Friday, October 23, 2009

Enveloping the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement study

Over the past year or so I've been very critical of the State DOT's plan to rebuild the Tappan Zee Bridge, and of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign's support of this plan. In the comments to Tri-State's most recent blog post on the plan, the Campaign's Steven Higashide took the time to respond.
Cap’n, this project will result in a much improved transit system that has the potential to target development in the Hudson Valley around transit stations instead of in open space. As you may know, at our urging NYSDOT has begun a training program for towns to do just that (the program is managed by Regional Plan Association, Project for Public Spaces, and Reconnecting America, all highly professional organizations). The new bridge will also provide pedestrian and bicycle access, which the current bridge does not. The existing bridge has 4 general purpose lanes in the peak direction already, so the expansion is primarily adding transit capacity.

While we support this project, we don’t support it passively. We continue to work with the study team and in the stakeholder working groups to improve the project. For example, in the Draft EIS the study team is now examining a busway option that replaces the Rockland HOT lanes/Westchester bus lanes with a separate dedicated transitway.

Another "Anon" commentator wrote this:
No new bridge, no radically improved transit for the I-287 corridor. You are not going to get the Suburban populations of Rockland and Westchester to give up a general use lane to bus only especially considering the current backups. I seriously doubt that commuter rail could be added to the existing bridge. Moreover, the bridge likely needs to be replaced one way or another as it was built on the cheap in the first place. If the bridge is going to be replaced, 3 additional lanes (IIRC, only one additional general use lane) are going to represent a marginal increase in cost for the project.

My recent post on the Tao Te Ching's recommended approach to conflict came out of my thoughts about Tri-State's approach. A more recent thinker, Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, echoed the water metaphor in his own writings, and developed this idea further:
If your heart is large enough to envelop your adversaries, you can see right through them and avoid their attacks. And once you envelop them, you will be able to guide them along the path indicated to you by heaven and earth.

Ueshiba also stressed the value of redirecting an opponent's energy towards the good of all:
Opponents confront us continually, but actually there is no opponent there. Enter deeply into an attack and neutralize it as you draw that misdirected force into your own sphere.

This is the way I understand Tri-State's approach. The State DOT is not an opponent, they have just misdirected their force, and Tri-State is enveloping the DOT with their hearts and helping them to redirect that force towards bicycle and pedestrian access, bus rapid transit and transit-oriented development.

They may have something of a point, actually. I actually went back and looked at an earlier analysis that I did of the plans, and was a bit comforted. According to the DOT's 1999 survey, up to 7042 vehicles crossed the bridge per hour in the eastbound morning peak, and 98% of them were private cars and trucks. By their analysis, each lane can move between 1700 and 1900 cars per hour (fitting with Adirondacker's recent comment), so the planned configurations would be able to carry between 7600 and 8075 cars, depending on how many people drive in the HO/T lanes.

On the transit side, in 1999 there were 1350 people per day traveling by bus across the bridge (possibly four buses per hour with about 30 people each). Alternative 3B, the "BRT only" proposal, would transport 2100, but the theoretical maximum that a dedicated bus lane could transport per hour (basically a continuous line of packed buses) is 9000. Alternative 4D, "BRT plus commuter rail," is planned to carry 6800 people per hour, but the maximum is 39,000.

This means that the planned "BRT" by itself would not cause that much of a mode shift (just from 98% private auto to 80%), but Alternative 4D as planned would bring it way down to 54%. Alternative 3B maxed out to 9,000 passengers per hour would bring modeshare to 45%, and Alternative 4D maxed to 39,000 passengers per hour would bring it down to 12%.

So, yes, I can see Tri-State's strategy, and if it works it could transform Rockland from New York's answer to Raleigh, NC into a place where someone might actually want to walk around, with downtowns that function. If it works.

Of course, all this criticism of Tri-State is meant in a supportive way. One thing you can do in a supportive way is to buy tickets to their annual benefit dinner next week. They do a lot of really good work.


Alon Levy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff said...

Enjoy reading your blog-

If CRT gets ruled out because of the helix connector and/or cost figures the alternative can be LRT-

Construct a six mile LRT line from the Palisades Cntr to the Tarrytown train station that acts as a shuttle train. Passengers will also need to ride an elevator up/down to the Tarrytown platform to board MNRR.
If engineering issues arise btw the Rockland shoreline & Palisades Cntr construct a parking structure instead at Exit 10 (from a casual observer an underutilized area) where the line's first segment would end making it initially a 3 mile line. It may consist of a parking structure and a deck over I-287 ( similar to the parking deck over I-95 in Larchmont, NY).

The LRT can be expanded westbound to Nanuet, Spring Valley & Suffern or eastbound to White Plains & Port Chester in the future with public support but the priority that should be addressed at this point should be the crossing delay.

I know this isn’t the most ideal alternative- being that it's not a one way seat- but in these economic times coupled with the engineering hurdles faced with this project this option could become a very viable alternative.

Cap'n Transit said...

Yes, Jeff, I agree that if we can't get commuter rail, light rail would be better than "BRT." But park-and-rides are not the answer. If there are engineering issues, then just hook the thing up to the West Shore Line and send it down to Piermont.

I'm going to delete your first comment because it's a double.