Why is it that when “transportation advocates” discuss their vision for transportation in the metropolitan region, rarely are those who rely on motor vehicles for business, or simply live too far from mass transit, included? At a July 6 press conference, using the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) recent struggles as a backdrop, a group of advocates pronounced their aim to make “transportation equity” one of the defining issues of the local 2017 races. We went to hear what they had to say and, while there was certainly some anti-truck and car sentiment, there were some ideas worth exploring. The full proposal can be read here: http://tstc.org/transportation-equity-agenda-2017.pdf . Here are some highlights:
- MTA Funding– The advocates recommend that NYC shoulder a greater financial commitment to the MTA. Of course, if the City contributes more, it should get more say in how the MTA is run. And, before we throw any more money at the MTA, we need to be sure that it will be well spent. Too many glitzy, big projects have been built of late while simple maintenance and system upgrades have taken the back burner. We are glad to see the proposal to capture a portion of the real estate value that is created by development and redevelopment. That’s a no brainer: increased density leads to congestion. The agenda calls for finding creative local solutions to transit funding and names MoveNY’s East River toll plan as an example. As we’ve said before (Link), that plan on its own is unfair, unduly burdensome, and will not substantially change drivers’ behavior. But if paired with other revenue streams, like real estate assessments for increased density, to share the pain equally, it should still be on the table.
- Parking & the Allocation of Street Space– Parking priority should be given to the delivery of goods and services, bike and car share programs, and for-hire vehicle pickups, say the advocates. But eliminating parking requirements for developments as they increase density is silly. People still need to park cars, and on-street parking for cars in congested areas makes it harder for commercial vehicles to get in and out of these areas quickly. They want stronger enforcement of the no idling law, which cannot happen without industry input, and they want to expand business friendly loading options such as increasing commercial loading zones on side streets and encouraging off-hour deliveries. To do these things, we say that the that truck rules will have to be adjusted to make sure the side streets (often residential) are not off zone. As for off hour delivery, receivers will need to sign up for this as the delivery is based on their availability. Off peak tolling reductions and overnight parking will be needed for these ideas to work and should be explored. Overnight parking can be run by the City or the MTA and is a great source of new revenue. While on the topic of parking, City wide, more parking is needed, not less. Parking facilities should be created near MTA hubs so that people who live far from mass transit can ditch their cars and get off the road. Providing alternatives for car drivers, reduces congestion which helps expedite the delivery of goods and services for all.
- Vision Zero– Who could argue against eliminating traffic fatalities and serious crashes? But safety measures like education take a back seat to enforcement and congestion-causing traffic lane removal. Tickets alone won’t change behavior. Education for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists will go further to help increase awareness of each other as we all share the road. And how about having safety agents directing traffic at busy intersections rather than ticketing drivers and cyclists? The group advocates more high-tech solutions such as speeding and red-light cameras. There is limited safety value as drivers learn where they are located and adjust their behavior accordingly. The new idea of failure to yield cameras is completely ridiculous as failure to yield is too arbitrary an offense.
- Bus & Bike Service– Increased bus service offers a good return on investment as buses carry 2.5 million people per day and are the link to communities lacking subway access. Adding bus only lanes has merit, particularly in busy zones. However, this plan takes it one step further and create bus lanes with a physical barrier. This combined with bike lanes will lead to trucks parking in residential areas or completely blocking traffic to make deliveries.
- Affordable Access to Public Transportation– Not being able to afford a MetroCard keeps far too many New Yorkers living in poverty. MetroCards for those in need is a great idea, but, like most, the devil is in the details. Our concern is that funding for this noble idea will come from East River tolls. That’s not an equitable solution.
With most of the City’s elective offices up for grabs this year, this is a good time to push for improvements in transportation policy and funding. But unless those that operate vehicles for business, or those who simply have few other options. are included, not much will change. Removing lanes of traffic, reducing legal parking slots, tolling Manhattan access and punishing drivers alone will not change behavior. Only true transportation alternatives will do that. And if the folks who drive or use motor vehicles for a living are not included in the discussion, how will meaningful, workable change be achieved?