Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Expanding the constituency for transit and livable streets

I've talked before about why we need walkable, transit-oriented suburbs. One of the big reasons is the cycle: the easier it is to take transit throughout the region, the bigger the coalition for transit:

Right now there are relatively few solid transit advocates in the City Council and even fewer in the State Legislature. We definitely need to work to make them more representative, but we can also work to increase the number of people in each district that get around without cars.

I realized that my earlier map of City Council districts by car ownership is not well-suited to this task. I divided it up by quintiles, so that there were roughly ten of every color. But no matter how many people in a district get rid of their cars, as long as that district remains in the same position relative to the other districts, its color will not change.

I wanted a system where we could see how a district is doing on an absolute scale. So here are the city council districts in terms of percentage of households without a car. I added the boroughs, townships and cities of Hudson County (which is like a fifth borough) for your edification:


You can see that the districts represented by Melissa Mark-Viverito, Rosie Mendez, Ydanis Rodriguez and Christine Quinn are the only ones with more than 80% of households car-free, and with the exception of Quinn, they have all fought hard for transit and livable streets.

The yellow districts cover the rest of Manhattan, the South Bronx and Brownstone Brooklyn. They have a range of representatives, from transit advocates like Letitia James to AWOL reps like Helen Foster, but none of them are anti-transit.

The orange districts cover Western Queens, the north Bronx and the denser parts of southern Brooklyn. Their Council representatives range from my own rep, Jimmy Van Bramer, who fights hard for transit, to the indifferent James Barron, to David "Kvetch" Greenfield who only cares about the car-driving half of his constituents. Union City, New Jersey is 40% carfree.

The red districts cover Southeast Queens, West New York, Guttenberg and Jersey City, Transportation Chair Jimmy Vacca's East Bronx district, Peter Koo's district in Flushing, Donna Rose's district on the North Shore of Staten Island, Elizabeth Crowley's Central Queens district, and Lew Fidler's southeast Brooklyn district. We have some big car kvetchers here.

The four purple districts are represented by two of the most anti-transit members of the Council: Dan Halloran and James Oddo. Mark Weprin is nowhere near as bad as his brother David, but he's not a big fighter for transit either.

This is why I want to get people in these districts to get rid of their cars. If the 36th District in Brooklyn were green (80% and up) it might be represented by a Quinn, but it's more likely to be represented by a Mark-Viverito. If the 44th in Brooklyn were yellow it might be represented by a James. It might also be represented by a Foster, but at least it would be less likely to elect Greenfield. If the 30th were orange it might still get a Greenfield, but it might also get a Van Bramer. If the 19th were red it might get a Gennaro or a Crowley.

So what would it take to move the 16th District from 71% to 80%? To move the 44th from 49% to 60%? To move the 30th from 319% to 40%? To move the 19th from 15% to 20%?


Matthew said...

Does it matter, though, if the car kvetchers (nice term) in Albany can overrule anything, in effect?

Cap'n Transit said...

Good question! A lot of those car kvetchers (David Weprin, Jeff Klein, Marty Golden) are elected from the exact same districts. Hakeem Jeffries has no excuse.

Allie Cat said...

I think that should read "in terms of percentage of households /with/ a car."

jazumah said...

Without a truly regional transit system, no one should get rid of their cars. When travel times by transit are longer than 3x driving times, that is an unreasonable request. Good transit should not be characterized by anti-car policy. It should be characterized by reducing the subsidy for both cars and transit so that people can do a real cost/benefit analysis by mode.

BBnet3000 said...

jazumah, most people dont travel around the region in the way that you are describing on a regular basis. There are places that rent cars for occassional users you know.

Cap'n Transit said...

Thanks for catching that, JN! I fixed it.

Joel, are you saying that without a truly regional transit system, everyone that doesn't have a car should immediately get one?

Matthew said...

Well Joel, I know there are plenty of politicians who would be happy to do half the job of removing those subsidies you mentioned.

Is it still anti-car when you just want to end the special treatment that cars get in land-use policy and boondoggles?

BruceMcF said...

Note that reducing the subsidy for both cars and transit across the board only gets you to a "real cost /benefit analysis" in the alternative universe where cars and transit have the same balance of third party benefits and costs.

Here in the real world, either cars should be taxed to cover their net extra third party cost, or transit should be subsidized to cover their net extra third party benefit, or a mix of both.

Congestion pricing with revenues dedicated to a mix of capital and operating support for transit, would be a mix of both, though obviously would not cover the entire third party cost/benefit gap.

Curious Bystander said...

It would take a significant upgrade of intra-borough transit.

The way it stands right now, transit in Queens is largely good for commuting, but not much else. Most of Eastern Queens is walkable - a grid pattern of streets, a minimal amount of pedestrian activity, but it works.

For instance, a bus ride from where I live to Downtown Flushing is a good 45-50 minutes. The same ride with a car is 15-20 minutes.
If the MTA was willing to consolidate some stops, the buses were given signal priority, and the NYPD actually enforced the bus lanes in Jamaica, the situation wouldn't be so bad. Unfortunately, this isn't the case, so for the time being, intra-borough trips will largely be done by car, at least in Eastern Queens.

Cap'n Transit said...

Yes, Bystander, you accurately describe the choice of whether to drive or take the bus, and whether to buy a car or not, in eastern Queens. But as I wrote at the beginning of the post, people who drive are not likely to vote for people who will support transit upgrades, and the politicians know that. So we can't rely on upgrading transit to encourage people to drive less or avoid buying cars.

EngineerScotty said...

I may be just an utterly-confused left-coaster, but if Hudson County is like the "fifth borough", which of New York's five existing boroughs is not a borough?

I thought you might be excluding S****n I****d, but it's on your map... :)

Cap'n Transit said...

Good question, Scotty! Yes, in general I feel that Hudson County is more like Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens than Staten Island is.

I was actually kind of surprised to see so much red and purple on the map for Hudson County. In part, I think that if I separated out parts of Jersey City, there are probably parts that have lower than 60% car ownership.

J said...

Since we seem to face a conundrum with the car-oriented districts, maybe the best strategy is to focus on improving the MTA's efficiency and quality of service, which is something everyone should be able to approve of and would also attract more people away from their cars- and hopefully convince some voters that transit expansion in these areas is worthwhile.

Cap'n Transit said...

J, the problem is that everyone can't agree on even maintaining the current quality of service, let alone expanding it. And if we expand the road system faster than we expand the transit system, then people shift to cars.