Monday, January 31, 2011

Snow, kvetching and the many New Yorks

In my last post I observed that the city has changed the way it does snow removal, and that the politicians and the media have proclaimed themselves to be largely satisfied with the results. Well, I'm not satisfied, and I'm not annoyed any longer, I'm pissed. The city may have implemented its recommendations, and even "gone overboard," but that's not all they did. They changed their priorities as well.

The Prospect Park West bike lane, which has been the target of some politicians' rage, was left half-plowed for several days after the December snowstorm, and since the January 20th snowfall it still hasn't been completely plowed. Of course, this affects pedestrians who want to cross the bike lane too. The Second Avenue bike lane was not plowed quickly after last week's storm. Entitled motorists are still hampering snow removal.

The worst part, I first heard from a retweet by Stu Loeser, the Mayor's press secretary, of all places. "The worst part of the snow? You can't jaywalk," wrote Stephen Kamsler on Friday morning. I thought he was exaggerating and tweeted back, "You just don't have the right boots!"

When I went outside I discovered that Kamsler was actually understating things. Not only was it hard to jaywalk, but it was hard to just plain walk. At the corners, there is usually one path shoveled to cross the street east-west and one north-south. At my corner there are only east-west crosswalk paths, and no north-south ones - and it's still that way, on Sunday night.

That's the pattern all across the city. I've seen it all over Queens. Ben Kabak and BrooklynSpoke have noticed it in Brooklyn. Some guy in Astoria has pictures.

This is not a new pattern; it happens in Boston, Providence, Rye and Philadelphia, and our commenter Helen Bushnell reports a similar situation in Colorado.

The difference is that until last week, New York never had this problem. I honestly don't know how we did it. The sidewalks, as Alon points out, are the responsibility of the property owners, and the Sanitation website says the crosswalks are too. But how is it that they used to be pretty clear, and now they're not? It's just too much of a coincidence that this should be happening all over the city.

So what do the politicians have to say? Well, we got a tweet from Greenfield. One tweet, among lots of tweets about various streets in his district that were blocked for cars. What do the media say? Well, we have a story in the Queens Courier.

By and large, the difficulty we've had walking around been ignored, with a couple of exceptions that I'll explore in a future post. As you can see from the links I've posted, there have been more stories about blocked crosswalks in other cities.

Let me be clear about this: this issue is not particularly about me. I've got good boots, as you've probably heard, and I can walk right over those snowbanks. It's not a matter of life and death. It's about convenience, but more than that, it's about fairness, and about who counts.

Until December 28, we had a system where major routes were plowed first, and then more minor through routes, and then side routes. It didn't really matter whether they were for cars, bikes or pedestrians; the ones used by the more people were done before the ones used by less people.

Clearly, David Greenfield didn't like that, and neither did Steve Cuozzo or Marty Markowitz. In their view, drivers come first, and they wanted every street plowed before any bike lanes were plowed. People like Greg Mocker and Jimmy Van Bramer echoed that demand, although it's not entirely clear that they understood what they were asking for. Regardless, the city has gone along with it, and more. Now the streets are plowed long before the crosswalks are shoveled. Was that a suggestion from Greenfield? Will we ever know?

In the end, it doesn't really matter. Whether bikes come before cars or not, the important thing is that almost all New Yorkers are either pedestrians, wheelchair users, or stroller passengers. Pedestrians should come before bicycles or cars. Greenfield, Cuozzo and the rest need to hear it. They should clarify that they want the crosswalks clear as soon as the roads are. If they won't, then they are not speaking for all New Yorkers.

Kvetching about snow

So there was a big brouhaha over the city's response to the blizzard - and to some extent, the MTA's as well. Both organizations did make serious mistakes, and some people died needlessly, but for someone who can walk to shopping and take transit to work, and who can take a day or two off or work from home, it was not a big deal.

Even for someone who normally drives to Costco to shop, it wasn't that big a deal. If you drive to Costco, you buy in bulk and keep weeks' worth of food in your basement, right? And everyone knew there was a storm coming and had to stock up. But if you ran out of milk, even in the most Godforsaken part of Staten Island there are still delis within walking distance. And yet...

And yet, it was somehow a big deal to a lot of people. Whether it was the Times editorial board or that master of high dudgeon, Greg Mocker, the media angle was that this was not just an unparalleled disaster, but an injustice of the highest order.

City Council members thundered about the iniquity, and the loudest of them all was freshman David Greenfield, nicknamed "Kvetch" by Aaron Naparstek because of his ability to turn a stubbed toe into the Ultimate Showdown. I'm sure this guy is loving it: a few more Weather Emergencies and he'll be grandtweeting his way into Borough Hall in 2015.

I was mildly amused at first, but this kind of stuff has consequences. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, but sometimes it's not actually the squeaky wheel that's the problem. You can look at making things more efficient, but beyond a certain point if you're demanding more in city services, you need to either raise revenue to pay for them, or cut something else. The snow response was slow in part because the city had cut the sanitation budget, and that was in part because tax revenues are down and expenses are up. But one thing you hardly ever hear people like Greenfield say is that they'd be willing to pay more taxes to have adequate services. The money should come from "eliminating waste, fraud and abuse." Or else it should come from cutting someone else's city services. And that's where I started to get annoyed.

First, Greenfield made a speech about the Ocean Parkway bike lane being cleared before - what? Clearly the car lanes on Ocean Parkway had been plowed, but some side streets had not. Then the Post's anti-bike-lane crusader Steve Cuozzo got in on the act, filing a column about the Broadway bike lanes in Manhattan. Other media piled on, until it became clear that this was about priorities.

Okay, so all that was back in December, a little more than a month ago. In that month, the City Council has held hearings, and the Mayor's office released a set of recommendations for improved snow response (PDF). There have been two significant snowfalls, Not only has no one died, but the wags at New York Magazine point out that the snow may actually have saved a man's life. The politicians and the media have largely proclaimed themselves satisfied with the results.

What about me: am I satisfied? Turns out I have a lot more to say on this topic than I planned. Stay tuned for the next installment. In the meantime, though, are your crosswalks clear? Please let me know in the comments.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Crappy snow removal does not a snowpocalypse make

When I said in my last post that the December 26-27 snowstorm wasn't all that bad, I didn't mean to suggest that it couldn't have been handled better. As I mentioned, some people died because emergency vehicles weren't able to get them to hospitals in time, and there were people stranded on trains for hours. From what I can tell, the city made two major mistakes, and the MTA made two major mistakes.

The first MTA mistake was not being adequately prepared far enough in advance, for example by suspending express service on underground lines so that trains could be stored on those tracks. The second was sending too many buses out without making sure that they would be able to move people around without getting stuck in the snow.

The first city mistake was not doing enough to prevent private drivers from blocking the roads. While I heard reports of streets blocked by buses and even the city's own cleanup vehicles, it sounds like there were many instances that happened like this: a private citizen decides to drive somewhere instead of walking or just staying home. Their car doesn't have snow tires, chains or four-wheel drive. They get it stuck in the snow in the middle of the street. They abandon the car and come back for it some time later. Meanwhile, the disabled car is blocking the street, sometimes for hours.

The city could have made it clear that there are harsh penalties for abandoning vehicles in the middle of the street, even in a snowstorm. Then they could have enforced those penalties. Instead, apparently, they allowed people to abandon their vehicles without any penalty, and sometimes even did them the favor of digging the cars out.

The second city mistake was described by Billy Wharton in the Bronx Examiner: "[Bloomberg] stated that the reason for the slow plow response was that the private plow owners were unresponsive to requests by the City. This point should not be cast aside as a mere attempt by Bloomberg to deflect blame. Whether we know it or not New Yorkers are now dependent on private companies in order to ensure clean streets. And for this Bloomberg is to blame."

According to Wharton, this was the result of a botched attempt to privatize the city's sanitation services. "Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty danced around this issue claiming, at first, that his Department had been too slow to reach out to private contractors. He later admitted that the pool of private companies willing to do business with the City had shrunk. There is just no money in it."

Hm, services cut and then replaced with a poorly structured privatization plan that doesn't provide enough compensation to the private service providers? Where have I heard that before? Oh yes, the livery van program.

Wharton is oversimplifying things by saying "privatization kills." It would be more accurate to say "incompetent privatization kills." A few days ago, Stephen Smith introduced us to the concept of cargo-cult urbanism, where people believe that by mimicking the superficial trappings of prosperous, efficient cities they can achieve that prosperity and efficiency themselves. Well, the livery van program and the sanitation program are some kind of faith-healing privatization. Like Christian Scientists who reject medical care and pray to their god for healing, the City stopped paying for transportation and sanitation services, and expected the private sector to step in. It doesn't work that way.

While Bloomberg is the Mayor and the buck stops with him, there's also a guy who's supposed to be a genius of privatization and efficiency, who has built his career on helping government to run leaner. His name is Stephen Goldsmith, and last year Bloomberg hired him as Deputy Mayor for Operations, overseeing the Department of Transportation, the Taxi and Limousine Commission, and yes, the Department of Sanitation. These privatization initiatives are what he was hired to do.

I was intrigued when Goldsmith came on board, and I would like to believe that he really does know a thing or two about privatization. I have to say I'm a little skeptical at this point, because it seems like faith healing to me. I hope Bloomberg is skeptical too.

But that's not why I'm seriously pissed about the political response to the storm. After all, the inconvenience was relatively minor. In the last post I told you that I would say why I'm pissed. I'm sorry, I just had to get this off my chest first. I'll get to that soon, but some of you have already figured it out.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Snow, politics and the media

So there's been a lot of snow lately. There was one big blizzard that started on Boxing Day and dumped more than a foot of snow on the city. From what I heard on the news and read in the papers, it was a complete disaster. Some streets were unplowed for days, nobody could get anywhere, and several people died. Then there was another storm last week, but that was smaller and the city cleared it up much quicker. This past Wednesday night there was another foot of snow, and so far everyone seems pretty happy with it.

Reading this kind of bullshit makes me feel like I'm living in an alternate universe. I had no real trouble with the first snowfall, because I didn't really go out much. It was the week after Christmas, I was on vacation! Where did I need to go? I went to the supermarket around the corner, and they had plenty of food. I went to the cafe a few blocks away and had a nice panini.

Sure there were huge mounds of snow everywhere, but I've got good boots. There was a dump truck stuck in the middle of my street for several hours, and it took three front-end loaders to pull it free, but people drove on the other streets. The street next to my kid's school was completely blocked with a big snowbank, but that made it a lot safer for the kids to cross. After a day or two, the sidewalks and crosswalks were shoveled, the trains and buses were running, and we could all get around the city.

Okay, so I was on vacation, but a guy I know in the neighborhood had no trouble either. He had one customer across the street, another two blocks away, and a third around the corner. That's the value of working locally. Some other neighbors worked from home via the internet, and others just got the day off. Nobody had to go into Manhattan, or anywhere else, on December 27, and not too many people really had to go in on the 28th either.

Now obviously some people needed to go to the hospital, couldn't get help and died. That's a real shame and a problem, and we shouldn't minimize it. People were stranded for hours on subway trains, really locked in without a chance to get off and walk somewhere, and that's not good at all. As far as I'm concerned, those were the only two serious problems that resulted from the government's handling of the snow situation, and what we needed to do was focus on how to avoid those problems in the future. But that wasn't the focus in the City Council or in the media.

I was mildly amused at first to see reporters like Greg Mocker wailing about the streets that weren't plowed, and it was kind of fun to listen to that amateur cameraman hyperventilating as he watched a City tractor demolish a City-owned SUV that some bureaucrat had unnecessarily left parked on a Brooklyn Heights side street. But all that got old really quick, and I started feeling pretty annoyed hearing City Council members like David "Kvetch" Greenfield working themselves into a lather over which side street got plowed when.

Still, I was only annoyed. But then I started to get angry, and now I'm seriously pissed. I'll tell you why in my next post, but some of you may already know, because you're feeling the same way.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

From Staten Island to 34th Street

Commenter and occasional contributor George K has pointed out something that the Department of Transportation's bus planners seem to have missed: it's not just Manhattan and Queens. Thousands of commuters from Staten Island also ride buses that use the 34th Street bus lanes.

RouteDaily TripsOperatorCrossingMajor corridorNeighborhoodCouncil district(s)
X17J1893MTALincoln TunnelHuguenot AvenueHuguenot50, 51
X221830MTALincoln TunnelForest AvenueWest New Brighton49
X23/X24/AE71899Atlantic ExpressLincoln TunnelWoodrow RoadWoodrow51
X31740MTABrooklyn Battery TunnelForest Hill RoadNew Springville50

The total ridership for all branches of the X17 was 5680; I estimated that one third of that is the X17J. Atlantic Express did not publish any ridership figures like the MTA, but their 2006 filing in the National Transit Database (PDF) lists 693,076 unlinked trips for the year. George suggests that the X30, which brings 840 people to 42nd Street, could also use 34th Street, bringing the total number of trips to 7,202.

That means that Councilmember Ignizio from the South Shore has 2,846 34th Street bus trips from his district, almost as many as Dan Halloran does. Mitchell from the North Shore has 1,830, slightly less than Ulrich, and Oddo from the center has 1,682, a few more than Crowley. The grand total is over 42,200 bus trips using the bus lanes every day.

I've heard that some people in Queens are starting to contact their City Council members. If we can get the Staten Island delegation on board, it will be that much more of the city in favor of this project.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Peak oil, climate change and transportation infrastructure

Here's an idea that's been slowly crystallizing in my mind. I've posted earlier stabs at this idea, but here's my current thinking about it. It's about what kind of transportation infrastructure we want knowing about global warming and peak oil.

I'm pretty sure most of you believe that global warming is real, but I know that not everyone accepts the idea of peak oil. I'd rather that you were right than me, but you have to wonder why we'd be mucking around with deepwater oil drilling, tar sands and hydrofracking if we didn't have an energy supply problem.

Wind, solar, hydroelectric and maybe nuclear energy will take up some of that slack, but global warming limits the usefulness of coal, tar sands, and other fossil fuels. In fifty of a hundred years it's likely that our ability to move large heavy objects will be significantly reduced.

It's clear that a lot of people are aware of the implications of peak oil and climate change for transportation of passengers and freight. It's not so clear that very many people have thought about the implications for manufacturing and construction.

First, think about all the infrastructure components that are made out of oil: plastic car, bus and train parts, synthetic fabrics. Well, they were once made with renewables like wool, wood and rattan, and abundant, recyclable minerals like metal and fiberglass, so that's not such a big deal. But roofs and roads are made with tar, which comes from petroleum and is in limited supply. Substitutes are a lot more expensive and not always as effective.

Then we get to the question of manufacturing. We will probably have enough energy to manufacture bicycles and horse carts, but will we have enough to make automobiles, buses, trucks, train cars and ships?

Finally, there's the facilities themselves. If we're having a hard time maintaining the roads, railroads and bridges we have now, how are we going to be able to maintain a larger system with a fraction of the energy?

Imagine that it's the year 2111, and your great-grandchildren are trying to run a decent transportation system. Think about the energy currently available for transportation operations and maintenance - moving all those cars, trucks, trains, boats and planes on all those roads and railroads to all those docks and airports. Now imagine that your great-grandchildren have to run the system with a tenth of the energy that we use now.

With a tenth of the energy available, which do you think they would want us to have left them: the Joel Kotkin "people's choice" system of sprawl and highways? The Aaron Renn "balanced" system with some rail lines and some highways? The Walter Hook "cheap mobility for all" system of crowded buses on asphalt?

I don't want any of those. I don't want my great-grandchildren to ride donkey carts over crumbling ten-lane interstates. I don't want them to have to spend valuable energy replacing concrete roadbeds over and over again for buses. I don't want them packed into aging buses. I want them to inherit the most efficient transportation system that humanity has ever devised: a network of compact, walkable and bikeable cities and towns connected by multiple, redundant rail lines. None of the three infrastructure plans I mentioned above will do this. The only thing that will is to pull as much money from road construction as possible and throw it into rebuilding our rail infrastructure. The President's proposal and the Mayor's research are promising; let's see how much further we can go.

We don't have much time before the oil runs out. In that time we need to put together a system that can be run and maintained on a fraction of the energy that we currently use. That's why we can't afford to indulge outdated fantasies of sprawl and the open road. That's why we can't afford to do it half-assed out of a phony sense of balance. That's why we can't afford to do it on the cheap out of ill-timed egalitarianism.

I'm a pragmatist. I know that the roadbuilders and the pseudo-American Dreamers will fight my vision with everything they've got. And that's exactly why I don't want people like the Urbanophile and the ITDP giving them any ammunition. If you think there's a chance we could run out of oil, you shouldn't be supporting false balance or false economies. You should throw your weight behind building as much rail as we can, and building it to last.

The chickens come home to roost

I think that's a nice evocative metaphor, even though it seems like you'd want the chickens coming home to roost. Then you get eggs! And you can cut off their fingers and fry them up. But I'll just assume that these are Chickens of Evil, because it's a bad thing when they come home to roost. Any farmers that can clarify this?

What the fuck am I talking about, you ask? Well, it's the latest round of bus service cuts announced by the MTA this morning. Ben at Second Avenue Sagas has a good summary, and also makes the point that these kinds of service cuts can lead to a death spiral, where more and more people get fed up waiting for the bus and drive to work instead, until there's nobody left to take the bus and the MTA cancels the route.

This is kind of a far-fetched scenario, but if you're worried about your bus losing funding, you should fight for bigger cuts to driving so that driving remains a worse option. That means no BQE widening, no Gowanus tunnel, no hundreds of millions to replace (and widen) the Kosciuszko Bridge or the Pulaski Skyway, no billions to replace (and widen) the Tappan Zee and Goethals bridges.

Some of the information about these cuts is a bit misleading, though. In the announcement that Ben links from his post, New York City Transit President Thomas Prendergast writes, "Forty of the 64 bus schedule changes represent reductions in service levels to more closely align service with customer demand and established guidelines for bus operation; and to concurrently improve reliability through running time modifications where needed."

Hm, more closely align service with established guidelines. That doesn't sound too bad. In comments on Ben's post, Alon Levy and BrooklynBus were very understanding of this. The problem is that these loading guidelines are not fixed. They were revised in 2004, to bring the goal up from 80% of seats full to 100%. The subway loading guidelines were increased during the last round of cuts a year ago, but the bus cuts used a different methodology. Since these guidelines aren't published anywhere, I have no idea what they're at now for buses, but they may be up over 100% of seats full.

The main problem with this dance is that it diffuses the target for opposition. If they cut the loading guidelines and cut bus service to match, then you'd be able to say, "Damn you, Marty Golden, you didn't support the Ravitch plan, and now my bus is being cut!" Instead you have to say, "Damn you, Hakeem Jeffries, you didn't support congestion pricing, and now they're raising the loading guidelines!" and then everyone gets this puzzled look and says, "so what"? And then when they cut the bus service, everyone says, "Well, they're just aligning it with established guidelines!"

The "established guidelines" are not fixed. They are a function of the transit system's funding levels, which is set by the budget. These cuts are the fault of the legislature just as much as any other cuts. The two-step dance obscures that information, and Jay Walder should end it as soon as possible. Publish the loading guidelines, and make it known when they are raised, and why. And for God's sake, find someone in the MTA headquarters who knows how to print a Word document to a PDF file!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Yes, we do need to build more....

Last week, the Urbanophile posted an article called "Yes, we Do Need to Build More Roads." He expected that a lot of people wouldn't like it, and that he would come under a hail of criticism. I didn't really see this hail materialize, but hey, I didn't like the piece, and I'm ready to add my criticism.

I criticize a lot of people on this blog. Some of them, like Joel Kotkin and Chris Christie, are dishonest trolls who are not likely to be swayed by any argument here, and the best thing to do is to discredit them and hope they go away. Some, like Roger K. Lewis and Walter Hook, seem to share my goals, but are clueless as to how to accomplish them and too arrogant to realize how clueless they are; I try to point out what's wrong with their arguments, but don't have much hope that they'll change them. Others, like Yonah Freemark and Steven Higashide, I regard as allies who share most of my goals and are generally pretty sharp; I try to be pretty gentle with them and hope they'll see my side of things.

The Urbanophile is definitely in the third group: he clearly cares about cities and the environment, and is always looking to learn more and revise his thinking, so let's all hope that he reads this, doesn't get defensive, and is persuaded that no, we don't actually need to build very many roads at all.

Basically, the Urbanophile argues that the population of the U.S. is growing, and in the last decade the country added more people than were living in the top twelve cities in the country. Future populations will need a way to get to work, but a lot of the jobs are in the suburbs, and building new transit is hard. Therefore, we should build highways to avoid "decades of commuting misery." Let me take each of these one by one.

The population of the U.S. may have grown quite a bit over the last decade, but as they say, past performance is no guarantee of future return. As a specialist in Rust Belt cities, the Urbanophile knows that populations can go down.

Migration is the primary source of population growth in the United States, and it is not some mysterious force of nature. It is a phenomenon whose causes are pretty well-understood: if life sucks in one place, move to another where you think it won't suck as much. When the U.S. economy tanked, a lot of Mexicans decided not to come here.

But let's assume that we will see a significant increase in the population over the next fifty years. Why does that mean we need more roads?

Do we need more roads because there's no room in the walkable, transit-oriented old urban areas? No, because we can just build more walkable, transit-oriented new urban areas. Do we need more roads because the jobs are in the suburbs? No. If more people come, it's because they expect there to be jobs for them, and these new jobs can be located in walkable urban areas. Alternatively, we could transform the sprawl where the existing jobs are into walkable urban areas and build residential developments within easy walking or transit access.

And now the weakest point in the Urbanophile's argument:

But even if we achieve our potential in transit, America still needs to build more roads. We've got an interstate system originally designed for a 1960 population of 180 million and we are now well over 300 million and going up. By 2050 we'll have more than double the 1960 population. This will require a major expansion of infrastructure, and that includes highway infrastructure.

There is nothing that says that a major expansion of infrastructure will require any of it to be highway infrastructure. You might just as well say that since we have a canal system originally designed for an 1820 population of ten million, we have to dig more canals. There may be good reasons to build roads, but the fact that our roads were originally designed for a smaller population is not one of them.

Finally, let's look at the way the Urbanophile frames the whole piece:

Road are clearly out of fashion in urban planning circles. Conventional wisdom now decries roads in favor of public transit, walking or biking in developments designed to mimic traditional 19th century urbanism. Common refrains are “we can't build our way out of congestion” or “widening roads to cure congestion is like loosening your belt to cure obesity.” Also frequently noted is the vehicle miles traveled has – at least until recently – outpaced population growth.

But this piece of conventional wisdom is also deeply flawed. It obscures the bigger point that in a growing country we need to expand infrastructure to keep pace.


Thanks to a fortuitous lease of the Indiana Toll Road however, over 50 miles of freeway in the region are now being widened. Without this, the region would have faced decades of commuting misery.
The principle that we can't build our way out of congestion is not "conventional wisdom." It's an established generalization built on observations of multiple events over the course of the twentieth century. It has provided the basis for past predictions that have proven true. It does not obscure the idea that we need to expand infrastructure to keep pace with a growing country. On the contrary, it shows how unwise it is to apply that idea unthinkingly and simplistically.

Sure, it's possible to fail to build adequate infrastructure to deal with a growing population; this has happened in Lagos, Mumbai and Rio de Janeiro. But the assumption that all infrastructure must include a minimum proportion of auto infrastructure guarantees an incentive for people to drive, and is essentially a recipe for decades of commuting misery.

There's a larger point about the relative efficiency of various transportation infrastructure, but I'll leave that for another post. I'm going to close with this request: that the Urbanophile take seriously the principle of induced demand, learn about it, and put the same amount of thought and energy into any critique of it that I put into this critique of his ideas. Dismissing it out of hand as "conventional wisdom" is arrogant, thoughtless and disrespectful. It's the kind of thing I'd expect from Joel Kotkin or Roger K. Lewis, but I generally think that Aaron M. Renn is above that.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Two New Yorks

Some of you may remember Freddy Ferrer's assertion in his 2001 mayoral campaign that there were "two New Yorks" - the one he came from, and the one that Mark Green came from. You may remember how he lost that campaign, and then resurrected the slogan in his 2005 run against Mike Bloomberg. Then Bill Thompson tried to use it against Bloomberg in 2009, and lost. You may, like Barry Popik, connect it to Jacob Riis's book How the Other Half Lives. You may have heard Lew Fidler connect congestion pricing to the concept.

The oldest use of the term I can find is by the historian Mary Louise Booth in 1859. P.G. Wodehouse used it in 1912. It pops up a few times in the 1970s: a 1972 review by Eugene Gaier of a book on the teachers' strike, a 1977 Time Magazine article about Bella Abzug's mayoral campaign, and a 1979 article by Joyce Purnick about a debate between Ed Koch and Chuck Rangel.

"The Two New Yorks" was the title of a sneering 1993 article by Frank J. Macchiarola in City Journal, one prong of the conservative two-prong strategy to thwart progressive policy in New York City. Later that year it was used by Elizabeth Kolbert in an article about the campaign of Rudy Giuliani, who happened to be a big fan of City Journal, against David Dinkins.

Last month I had a feeling that there were two New Yorks. It was when I read that at a City Council hearing on bicycle policy, a guy named Norman Steisel who was Deputy Mayor eighteen years ago was allowed to jump ahead of two hundred cyclists who had been patiently waiting to talk, and then to speak for over twenty minutes while all other speakers were limited to five. Who was the entitled civil servant demanding government subsidies for his lifestyle, and who were the do-it-yourselfers? Not who you'd expect if you listened to Macchiarola and Thompson.

Macchiarola admits that his distinction is not an economic one. That's good, because if you go back to Jacob Riis's idea of "how the other half lives," just about everyone thundering about Two New Yorks and Our Billionaire Mayor live in the top half. The median income in 2008 was $55,980, and I'm pretty sure that Rangel, Macchiarola, Giuliani, Ferrer, Steisel, Thompson and Fidler, and probably Kolbert as well, make more than that.

The fight over the 34th Street Transitway really shows how limiting the "Two New Yorks" worldview is. In that case you have wealthy Manhattanites against poorer outer borough residents, but the "billionaire Mayor" and the "elitist bikers" are on the side of Queens and "the community" is on the side of the wealthy Manhattanites.

There is a principle at work: the haves tend to oppress and screw over the have-nots. It's true wherever you go: Manhattan, outer boroughs, suburbs, country. Sometimes the haves are in Manhattan and the have-nots in the outer boroughs, sometimes not. Sometimes the Mayor and the DOT are on the side of the haves, and sometimes not.

I have to say that I have yet to see a case where people with cars were being genuinely oppressed or screwed over by people without cars. But maybe that's because I don't consider restrictions on reckless or negligent car use to be a form of oppression, and I don't think that ending subsidies for pollution, carnage and wasting energy constitute screwing anyone over.

There is a sense in which there are two New Yorks. One New York is made up of people who believe there are two New Yorks, and the other is not.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The other users of the 34th Street Transitway

If you've seen television reports, newspaper columns and blog posts about the City's plans to provide physically separated bus lanes on 34th Street, you might be forgiven for thinking that this was some arbitrary exercise with empty buses, with the entire goal being to deprive car-dependent residents of Murray Hill of their right to be picked up and dropped off in front of their buildings - or worse, to let them try to pick up or drop off someone and then - gotcha! revenue generation!

If you read pro-transit blogs and tweets, you would know that the buses contain thousands of bus riders: about 33,000 trips per day. Apparently there has been some representation of these riders by the Straphangers Campaign, but the meetings seem to be completely dominated by people who identify as either drivers or taxi riders.

Other than the Department of Transportation staff themselves, no one has acknowledged that the majority of these riders don't even live in Manhattan. There are more than twenty express bus routes from central and eastern Queens, and a little bit of southern Brooklyn, that bring thousands of riders into Midtown every day. They travel down the Long Island Expressway through the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, west on 34th Street, north on Third or Sixth Avenue, east on 57th Street, back across the Queensboro Bridge, and down Queens Boulevard. Here are figures from the 2009 ridership data released by the MTA:


RouteRidershipMajor corridor NeighborhoodCouncil district(s)
QM1/QM1A (now QM1, QM5, QM6, QM7, QM8)5362Union TurnpikeFresh Meadows23, 24
QM21926Whitestone ExpresswayBayside19
QM241682Fresh Pond RoadRidgewood30
QM151237155th AvenueLindenwood32
QM2A1187Willets Point BoulevardBayside19
QM41007Jewel AvenueUtopia24
X63750Francis Lewis BoulevardRosedale31
X68650Hillside AvenueBellerose27, 23
QM21606Guy R Brewer BoulevardLocust Manor28
QM12578Yellowstone BoulevardForest Hills29
QM1051763rd RoadForest Hills29
QM1150363rd RoadForest Hills29
BM5500Linden BoulevardSpring Creek42
X64450Linden BoulevardCambria Heights23
QM17363Beach Channel DriveFar Rockaway31
QM16337Rockaway Beach BoulevardRockaway Park32
QM18273Lefferts BoulevardOzone Park32
QM3131Northern BoulevardFlushing23

There have been at least five meetings about this project in Midtown Manhattan, but to my knowledge there have been no meetings in Queens. There is a Community Advisory Committee for the project, but are there any representatives from Fresh Meadows or Bayside? I certainly haven't heard from them in the news, the blogs or the Twitter feeds.

It's true that this is a pretty good case of a situation with concentrated costs and diffuse benefits, and these often get hijacked by the people who perceive themselves as having something to lose. While it may be no big surprise that Steve "real New Yorkers don't like pedestrian plazas" Cuozzo and Debra "Alt Side" Alfarone don't bother to get the bus passengers' perspective, it would be nice if Jill Colvin and Noah Kazis could at least find one person from Queens willing to talk about it.

The DOT is in a weird situation: they're supposed to be serving the public, and in this case I think they are. But if everything they hear from "the public" is anti-transitway, they're going to be hard pressed to continue the project. It seems reasonable to me that they would reach out to Queens bus passengers, but as far as I know they haven't.

As far as I know, we have also heard nothing from the City Council members who represent these riders. Here they are, roughly:

DistrictLast NameWeekday trips

The numbers fall into four nice groups: Manhattan with almost 6,000 trips per district; Northeast Queens with 3-4,000 trips; Central Queens and the Rockaways with 1,000-2,000 trips, and Southeast Queens and James Barron's district in Brooklyn with less than a thousand trips each.

It would be nice to see more participation from people representing express bus riders, particularly from Gennaro, Weprin and Halloran. A few letters probably wouldn't hurt. And I'll give a tip to anyone interested in organizing the bus riders: after sitting in clogged traffic on 34th Street, they're usually pretty annoyed with the deal. Transportation Alternatives and the Straphangers Campaign could probably get a whole bunch of supporters signed on just by handing out leaflets at the bus stops in Manhattan.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Why replace the Tappan Zee Bridge?

Okay, I'm still not getting the answer I want.

I think the latest estimate is $8.3 billion dollars to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge. Some of it may come from tolls, some may come from a "public-private partnership," some may come from the Tooth Fairy, but most of it will come from us taxpayers. I think we need to know what the public purpose of that spending is.

So far, all I've heard from the State DOT is, "Rehabilitation is not an option." Okay, fine. I've heard from Adirondacker 12800 about how the shipworms will eat the bridge if we don't do something. Okay, fine. But what's the point of the bridge in the first place? Why not just tear it down or prevent people from driving on it, like we've done with so many other bridges? Why do we have a bridge there?

I've never gotten any comments from DOT or Thruway staffers involved in the project, but I would be interested in hearing from them: why did the "no build" scenario in the Alternatives Analysis (PDF) involve maintaining the bridge's current capacity, when all the other documents show that they know perfectly well that there will have to be some "building" to maintain that capacity? Doesn't that violate the some kind of project review law? What would a true "no build" alternative look like?

I'm particularly interested in hearing from Kate Slevin, Veronica Vanterpool and Steven Higashide of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, who last month wrote to the man who is now Governor, asking him to drop the commuter rail portion of the project, and on Friday reiterated that call, specifying that the "highway improvements" (widening) could be dropped as part of the scaling down. That would bring it down to around $5.2 billion dollars for the bridge, plus $900 million for bus lanes or $3 billion for a busway. What do we get for the money?

And yes, I am being Socratic here. I do have an answer in mind. But I'm being open-minded about this, and if someone can come up with an answer that will persuade me, I will change my mind. Let me tell you in advance some things that won't change my mind. I don't give a rat's ass about "mobility"; it's a means to an end, nothing more. And "reducing congestion" is a fool's errand when you're talking about building highways, so I don't want to spend $8.3 billion dollars for a "congestion reduction" project that won't. Finally, I'm not likely to be impressed by anything that takes the NYMTC population and economic projections as a given.

If you need data, the project documents are here.

Anyone want to give it a crack? How 'bout you, Joan McDonald?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Market distortions at 4PM

We've fairly well established that New York Times transportation reporter Michael Grynbaum is short-sighted about traffic calming, bus improvements and commuting costs. Now Stephen Smith at Market Urbanism shows that Grynbaum is pretty clueless about market forces too.

Most of Grynbaum's article is a fairly straightforward explanation of large numbers of New York City taxi drivers take a break between 4:00 and 5:00 PM. Some people have long suspected that, but were unable to prove it. Recently, though, the city forced all medallion drivers to install GPS tracking devices in their cabs, so now they have proof that hundreds of cabs go off-duty during this time.

Stephen is most upset about this quote:
The hour from 4 to 5 p.m. has long been considered a low tide of taxi service, the maddening moment when, in apparent violation of the laws of supply and demand, entire fleets of empty yellow cabs flip on their off-duty lights and proceed past the outstretched hands of office workers seeking a way home.
I honestly don't have as big a problem with it as he does. He claims that "for supply and demand to work, you need drivers to be able to charge their own prices and enter markets at will." But this is not quite true. Regulation doesn't do away with the laws of supply and demand, it just distorts them, and in this case it decouples the price from the demand level, giving drivers the incentive to walk away from that demand. To be fair to Grynbaum, he uses the word "apparent" to indicate that while a potential passenger might expect the demand of his raised hand to be satisfied by the market, that's not what's happening, and he lays out the market distortions.

The city's control of supply and prices are just two of the ways that its interference in the market have caused this. Grynbaum mentions two more, but he doesn't seem to recognize them:
When the changeover became standard, its timing did not pose a big problem for passengers. Many taxi garages were situated on the far West Side of Manhattan, requiring cabs to make only a short trip to 11th Avenue before heading back to Midtown with a fresh driver.

But in the 1980s, as commercial rents rose, taxi fleets began migrating across the East River, particularly to Long Island City, Queens. The 5 p.m. shift change now included a journey over the often-packed Queensboro Bridge, not to mention the return slog to the city. Drivers started going off duty between 4 and 4:30 p.m., to ensure that they had enough time to make it to the garage; even today, tardy cabbies can be hit with a $30 fine.
Bob Fitch's the Assassination of New York is a bit dated, but it's still a great counterpoint to Bob Caro's the Power Broker, bringing us up to date through the nineties about various development shenanigans. If you've read it, you know that the Hudson Yards and the extension of the #7 subway are just the most recent of a long line of market manipulations by the City, the State, the Port Authority and even the Regional Plan Association, aiming to bring up property values on the West Side, in part to prop up the failed real estate investments of David Rockefeller and William Zeckendorf.

The other big market distortion is the "free" toll on the Queensboro and Williamsburg Bridges. We're paying hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money to rebuild those bridges, and the taxi drivers get to use them for free. This subsidy is an added incentive for them to locate in Long Island City and Sunnyside instead of paying Manhattan rents.

This finally explains why it takes twice as long as I expect for the Q32 bus to go across the bridge at 4:00 PM, inbound or outbound. It's not that a ton of office workers have left early, or are coming in for second shift late. It's that the bridge and the surrounding streets are clogged with hundreds of taxis that would have otherwise stayed in Manhattan. Gee, thanks, Mike Gianaris!

(Of course, there's Grynbaum's windshield perspective at work. He could have said, "Ever wonder why your bus takes twice as long to cross the Queensboro Bridge between 4 and 5 PM?" Instead, he aimed it at taxi passengers. To be sure, the average Times reader is probably more likely to have tried to hail a cab at 4:30 PM than to have taken a bus across the Queensboro Bridge, but it's still annoying.)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A regional perspective on inefficient transportation

A lot of people appreciated my last post on the distribution of road fatalities across the region: it was featured on two Streetsblog posts, "Today's Headlines" and Tonight I'm going to turn to another goal, increasing energy efficiency.

Our transportation system is incredibly inefficient, as you can see in this awesome infographic from Good. 75% of the 27 quadrillion BTU of energy spent on transportation is wasted. To a large extent it's because when we want to transport a 150 pound person (sometimes with a couple hundred pounds of other people or supplies, often not), we frequently use a large internal combustion engine to transport a 2-3 ton metal shell with them. When we want to transport ten thousand cubic feet of stuff, we frequently put it into containers of one or two thousand cubic feet, each with its own driver and a ton of internal combustion engine.

These cars and trucks have also allowed us to sprawl out our houses, jobs, schools, stores and entertainment, so that people who live, work or shop in newer developments often spend hours of each day shuttling between them in cars, and goods that were once transported a few blocks by backpack or handcart are now carried for miles in trucks.

The easiest way to measure energy expended on transportation is by vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Sure, some of those vehicle miles are absolutely necessary and efficient, but most of them are transporting one person and a briefcase from McMansion to office park, and others are carting a load of toilet paper from warehouse to big-box store. They also give us a sense of the counties' contributions to greenhouse gas emissions. Here is a map of VMT per capita by county for the tri-state region in 2005:

I got the data from an Excel spreadsheet that someone at the EPA helpfully posted online. The Center for Neighborhood Technology writes, "The EPA obtains VMT estimates that the U.S Federal Highway Administration collects from state bureaus of transportation. The states formulate the estimates by conducting traffic counts in each county and projecting those figures to arrive at an estimated miles traveled per year in each county." The 2008 data is available (and here are the state and county FIPS codes, so you know which files to download; they're also in the 2005 spreadsheet), but I can't find a nice spreadsheet for 2008.

I used a blank county map from the Tri-State Weather forum that turned up on Google Image Search, and colored the counties by VMT per capita: the darkest counties have over 12,500 VMT per inhabitant, and the lightest less than 5,000.

Putnam County in particular is off the charts, with 3.09 billion vehicle-miles traveled for a population of only 99,270, for 31,077 VMT per capita. Orange and Suffolk followed, with 13,171 and 12,682 VMT per person. There's a "Borscht Belt" (thanks to commenter CityLights) of milder sprawl beyond them, stretching from Warren through Sullivan to Dutchess, all in the 10,000-12,500 range, along with the raised-ranch and office-park counties of Bergen, Morris and Middlesex. The other Central Jersey counties plus Rockland, Westchester, Nassau and Connecticut are all in the 7,5000-10,000 VMT per capita range, and then Ocean, Sussex, Passaic and Hunterdon are in the 5,000-7,5000 range. The lowest per capita range includes the five boroughs of New York City plus Hudson County, NJ.

Now let's take a look at how the counties contribute to the overall energy efficiency and emissions of the region. As before, Putnam's large per-capita figure accounts for only two percent of all vehicle miles traveled. Suffolk again leads the pack with 13% of the total, despite only having 7% of the region's population. The top nine counties account for a majority of all VMT in the region: Suffolk, Nassau, Westchester, Bergen, Queens, Middlesex, Fairfield, Monmouth and New Haven.

The three counties that appeared both on the fatalities list and the VMT list are Suffolk, Nassau and Queens. I'm seriously thinking that the best thing we could do to save lives and reduce our region's energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions would be to tear up the Long Island Expressway and replace it with a new train line.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A regional perspective on road deaths

There's a whole bunch of different battles being fought across the greater New York area, and I was trying to figure out which ones were worth focusing on. To help with that, I created this map of traffic fatalities per capita in the various counties of the metropolitan area.

I got the data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. You can get the data sliced and diced in various ways; I chose fatalities from 2005 by county. To get per capita fatalities I divided it by the population estimates of the 2005 American Community Survey, available from the Census Bureau. I used a blank county map from the Tri-State Weather forum that turned up on Google Image Search, and colored the highest fatalities per capita: the darkest are over 4 fatalities per ten thousand inhabitants and the lightest less than 1.5 fatalities.

There seems to be some kind of Upper Delaware Valley of Death going on, with 6.49 fatalities per ten thousand inhabitants in Sullivan County, NY, 4.11 in Pike County, PA and 4.04 in Warren County, NJ. It's not just because people drive more there: in 2005 there were about 10,000 vehicle-miles traveled per capita in Sullivan and Pike (roughly in line with Middlesex, Bergen and Dutchess Counties), and 12,000 per capita in Warren (slightly less than Ulster and slightly more than Orange). But there were 6.25 fatalities per hundred VMT in Sullivan County, 4.11 in Pike and 3.28 in Warren.

It may be that the fatalities are due to the large highways that cross these counties: Sullivan hosts NY Route 17, while Pike has Interstate 84 and US 206 and 209, and Warren has Interstates 78 and 80. It may be other factors: Sullivan was also highlighted by Slate Labs as the worst "food desert" in the entire Northeast, the county with the highest percentage of people (8.05%) living more than a mile from the nearest supermarket without a car. DWI is also a potential factor: if you can't get to a supermarket without a car, you probably can't get to a bar either.

Counties with between three and four fatalities per ten thousand inhabitants were Ulster, Orange, Mercer and Litchfield; those with two to three fatalities per ten thousand included Sussex, Suffolk, Monmouth, Putnam and New Haven. The five boroughs of New York City plus Westchester all had less than 2.2 fatalities per ten thousand inhabitants in 2005. The Bronx had the lowest per capita fatalities, with only 109 deaths for its 1.4 million people.

As tragic as the 49 deaths in Sullivan County were, it's important to keep in mind that they were only slightly more than one percent of the total 3,601 people killed in car crashes in 2005. The 44 Warren County deaths were also slightly more than 1%, and the 24 people killed in Pike County were 0.67% of the regional total. So I made this chart to show how the various counties contributed to the death toll:

The biggest contributor, with its 402 fatalities in a population of 1.5 million, is Suffolk County, with eleven percent of the total. Brooklyn, Queens and Nassau were the next biggest contributors, then New Haven, Manhattan and Monmouth County. All the others had less than four percent of the total. This means that the island of Long Island (including Brooklyn and Queens) accounted for a full third of the region's traffic deaths in 2005, and any island-wide improvements that can be made would bring down carnage significantly.

Obviously, I'm not distinguishing deaths of pedestrians, drivers, cyclists or car passengers here, let alone people killed by cars in buildings and parks. Pedestrian killings discourage people from walking, so they're more significant, but for the purpose of this exercise I wanted to look at the overall human impact of car culture.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Not all infrastructure is worth replacing

For weeks now, maybe months, I've been struggling to articulate something, and going through a bunch of false starts, and then moving on, only to have it come back to me in response to another article. I've been reading article after blog post after tweet after comment about the shitty state of America's infrastructure, how we can't build anything anymore, how shitty it was for Chris Christie to cancel the ARC tunnel because it meant that New Jersey wasn't building big things. I've been reading things that assume I'm a "transportation advocate," who really wants to see the transportation bill reauthorized so that we can get an "infrastructure bank" to help with mobility for the 21st century or something.

Well, maybe you're a transportation advocate who wants an infrastructure bank, but I'm not. Now, I'm a mechanically inclined geek who likes to look at buildings and bridges and train lines, but I don't think that the fate of the world depends on our ability to build or maintain large contraptions, and I refuse to mislead my fellow human beings just so I can get my jollies taking a ride on a high-speed train.

There are lots of situations where it's a good idea to build something or replace something, but there are others where it doesn't make any sense. Roads and sewers and power lines are tools. They have no inherent value, it all comes from their ability to help us reach a goal. If you sell a city an expensive light rail system that doesn't make a significant impact on poor people's access to jobs and shopping, or air quality, or global warming, you're just like the schmuck on television pitching an expensive table saw to someone who just needs a hand saw.

I'm going to pick on one of my commenters here, in this case Adirondacker 12800. As with most of the regular commenters, I appreciate Adirondacker's comments because they are often informative and help me to focus my own thoughts. I'm singling out Adirondacker not because the comments are stupid, but the opposite, in fact: because they articulate something that I've been trying to grapple with in my own mind.

So Adirondacker is very concerned that the Tappan Zee Bridge will collapse into the water, and I'm perfectly willing to believe that if we continue driving thousands of cars across it every day without doing some major maintenance that's just what will happen. I'm just not convinced that that's such a problem.

Yes, I don't want to see anyone injured or killed like on the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, but the Tappan Zee Bridge could fail like the Champlain Bridge did in 2009, when the State DOT realized it was unsafe and closed it before anyone could get hurt. I don't see the big deal.

Yes, I know that it's a major link on the East Coast blah blah blah, but we have the George Washington Bridge and the Beacon-Newburgh Bridge and a bunch of other bridges and tunnels that cross it. The Poughkeepsie Bridge was a major link, but it was allowed to sit completely unused for 35 years, and now it's used only by pedestrians and cyclists, most of them recreational.

If you're really into infrastructure, you can go a few miles west of Poughkeepsie to High Falls, New York, and see the majestic ruins of the Delaware and Hudson Canal. (It's served only by the weekday N Route of UCAT, but you can take a taxi from Rosendale.) That used to be a major link too, bringing barges of coal through miles of farmland. Now it's a ditch in the woods filled with a foot or so of stagnant water, and some abandoned aqueduct pilings in the Rondout Creek. Gaze on those works and despair.

I haven't read about people's reactions when the D&H Canal was being abandoned, but I don't think there was that much despair because they were excited about the New York, Ontario and Western Railway coming to town. When the O&W was being abandoned, people were excited about the Thruway and Route 209. The Thruway's time will come soon; why prolong it? Why throw good money after bad?

So yes, I am an advocate of access for all, clean air and water, conserving our resources, keeping people alive and healthy, and strong societies. You may or may not have similar goals. Transportation infrastructure can be an excellent tool to accomplish these goals, and it can also help with things like fiscal stimulus. But it is not an end in itself. We should not replace infrastructure just because it's falling down. We should not build infrastructure for its own sake, or even just for the sake of moving people around.

Let's keep perspective, and keep our end goals in mind. You know my goals; if you want me to support replacing a bridge, you need to connect it to them.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

So much for the Red Hook Tunnel Bus

Ben Kabak is reporting that the Manhattan-bound Smith/9th Street platform will finally be closed, from January 10 through Spring 2012, and the Coney Island-bound platform will be closed from May through Fall 2012. There will be other assorted service outages at Fourth Avenue, Fifteenth Street and Fort Hamilton Parkway on the F and G lines. There's a lot of irrational anger at the MTA.

When Smith-9th is closed completely, there will be a shuttle bus to nearby F stations, and possibly to Jay Street, but the bus will not run through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to Lower Manhattan, as I suggested back in 2007. Although some politicians supported the idea as a permanent improvement, it got lost in the congestion pricing battle.

The people who are currently kvetching about the various closures should put that energy to work pushing for a tunnel bus. If they live in the South Slope/Gowanus/Red Hook area, they should push for one going down Ninth Street. If they live in the Windsor Terrace area, they should push for one going right down the Prospect Expressway. Google Maps say that either of these routes are ten minutes from the endpoint to the World Trade Center site, thirty minutes in traffic.

People who are upset about losing their F train service should get the state legislators representing this area - Assemblymembers Millman, Brennan and Ortiz, and Senators Montgomery and Squadron - to sign on to a request for a tunnel bus. It couldn't hurt to get support from the city council too. And if the MTA doesn't want to run it, get David Yassky to give permission for Suleiman Haqq to run his vans through there.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Beyond thick and thin markets for transit

In their extremely useful paper on private bus transit (PDF), Daniel Klein, Adrian Moore and Binyam Reja give us the concepts of "thick" and "thin" markets for transit: "Another distinction of fundamental importance is whether ridership on the transit route is potentially heavy enough to sustain the cascade of jitneys in the absence of scheduled service," they write on Page 39.

The Flushing-Chinatown van run is an example of a thick market. You could say that the subway provides an anchor, but it's a very inconvenient one: if you give up on the van you have to walk three blocks north to the subway, and then take that to another subway that might not go exactly where you want to go. These vans really function without any anchor.

The vans from Bergenline Avenue to the Port Authority are an example of a thin market. The New Jersey Transit 156 and 159 buses provide scheduled service in case the vans don't come; I've used them myself. They are run by NJ Transit, but they could probably be run at a profit by a private company.

Thick marketRidership can sustain a jitney cascade without an anchorFlushing-Chinatown
Thin marketRidership can sustain a jitney cascade with an anchorBergenline-Port Authority

This doesn't capture other possibilities, though. What about a line in some far-flung sprawl suburb where car ownership is very high and roads are wide? For example, Dutchess County Loop A. A line like that is never going to make a profit as long as those conditions persist. To exist, it must remain subsidized until gas prices rise above eight dollars a gallon. Let's call it "No market."

There's also a scenario in between Loop A and the Bergenline Avenue buses, where jitneys can run with an anchor, but the ridership doesn't provide a profit for the anchor, so it has to be subsidized. The Bergenline Avenue buses that go across the George Washington Bridge may be an example of that. Let's call it a "Wafer-thin market."

I would argue that most of the routes chosen by the TLC for their pilot program are wafer-thin markets. Due to competition from parallel routes and private cars, they cannot support profitable transit by themselves, but they may be able to support a jitney cascade if they have a subsidized anchor.

The B39 route across the Williamsburg Bridge had potential to be a thin market. If it were better marketed, it might have worked. The only one that had the potential to be a truly thick market was the B71, if it had been extended through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. It could have provided Red Hook and Carroll Gardens residents with a one-seat ride to Financial District job sites, possibly being time-competitive against the subway. I guess we'll have to wait to see that one tried.

Here's our new table:

Market typeDescriptionExisting examplePotential TLC route
Thick marketRidership can sustain a jitney cascade without an anchorFlushing-ChinatownB71 through Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel
Thin marketRidership can sustain a jitney cascade with a profitable anchorBergenline-Port AuthorityB39
Wafer-thin marketRidership can sustain a jitney cascade with a subsidized anchorBergenline-GWBB23, B71, Q74, Q79
No marketRidership cannot sustain jitney service, even with a subsidized anchorDutchess Loop A

Notice that I've still put the Q79 up as a wafer-thin market. The TLC has put that route out for bid, but I really don't think there's enough ridership to support it without some kind of subsidized anchor. It's great that Bob Friedrich is still fighting for service on Little Neck Parkway, but his best bet is to try to find some funding to subsidize the service. It's just not going to work without subsidies unless there are other drastic changes in the neighborhood.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Quote of the Day: Jan Morris on Motorcades

From Coast to Coat: A Journey Across 1950s America by Jan Morris, originally known as As I Saw the U.S.A. by James Morris, about motorcades in Manhattan:
And there in the recesses of the grandest car can be seen the distinguished visitor, opera singer, or diplomat or bronzed explorer, shamefully delighted at being able to ignore the traffic rules. I rode in one such a cavalcade, and found that the psychological effect can be disturbing. A mild little man sharing my car was soon hurling vicious abuse at the less agile of the pedestrians, and the wife of the distinguished visitor fainted.
It makes me wonder: when almost all drivers are able to ignore the laws against killing pedestrians and cyclists, and dismiss all enforcement efforts as "revenue generation," what are the psychological effects?