, and destroy the concept of free trade

  • He is totally right about the number of trucks…I hope that a decision will be found at last!

  • Bicyclist John

    There are some great last mile delivery options already in use elsewhere in the world, 

    FedEx is using electric assist delivery tricycles in Paris,

    In the city of Utrecht in the Netherlands they have the Cargohopper, a solar powered electric delivery van,


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