Yet Another Report: Yes, Mr. Mayor, Carmageddon is Coming

Photo: Isaac Blasenstein
Photo: Isaac Blasenstein

We could just cut-and-paste it from about 50 previous stories, but here goes: Manhattan’s central business district will become gridlocked with cars — no matter how strongly the economy roars back — unless city officials immediately “prioritize road and street space for pedestrians, cyclists, buses and high-occupancy vehicles,” a new report says.

The Regional Plan Association studied two scenarios for the rebounding economy: A “stalled” recovery where commuters to Manhattan below 59th Street return to only 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels, and a “steady” recovery with two-thirds of workers returning. How many people is that? It’s a half-million to one million more people traveling into Manhattan than when the economy was locked down in April.

mode share into manhattan
Source: RPA

In either scenario, transit ridership fails to fully recover — and largely well-to-do commuters, who have access to cars, take advantage of ample roadways. Of the 250,000 commuters who typical use cars to get into Manhattan, a large portion is from Long Island, northern New Jersey and upstate New York (see chart).

“The roads will fill up, while transit ridership will remain well below normal,” authors Ellis Calvin and Christopher Jones, both of the RPA, wrote [full report].

The report offers multiple recommendations, which will also read as common sense to urbanists, but are mostly rejected by (or not under the jurisdiction of) the de Blasio administration:

The recommendation about Citi Bike comes as the bike-share system remains the only mode of transportation that has reached — and then exceeded — its pre-pandemic numbers, which it did in June. By comparison, car commuting has recovered the most of any form of transportation, regaining about 90 percent of its perniciousness by July. Subway and bus ridership remain far below pre-pandemic numbers, still off by 75 percent and 40 percent, respectively.

trips-by-mode
People will mostly use their cars for commuting, the report says. Source: RPA

The RPA report comes after multiple planning agencies have put out similar lists of recommendations so that New York City could use the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to create a more resilient, sustainable city before roadways return to their normal clogged mess when the worst of the crisis has passed. Transportation Alternatives sounded the alarm early in the pandemic, and last week, the Rudin Center and Sam Schwartz put out a report with multiple recommendations for averting a carpocalypse.

Meanwhile, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is leading by example, converting car-choked roadways to bus- and bikeways, and encouraging more walking and transit use.

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