(Robert) Mosesian in its ambitious bid to establish a new transit financing
authority, and (Jane) Jacobsian in its attention to the pedestrian and transit
taking majority, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's sweeping transportation plan represents
a welcome full frontal attack on traffic congestion and all of its attendant
ills. Unfortunately, much of it depends on the state legislature. And so the
mayor should take a closer look at something he can control: where New Yorkers
park and how much they pay to park there.
Traffic ills -- health, economic and environmental -- are poised to get much
worse. In addition to the much publicized influx of population and tourists
and their attendant travel needs, the city is facing an estimated 83 percent
increase in truck traffic (by 2020 over 1998 levels) and a torrent of new traffic
unleashed by a bevy of major development projects like Atlantic Yards.
Despite the resurrection of Robert Moses' ambition, neither the mayor nor anybody
in their right mind is proposing that we solve the problem with new roadways.
The human and financial costs are too great, and new roads, we have long understood,
just invite more driving.
Leaving Cars Behind
The wiser approach is to make better use of the street space we already have
by switching car trips to methods of travel that make better use of our limited
space. This "mode shift" forms the bedrock of the mayor's 16 green
transportation initiatives. To make alternatives to the private car more appealing,
the mayor wants to improve and expand bus service, enhance pedestrian access
to transit stations and promote cycling with more paths and bike parking.
But two of the 16 initiatives hold by far the most potential to solve New York
City's transportation problem: a $50 billion transit expansion program and a
London-style congestion pricing system to help pay for it.
Congestion pricing, in addition to raising $400 million per year for the transit
expansion program, would yield immediate transit benefits just by clearing away
many of the cars that currently slow city buses. And by forcing drivers- especially
city employees who currently drive at twice the rate as everyone else- to switch
to subways and buses, the plan would significantly strengthen the political
constituency for further transit improvements.
Even for the 5 percent of outer borough workers who currently drive to Manhattan
(the other 95 percent take transit or drive elsewhere), congestion pricing holds
benefits. Their commutes will shorten markedly, and all New Yorkers will benefit
from cleaner air and less health eroding traffic.
As much sense as congestion pricing makes, its success is far from secure.
For congestion pricing, and the long list of transit projects it would fund,
to become reality, it must first gain the approval of a gauntlet of state legislators
who with a nudge from the powerful parking and automobile lobbies could easily
The Lure Of The Parking Space
Unless Mayor Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff are content to leave
their legacy in the hands of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority
leader Joe Bruno, they should pursue three parking policy reforms that would,
like congestion pricing, reduce traffic and generate millions for transportation
and street improvements. Unlike congestion pricing, these reforms do not require
the approval of the state legislature.
drivers (in pdf) drive out of choice, not necessity. A recent Schaller
Consulting study uncovered the reason why: Most drivers do not pay for parking.
As any transportation expert will tell you, the carrot of free parking is too
irresistible for drivers to refuse, even when they have decent transit options.
Government workers have their coveted (and often counterfeit) placards, and
all drivers have access to a bounty of free and $1.50 per hour spaces,
even if they have to circle the block for 40 minutes to find one. Because under-priced
spots along the curb are always full, cruising for parking accounts for up to
45 percent of all traffic on city streets.
Three steps, used in other big cities, would enable the mayor to redress root
causes of traffic congestion while generating a windfall to fund street improvements:
--Increasing the price for metered parking to a level that frees up spaces
and reduces cruising;
--Charging residents for permits that would give them preferences for parking
on public streets;
--Cleaning up the rampant misuse and abuse of city issued parking permits.
With a new generation of transit improvements funded by congestion pricing,
Bloomberg and Doctoroff are poised to move mountains, if only they can move
Albany. As a hedge, they should tackle what they can clearly control: New York
City's broken parking policy.
Paul Steely White is executive director of Transportation
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