Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Gridlock Sam's plan

Last month Crain's ran a glowing profile of "Gridlock Sam" Schwartz, and I was certainly impressed with the stories about him injecting even a tiny bit of concern for cyclists, pedestrians and transit riders into the New York City "Department of Traffic," surrounded by engineers who were trying to cram as many cars as possible into Midtown Manhattan. Sam is clearly trying to help as many New Yorkers as possible get around efficiently, and he deserves credit and support for this. Plus, anyone who follows me on Twitter can't be too bad.

Schwartz has been making the rounds lately with the latest plan for tolling the East River bridges. I've long argued that something along these lines is necessary, for reasons that I laid out in detail in an recent blog post. In addition, his plan would deal with the very specific problem of the tolls on the Verrazano and Manhattan Bridges, which offer truck driver going from Brooklyn to New Jersey the perverse choice between paying $70 to travel on the Gowanus and Staten Island Expressways or pounding the streets and tourists of Lower Manhattan for free.

Schwartz's plan, similar to the one put out a few years ago by Charlie Komanoff on a commission from Ted Kheel, would also reinstitute tolls on the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg and Queensboro bridges, and implement a "screenline" toll to drive across 60th Street in Manhattan. The toll would be five dollars. Instead of the massive increases in bus and subway service promised by Bloomberg and Ravitch, it would provide relatively little:

  • Reduce bus fares by $1 in neighborhoods with no subways
  • No service reductions on local buses for three years without Community Board approval
  • Consider restoring some local bus service discontinued in 2010

Why the huge reduction? Schwartz tries to build support by offering "something for the drivers too." Komanoff and Kheel proposed to raise tolls on the Whitestone, Throgs Neck, Marine Parkway, Cross Bay Veterans and Henry Hudson bridges. Schwartz goes the opposite direction and proposes that instead of using the toll money for transit, as is done with the current tolls on the MTA bridges and tunnels, and as Bloomberg and Ravitch proposed, he would use some of the money to widen the Belt Parkway to Interstate standards and allowing truck traffic on it. He also proposes to widen the Staten Island Expressway, and the Van Wyck Expressway near Kennedy Airport, where it gets most congested.

Charlie Komanoff likes the plan: he gushed in Streetsblog about how it "feels inclusive" and "feels egalitarian."

I'm a lot more skeptical. Sam Schwartz has contributed to the discussion with this plan, but I hope it doesn't end with this plan being adopted. To me it doesn't actually feel inclusive or egalitarian anywhere below the surface. It doesn't fit well with my own goals, particularly with expanding the constituency for transit beyond the core of the city. There are a number of other things that bother me. I'll go into them in detail soon. In the meantime, feel free to share your own concerns in the comments.


Unknown said...

Any highway widening in the NY area seems completely counterproductive to me. This is especially true for the Belt Parkway. This would go against the trend of REMOVING waterfront highways that cut off access to natural areas that some could argue NYC started with the downgrading of the West Side Highway. Plus, induced demand. Need I say more than that?

Creating incentives to avoid Manhattan by lowering outer crossing tolls should be reward enough for drivers. We don't need to gobble up more land for highways in our already densely-packed city.

Anonymous said...

I've already remarked on my concerns on Streetsblog, but, in brief, many of the components of the proposal pander to Eastern Queens and the like and fly in the face of rational transportation policy.

I agree with Alex.


Like most things in life, a balance is needed. The goal is not to make people prisoners of the boro that they live in, but rather to provide effective transportation for all.

For trips into Manhattan, mass transit is the way to go and should be built up and subsidized. For trips between suburbs and beyond, auto/truck routes should be maintained, enhanced and dedicated in a way that does not benefit those trying to go into manhattan.

As to freight, NY needs to either build a NY Harbor crossing to link NY to the rest of the country (and preferrably one that is double decked to link the SIRR to the rest of the subway system) or needs to provide additional commercial traffic connections from NJ to Brooklyn, Queens, Nassua and Suffolk. (A widened/truck allowed Gothel to Vz to interstate standard/truck allowed Belt Parkway would fall into this category). Thinking that the Cross Bronx Expressway will sustain this region is like denying the need for double/triple bypasses.

A Long Island Sound crossing (preferrably including rail) is also long over due.

We need to remember that few people use exclusively mass transit or private cars and even those that due, benefit both from roads being less congested due to mass transit as well as the availability of (and reasonable flow) of roads that allow the goods that we purchase to be brout in at a reasonable transportation cost.

As such we (all) need to fund both mass and non-mass transit for the good of the survival of our region.

Cap'n Transit said...

Marvin, thank you for articulating so well the false "balance" that got us into this mess of wasting money maintaining and "enhancing" roads. This is exactly why I want access for all, not transportation for all, and why I have other goals that come before it.

Zoltán said...

Well said, Cap'n.

"For trips between suburbs and beyond, auto/truck routes should be maintained, enhanced and dedicated in a way that does not benefit those trying to go into manhattan."

You can say that cars are best for trips outside of Manhattan, and by planning on that basis make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. The alternative is to decide you want to change the situation in which cars are best for those trips by spending the money you would on roads on really good transit.