Why Is There So Much Traffic in NYC? It’s the Free Roads, Stupid

Since the de Blasio administration attempted to cap for-hire cars this summer, the debate over Manhattan traffic has gotten louder, but not more productive. Uber claimed it definitely wasn’t the problem. Some council members wondered if bike lanes were slowing down cars. Amid all the noise, something important got lost.

When roads are free, traffic is clogged. Photo: Kevin Coles/Flickr
When New York streets are free, New York streets are clogged. Photo: Kevin Coles/Flickr

At a hearing about Manhattan traffic this morning convened by Borough President Gale Brewer, a simple consensus emerged: The fundamental issue is the limited amount of street space in the Manhattan core and the practically unlimited demand to use it. Unless New York puts a price on roads, traffic congestion is going to remain intense.

“We can’t unsnarl our streets unless vehicles that take up the space on the street are charged a price. Otherwise, the space that we clear out today — by capping tour buses or Uber cars or 18-wheelers — will be filled tomorrow by other vehicle owners,” said transportation economist Charles Komanoff. “And the price needs to apply to all vehicles… based on the space that they take up. Because space is a finite resource.”

“The least efficient mode of transportation is the single-occupant car,” said “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz, who in addition to his Move New York toll reform proposal, backed the elimination of parking placards for most government employees. “There is no reason to be parking for free on the most valuable land possibly on Earth.”

Others proposed more aggressive ideas, like banning personal cars completely. “Private vehicles coming into Manhattan is insanity,” said Steve McLoughlin, an organizer with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 15, a union for black car drivers. “I don’t think that Manhattan can handle much more than the professional drivers, than the trucks that are necessary to supply our businesses, and the first responders.”

McLoughlin, who commutes from Monmouth County each day, backed Move New York toll reform as a step in the right direction for reducing congestion.

Uber also backed Move New York, which would include surcharges for taxi and for-hire vehicles below W. 110th and E. 96th streets. (The Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, which represents medallion owners, backs the plan too.)

“There are many potential solutions to congestion,” said Uber’s Nicole Benincasa. “The Move NY fair plan and congestion pricing is a very smart idea.”

The only path forward for Move NY runs through Albany, where Governor Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly rejected it. Meanwhile, the city is working on its own for-hire vehicle congestion study, setting the stage for what the mayor says is a “new deal” that will “rationalize the whole picture” of taxi and for-hire regulation.

Right now, the “whole picture” of the industry isn’t completely clear.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission doesn’t know the extent to which app-based trips are replacing traditional street hail trips or increasing overall demand for car travel, said TLC special advisor Bill Heinzen.

Complicating matters, TLC receives more data about yellow and green taxi trips than it does about for-hire vehicles, which only have to tell regulators where and when they pick up passengers, not where the trips end or how long they last.

“Ideally, all TLC-regulated vehicles would provide complete trip and fare data to the TLC on a regular and unmediated basis,” Heinzen said. “We have a lot of data, but we are always looking for more information.”

Uber said that it in addition to the data already required by TLC, it will soon give the city requested information on the time, distance, and endpoint of each trip. There’s a catch: At the city’s request, Uber said, the data is aggregated by hour and by taxi zone, an approximately zip code-sized area the commission uses to aid number-crunching. The records, which won’t be released to the public, are being used as part of the city’s congestion study, expected for release in November.

Today, Uber released its own report claiming the city’s study should take at least a year [PDF]. That earned a rebuke from City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez, who criticized Uber for agreeing to give data to the city’s fast-tracked study, then turning around and badmouthing the timeline it had previously supported.

When it comes to a long-term fix for New York City congestion, of course, the sniping between City Hall and Uber is a sideshow. The main event is in Albany, where Governor Cuomo and the legislature have the power to untangle the city’s traffic mess.

Stay tuned.

Update 6:30 p.m.: An earlier of this story reported that Uber had already shared additional trip data with the city. Uber says it has reached a data sharing agreement with the city and will be sending those records to the city imminently.

  • Joe R.

    NYC can do quite a bit on its own without Albany’s approval if it really wanted to reduce traffic. It could certainly ban single occupant cars from Manhattan if it wished to do so. It can get rid of curbside parking entirely in favor of loading zones or bus lanes or bike lanes. It can break up the grid by bollarding off minor side streets so car trips are more roundabout, while perhaps having the bollards retractable for delivery/emergency vehicles. All of these things will tend to discourage private car use.

    I agree with McLoughlin that the more radical solution of a complete ban on personal cars in Manhattan is in order. If someone needs one to get to their final destination, they can take a train to NJ or LI, then drive the remainder. It’ll probably be faster doing it that way besides.

  • Amazing, hating communism for so long, at yet not even understanding the most fundamental parts of it. Congestion is a soviet bread line.

  • AlexWithAK

    I mean, we have a mayor who’s seriously considering reopening Times Square to car traffic and has “profoundly mixed feelings” on those plazas. Seems like we’d be lucky just not to go backward at this point.

  • Joe Enoch

    I just wish we had a governor who had the fortitude to give Manhattan the automobile diet it so desperately needs. I feel like all these conversations — every time — lead to and end with Cuomo.

  • Joe Enoch

    Banning personal vehicles is a great idea, but truth be told, there are a lot of people with a lot of money that would eagerly pay a tax before giving up their personal vehicles, so why not tax (congestion pricing) the living hell out of ’em and give NYers the public transit they deserve?

  • ahwr

    How much is a lot of money? Do you mean the sort of people who are rich enough to buy a taxi license and have a cab company that exists solely to ferry them around to get around a ban on private vehicles?


  • Joe R.

    You could still have a congestion tax. My guess is even if we banned personal cars altogether from Manhattan without a congestion tax you would still get enough for hire vehicles and delivery vehicles to continue causing congestion. That would also mean you’ll probably collect as much or more via the congestion tax as you might if you didn’t ban private automobiles, perhaps more because businesses see the value in paying money to save time. As a general rule drivers of private automobiles don’t. The upside of banning private autos would mostly be a huge increase in available street space now that all those cars won’t need to be stored.

    That said, I like the general idea of taxing the hell out of private cars in the more congested parts of the outer boroughs. I’ll grant that driving is still sadly the only viable option for a lot of outer borough trips, but most of those trips starting or ending in the more congested areas have other options. Taxing trips into those areas makes lots of sense.

  • Joe R.

    You’re right but I have a good feeling de Blasio will be a one term mayor. He’s so bad on transportation issues that may well be the deciding factor for people next election. It’s important to remember the idea of banning personal cars from Manhattan has been talked about from before I was born (1962). Back then given the novelty of autos, the desire of the masses to own one, a ban probably wasn’t politically feasible. It may still not be now, but I feel each year we’re gradually inching closer, in that more and more of the city’s population is getting disgusted with the quality of life problems catering to private autos creates. Heck, 20 years ago I would have come out against a ban, 15 years ago maybe, but the last ten has put me firmly in the camp that the city will be better with far fewer personal autos, and none in Manhattan. We may well reach critical mass on this issue before the decade is out.

  • Emmily_Litella

    Why should he or any other politician take this on? Rational discourse has been virtually wiped out over most issues by now. How many ‘wars’ can we expect any politician to wage against opponents of smart reforms of all types? The motorheads, tabloids, republicans, liberty and freedom types would never let this go if he did champion Congestion Pricing. But neither should we. Conditions may improve for making headway, but I gave up on the big C a long time ago. He’s more interested in fantasy Airtrains to nowhere.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Private vehicles coming into Manhattan is insanity,” said Steve McLoughlin, an organizer with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 15, a union for black car drivers. “I don’t think that Manhattan can handle much more than the professional drivers, than the trucks that are necessary to supply our businesses, and the first responders.”

    Fine, as long as you don’t also expect those private drivers to fund the whole transit system. There is that contradiction that has to be worked through. Kind of like using taxes to discourage smoking and gambling, but then having the city and state budgets becoming addicted to people becoming addicted to tobacco and gambling.

  • bolwerk

    Why just Manhattan? I feel like it’s nearly as bad in the boroughs, where we get to act as a doormat for suburbanites traveling between Manhattan and their bedroom communities.

    I don’t see a POV ban being feasible, but definitely a huge scale-back in the amount of infrastructure dedicated to cars is in order.

  • Joe R.

    I’m all for a scaling down of POVs everywhere in the city. In my own eastern Queens neighborhood, traffic is so bad I really can’t enjoy riding or walking until after at least 8 PM or before about 6 AM. So yes, your idea resonates with me big time. I’m just feeling we need to start somewhere, with Manhattan being the most logical place. Once we see the advantages there, we could quickly do similar things in most of the rest of the city. Quite correct that the outer boroughs shouldn’t act as a doormat for suburban car commuters. Let them take commuter rail, or just find a job in the suburbs if they like driving to work.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    I think you are correct, there are a half dozen small moves that city could implement within a couple of months. These incremental changes would have a immediate positive effect on reducing congestion and import ing safety in CBD. MoveNY is the best solution, but if Albany prevents it fro happening then;

    1) Reduce/eliminate street parking in a CBD, convert parking to ( paid) loading zones or expanded pedestrian/cycling space

    2) Eliminate all free parking for all government employees in CBD

    3) Time signals on all avenues for 25 MPH

    4) On all Avenues or streets with many drivers exceeding 25 MPH install speed bumps. The exits from FDR and Hudson parkway are good examples of side streets needing speed bumps. NYPD will never ever enforce the 25 MPH speed limit, therefore speed bumps.

    5) In CBD, have all NYPD patrol cops walk to their beat instead of drive. They get there faster from the precint house. Only allow rank of LT or above the ability to use car.

    6) Open up a hundred or so side street blocks to people, using bollards. A section of street in front of every school in CBD should be fully opened to people. There are easily a dozen West Village & Midtown blocks which would greatly benefit from being opened to people. Nearly every side street in Wall Street are could be bollarded.

    7) Make Summer Streets the entire weekend and every weekend from July Fourth until Labor Day.

    8) Slash maintence budget of cars roadway by 3/4 in CBD and redirect funds to opening streets for people.

    9) install 15 miles of protected bike lanes in Manhattan in 2016. Protected Bike lanes have already been designed for Amsterdam, Second Avenue, Fifth, Sixth, the Death Zones on First Avenue. Install them

    10) Ban all cars from Central Park

    all of these items could be implemented relatively quickly as we saw during the JSK era. They are inexpensive and would improve safety and reduce congestion immensely

  • MattyCiii

    Brilliant observation, thank you!

  • peterdutton

    “Private vehicles coming into Manhattan is insanity,” said Steve McLoughlin, an organizer with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 15, *a union for black car drivers.*

    Yeah, so a union boss wants to eliminate the competition… http://i.imgur.com/mXyupD1.gif

  • Bernard Finucane

    Very true. The Soviet solution to bread shortages was to push bread production and cut prices. This just led to farmers feeding bread to the pigs, because it was cheaper than pigfeed.

  • com63

    That is pretty clever. I suppose he gets to use taxi only lanes and things like that? I’m sure people on NYC would try that if there were perks for taxis that other vehicles did not have.

  • van_vlissingen

    DeBlasio doesn’t need Albany for the fix that will have the most effect on driving throughout the boroughs. He can simply eliminate free parking in Manhattan, and the other downtowns – LIC, downtown Brooklyn, Bronx Hub, downtown Flushing, downtown Jamaica and put in Muni-Meters. The Muni-Meters should charge market rates – it should not be significantly cheaper to park on the street than it is to park in a garage.

    As Sam Schwartz said, there’s no reason that NYC is giving away the most expensive real estate on Earth for free. Higher street-parking rates mean more money in city coffers and less traffic. For those folks who decide they want to drive, they will have a much easier time finding a parking spot but they will also be paying their fair share.

  • J_12

    an outright ban on personal cars is just as bad as the current situation. Right now there is no cost (at least in direct dollars) to drive into manhattan from the other boroughs. under a ban, the cost would be infinite. both of these are arbitrary and do not respect the rights and ability of individuals to allocate public resources among themselves.

    A price-based system, while not perfect, does a much better job of allowing people to allocate the resource of street space among those who have the greatest willingness and ability to pay for it. Driving into, and in, manhattan should be fast, convenient, and expensive. In a sense it is a luxury good, since with very few exceptions no one needs to drive a private car into manhattan.

  • ohnonononono

    Do we really think that on-street parking has a huge impact on traffic congestion in Manhattan? During the hours of the day with the worst traffic congestion (rush hours) in the areas of Manhattan with the worst traffic congestion (Midtown) there is very little on-street parking allowed for non-commercial vehicles. A lot of spaces are commercial loading/no parking and after 6pm they become metered spots or free spots, as congestion starts to ease up. The financial district also has almost no on-street parking during the day.

    I agree with you that there is a lot of circling for on-street parking in the outer boroughs, but I don’t see much correlation between that and congestion in Manhattan. Unless we think people are just driving around trying to find an elusive free parking space near Grand Central all day?

  • Lisa

    NYC has many of the best hospitals in the country and there are many sick people who travel from the tri-state area for treatment. How could you possibly consider banning personal vehicles? These are not people who can take public transportation. How about commercial deliveries being limited to overnight hours?

  • Andrew

    I wonder how sick people without cars (and sick people too incapacitated to use their cars) manage to survive! Do they just shrivel up and die?

  • neroden

    I’m glad someone in some position of power is finally hearing this simple fact from enough voices to count as a consensus.

    It is, indeed, obvious. But this may be the first time that Gale Brewer would be willing to back it.

  • neroden

    I’ve seen people do it…. in the slightly-less-crowded parts of lower Manhattan, between Midtown and Downtown.

    The fact is that there isn’t much personal car traffic in Midtown; it’s mostly cruising taxis.

  • neroden

    Eh, everything in Manhattan is funded by property tax anyway.

  • neroden

    It would work just as well if the city, MTA, and Port Authority coordinated to toll *all* the motor vehicle bridges and tunnels leading into Manhattan. Inbound. Including the ones from the Bronx. At a sufficiently high rate.

  • neroden

    There’s been a lot of “all sizzle no steak” feeling about de Blasio on other issues too.

    Sure, de Blasio says he cares about the NYPD assaulting and killing innocent black people, but does he actually do anything about it? Like, say, replace Bratton with a hardass who will start arresting cops? No, he doesn’t.

  • neroden

    All NYPD cops should be prohibited from driving while on duty unless they’re specifically traffic cops, or detectives who are actually doing an investigation.

    As for speed bumps, they don’t work, people speed over them. Chicanes are the correct choice; people actually slow down for chicanes.

  • Joe R.

    Normally I agree with the idea of using higher prices to ration scarce goods. However, driving POVs is an activity which is harmful to the public. Pricing driving into Manhattan as a luxury good isn’t a whole lot different in principal than designating parts of our sidewalks as shooting ranges for those willing to pay. In both cases a slight error on the part of the participant results in injury or death.

    Of course, one might ask well what about the other vehicles going into Manhattan? Aren’t they just as dangerous as POVs? Why not ban them as well? In principal I would love a complete ban on any motor vehicle in Manhattan, indeed citiwide, larger than roughly the size of a e-bike, except of course on limited access highways. So my vision would be underground parking at highway exits, and you take some other mode the remainder of the way. Unfortunately, it isn’t even remotely practical to ban all motor vehicles. You need delivery vehicles, emergency vehicles, buses, construction vehicles, even for hire vehicles (at least for the disabled). These are still dangerous, but I feel on average they’re less dangerous than POVs because they’re driven by professional drivers. OK, we all have our anecdotes about incompetent professional drivers, but on average they’re better than the usual barely-trained novice operating a POV. Moreover, they have a vest interest driving carefully as it could cost them their job if they don’t.

    Long term I would obviously like to restructure things so most goods/services in NYC can be delivered by something other than motor vehicles. This may still not get us a complete ban on motor vehicles, but it will get us yet closer. Also, in the near term I would like to mandate only zero-emission vehicles be allowed on NYC streets. This is far easier to do when the only vehicles in Manhattan, perhaps much of the outer boroughs, would be fleet vehicles. When you have POVs coming in from all over, it would be very difficult to check them and turn back those which are not zero emissions.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    I think a argument could be made that in certain far flung areas of NYC ( SI for example ) – NYPD patrol cars are not a complete disaster. But agreed for most of NYC, cops in patrol cars is counterproductive.

    Speed Bumps are certainly not a perfect solution, but anything that works to slow drivers down to 25 MPH is a great idea

  • Alexander Vucelic

    he doesn’t mean ban – he means charge a market clearing price to enter CBD, like $20 or so

  • Bernard Finucane

    The taxi are absurdly oversized, and the lanes are much too wide. The city should restrict the width of taxis and lane widths.

  • Bernard Finucane

    Oh union bashing! How original! The great thing about bad ideas is that one size fits all.

  • Moving to Copenhagen

    We live in a motor vehicle traffic-choked shit hole. It doesn’t have to be this way. Our apparent inability to solve this problem, or even address is meaningfully, is such a massive failure of leadership and collective will. There is nothing that makes life worse in NYC for more people more of the time than the endless armada of horn-honking, exhaust-spewing, space-hogging, planet-cooking, child-killing motor vehicles that have taken over the city’s streets. I mean, truly — pick what you think is the worst urban ill — gun violence, poverty, lack of jobs, luxury condos, hipsters… you name it. Pretty sure you can make the case that cars in the city are worse and that if we truly attacked the problem of cars in the city, we’d make substantial headway in solving a lot of those other seemingly intractable problems.

  • peterdutton

    It’s not union bashing, it’s pointing out that someone who represents black car drivers is hardly a disinterested source.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    You really Think we shouldn’t build a 4 Lane highway through Washington Square ?

    Those plans have been in the Works for years…

  • Br’er Rabbit

    I worked at a major hospital center in Manhattan for many years, that attracted patients from the tri-State, and even beyond. Families might come in for appointments from PA – it was worth it to them to receive what’s considered better med care. People will drive hundreds of miles in heavy traffic to get their loved ones to better med care.

    Now, what would the alternative be? If someone is ill, they may not wish to take mass transit or the railroad. They could fly in, and many did take planes to attend their appointments from around the country (& around the world).

    But what about those who lived along the Eastern Seabord, who could be transferred by car, with their families (many times family would be there with the patients). They might need the privacy of their cars, as opposed to riding mass transit. Many were immuno-compromised and were required to avoid crowds – some might avoid air travel for the same reason. Also, some might not want to pay who knows how much money to hire an ambulance or a private car to transport them from S. or W. New Jersey or Upstate NY to the UES. So of course they either drove, or a member of their family drove them, to their appointments. The med centers include parking facilities sometimes directly connected by tunnel to the hospital, and vouchers are usually available.

    I think we need to be fair to the needs of seriously ill patients, and the reality of living with chronic illnesses; the traffic generated by the many thousands of patients streaming into Manhattan daily for appointments – ranging from treatments, to imaging appointments, to surgical procedures, is immense, and although we would like to see a car-free future, as Lisa says, because of the location of these med facilities in NYC, it is probably impossible to eliminate it (although some med centers are expanding into the tri-State, building outpatient facilities closer to where some patients live).

  • Br’er Rabbit

    I think you correctly identified car ownership as part of a cherished belief system, connected with private house (land) ownership, even gun ownership, the belief in free enterprise (and to heck with the other guy). It is a very Republican thing – to keep people on their quarter acre, driving a pickup truck with a gun rack – all these things symbolize independence (somehow) individuality whereas mass transit, density, bike lanes – sharing the road – gun control laws – might be anathema, as they represent sharing resources, more akin to the dreaded “socialism” as opposed to every individual having their own private car, private home, etc.

    You’re exactly right that cars might symbolize freedom to these people, and if they see bikes as also possibly symbolizing freedom, they may only see it as long as they’re mountain bikes, or bikes used for recreational purposes only. They would prefer not to use mass transit, that’s for sure. The US is still a car culture – even though it’s killing the environment and also leading to the epidemic of chronic diseases such as diabetes, because of the lack of activity.

    Cuomo governs a State that has a lot of Republicans in it, despite the State of NY being a reliably blue state overall. NYC might want a car diet, but how would that play in other parts of NYS? What would those residents think, and how might they vote next time he is up for re-election? You might also get opposition even from areas lacking much mass-transit such as E. Queens and SI – many in NYC drive, and of course they also vote.

    Until the congestion in NYC reaches a tipping point, cars will continue to stream into Manhattan. The E. River bridges will continue to be toll-free. However, the growth in traffic cannot go on forever, since space in Manhattan is finite. There needs to be a regional solution, with decentralization. Yet, many businesses, and certainly the r/e industry, are profitable because of density and high demand (therefore, price) for land, wherein business can enjoy foot traffic that is not available in other locations.

    Those that are making money out of our misery – the congestion and pollution – if they live in Manhattan, then they live in a cocoon of luxury; often they don’t even live in NYC anyway.

    Think about it. If the City were less crowded, less money could be made (less foot traffic, less sales, less demand for optimum properties). So why would any of these businesses that benefit from density want to cut down on the crowding? They’ll lose money if less people stream into NYC. Less cars = less people, at least that’s the way they see it.

  • Br’er Rabbit

    And the infill program @ NYCHA? Just continuing BB’s policy on that injustice – as if project dwellers don’t deserve light and air? We’ll see if many project dwellers vote for Mr. Two Cities next time. His plan to shoehorn luxury towers into project parks is going worsen the already pretty hopeless “other” city – of the poor.

  • Joe R.

    I’m thinking here of the fundamental injustice of these (mostly very well off) sick people who can afford to pay for Manhattan hospitals driving in and at the same time contributing to NYC’s air pollution problem, in turn making poor people sick. It’s like curing a broken finger by cutting it off. Surely there has to be a better way. Any good reason these people couldn’t drive to a park-and-ride somewhere in NJ or CT, then take the train the rest of the way? If family members are with them to help then any issues negotiating stairs wouldn’t really exist.

    Many were immuno-compromised and were required to avoid crowds on mass transit or packed stations – some might avoid air travel for the same reason.

    A car is hardly a sterile environment, especially if other family members are in it. Besides, as Andrew mentioned many sick people somehow manage to get to a doctor without needing a car.

    Also, some might not want to pay who knows how much money to hire an ambulette or private car to transport them from S. or W. New Jersey or Upstate NY to the UES.

    That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of treatment in Manhattan hospitals. Surely if they can afford treatments or appointments costing tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars they can afford those transportation costs.

  • Joe R.

    The irony here is MORE people can stream into Manhattan if they don’t come by car. Back when the east River bridges had trolleys and subways going over them more people used them than now. Traveling into Manhattan by car is all about not wanting to mix with the so-called unwashed masses.

    NYC might want a car diet, but how would that play in other parts of NYS? What would those residents think, and how might they vote next time he is up for re-election?

    They can’t even vote in local elections so why should NYC care what they think? Also, NYC has a right to allocate street space based on what benefits city residents the most. We have no inherent reason to roll out the red carpet for somebody driving in from the suburbs. How would someone in a small town upstate like it if millions of people from NYC drove and parked in their small town each day? Why then is it OK if the reverse happens?

    Then there’s also the fundamental illogic to the whole cars equal freedom thing which these people should be called out on. How is a device which costs many thousands to buy, and requires a annual cash outlay of many more thousands, a conduit to freedom? Now add in the facts you need to jump through the hoops to get a license to even use it, depend upon the state to build roads, depend upon other companies to fuel and service it, plus are subject to the whims of traffic. A car is a ball and chain, an expensive one at that. We need to keep repeating this until it sinks in. These people value freedom, the first thing they should do is ditch their cars and all the headaches associated with owning them. How many extra work hours each year is that car costing them over and above any supposed time savings from avoiding public transit? That’s assuming there are even any time savings driving. Arguably if we’re talking about driving into Manhattan the time savings is negative.

    Can we just call these people what they really are, which is fools? They fell for the bill of goods the auto companies sold them hook, line, and sinker.

  • Br’er Rabbit

    There are some very big and very powerful City and State, and business interests behind the major medical centers in NYC (Mt. Sinai, NYU, Col-Presby, etc). It’s not so easy to alter a successful business model – which counts on many from out of town streaming into the City by car, or sometimes public transportation, or plane to get to what everyone agrees is better med care.

    Planes are also highly polluting but we can’t stop all air travel because of the air pollution. The economy would grind to a halt if air transportation ceased. (Just being a Devil’s advocate here – I know you won’t say all air travel should cease.)

    There are plenty from the 5 boroughs who are willing to sit in traffic to avoid taking public transportation to appointments, or summon Accessoride/ambulette – usually there’s a legit medical reason, such as they’re too elderly, too weak, they can’t risk injury and so forth. A lot of older people fear falling for any reason since broken bones don’t heal as fast for an older person and the complications of a fall sometimes lead to death. It’s the opposite of young people, who feel “immortal” – that nothing can happen to them, and may develop “sharp elbows” or have the muscle/mass to force their way onto crowded train cars. An older person becomes more cautious as they get older; it also may become physically more difficult for them to climb stairs. Sometimes you see younger people giving their seats to older people on the train or bus because an older person isn’t exactly the same as a younger person.

    Chronic diseases can sometimes be very difficult. Some patients aren’t adversely affected that much, can cope and proceed with life, hardly miss any work, and nobody finds out they are actually ill and receiving med treatment, but others are not so lucky.

    Sometimes chronic diseases can go on for years – maybe 20 years or more. It’s an advancement that society can give people so many more years of life.

    Try to see things from the point of view of the patient: Suppose you were diagnosed with a bad blood disorder – the treatment you might need might go on for months. You might require a bone marrow transplant which might work or might not. All this costs hundreds of thousands of dollars – much more than any ordinary person can afford. Insurance picks up the cost most of the time although, you are right, there are extremely wealthy people who can pay even if they do not have med ins. What would you do? What would you do if you could not ride a bike or even take the train, because you were too weak and might tumble down the stairs or into the tracks, or worse still, might clearly be perceived as an “easy target” to a mugger (old/sick/weak/stumbling/alone). You are going to avoid making yourself vulnerable, and depending on where you live, you are either going to go by cab, by ambulette, or if coming from the ‘burbs or beyond, someone will drive you back and forth – because the slim chance of survival may depend on a treatment, and the expertise to safely administer the treatment, that’s only available at a particular med center in Manhattan. Believe me, most people of any income bracket wanna live, they don’t just pack it in and give up, they do try a million different treatment regimens, they keep trying, keep getting procedures and so forth – they force the drs to keep thinking of things, keep coming up with other approaches. You have no idea how strong the will to live is in people who have just been given very serious diagnoses. They do not give up. I’m sure you too wouldn’t just give up and resign yourself to your “fate.” Life is selfish that way. These people absolutely have no thought of the pollution the plane or car is causing if their lives are on the line. And the will to hold on to loved ones is even stronger, Joe. You cannot force these families or people to give up and not come to Manhattan – they won’t accept it, even if they are environmentalists. The survival, even for a few months, of their loved ones, or themselves, trumps everything. A lot of families go through this anguish, and it’s always the same story: They do the utmost for each other, and for themselves, even in the most extreme/hopeless situations, they always hope. This explains why Medicaid and Medicare are such Federal gigantic budget items – maybe the biggest items after the military budget. Every American demands the best possible medical care, they feel its owed to them after a lifetime of paying taxes into the Fed med ins system, this seems to be a universal. They’ll drive or take a plane to get the better care. Meanwhile, yes, everyone is paying tax to finance the Fed med ins system, paying tax our entire working life.

    Unfortunately, the truth is, many people do eventually come down with some form chronic illness; since most people understand this fact, they don’t mind paying the Fed med ins tax, since they know they too probably will benefit from the Fed med ins one day.

    No, a car is not really a sterile environment, but certain patients are advised to avoid crowds and especially air travel. So they might need to drive in from Philly rather than take the train. It sounds crazy but a “normal” cold germ or some other bacteria that’s like nothing for most of us, can be a big headache for these people – they might end up in the hospital on iv antibiotics or antiviral medicine whereas for a person with an intact immune system, exposure to the same bug will be meaningless.

    There’s always been environmental injustice. NYC’s garbage – isn’t it dumped in rural areas that don’t mind taking it? NYC imposes its trash on less well-off areas – isn’t that unjust?

    So much of NYC is toxic anyway, because of NY’s long industrial history. NYC and even Manhattan, was a center of dirty industry from the beginning. Many of the new parks you see on the de-industrialized portions of the waterfront are no doubt sitting on brown-fields – contained if not mitigated. The E. River is no better. Every time there’s more than a quarter inch of rain, CSO (combined sewage overflow) pours into the river because the City hasn’t built enough sewage treatment plants. Isn’t that unjust? Yet that’s the way things are; we live in a City that’s surrounded very often with raw sewage, including many potentially deadly bacteria. The more you find out about our City, the more you realize how miraculous it is that we survive at all, considering the pollution generated by oil burners, power generating stations, traffic, the pollution that is already on the soil surface or under the soil, and the pollution in the waterways. If I’m not mistaken, most Cities are in the same boat, though, given that the US has always been an industrial power-house etc.

    No, Manhattan certainly isn’t pristine – and eliminating cars won’t make it that much more pristine either. Cars are no the major source of AP – dirty oil burners & power plants are. There are undoubtedly toxic substances throughout Manhattan – in the soil, or underneath, such as from oil/chemical spills. And think of the years of lead paint, of asbestos, of improper demolition of asbestos-laden building before the link of asbestos to illness was discovered. The WTC disaster alone was a huge public health catastrophe, the extent of which probably wont be apparent for another couple of decades, as the long-term effect of exposure to the toxins and tons of asbestos those buildings contained become apparent. It only takes a tiny amount of asbestos to cause harm.
    If you think the car exhaust of already sick people traveling in to appointments to Manhattan makes a significant difference, considering the dirt in the City, and all the car exhaust from the City resident car owners, or the even bigger problem of the air pollution caused by oil burners burning dirty oil, please think again.

    Even though NYC is not pristine, NYC remains a central location for a number of industries, such as medicine, med research, scholarship, publishing, media, the financial industry, fashion, and the #1 city in terms of population in the country. The people who work in these Manhattan-centric industries many times do not live near their jobs. So would you penalize nurses, med researchers, doctors, advertising executives, fashion designers, who travel in to NYC by car from NJ or upstate – even though plenty of people from the 5 boroughs also do the same thing (drive into work)? Doctors can make it in to NYC from central NJ very early in the am in less than a half hour – zipping along the roads in NJ and through the tunnel to the hospitals, because there is little to no traffic at that hour. This is sometimes what they do. If they did not drive, there might not be much train service at 5 or 6 am, or the trip by train might necessitate several transfers, in addition to additional train/bus rides in NYC. Their trip might take over an hour, and then there’s the possibility of delays – some might have surgical procedures booked back to back starting at 7, or meetings that start at 8; their time is actually worth a lot; if you were a dr, or an executive, and even if you knew it was the environmentally just thing to do to take mass transit, you might prefer to drive in to save time, if you were clocking long days, everyday. Many workers drive back and forth exactly for these reasons – there are no convenient transit links where they live, or they are forced to commute by car because the trip by train would take a long time. It might be cheaper to drive – especially with the cost of fuel declining. Others don’t mind driving to a park ‘n’ ride and taking the railroad to Penn or Grand Central.

    How can you reduce traffic in Manhattan? The only answer is increased transportation infrastructure, including bikeways and mass transit. But we all know how long it takes to build a new train line and even the expansion of the protected bike lane infrastructure is inexplicably dragging, although it’s relatively cheap to put in a protected bike lane. And yet deBlasio is arguing for more density, as if there’s not enough density already. Along with density, you’ll inevitably get more congestion, as the transportation infrastructure can’t keep up with the new crowds of residents. Transportation infrastructure including protected bike lanes has to go in first, before more density is allowed. But deBlasio doesn’t understand that, so the congestion, crowding, traffic, and chaos everyone complains about, is probably going to get much worse, with the ongoing r/e boom, that deBlasio is playing right along with, probably because the r/e industry is the major source of his campaign funding.

  • Br’er Rabbit

    Other than in the metro areas, where there is mass transit, people must drive. The number who commute by bike in the US is (still) under 1%.

    Suppose you lived in Indiana, in a rural area. You would probably be driving a truck and it might be bit of a drive to the nearest store. You couldn’t take mass transit because it’d be non-existent. You could take a bike, but then, how much could you carry home? You could use a bike trailer, but how secure is it – and how secure might you be, riding along an isolated road dragging along a couple of hundred dollars of groceries from Costco? A truck might come along, and a thief might not only steal your groceries, which can’t be secured under lock and key, but also steal your bike and trailer, which they could simply put in their truck to steal. Then you might be in big trouble depending on what the thief decides to do next. The same trip, had you taken it in your truck, you might not have gotten robbed, especially if you had a gun rack in your truck (i.e. the potential robbers saw that you are armed). It sounds like the Wild West but unfortunately, there are bad people out there, and they sometimes do bad things. I think women especially may feel more personally secure driving, since they can gun the motor to get rid of a goon or escape a potentially threatening situation. Unless the area is largely crime-free women may feel more vulnerable or exposed riding a bike; riding a bike in a rural area, someone could not only snatch their bike and belongings (wallet/money/shopping) but even snatch them.

    I think it is terrible that it has come to this, given that the US didn’t always have a dependency on cars. However, it’s going to be quite difficult to pry people from what some may see as “protection” in some ways not just as a means of transportation.

    We’re used to a grocery store on every corner, everything in walking or cycling distance – but the vast majority of the land area of the US is not urban. Cars may be a necessity in these areas, not a luxury. They can’t be as popular as they are simply as status symbols. You also get protection from the elements which may be a necessity in particularly cold climates or hot/humid areas, and at least a sense of enhanced personal security. In urban areas, though, that are well-served by mass transit, the question is, why do people use cars? Some of the reasons are exactly why people in rural areas use cars/trucks: More secure, can run multiple errands at the same time, can carry large amounts of goods/numbers of people (family members) at once, climate controlled, electronic features may keep driver updated on conditions which may be an advantage over cycling, wherein by and large it may be unwise for cyclists to glance at onboard computers etc (even if bikes are equipped with them one day) whereas motorists can get info from electronics (such as GPS) at stop signs or red lights without putting themselves or others in danger. It’s hard to believe people would drive in Manhattan though since it’s literally criss-crossed with train and bus lines, and is in general a neat orderly grid wherein it’s not so easy to get lost, but some might wish to shop at several different locations in one day, and if parking is available, it might be quicker or more convenient to drive rather than take mass transit. You can also put your purchases in the trunk, under lock and key, while you go to the next store – not something that in general is possible using a bike, or on foot – depending on how much one wishes to buy per shopping trip, this may or may not be a problem. You will often see people at malls putting loads of shopping into the trunks of their cars before returning to the stores to resume shopping. This was common before the ’08 economic downturn. On the usual urban shopping trip – for example, for clothes – you might end up toting a number of shopping bags at the end of the day, and take a train or cab home. That is possible, since clothes can be fairly easily transported in shopping bags. But, what if you wish to purchase bulkier or heavier items, such as mass quantities of food at Costco? Some buy a few hundreds of dollars of food at a time at Costco – the only way to safely transport these purchases is by car (because of weight/bulk – also the value of merchandise might make it preferable to transport it by car/truck; also in warm weather, frozen/refrigerated food might not melt/heat up as fast in a climate-controlled car as opposed to via bike or on foot). A car or truck may be the only way to bring mass amounts of food back (probably is sometimes shared out among relatives/in families).

  • Maggie

    I’ve biked across rural Indiana and the top risk, without question, was being hit by a car.

    The density stats are revealing. Indiana’s population is about 6.5 million, statewide: less people across the state than live in the NYC metro area. Indianapolis has a metro area population of about 2 million people: a little smaller than Brooklyn, for population, and just the city boundaries for Indy are 25% larger than the NYC five boroughs. Indiana’s second city, Fort Wayne, has a population about comparable to the Upper West Side, with land area that’s 5x the size of Manhattan.

    If Indiana was as densely populated as NYC is, driving around in a single-occupant car would make a lot less sense.

  • Joe R.

    On the planes, I might actually say most passenger air travel should cease. In this world of Internet connectivity the vast majority of business travel can be eliminated. I know people like to travel on the company’s dime, and some like face-to-face interaction. However, the price for that is just too high. The bigger problem with planes isn’t the pollution, which is substantial, but the noise. Several million people in NYC are subject to constant noise from planes for much of the day. Long term we should be looking at replacements for planes. Domestically, high-speed rail could fill much of that void. Internationally, maglev in evacuated tubes would work. In fact, it would offer far faster travel, like NYC to London in 45 minutes. It would also be a major engineering challenge, but one for which the payoff would be worthwhile.

    I don’t think sick people coming for treatment in NYC by car are adding all that much to air pollution or traffic but like anything else all these little things add up. We would probably get the most bang for the buck getting all suburban and outer borough car commuters to switch to alternate modes than getting sick people to do so. Nevertheless, my point here is no matter the reason you’re coming to NYC, to me it makes more sense to park near a train station 5 or 10 miles out of the city, take the train, than to drive in. Manhattan traffic is horrendous. Tell me sitting in it isn’t a significant source of stress for sick or elderly people.

    As for doctors and other health care professionals driving into Manhattan, my take on this is for personal and professional reasons it makes more sense for them to live in Manhattan. Doctors can certainly afford to. Others might need a hospital dormitory or something similar. I recall that a neighbor’s son who became a doctor actually had to get an apartment near his Manhattan hospital. To me this is eminently sensible. If there’s a health crisis, you want your doctors and other key personal on call within easy walking or biking distance of the facility, not 50 miles away in NJ. Also, as hard to replace professionals, I would want doctors to rarely or never use a dangerous mode like cars at all, and certainly not to ever be the one driving. If they must use a car, they should be driven so they can concentrate on medical matters during the trip. It’s all about making the best use of a person who society invested considerable resources in to train. I feel the same about other highly-trained, hard to replace professionals like engineers. They should live within walking or at least public transit distance of where they work.

    Transportation infrastructure including protected bike lanes has to go in first, before more density is allowed.

    Yes, exactly. I’ve already taken considerable flak on these boards for coming out against density increases in my own eastern Queens neighborhood. The reason isn’t because I’m against replacing single family homes with townhouses or small apartment buildings. I think that would be great. Rather, it’s because we lack transit here. What transit exists is geared mainly for getting people to and fro Manhattan, not around the area. Without better transportation infrastructure, all density increases will do is make the already bad traffic problems here untenable. It will be likewise elsewhere in the city. We need SBS here, we need more bike lanes, if need be above the street, we need more subways, preferably set up to allow interborough trips as well as trips to Manhattan. Do all this before increasing density, not after. Remember the first subways went to what was then practically greenfields. Those areas became denser much faster as a result.

  • bolwerk

    Doesn’t make him wrong. His workers probably see first hand how inefficient POVs are, whatever financial skin he has in the game.

  • Joe R.

    Yes, that’s exactly it. Cars are ideally suited to a place like Indiana where you may literally be miles from your nearest neighbor. In NYC cars make no more sense than a subway in rural Indiana would make.

    I’ve biked in rural NJ and frankly it scares me more than biking on a busy NYC arterial. When you’re on a narrow shoulder, with vehicles whizzing by a few feet away at 60 or 70 mph, you start thinking all it takes is a moment of inattention by the driver and you’re dead. I would guess though at least in Indiana the roads are so empty you can hear a vehicle coming from a long way off, and have plenty of time to get out of the way. Not so in rural NJ where the two lane highways were often packed with vehicles going at high speeds.

  • bolwerk

    Prediction: eventually more streets will go car free, it will work great (because, why wouldn’t it?), and most people who complain will find something else to complain about.

    Congestion pricing, bike lanes, light rail, more SBS, ped plazas, East River tolls, and car-free streets are all basically in the same boat: once introduced, they generally work great, so the people who are against them have to stop them before they start – something they do pretty successfully in a lot of cases.

  • Joe R.

    Note that I was mainly referring to the people who own cars and drive when other options are available. That’s largely the case in the NYC metro area, and definitely the case in most of NYC proper. For example, I’ve gotten by just fine without a car in eastern Queens, even though some people insist you need one here.

    Obviously in most of the US a car is still sadly a necessity. However, that being the case, why must it take the form of a 2 or 3 ton, gas-powered monstrosity? Why not a streamlined EV weighing well under 1,000 pounds? That would be fine for passenger transport, or even trips to most big box stores. On the rare occasion you might be buying more than the car can hold, perhaps at Home Depot, you can have them deliver.

  • Maggie

    Actually in small towns in Indiana, a lot of people use golf carts to get around. It’s a funny little quirk.


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