Gotham Gazette

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Opinion

Opinion

From Gas Guzzling Cars to Clean Buses




For More on Helping New York's Economy

Paying Attention to Cities By Jonathan Bowles
After years of federal policies neglecting urban areas, Barack Obama has sent some encouraging signals that he understands their importance. Certainly, New York could use a helping hand. The director of the Center for an Urban Future lays out some ideas for what the president could do to aid New York.

An $825 Billion First Step By James Parrott
The stimulus package proposed by Congress is key to halting the economy's downward spiral but it will not solve all our problems. Economist James Parrott of the Fiscal Policy Institute looks at what the package would do -- and what more needs to be done.

Using the Crisis to Prevent the Next One By J. Mijin Cha
The current turmoil can help us reduce our dependence on Wall Street and create good "green collar" jobs that help fuel a resurgence of the middle class. The director of campaign research at the Urban Agenda explains how.

Infrastructure Investments that Make Sense By Carter Craft
As big as the stimulus package may be, the country has to invest the money wisely. An urban planner offers some novel ideas for New York projects -- from recycling grease to ferries for freight.

Previous Articles
A Federal Stimulus for City Parks By Anne Schwartz
Advocates hope that President Obama and Congress will recognize that funding parks would not only improve the quality of life and the environment but also spur investment and raise real estate values.

Stimulus Money: The Downturn's Silver Lining? By Graham Beck
The stimulus package could offer more federal funds for transportation projects. The MTA is making its list, but there are sure to be lots of restrictions -- and competition.

"What is good for GM is good for the country!" -- once the battle cry of U.S. capitalism is now a mumbled query that sounds something like, "What is good for the U.S.? What is good for GM?"

As America's auto manufacturers deal with the largest financial crisis in their history, officials are focusing on how to keep the industry afloat regardless of brand. Hence, the catchphrase, for some, now goes: "What is good for the automotive industry is good for America -- with or without GM."

America needs large scale investment by the federal government that will promote sustained development of public services and private enterprises. Simply lending funds to distressed companies, such as General Motors and Chrysler, to keep them operating will not stimulate economic growth. An innovative program of vouchers to promote mass transit, especially the manufacturing of clean and green buses, would spur investment while saving jobs and helping the environment.

The Recession and Transit

Deteriorating economic conditions in the region have put New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority in a financial bind. A December report on MTA financing by the Ravitch Commission, named for its chairman, Richard Ravitch, said the situation has become "calamitous."

The MTA faces significant gaps -- of a billion or more -- in its operating budgets for each of the next four years.

By law, the authority's budget must be balanced, meaning it has proposed substantial fare increases, major service reductions, lowering administrative costs, personnel cuts, longer maintenance cycles and an interagency loan.

Uncertainty about the MTA's funding creates uncertainty among the suppliers of the equipment the authority buys. Uncertainty about the capital projects the MTA can fund compounds the already severe uncertainty that investors have. This is exactly what the U.S. economy does not need right now.

Keep in mind that New York's population of 8.2 million is expected to grow to 9.2 million by the year 2034. The Ravitch report, while not advocating specific capital projects, argues for an expanded bus system based on Bus Rapid Transit, which attempts to move passengers more quickly and comfortably through a system of buses-only lanes and other improvements. "Expanding the bus network is the only realistic approach," the commission said.

Clean buses that operate in a rapid transit mode will be the key to the commercial viability of the New York region. The problem is finding the money to purchase them.

Bus Benefits

To help surmount this obstacle, I suggest the federal government issue $25 billion of Clean Fuel Vouchers that municipal and state authorities could use to buy cleanly powered buses over the next five years.

The $25 billion figure is a quick calculation of what it would cost to replace the 64,350 gasoline powered transit buses on the road at the end of 2006 with alternative fuel buses, with $500,000 as the cost of each new bus. Twenty-five billion dollars over five years ($5 billion per year) would be a significant increase in the slightly more than $1 billion nationwide the Federal Transit Administration has currently budgeted for capital spending on transit buses.

It also would build on an existing commitment by federal, state and municipal governments. Between 1995 and 2006, the number of transit buses using alternative fuels increased from 2.8 percent to 16 percent. In its 2009 budget, the Federal Transit Administration said it is "striving to increase by 2 percent per year the deployment of energy efficient and low emission technology vehicles in the transit industry." This kind of fiscal stimulus package would significantly ramp up the 2 percent growth in clean fuel buses on the road.

As of 2007, about 21 percent of transit buses operating in New York City were powered by either compressed natural gas or diesel/electric. The MTA's proposed capital program calls for the purchase of 2,492 new buses. Of those, 1,544 will use clean fuel technology.

A commitment to these buses would create investment opportunities for manufacturers and jobs for the unemployed.

Nationally, the voucher program would employ autoworkers and activate plants now idled by a precipitous drop in car and truck sales. It would spur banks to loan money for mass transit production. Replacing diesel powered buses with hybrid/electric ones or vehicles fueled by compressed natural gas also would reduce carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.

The Voucher Market

This is how the voucher plan would work: Transit authorities would receive vouchers they could use to buy clean fuel transit buses within five years. Once a transit authority places the order for a bus, the voucher would be pledged to the bus manufacturer. The bus manufacturer could use the vouchers as very high quality collateral to raise working capital during the production stages.

The vouchers could also be bought and sold. If the MTA, for example, decided it valued operating income over an expansion of its clean fuel bus fleet, it could sell some or all of its vouchers. Because the vouchers would be federal obligations, there is no risk they wouldn't be honored.

Once sold, the voucher could be used for any hybrid/electric, electric or fuel cell vehicle, not only transit buses. Those buying the vouchers might be other municipalities, rental car companies, taxi fleet operators, trucking companies, equipment-leasing companies, and school bus operators. The secondary market for vouchers would help those governments that cannot effectively use their vouchers. It also would broaden the fiscal stimulus while keeping it focused on demand for automotive products.

Good for General Motors

The vouchers will create a flow of private capital to the sector of the automotive industry that designs, builds and maintains green machines. This could help General Motors.

Why does that matter? The survival of many firms is linked to GM's ability to buy and pay for the goods and services they produce. GM, Ford and Chrysler currently owe about $60 billion to their suppliers. Not only must these receivables be secure, but suppliers must be able to expect timely payment for future sales to the auto companies. Trying to stimulate the U.S. economy while the core of our manufacturing base is in financial distress would be like bailing out a leaking ship with a Dixie cup.

GM has valuable technologies, products, designs, processes and patents along with engineering talent and a skilled labor force. Unfortunately, all of this is trapped in an ossified enterprise. For the company to survive, these assets must be redeployed.

When an earthquake destroys cities and villages, governments around the world mobilize resources to save lives and rebuild wells, schools and hospitals. A financial quake has struck and now is the time for a massive financial lift. To emerge from this worsening global recession each of the world's economically powerful countries must make a commitment to invest significant public funds in sustainable development.

A massive investment in clean fuel mass transit would be consistent with stimulating the U.S. economy, improving air quality, lowering urban road congestion, increasing opportunities for mobility in and outside of the cites, and making U.S. cities the premier showcase for green urban transit. Vouchers can help accomplish that. At the same time, they will increase demand in a key sector of our economy.

Charles A Stone is a professor of finance at Brooklyn College.

Using This Crisis to Prevent the Next One


Photo (c) Urban Agenda

While the economic picture is grim across the country, New York City has been especially hard hit in recent months. The city's heavy dependence on Wall Street revenues has left us facing a projected budget shortfall of nearly $4 billion. Adding to the city's crisis, a quarter of the shortfall is due to state cuts resulting from Albany's crippling financial difficulties.



For More on Helping New York's Economy

Paying Attention to Cities By Jonathan Bowles
After years of federal policies neglecting urban areas, Barack Obama has sent some encouraging signals that he understands their importance. Certainly, New York could use a helping hand. The director of the Center for an Urban Future lays out some ideas for what the president could do to aid New York.

An $825 Billion First Step By James Parrott
The stimulus package proposed by Congress is key to halting the economy's downward spiral but it will not solve all our problems. Economist James Parrott of the Fiscal Policy Institute looks at what the package would do -- and what more needs to be done.

Infrastructure Investments that Make Sense By Carter Craft
As big as the stimulus package may be, the country has to invest the money wisely. An urban planner offers some novel ideas for New York projects -- from recycling grease to ferries for freight.

From Gas-Guzzling Cars to Clean Buses By Charles Stone
Simply lending funds to struggling auto companies won't spur economic growth. Instead, an economist suggests, the government should create a voucher program to deploy the resources of the auto companies, spur investment -- and help the environment.

Previous Articles
A Federal Stimulus for City Parks By Anne Schwartz
Advocates hope that President Obama and Congress will recognize that funding parks would not only improve the quality of life and the environment but also spur investment and raise real estate values.

Stimulus Money: The Downturn's Silver Lining? By Graham Beck
The stimulus package could offer more federal funds for transportation projects. The MTA is making its list, but there are sure to be lots of restrictions -- and competition.

The crisis highlights the danger of the city's economic over-reliance on Wall Street. Even when times are good, only a few New Yorkers reap economic windfalls. When times are bad, the entire city suffers.

For all the pain it is causing, though, the sagging economy presents us with the chance to rebuild our economy in a way that prevents similar economic crises in the future. The federal economic stimulus package before Congress presents an opportunity to build a greener and more equitable economy. Urban Agenda, convener of the New York City Apollo Alliance, urges Congress to fund projects that will create high-quality, "green collar" jobs and help make New York City more environmentally sustainable.

A stimulus package for New York City must focus on increasing investments in public infrastructure -- rehabilitating and retrofitting schools, buildings and mass transit systems - not on giving tax breaks. Currently, the Obama administration is proposing $150 billion in tax cuts for businesses. However, prominent economists, including an advisor to Republican presidential candidate John McCain, note that every dollar spent on public infrastructure projects generates $1.50 in economic activity, while tax breaks lack this "multiplier effect." Every $1 in tax cuts produces less than $1-- and sometimes as little as 30 cents -- of economic activity.

Green Is Not Enough

While we need to act quickly, we must also act responsibly. It is not enough to just create "green" jobs. Instead, we must create "green collar" jobs that pay well, provide health benefits and offer opportunities for career advancement while improving our environment.

This is key. Creating jobs that pay poorly and do not provide health benefits or pathways out of poverty will lead to an underclass of workers employed in green jobs but unable to make their way into the middle class. If we consider both environmental benefits and wage and job standards, we can have jobs that will help the resurgence of the middle class, strengthen our economy and make New York City a leader in sustainability.

The NYC Apollo Alliance has compiled a list of recommendations for evaluating projects to ensure that we maximize the potential of our green collar workforce. (The full document can be found here.). Projects funded with stimulus dollars should:

  • Create employment for a wide spectrum of workers, from low-skilled to highly skilled.
  • Support local employment opportunities. Outsourcing occurs not only when jobs are sent overseas, but also when labor is imported into an area with an already trained and ready labor pool that can, and should, be employed.
  • Create jobs that offer good wages, health care benefits and paid time off.
  • Promote employment in environmentally sustainable areas, such as retrofitting building, brownfield redevelopment and urban forestry.
  • Promote the retrofitting and maintenance of existing infrastructure, such as mass transit systems, roads and bridges.

Using these criteria to evaluate projects proposals will help rebuild our economy and create a greener, more sustainable city. For instance, using federal stimulus funds to create an "Efficiency Matching Fund" providing a 100 percent federal match for state-approved energy efficiency programs would help quickly channel funds to green job development. Every $1 invested in such programs saves $2 to $4 in energy costs for consumers, freeing up additional consumer purchasing power. Energy efficiency programs also bring us closer to environmental sustainability.

The economic stimulus must fund training and readiness programs to ensure there are enough skilled workers ready to do these tasks. The Consortium for Worker Education, the Association for Energy Affordability and the New York Industrial Retention Network developed a plan to integrate economic development and workforce development to promote energy efficiency. With funding, this proposed Green Jobs Center would include a training center to assess, train and place over 2,700 workers in the energy efficiency industry. The center also would provide business services for over 900 businesses seeking to expand or enter the energy efficiency market over a three-year period.

Finally, to ensure that stimulus spending creates jobs in the near future and new industries in the long term, it must include language that allows cities and states to give preference to local companies when they purchase goods and materials used in federally funded capital projects. This will nurture local green manufacturing and reduce the carbon footprint of projects by removing the need to transport products long distances.

The Wall Street disaster offers us the opportunity to build a new economic future. Wisely invested, the federal stimulus can generate the green collar jobs that will rebuild our middle class and create a more sustainable environment for generations to come.

J. Mijin Cha is director of campaign research at Urban Agenda, convener of the Apollo Alliance. The alliance is holding a public forum on Feb. 2nd to discuss the New Apollo Plan, the economic stimulus and New York City. For more information, visit www.urbanagenda.org

A New Name for Our Premier Waterway


A New Name for Our Premier Waterway
Engraving from Currier & Ives, 1892. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

With the Triborough Bridge now known as the R.F.K. Bridge, New York City is evidently in a re-naming mood. May I suggest that we finally lend a proper name to the East River?

The indigenous name for the waterway is murky. The two most credible candidates, Pawkatuck and Muscouta, describe the course as "an estuary with a waterfall" or a "marshy place," respectively, according to Algonquin scholar Evan Pritchard, author of Native New Yorkers: The Legacy of the Algonquin People of New York. The East River never boasted waterfalls, but a treacherous rocky whitewater section was blasted open in the 19th century with the then-largest controlled explosions in history. The marshes we eradicated more quietly, smothered by landfill or poisoned by pollution. While it's important to remember our history, neither Native American name captures the character of the East River today.

Early Dutch explorers bypassed indigenous names for our waterways, tagging them instead with convenient shorthand to frame their territorial claims: the North River, South River and East River. While the former two became known as the Hudson River and Delaware River, the East River remains stuck with a placeholder name.

East River, No. 3, 1926, Georgia O'Keeffe.
Photo from the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College

Correcting a Misnomer

This even though the East River is not a river at all. This 16-mile long strait links the Upper Bay of the harbor with Long Island Sound. Unlike a river, it has no fresh water source. The flow between Manhattan, Long Island and the mainland simply rises and falls and sloshes back and forth each day with ocean tides. It's true that the Hudson River is also tidal up to Albany and not a true river within our city. The Hudson River's source, however, is the fresh waters of Lake Tear in the Clouds. The lower Hudson River is an estuary, an arm of the sea that includes the strait we call the East River.

Renaming the East River has had several near misses. Some navigators called the passage the Sound River, for its eastern connection. Hell Gate, that dynamited central bend of the waterway between Randalls Island and Astoria, was named through an Anglicization of the Dutch hellegat, meaning "bright passage." That name, a bit of a double entendre perhaps, could have referred to the strait's entire length.

When our forbearers renamed the North, or Mauritius, River for Henry Hudson's historic 1609 voyage aboard the Half Moon, they might have extended a similar honor to Adriaen Block for the East River. Block's ship, the Onrust, explored the East River just five years after Hudson. The ship, the first trans-Atlantic vessel built in the Americas, was also the first vessel with a European crew to sail through from Manhattan to the Long Island Sound. Indeed, with this year marking the 400th anniversary of Dutch exploration of our harbor, a "Block River" movement might surge.

The City's Waterway

Photo from WikiCommons
East River lore: Harry Houdini built up his strength by swimming the East River

Instead let's rename the East River for the outrageous metropolis it nurtures. For ourselves. After all, this is our premier waterway. Each bank of it is a borough, with Brooklyn and Queens on one side and the Bronx and Manhattan on the other. Our most stately bridges span it, and on its bed lay our darkest fears and fantasies of disappearance. Ghosts glide over its surface, from the thousands of patriots who died of starvation and disease aboard prison ships on Wallabout Bay during the Revolutionary War to the over 1,000 lost in the General Slocum ferry disaster of 1904.

The strait carries our lore, like the story of Ehrich Weiss, the sickly teenager who swam its turbulent waters to build up his strength and who became the Great Houdini. The infamous pirate Captain William Kidd lived a Manhattan gentleman's life in view of the bustling East River piers while smuggling through Cripplebush, or Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Moby Dick begins with a walk from "Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall northward." Georgia O'Keeffe painted the East River with the focus she brought more famously to the desert. By contrast, the Hudson River is shared by New Jersey and a horde of counties and towns up north. It is they who are celebrated in the Hudson River's stories and paintings, not us.

The East River, like New York City, is far less dirty and dangerous than it once was. But it remains a roiling place of restless energy - only recently its currents sheered off the blades of electric turbines meant to harness it. Like our city of late, it lures dreamers into even the most daunting conditions; divers still descend in hopes of finding gold from the HMS Hussar, claimed by Hell Gate in 1779. Today sailors, paddlers, anglers, and swimmers are once again discovering that its beauty provides a new way to love New York City.

This water pass is ours, and it is us. Call it the Gotham Strait.

Erik Baard is a writer whose family has worked New York Harbor for generations on tugs, barges and in marine construction, along with some rum running. He founded the LIC Community Boathouse to provide free kayaking on the East River, co-wrote a book of historic images of the waterway and is working to start a World Boatbuilding Museum. His blog is at www.naturecalendar.com.

Homeland Security Funding


 

New York City's first responders continue to suffer severe shortages in funding and can expect to see their limited resources diminish even further under the Bush Administration’s proposed Budget for 2005. The safety of New Yorkers has already been compromised by, a 15 percent reduction of the police force since 2001, extremely low access to vital equipment and HAZMAT material and the closure of six firehouses, which has resulted in dramatically higher response times. Frankly, this is unacceptable.

Although the Department of Homeland Security has recently awarded over $103 million to New York State for the training and equipment of first responders, it does not come close to compensating the budget cuts already suffered, or those proposed for 2005. The budget for fiscal year 2005 cuts $2.3 billion for first responder programs. This includes both a $1 billion cut in the State Homeland Security Grant Program that assists first responders, and the removal of the Law Enforcement Block Grants, currently worth $225 million, that specifically assists police officers.

The budget cuts $800 million from state and local homeland security grants. It cuts state and local grant funding for first responder training, exercise, and technical assistance from $320 million in 2004 to $178 million in 2005. It also cuts Firefighter Investment and Response Enhancement Act grants for equipment and personnel to local fire departments by $246 million.

The bottom line: Critical needs of first responders will be under-funded by $98.4 billion over the next five years.

These radical reductions will consolidate the mounting burden placed on state and local governments. It will also prove to be a disatrous setback in aquiring the equipment and training first responders need to fulfill their increasing duties in preserving our homeland security.

In one way or another, we were all affected by the tragedy of 9/11. We saw the brave response of our police, fire, emergency medical personnel and other first responders and we still harbor a great sense of admiration and respect for them. In the time that has since passed, we have come to more fully appreciate our dependance on their service to our communities. Yet we have failed to demonstrate our support for them; we have failed to ensure they are provided with the very tools they need to keep us secure.

We know what needs to be done.

The New York City Fire Department recently made a list of requirements for the adequate preparation for response to future terrorist attacks. It included:

  • A reliable communications infrastructure for first responders
  • A secure dispatch network for fire and EMS personnel
  • An expansion of Fire Department Operations Center as a fully functioning emergency center
  • A back-up emergency location
  • 12 months of emergency preparedness training for personnel.

It would cost about $277 million to acquire these and other equipment and infrastructure -- more than double the amount granted to New York State by the Department of Homeland Security.

As an effort to remedy the reduced funding and skewed allocation of funds for First Responders, I have introduced the Homeland Emergency Response Act of 2003 (HERO Act), which allocates $15 billion to protect New York City and other American cities. It creates a $3.5 billion first responder program in the first year and maintains a $3.75 billion program per year for three years thereafter. The bill protects high threat urban areas by mandating that 1/3 of all first responder funding be earmarked to the five cities with the greatest vulnerability or threat risk as determined by the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction CIA, FBI and HHS.

The bill also creates a new Anti-Terrorism Account for firefighters, while changing the Federal Firefighter Grant Program that is currently in place. The HERO Act also ensures that the allocation of funds is more equitable and based on threat ratio, thereby directing valuable funds to cities with the most need.

Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress are holding up this important piece of legislation.

I have also proposed fundamental changes to the Firefighter Investment and Response Enhancement Act Grant Program, the nation's homeland security funding program targeted specifically for fire departments. Currently, grants are limited to a sum of $75,000 and are distributed according to population. The pre-9/11 cap imposes an unnecessary restriction on access to funds for New York’s first responders.

If, as I propose, the cap were lifted and the $750 million of funds available through the FIRE Act grant program were distributed based on population, New York City would receive $20.5 million, much more than the current cap of $75,000, or even the $2 million cap proposed in President Bush's budget.

Furthermore, it is important to distribute these funds according to threat. While distributed according to population, Montana, for example, receives $9.07 per person while New York City receives only .09 cents per person.

To stand by and allow important funding for First Responders to be so drastically cut is to increase the vulnerability of our great city and undermine the huge strides we have been taking in protecting New Yorkers.

Josephy Crowley, a Democrat, represents the seventh Congressional District in the Bronx and Queens.

Keeping Ferry Service Afloat


Each time the New York Mets take the field this summer the Grand Central Parkway, Northern Boulevard, and the Van Wyck will be clogged with cars. The 7 train will disgorge thousands of fans. And of course there are the planes. What would a day at Shea Stadium be without the roar of the Delta shuttle?

But what you won't be able to do very often is take a ferry to the game. That is because the private operator that runs the serviced announced that they would only be offering the water route to the park for games played on weekends and select Fridays.

The Shea ferry is not the only ferry eliminating service. The much-ballyhooed service from Long Island City has also been dry-docked, as has the weekend service to Riis Park in Rockaway.

The reason these ferries fail is that they are being asked to provide a service at a reasonable fare, without any subsidy. They are being asked to provide mass transit, but without the help that our bus and train services get.

During the early 20th century, New Yorkers were served by 125 different ferry routes. But with the construction of a more extensive network of bridges and tunnels, service began to dwindle, and between 1967 and 1989, waterborne passenger transportation ceased to exist in the city.

A century after the peak of ferry travel, New York's transportation infrastructure has reached a critical mass. We have reached capacity on our roads and rails. The 2000 Census showed that the average New Yorker spends an hour and twenty minutes commuting back and forth to work each day. A separate study, done by the Texas Transportation Institute, found that New Yorkers waste 696 million gallons of fuel a year standing still in traffic - second only to Los Angeles.

Our subways and busses are not much better off. Better service and the Metrocard have filled trains to the brink. Even the rightly maligned franchise busses are full most mornings.

So why so slow to dip our toes in the waters of ferry service? Much of it has to do with start-up costs. Ferries are expensive. They start in the $3 million range and run to over $10 million. Some of it is figuring out appropriate parking and landing facilities. (Although in many waterfront communities these sites are obvious, like Sheepshead Bay, College Point and Harlem for example).

But the biggest obstacle to progress is the mindset that the private sector will do this alone. They can't and they won't. New York Waterways is the biggest of the private ferry services. They have done well with the "short haul" of the New Jersey to New York routes. Lots of runs, a fleet of busses, they have it down. Along with a few other brave start-up ferry operators - New York Water Taxi, Seastreak, and Liberty Landing Water Taxi among them - they have begun to establish a network of service. While nothing comparable to the 125 routes of a century before, the 35 to 50 routes they run seasonally represent an important start.

The obstacle operators like New York Waterways find when looking to do the longer routes that will have the greatest benefit to the region's traffic and pollution problems is that the fares becomes uncompetitive with the subway, Long Island Rail Road or even the tolls on the tunnels.

 

That is where the city's existing policy toward ferries fails to make sense. Ferries are simply floating busses, and as such, they should be subsidized like busses with wheels. As long as the city sees fit to subsidize the operating costs of those providing service on the land, municipal leaders ought to have the vision to extend the same policy to those operating on the water.The city should begin an active purchasing and land review process to make ferry service part of the integrated transportation plan of the city. Metrocard readers on deck, full transferability for passengers stepping into the subway or onto a bus. And initial forays into service should not be done on the cheap. Ferries should be run frequently enough so as to allow commuters the flexibility they need to compete with alternative modes of transportation. Just as no one would expect commuters to embrace a new Second Avenue Subway if it were only to run twice a day, no one should expect ferry service to succeed if it is inconvenient.

I've started the process by purchasing three fast ferries in the new federal transportation bill.

Every six years, Congress votes on the Transportation Equity Act, a bill that pays for highways, roads, bridges, tunnels and mass transit projects across the nation. The House passed a $275 billion version of the transportation act and the Senate passed a $318 billion version. Now the two sides must work out the differences in conference before it goes to the president for approval.

As a member of the transportation committee and a representative of a district that includes waterfront neighborhoods like Sheepshead Bay, Mill Basin, Bergen Beach, Rockaway, Breezy Point and Belle Harbour, I have requested ferries that will launch a Rockaway commuter service.

So soon, you may not be able to reach Shea by boat, but at least you'll be able to visit the beach.

Anthony Weiner, a Democrat, represents congressional district 9 in Queens and Brooklyn. He serves on transportation and infrastructure committee.

Related Articles:
Public Funds, Empty Ferries
Federal Money to Improve New York’s Port
New Future for New York’s Great Port
Tragedy and Neglect of the Staten Island Ferry
The Need for Ferries

A Time Of Crisis


It is an extraordinary time to be the Speaker of the City Council. Last year, we elected a new mayor, a new comptroller, and a new public advocate who have never served in public office. We elected four new borough presidents and 38 of the 51 City Council members are brand new. It may sound ridiculous, but I am the senior elected official in the city. I am the grizzled veteran.

The issue that I believe will define this era in city government is the budget. We are in the midst of the greatest fiscal crisis in the history of this city. It is much worse than anything we have dealt with before. I do not think the public has come to grips with that. And I do not think those of us in elected office have done as good a job as we should in preparing New Yorkers for this reality.

The governor and mayor made a decision that we needed to get a year under our belt before we dealt with our fiscal problems. I believe we need to honestly grapple with the fiscal crisis. That time, whether we like it or not, is coming very soon.

This year, the city faced a $5 billion budget gap. We borrowed $1.5 billion to ease the situation. We enacted some spending cuts, and we did some targeted tax increases like the cigarette tax and other fees. The mayor's way of dealing with the budget was to say that there should be across the board cuts and that there should be "no sacred cows." The council felt that there was a different and better approach -- to prioritize. I believe we were elected to office to help make those difficult decisions. For one, we believe that education and classroom funding should not be cut. And I am proud of the fact that we were able to do that in this year's budget.

Next year, we have another $5 billion budget gap; some say it could be worse. To put this number in perspective: if we were to cut 20,000 police officers, close every senior center, close every after-school program, and close every library, that would only save us $1.5 billion. That is how serious it is. We are not going to do those things and we can't do those things. If we did, we would stop being New York City.

In the last 10 years, we have gained more than 1 million new residents. New York City is still a place where people from around the world come to live, because they believe it is a good place. It is sometimes tough to be a New Yorker, but it's worth it because of the excitement, the creativity, and the uniqueness of our city. As we struggle to deal with our fiscal crisis, we have to preserve those essential elements of what it means to live in New York City. We can not cut education. We can not close down our cultural programs. If we do not preserve these things, than the city just becomes a tough place to live.

In order to do maintain services, we have to generate new revenues for the city.

This year, the council proposed a number of new revenue generating measures. We proposed an absentee landlord surcharge on property taxes. The city currently taxes multiple dwelling landlords at a much higher rate than it taxes single family homes that are used as investment properties. If we brought those two taxes to more equal level would raise as much as $130 million. We also proposed selling more taxi medallions and privatizing the Emergency Management Service collection and billing services. EMS currently bills for $165 million a year, and only collects about $40 million.

We also have to bring back to the commuter tax that would generate nearly $500 million a year for the city. Two weeks after I became speaker, I met with State Assembly Leader Sheldon Silver. He told me that he is prepared to reinstate the commuter tax if the mayor and City Council ask for it. So, we need to start with the mayor. It may take a while, but I think we are going to get the mayor to agree. We can't close a $5 billion budget by just cutting services and we can't raise $5 billion in taxes. We have to do some of both. Our problems are just too big.

Another major priority, of course, is rebuilding lower Manhattan and rest of the city.

The federal government has given the city $20 billion that can be used in a variety of ways. One of those ways is through incentives that can help keep and attract business to lower Manhattan. Lower Manhattan is the third largest business district in the country: midtown is first, Chicago is second, and downtown is third. Downtown drives the tax revenues of the city and if we don't have a strong, vibrant downtown business district, we will be in a worse situation than we now.

We must also make long-term improvements to the area that will attract people and business. Currently there are $1.6 billion in Liberty Bonds from the federal government, which are low interest rate bonds, to subsidize the creation of housing in lower Manhattan. The governor has $800 million in Liberty Bonds at his discretion and the mayor has $800 million. The governor's proposal calls for 95 percent to be used to build market-rate housing and 5 percent for affordable housing. The mayor has not yet said what he plans to do. I believe that we if are aggressive about it we can get as much as 55 percent of the Liberty Bond money for low to moderate income housing.

The council believes that we should allow for 25 percent of those bonds to be used outside of lower Manhattan, so that every part of the city can benefit from this federal money. Frankly, we are not going to get all $1.6 billion used in lower Manhattan. There just are not enough projects to get it done quickly, but there are projects around the city that can benefit from this kind of funding.

Gifford Miller is Speaker the New York City Council.
Adapted from a speech at the Women's City Club, September 27, 2002.

Fast, Not Fancy -- And In Midtown, Not Downtown


It is terribly important that whatever is to be done to rebuild Manhattan be done rapidly. The rebuilding must not be delayed--or stopped dead--by the usual New York acrimony about every aspect of every really large project. The city's economy has been hurt badly. The longer Manhattan is in a state of suspended animation waiting for the architects' perfect plan to be approved and actually implemented, the more unlikely complete economic recovery will be. More firms and jobs will be lost forever. The city and state fiscal difficulties will grow worse. And many of the economic opportunities that were suggested by the city's economic successes in the late 1990s will never come to pass.

If rebuilding is to be rapid, it cannot be an attempt to replicate exactly what existed in lower Manhattan at 8.00 AM on September 11. The rebuilding has to be consistent with what markets have shown over the past 50 years to be a powerful trend in the location of economic activity within Manhattan. We need to go with the flow, which is a shifting, rapidly at some times and more gradually at others, of economic activity from lower Manhattan to midtown. This reflects the fact that the only locational advantage that lower Manhattan has over midtown is that downtown is more convenient for subway commuters who live in Brooklyn. That was enormously important before 1930. It is a trivial edge now.

By 1960, the shift to midtown had become pronounced. A study for the Downtown Lower Manhattan project in 1961 documented how severe the shift in the 1950s had been, but-whistling in the dark-the study asserted that the trend could be stopped fairly easily (I as a consultant to the project was one of the whistlers).

There are winners and losers in such shifts, the biggest losers being the owners of land in the place that is the loser. A couple of men who shared the same family name-Rockefeller-were, respectively chairman of the Downtown Lower Manhattan and CEO of the Chase Bank, and governor of New York. They were persuaded that heroic efforts were needed to stop the trend. Lower Manhattan's office buildings were mostly obsolete and unattractive to high-end businesses not permanently tied to the securities markets, and one of its important transit links, the one that carried commuters from New Jersey and is now called PATH, seemed on its last legs, physically and financially.

So, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a creature of the governors of the two states, was instructed to intervene, to take over, rebuild and finance the permanent deficits of PATH (which benefited residents of New Jersey) and to provide millions of square feet of Class A office space by building the World Trade Center.

This intervention was timely, and it worked, in the prosperous 1980s and 1990s, when the two booms in the demand for the services of the financial services industries provide enough business activity to fill up the World Trade Center and other new office buildings, as well as a substantial amount of new office space in midtown Manhattan.

Rebuilding lower Manhattan to pre-9/11 standards will require the construction of millions of square feet of office space, mostly at the WTC site (there is no other open land in Lower Manhattan) or on a massive new land fill, and a huge investment in restoring the lower Manhattan infrastructure to its previous capacity. That cannot be done rapidly, even if we could avoid the controversy about just what to build that is already raging.

Much of the destroyed infrastructure would not need replacing, if we accept that the lower Manhattan economy will be a good deal smaller than it was before 9/11. With many fewer people working in lower Manhattan, New Jersey commuters could be accommodated by an expanded ferry system, and the PATH line need not be rebuilt at all (the signs suggest that there may not be any part of the under-river tunnel that is salvageable). The 1 and 9 subway line south of Chambers Street could be abandoned. The Con Edison steam system in lower Manhattan may not be salvageable, and abandoning it might justify closing down the entire steam system which is obsolete, to put it kindly. Similarly, the telecommunications capacity that would be needed if the economy were restored to ante-bellum conditions would be smaller, thus making it possible to avoid replacing the heavy Verizon losses.

On the other hand, the destroyed office space can be replaced quickly north of 14th Street, and the infrastructure is in place, or can be gradually expanded. The zoning is consistent with the construction of conventional office buildings, and 30-story buildings would not be a hard sell with respect to zoning. Developers know how to assemble land, design and build such buildings quickly. No doubt there would be scattered local opposition-after all, there are New Yorkers who believe that anything built before 1960, however hideous and dysfunctional, deserves landmark designation-and no doubt the product would be an ample plenty of plain vanilla buildings. But if the demand for midtown space is there, the 14 million plus square feet of space in the WTC could be met with dispatch. It would be building fast, not fancy.

Of course, there have been heavy economic losses and terrible human losses. The losers need to be made whole, to the extent possible, with one exception-landowners. But it would be grotesque public policy to restore lower Manhattan to its pre-9/11 condition in order to compensate landowners. Gamblers win sometimes, and lose other times.

Stick With Libeskind


As the first building scheduled to go up at Ground Zero, the Freedom Tower offers a glimpse into the future of the site as a whole, and whether it will work as an urban area. The tower is an impressive building, one that combines Daniel Libeskind's vision with David Childs' innovative use of structure. Childs' use of cables that enclose windmills over a thousand feet in the air, for example, will help create a building that can become a symbol of New York City. But Freedom Tower is not a complete success. It must be brought more closely in line with what Libeskind originally proposed.

Libeskind envisioned a tower that was thin and graceful, with a sloped roof and a spire that mirrored the arm of the Statue of Liberty. While Childs' earlier designs violated this vision by making a bulky, twisting tower much larger than Libeskind wanted, the recently released plan brings it more closely in line with Libeskind's concept, cutting the height of the building back down, for example, to 1,776 feet.

But Libeskind intended the spire to be something that soared like the arm of the Statue of Liberty, starting at the base of the building and running up all the way through it. It was an integral part of the building's form. To me, the spire that Childs has designed looks like a dunce cap, an appendage simply slapped onto the edge of the roof

It would not be too difficult to take the top third of the building, the 30-story skeletal form that includes the windmills, and shape it so that the spire really becomes part of the building architecturally.

Most importantly, for the World Trade Center site to be a successful urban design, all the buildings must work together to create a whole. That is why Rockefeller Center works so well. Its buildings are a family that relate to each other as part of a whole; there is a design consistency that creates the ensemble. You look at any building in the project and you say "That is Rockefeller Center."

If we want people to go to Ground Zero and say "That is the World Trade Center," we need to adhere to the design principles developed for the overall site. Such coherence is how great spaces are made. Without it, you risk chaos.

Yet Childs appears to be disregarding Libeskind's master concept for the site. I couldn't help but notice that in the model that accompanied the new design for Freedom Tower, the shorter buildings on the site have really been bulked up, apparently abandoning Libeskind's vision.

If true, this would be disappointing. Childs has done some impressive things with his design. But as admirable as some of these innovations are, unless they are molded into a bigger and grander concept -- Libeskind's concept -- they will fall flat.

Beverly Willis, an architect, is the co-chair of Rebuild Downtown Our Town. This article was adapted from an interview.