Today’s Headlines

  • 11 Pols Raise the Prospect of a 14th Street Busway With DOT and the MTA (Gothamist)
  • Cuomo Sends MTA Board Nominees to Senate, Again (Politico, WNYC, SAS); Why the Delay? (CapTon)
  • More Coverage of the Vehicular Killing of Leah Sylvain (News, Post)
  • De Blasio Zoning Rewrite Made It Easier to Mix Supportive Housing and Retail (Crain’s)
  • MTA’s Bus Stop Consolidation for M23 Select Bus Service Will Leave 20th Street Stop As Is (DNA)
  • Queens City Council Delegation Wants DOT to Study Reviving Service on LIRR’s Montauk Branch (News)
  • Protesters Make the MTA Pay for NYPD’s Aggressive Fare Evasion Enforcement (AMNY)
  • Cheap Oil — Terrible for Life on Earth, Terrific for Staten Island Pols (Advance)
  • Tom Wroblewski: If I Ran Over a Kid on a Bike, the Real Victim Would Be Me (Advance)
  • Yesterday’s Motor Mayhem, Starring NYPD (Post, News 1, 2, 3)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

  • Joe R.

    If you want to analyze this a bit more, consider you can actually grow most fresh produce locally. I’ve already done it in my yard. No need for those intensive resources you mentioned. If you don’t feel like doing this, no reason NYC can’t have its own rooftop or park farming industry. It’s not a given that fresh produce MUST be energy intensive. Also, there are trace nutrients here which aren’t really well documented as to their value, but which most likely can’t easily be replaced by supplements. It may well be that natural food is closer to a need than a want. I’ve heard debates on both sides.

    As for travel, you’re looking at this from the perspective of someone who has traveled a lot, probably more than most people do in several lifetimes. You can only miss what you’ve experienced. Someone who has rarely traveled might not be any the wiser or less happy for it. The problem with humans is their wants can be insatiable. Give them a little taste of something and many are never satisfied. We see this with people like Trump who have more wealth than you or I can spend in 100 lifetimes, but who keep trying to get more. I don’t know if it’s an American thing or a human failing, but I do know the planet can’t deal with catering to the wants of 7 billion people.

  • No need to mention “eons”. Kevin was referring to the modern age.

    The important point is that there is no place within the four significant boroughs where needs cannot be met by means of biking, walking, and public transit. This includes even southern Brooklyn and eastern Queens.

  • We already know that one need not have a car in order to travel around New York City, or in order to commute to one of its typical job centres.

    And neither is a car necessary for everyday chores such as grocery shopping. Someone riding an ordinary road bike or mountain bike can carry as many as four bags of groceries simply by hanging the bags on the handlebars. A bike equipped with a basket could carry more; and a cargo bike could carry a great deal more. We thus see that even someone who is shopping for four or more people could easily use a bike as the main means of bringing home groceries.

    So a personal auto is not a necessity for commuting, for general travel within the City, or for grocery shopping.

    Buying a TV? Get it delivered. Visiting someone out of town? Rent a car. Dealing with some other unexpected occurrence that requires immediate attention? Call a cab.

    There are of course some jobs which involve the regular hauling of tools, of supplies, or of machinery. In those cases a car, van, or truck is necessary.

    But for the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers, all needs, whether regular or extraordinary, can be well met without resorting to to the selfish act of driving a personal auto.

    The personal auto is fundamentally incompatable with the urban setting, nowhere moreso than in New York. Furthermore, car ownership is a choice which imposes tremendous costs on the community, and one which sane social policy would strongly discourage.

  • AMH

    Speaking of overkill, I’ve always wondered why we use concrete for sidewalks. It’s certainly not necessary for foot traffic. Even when sidewalks or other footpaths are done with pavers, the foundation is poured concrete with a layer of asphalt.

  • AMH

    I’ve thought about that too. Would brick support trucks and buses? It would certainly work for sidewalks that carry only foot traffic.

  • Joe R.

    The bricks themselves will support heavy vehicles just fine. The problem is whatever is underneath the brick. You would like need a layer of compacted gravel topped with compacted sand.

    An interesting variation on this concept might be to use a concrete subroadbed and asphalt or concrete road everywhere except directly above utilities. You could have gravel, sand, then bricks above the utilities. Need to do utility work? Really easy. The street can be returned to like new condition when you’re done. You could run the utilities under the light duty parts of the street, like parking lanes or bike lanes. You can use the same concept where utilities might run perpendicular to the street to access buildings. You would have a mostly concrete or asphalt road with periodic crossings of brickwork maybe one or two feet wide. It would look nice. It would solve the entire problem of patchwork streets.

  • Mike
  • Simon Phearson

    I think there is absolutely an objective, demonstrable case to be made that people’s food preferences are ecologically devastating and that any long-term policy planner would be well-advised to try to drive food preferences in a particular direction, notwithstanding people’s food preferences to the contrary.

    In this case, you’ve imagined an unpalatable scenario, but you’ve ignored one that is both more realistic and salient: the unsustainable rate at which Americans consume meat. If we were to take an objective look at the kinds of ecological (and some would say, moral) harms imposed by our meat industries, I think we would have to admit that shaping policy based on the preferences people express is a bad idea. We shouldn’t be encouraging meat production, making it less expensive, or encouraging people to eat more meat. We should be doing everything we can to try to convince people to make other food choices.

    I might not go so far as to say we should “ban” the production or consumption of meat, but the point is to demonstrate that it’s perfectly sensible to take the position that expressed preferences should not drive policy. Indeed, in most cases, people develop preferences in response to those policies we’ve previously chosen, so the notion that people’s “wants” should matter when formulating policy is inherently circular.

    When it comes to city planning – we have a finite amount of space. City planners have a difficult job to do, deciding how to use the land that we do have in a way that encourages a thriving economy that keeps residents employed and tax revenues flowing. Land use is one part of that; transportation is another. From that perspective, it’s quite reasonable to conclude that private auto use should be discouraged for certain kinds of trips. These would be: trips to dense urban centers along corridors that could support efficient mass transit and short trips that can be walked or biked. From a city-planning perspective, private auto use should serve a last-resort, gap-filling role. To argue that the “desires” of drivers should instead elevate driving so that it occupies a more central role in the transportation hierarchy is to argue, in essence, in favor of a transportation system that serves all residents less well than other alternatives, in order to serve the narrow interests of certain drivers. It makes no sense to do so.

  • reasonableexplanation

    I respectfully disagree!

    True you can get from any part of NYC to manhattan in a reasonable amount of time. But, using your example; going from southern brooklyn TO eastern queens is a breeze via a car, and not worth doing via transit.

    If your travel consists mostly of commuting to manhattan, you probably don’t need a car. If you have friends and family scattered among the boros, the calculus changes quickly.

  • Joe R.

    It’s a breeze by bike, too. I made a trip from my place to my friend’s place in Coney Island. It took 1:20 each way fighting headwinds both ways. I could probably have done it in 1:10 under more favorable conditions. It can take as long to do the same trip by car. Best case it takes about 35 minutes.

  • reasonableexplanation

    Interesting point on growing your own food, but, surprisingly:

    It’s not as good as you think.

    You can only miss what you’ve experienced.

    I can’t agree with you more!

    I do know the planet can’t deal with catering to the wants of 7 billion people.

    Why not? 7 billion people at a density equal to that of NYC can fit in Texas:

    The earth is pretty empty.

  • reasonableexplanation

    There are 3 tiers of travel:

    Long distance: Plane all day.

    Medium Distance (<8 hours drive time):
    Depends. If there's a fast train, and you're going city to city, great. But, as an example: NYC-Montreal takes 11 hours by train, that goes once per day. Additionally, I still have to get to and from the central stations on both ends.

    Or I could fly: 90 min flight time, but you have to get to the airport 2 hours in advance, plus, you still have to get to and from the airport…

    It's about a 7 hour drive door to door, and you can stop whenever you want for food/ to stretch.

    So it's kind of a wash.

    Short distance:
    Depends where and when; car, bike, walk, transit all options here.

  • Joe R.

    It’s not a question of space, it’s one of resources. The American way of life is very resource intensive. We’ve single-handedly depleted much of the world’s oil supply, used most of the arable land in the US to grow food, polluted China by outsourcing our manufacturing there. The issue is more how we achieve our lifestyle than anything else. In a world where virtually everything was recycled using sustainable energy sources, where cities had vertical farming, the planet might support 1 trillion people. The planet won’t even support 1 billion people long term living the way we do in the US.

    The only silver lining is birth rates seem to decline drastically as countries develop more. Japan already has a negative birth rate. If that happens for the entire planet soon we might be down to a manageable population in 150 or 200 years. Or not if medical science ends up drastically extending lifespans.

  • reasonableexplanation

    I think you illustrate my point well: 1:20 vs 35min… that’s quite a big difference. Plus you just biked for over an hour, so you’re at least a little bit exhausted and sweaty.

    Also, if it were raining, you probably wouldn’t have made that trip at all.

    Now, nothing wrong with that, I’ve biked to my friends places in Queens from southern Brooklyn myself, but on days where I had the time. Usually, I have other things to do that day, so I drive.

  • reasonableexplanation

    I don’t think Japan’s negative birth rate is something to aspire to. Have you read how many problems that’s causing?

    Declining population is generally not something humanity knows how to deal with effectively.

  • Joe R.

    HSR could drastically change that calculus by basically making just about all medium distance trips faster than driving, even including waiting times plus times to get to the train station. NYC to Montreal should be about a 3 hour train trip, for example. Add maybe 30 minutes on each end getting to/from the stations, plus 30 minutes slack time. That puts you at 4.5 hours door-to-door. If we had train service like this, there would be enough demand to probably make hourly departures feasible.

  • Joe R.

    Most of the problems are economic. Most exist because we have a house-of-cards support system for older people, like Social Security in the US, which depends upon a certain number of workers supporting one retired person. There’s also the problem of caring for the elderly but robotic labor will largely provide a solution within a generation.

    Wall Street is another problem here. The idea of “growth” out to infinity doesn’t hold on a planet with finite resources. Maybe we’ll mine asteroids before it’s too late. But in the meantime I think we need to adjust our economic models to deal with declining population and stagnant, perhaps negative, growth. I really feel resource constraint is one major reason why the current recovery is so anemic. It’s not that resources are depleted yet, but rather that they’re too expensive to fuel much growth. I don’t see how it can be fixed, either, other than when we can cheaply mine space. That’s decades away.

  • reasonableexplanation

    When it does, let me know.

    By the way, the amtrak train isn’t slow because of the hardware. If you notice, it’s average speed is 34mph from NYC to montreal for several reasons:
    1. It makes stops
    2. There’s one track, so it has to wait in the middle for the train going the opposite direction.
    3. The border takes a while, since customs has to talk to every single person on the train.
    4. Towns along the route set speed limits for the train through their town.

    If in 30 years or however long it takes, we can get a sub 5 hour ride to Montreal, (I still have to budget an hour to get to Penn station), I’ll gladly take it. Until then, it’s not even close to competitive.

  • Joe R.

    35 minutes is under ideal conditions. When my friend drives to me, it usually takes him 50 minutes to an hour. A few times it’s taken well over 1.5 hours. It’s 22 miles by car the way he goes, 17.5 miles by bike the way I go.

    E-bike is the answer to arriving exhausted and sweaty (I was neither by the way since it was December and I went at a moderate pace). With e-bike it’s probably less than an hour.

  • bolwerk

    They’ve already surfaced. Anemic demand has been keeping westernized economies in the doldrums since the first Bush Administration, if not before. Thanks to the impending victory of Billary 2.0, I rather doubt it will change any time soon. It’s very bad, but I see no reason to exaggerate it into an apocalyptic problem. It’s still kind of a trivial matter next to waves lapping up against Nassau Street.

    There is the possibility of supply shortages caused by global warming feeding a different kind of financial crisis though. Liberal internationalists crow about how people are going to be going to war over water in the 21st century. Maybe that’s so.

  • Joe R.

    Other than along the NEC and a few other lines, Amtrak runs diesel trains which inherently can’t get out of their own way. Add to that 79 mph limits on most track, plus running on freight lines where Amtrak trains take sidings to give freights priority. That’s all why you have low average speeds. You can easily do customs checks while the train is moving if you have customs officials on board. Don’t know why towns should set speed limits for trains, either. That’s a great example of the NIMBYism which keeps rail travel dysfunctional in this country.

    Turn the Chinese loose here for about a decade doing what they did in China. You’ll have a three hour train to Montreal, a 5 or 6 hour train to Chicago, probably HSR along the entire east coast which gets you from NYC to Miami in under 10 hours.

    The sad fact is train travel in the US isn’t viable because auto, airline, and big oil lobbies have wanted it to remain that way. Long distance driving can’t compete with HSR over any distance. Planes can’t compete under about 500 miles, perhaps even out to 1000 miles. They know it, and that’s why they try to stop it. Here’s a good read on the subject:

    The real answer here is to either kill the oil, airline, and auto lobbies, or make the high-speed rail lobby stronger than all of them.

  • reasonableexplanation

    Since we’re talking in hypotheticals; why not improve road regulation alongside rail?

    Is there any reason I shouldn’t be able to drive ~100mph on the way to Montreal, once I get about an hour out of the city?

  • Joe R.

    I personally have no problem with that. In fact, I’ve long advocated for properly set highway speed limits. In fact, doing so kind of dovetails with my goal of making autos more efficient in general. SUVs would be horribly inefficient at 100 or 125 mph. They probably wouldn’t be stable at those speeds anyway. Much higher highway speeds would result in more efficient, more streamlined, lower cars. That will improve mpg (or range for EVs) at all speeds.

    BTW, a few times in the 1980s I made the trip with my brother from my grandmother’s in Utica to home in three hours flat. That’s a 90 mph average. We were mostly doing about 110 on the Thruway. Those speeds seem perfectly sane to me.

  • reasonableexplanation

    Agreed with all of this, however; one caveat; I’ve driven a whole bunch of cars up to the 3 digit mark. The one that was the most stable (by far), was surprisingly a large minivan. The tesla model S was second, and sports coupes came in at a close third. After that came sedans and medium sized SUVs, which had about the same level of squirellyness at those speeds (I haven’t driven enough large trucks to really make a judgement on them).

  • Joe R.

    I’ve been in a minivan at ~100 mph myself. The decent aerodynamics are what makes it stable. My mom’s car (a 2006 300C) feels more squirrelly at 100 mph than my brother’s 1997 Mark VIII (which incidentally we both think would make a great EV conversion once the engine dies).

  • JamesR

    I hope you were using raised beds for that urban produce of yours, as the soils within most of NYC are known to contain not-insignificant amounts of lead and other nasty stuff due to air pollution.

  • JamesR

    “That’s third world”

    LOTS of things in this city are third world. The driving culture, the trash sitting on the sidewalk reeking in the sun, the filth in the subway. NYC is an international city that only happens to be located in America, so you can’t really judge it by the standards of the so called first-world.

  • JamesR

    There’s a new NYC-based car blog called The Drive that is coming at a lot of the same issues that Streetsblog takes on, but from a motoring-based perspective on mobility. It’s rather interesting to see some of the same issues raised re: infrastructure, the interface between cars and cities, etc. from the two perspectives.

    I also own a car and use it quite frequently (4x a week) to get out of the city for work. Without access to one, I’d probably have to leave. I’m 100% bike/public transit/walking within the boroughs. There should be a place here for people like me. After all, there is an urban renaissance going on with folks moving into cities, many of whom are inevitably going to end up reverse commuting to suburban jobs.

  • Joe R.

    Actually I dug out all the existing soil (which had way too much clay to grow stuff ) down to 18 inches, then replaced it with vermiculite and top soil from a gardening center. I also periodically put in some compost. I wouldn’t grow anything I intend on eating in “native” soil.

  • Joe R.

    I found an old picture (this is a picture of a picture so excuse the low quality). I made concrete borders to keep grass out, then prepared the soil as I described earlier.

  • ahwr

    You think the savings of maybe 13-28% for concrete over asphalt roads (according to a concrete association) will pay for cutting short the remaining life of all utilities under the road so they can be relocated to a trench, and plenty of infrastructure not under the road – like 50 year old water mains to hook up adjacent houses that fall apart when you try to disconnect them from the old pipes and hook them up to the new ones, and the concrete stairs etc…on top of those pipes etc…Is there a comparable issue with gas and power lines too?

    Some of what’s under the streets won’t be replaced for 50 years unless it breaks. Any kind of incremental approach would be hard to work too.

  • ahwr

    Percentage wise gas prices should not be expected to fall as much as oil. Because oil isn’t the only cost involved in selling gasoline. In summer 2008 at the peak of ~$4 a gallon national average only $3 was from oil.

    What do you think food prices explain here?

  • JamesR

    Props to you. Wish I had a little space for such things here in the NW Bronx. If I ever leave the city, it’ll be so I can do stuff like this.

  • reasonableexplanation

    Sounds interesting; but I haven’t been able to find this blog; do you have a link?

  • reasonableexplanation

    There it is!

  • Simon Phearson

    What, a reasonable argument that policy shouldn’t cater to the desires of the people to be subject to it, and that we should instead design our policy based on the ends the policy is intended to achieve?