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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.Torchlight

What's The Rush?

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

June 08, 2020

It's spreading fast — the idea that rush hour on NYC mass transit has got to go for NYC to start up again and get back its mojo. Sounds right to me. But the end of rush hour means quickly moving the city in a direction never before conjured up even in utopian fever dreams. Here are eight ideas culled from the current buzz and my own feverish brain for reviving the city. Some could be relatively short term and could end when science finds a cure for COVID 19 and develops a universally accessible vaccine to prevent its future contagion. Other no more rush hour changes should be permanent because they will contribute to the end of auto dependency, clean up NYC's air, cut our carbon emissions and foster a city that doesn't rely on always-expensive and thus always-inequitable car ownership.

MTA New York City Transit staff on Sunday, June 7 prepared for the the subway's safe return as New York City begins Phase 1 reopening on Monday, June 8, 2020
Photo: MTA New York City Transit staff on Sunday, June 7 prepared for the the subway's safe return as New York City begins Phase 1 reopening on Monday, June 8. Photo Credit: MTA New York City Transit / Patrick Cashin

  1. End free on-street parking

    It's time to free up public space to support a permanent NYC no more rush hour. If street parking isn't entirely ended, establish concentrated areas for on street parking and set permit fees at levels comparable to what private garages charge. This will raise much needed revenue that should go to support the options spelled out here for changing the rules of the road. The City can kick off this bold move by surveying residents with small businesses that require the use of small trucks or utility vehicles and consult with them about workable alternatives to free on street parking. Handicapped New Yorkers who rely on cars should also be surveyed.
  2. Work-Time Flex

    City government should work with business and civic groups to get the private sector to foster both flexible work hours and days. At scale, these kinds of changes to the school day and the work day would also entail changes to mass transit operating schedules and overall increased service, especially for local and express bus routes. Working from home may or may not become a long-term practice but it's certainly an imminent next normal. When it comes to ending rush hour, as Stanford University economist Paul Romer pithily noted, "a crisis is a terrible thing to waste."
  3. Stagger K-12 public school hours

    In tandem with flexing the work day, the Department of Education ought to spread out the daily transit time for many of its more than one million students. As well, it would alter the transit patterns of teachers and other education workers and it would help parents of younger students get out of their own rush hour rut. Private secular and religious schools ought to be encouraged to do the same.
  4. Change the rules of the road

    Cars should no longer rule. Instead, make City streets a true public asset by greatly expanding the bike lane network and widening sidewalks. Wider sidewalks will benefit pedestrians and local businesses alike. Make safe access to City streets and enhanced personal mobility affordable to all. As noted in The New York Times, "For now, the city's limited bike-lane network does not have the capacity to absorb a flood of people cycling to work, and that could push them onto more dangerous streets." 1
  5. End outer borough transit deserts

    More express and rapid transit bus service with routes that help end rush hours are a must; better bus service would be a less costly and much faster to execute action than expanding subway service. Not that more subway service should be overlooked. With a modern signal system, putting more trains into service or running the existing fleet with less time between trains should be part of the mix for mass transit.
  6. Get serious about enforcement

    Ending auto dominance demands public trust in personal safety. Effective dedicated bus lane enforcement so that transit times can be kept to a rider-friendly minimum is a related must. New Yorkers don't like to wait. Another must is good lighting on bike lanes and pedestrian pathways to foster safe use during short days of winter and work schedules that help to meet no more rush hour policy goals.
  7. Ensure transit mobility for all

    Seniors, parents with small children, as well as the physically challenged, must have easy access to reliable and frequent public transit where bikes + walking are not feasible choices.
  8. Revenue. Revenue

    Expect NYC's pandemic-delayed congestion pricing scheme to go into effect and start raising revenue to support mass transit. As Charles Komanoff, a proud parent of congestion pricing wrote recently, "The bedrock conditions that justified congestion pricing in the first place aren't going away". 2 As a starting point to end free on-street parking, I propose a $350 a month/per vehicle permit program, considerably below what many garages currently charge. That money could allow the City to direct monthly parking permit revenue to other important pedestrian, bike and related street mobility. Should the federal government step up to support urban mass transit and much needed alternatives? Sure. A federal green infrastructure transportation bill will likely be introduced by Congressional Democrats this month. "The plan, dubbed 'Moving Forward,' would specifically provide $434 billion for highway and transit programs, $55 billion for rail, $34.3 billion for clean energy, and $25.4 billion for drinking water." 3 Now guess how likely passage of such a bill is in 2020.

Is all this proposed upheaval really worth the effort? Consider this, "In May, nearly half of New Yorkers said they would avoid public transportation when the city comes back to life, according to a survey conducted by Elucd, a data research company, and Industrious, a workplace operator." 4 If these attitudes hold true through 2020 or beyond, this city will have another unprecedented life or death problem on its hands. But, unlike COVID-19, there is a cure for that painful dilemma at hand, or better yet, at foot.


Click To Add A Comment | What's the Rush?

Comments

July 2, 2020
Terri Matthews, Director, Town+Gown NYC, a city-wide research program in the Built Environment

Moving street parking to underground garages represents the tip of the "subsurface solution iceberg" to reduce street congestion. Traffic tunnels that separate moving traffic from local traffic is another. These subsurface solutions, which Paris makes extensive use of, optimize effective road area, reducing congestion, travel time, pollution and noise. Subsurface solutions can also solve for combined and single sewer issues and district-level energy efficiency. Town+Gown has been focusing on subsurface issues, holding its Under the Ground: Planning, Management and Utilization event early this year.

Increasing mobility system efficiency in connecting people and jobs increases urban efficiency. Since subsurface and surface public right of way (PROW) is an inelastic public good with no market pricing mechanism, high PROW demand simply translates into congestion, which is a public real estate problem. Land economic principles support public-private finance options. Quantifying PROW demand with neighborhood-based total road area/person indicator connects PROW demand to adjacent private land demand, providing a basis for quantifying benefits from reducing congestion. Assuming subsurface density reflects surface density provides order of magnitude scale to inform planning.

Subsurface solutions substitute capital for surface PROW in a subsurface direction. Tunnel boring machine technology allows tunneling in more places with minimal surface disturbance. While transferring surface use underground is expensive and subsidized public and private commuting costs complicate determining whether marginal cost are less than marginal mobility increases, many subsurface projects would be economically justifiable by evaluating full costs and benefits (increased mobility/access, increases in adjacent land values and decreases in surface pollution and noise) over the project's lifecycle.

When the limit of taxing to reduce congestion with existing assets approaches, planning for new subsurface assets to reduce congestion, with benefits tied closely to fees, is a logical next step. The City's Third Water Tunnel is a model for a long-term planning and implementation framework because subsurface solutions are necessary for the City's sustainable future growth; will require an integrated systems planning approach; and, will require project-based revenue financing. Mechanisms exist—local development corporations, IRC 82-26 and franchises—to finance initial construction and life-cycle costs, permitting private capital infusion and true transportation cost pricing. Value capture to provide additional revenue to the City would require state legislation.


Comments

June 13, 2020
David Bergman, RA LEED AP CPHD

Thank you, Nancy, for a great, encompassing list of steps we can take as we emerge from the pandemic to create a transportation system that’s better than the one we started with. I have to point out, though, that many of the suggestions reflect a Manhattan-centric view. When you leave the parts of the city that are not convenient to subways and that often require cars to do even basic errands, you find that ideas such as ending free street parking meet strong resistance. And that resistance is not without merit. Bicycling, too, is often not a viable option. Expansion of bus routes might help a bit. But the point is that what works in the densely populated areas of the city may not be applicable elsewhere.


Footnotes

  1. Goldbaum, Christina. “Can 8 Million Daily Riders Be Lured Back to N.Y. Mass Transit?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1 June 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/06/01/nyregion/coronavirus-commute-nyc-subway-cars.html
  2. Komanoff, Charles, et al. “KOMANOFF: Coronavirus Will Go Away, Congestion Pricing Must Not.” Streetsblog New York City, 3 Apr. 2020, nyc.streetsblog.org/2020/04/03/komanoff-coronavirus-will-go-away-congestion-pricing-must-not/
  3. Joselow, Maxine, and Geof Koss. “AGENDA: House Democrats to Unveil Green Infrastructure Bill This Week.” AGENDA: House Democrats to Unveil Green Infrastructure Bill This Week — Tuesday, June 2, 2020, E&E Daily, 2 June 2020, www.eenews.net/stories/1063295413
  4. Goldbaum, Christina. “Can 8 Million Daily Riders Be Lured Back to N.Y. Mass Transit?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1 June 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/06/01/nyregion/coronavirus-commute-nyc-subway-cars.html
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