Monday, October 24, 2011

The future of Rockland, Bergen and Orange

One of the unpleasant possibilities to contemplate if the Tappan Zee Bridge gets rebuilt at double the width is a massive growth in sprawl. Right now, driving to Westchester every morning is a pain in the ass and getting worse every day. When the new bridge opens with its wide lanes and shoulders, traffic should move quickly, even with four lanes in each direction. If traffic gets backed up, you know that Cuomo would use one or both of the shoulders for an extra lane, even though he pretended he wouldn't. Tolls may be double, but they'll pay for a nice easy commute - until drivers get to I-287 at least.

With this easy commute, people will start buying houses in Orange, Bergen and Rockland again, and businesses will start moving offices back to Westchester. The money spent by all the construction workers in the immediate area will boost the economy, putting more people to work. "Homebuilders" will go back to work knocking down trees on the sides of Orange County hills to build more subdivisions. Big box stores will build more locations along Route 59, with nice big parking lots. Maybe the State will get excited at all the toll money coming in and widen the Thruway like it proposed in the study.

You and I may recoil in horror at that scenario - carnage! pollution! wasted oil! wasted space! obesity! bowling alone! But that's the happy motoring vision put forth by the task force under Governor Pataki and Commissioner Boardman in 2006, and continued right through to the present day under Andrew "car guy" Cuomo and Joan "smart growth" McDonald. A lot of it is based on the projections from the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, like this one for traffic volume on the bridge.

The problem is that these projections are moronic. Sooner or later this will stop. As Kate Slevin predicts, even at fourteen lanes, the bridge will get congested. But before that, a lot of people will not be able to afford to pay ten dollars a day to cross the bridge on top of everything else. Gas prices will rise to five, six or seven dollars a gallon, and that will knock out a lot of other commuters on the bridge. If people can't drive to work, they will take transit, and if the transit continues to suck they will get jobs in the city where they can take the train or the bus in. If they can't do that they will move to someplace with more convenient transit. Others will stop moving to that part of the region, because it won't be a good deal any more.

When that happens, in order to function at all Bergen, Orange and Rockland will need to transition to a lifestyle oriented around transit and walking, which means living in town. How easy will that be, with a brand new five billion dollar bridge that nobody needs anymore, and all the sprawl it created? How easy would it be instead if we spent the money on transit, such as restoring passenger service on the West Shore Line?


majormajor42 said...

A chart in another post showed things are fairly flat the last ten years but I'm not sure if that was due to congestion saturation or the economy or something else. So yes, this chart here is off already. Hard to say what the future holds.

I'm not sure what the facts are but it is my opinion/observation that afternoon/evening westbound gets backed up far worse starting in nanuet/west nyack and back onto bridge, sometimes all the way to 287 split. A new bridge with infinity lanes still needs to merge to three. An extra lane still needs to get up that hill against late sun glare. I don't sse things improving much.

At least I see higher mileage cars, hybrids, phev, and electric alleviating some of your concerns. I for one will be doubling my mpg next month with a new car. I'd get an phev Volt but since I live in a high-occ condo and not a house, there is no place for me to plug in yet. I think it will take some litigation, else condo boards and the such will not want to deal with liability and expense. It'll take a few years.

In order to build more box stores and parking lots on rt 59 they are going to have to knock down some box stores and parking lots on rt 59 ie Nanuet Mall.

I might like the west shore railroad coming back. But Suffern and Nanuet and Spring Valley make bad examples. Train stations don't necessarily make those villages nicer. Seems like most people there like living beyond walking distance and parking in lots near the station, in the middle of town. We might not like it but that is the way it is, and I don't want to force people out of their houses.

nathan_h said...

"bowling alone!"

Ha! New employees get a free copy of that book where I work, but I only made it 2/3 through. Now that is some numbers-heavy reading. Probably written by Cap'n Transit.

Alon said...

What people prefer is what the government tax-subsidizes. If instead of redlining the government had decided to only guarantee mortgages in central cities, and if the government had given people a tax credit for rent but not mortgages, and if the Supreme Court hadn't said that city-suburb public school boundaries were not unconstitutional segregation, things would've looked different.

Cap'n Transit said...

You saw that leveling off too, Major? Tonight's post is about that chart. Oh, and electric cars will not save the world.

Nathan, knowing where you work that's pretty funny.