Sunday, August 2, 2009

More "capability liars"

In the past, I've offered this supplement to the Serenity Prayer:
And God, protect us from those who lie about what they can and can't change, and give us the insight to see through their lies.

The most common kind of these lies is the "Reverse Houdini," where someone restricts their options so that they can tell you, "I wish I could do something, but my hands are tied." Somewhere in there is the "Rain Dog," who will pee on your leg and tell you it's raining. The "Loading Zone Lie" is when the DOT reassures a community group that the new bike lane will involve "no loss of parking spaces," only to eliminate the double-parking that had become the standard for loading and unloading. I've come up with a new kind of "capability liar," and it seems to me that someone should have already discussed them, but I'm drawing a blank.

Here's an example of what I mean: in June, Streetsblog had a post that included links to stories about the reconstruction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway through Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill. The Brooklyn Paper writes:
The narrow lanes, short on-ramps and lack of shoulders along the highway make this part of the BQE especially dangerous and agonizingly congested.

As Streetsblog commenter Larry Littlefield points out, the congestion is largely due to the way congestion pricing was blocked by the representatives of those car commuters, so you could make a strong case that they chose congestion and we should stop bailing them out. But the "dangerous" aspect would appear to preclude that. Everyone's against road danger, right? Reducing carnage is one of our top priorities.

Here's where the lie comes in: all the solutions being examined to improve safety would involve adding lanes or extending ramps. That means more money, and more capacity - which essentially means rewarding the people who refused to support congestion pricing with even more subsidies. But you can't be against that, because you'd be against safety, or against "bringing the highway up to interstate standards."

But there's another way. The BQE is currently three lanes in each direction; what if we just used one of those lanes to widen the others, extend the ramps and expand the curves? There are plenty of four-lane interstate highways out there, so it should be easy to do this and still meet federal standards.

There are similar situations where we suddenly find out that some highway has "no shoulders," and that something must be done about it right now to save lives. But why doesn't it have shoulders? Sometimes it was built that way, but usually the travel lanes took over the shoulders at some point in the past. And then we get these plans to have buses use the shoulders. Well, shoulders are necessary for safety, so if you want to have them back or set aside lanes for buses, you can take the travel lanes.

Something like this is never, ever mentioned, because it means a reduction in highway capacity, and that's something that just isn't discussed. I can kinda see why the State DOT wouldn't bring it up, since for them, the bigger the highway project the better. However, I don't understand why environmentalists and livable-streets activists don't raise the issue. They'll bring up highway teardowns (particularly along waterfronts) and road diets for city streets, but not reducing capacity of highways. They should, though: highway expansions are expensive, and the bigger the highway, the more it costs to maintain.

In a time when we're cutting budgets it makes sense to cut road budgets as well. If we're scaling back the Second Avenue Subway so that it won't have a third track for trains to pass each other in emergencies, if we're not going to get that Tenth Avenue station on the #7 train, if we're pushing back the date for finishing these projects, then we should also cut back on road projects. If Amtrak can reduce the number of tracks on the Hartford line in Connecticut to reduce maintenance costs, if the MTA lowers the speeds on trains for safety, the State DOT can reduce the number of lanes on the BQE to save money and make it safer there.

The BQE in South Brooklyn should be scaled back to a size where it's safe to use. If drivers object to the increased congestion, they can pay the toll on the tunnel. If the tunnel isn't convenient for them, they should push to get tolls put on the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, at least, which would encourage a whole bunch of other people to use the tunnel - and a bunch more to take the train.

So, any suggestions for describing when an agency complains about an unsafe road, but omits the cheapest way to make the road safer?

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

If you cut I-278 down to two inbound lanes, and added the one lane from the Prospect at the Gowanus, then the two tunnel lanes and two bridge lanes would work a lot more smoothly. Great idea!