Winter 2004, p.3

Publisherís Letter: Thinking Big

A recent visitor from London says that cycling and walking around the center city there since congestion pricing was put in place is fantastically better. Transport for London, Londonís Department of Transportation, reports that a 16% reduction in motorists entering the congestion pricing zone, which is roughly akin to Manhattan south of 60th Street, has produced more than a 30% reduction in traffic delays. This traffic reduction has also encouraged London to move ahead with a host of walking improvement projects, including widening numerous sidewalks and pedestrianizing the half of Trafalgar Square in front of the National Gallery; this is akin to transforming Broadway through Times Square into a car-free Times Square Plaza.

The lesson from London here is that reducing automobile use would do wonders for cyclists and walkers. Unfortunately, unlike the mayor of London, the mayor of New York City does not have the power to impose congestion fees. But he does have the power to ensure that future development and land use choices encourage more walking and cycling, and get people to leave their cars at home.

The mayor is challenging the public to think big about what it wants the New York City of the future to look like. For instance, what do we want in West Midtown? Might new office and apartment buildings and a football stadium be a better use of scarce land than a rail yard and low density development? Do we want the Atlantic Yards in Downtown Brooklyn to be undeveloped forever? These are provocative issues, and the mayor deserves credit for asking what New Yorkers want things to be like, rather than passively watching the city be molded by seemingly inexorable demographic, land-use and transportation trends. We agree with the mayor that people, not god and not trends, dictate how this cityís future will look.

So when the mayor looks about this great city, he should challenge himself to think about whether New York City will be a better place with more traffic or less traffic; more walking or less walking; more cycling or less cycling; better bus service or worse bus service. Given his support for East River bridge tolls, the Car-Pool Rule, the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway and Bus Rapid Transit, a good guess is that the mayor would like to see less traffic in the future. If so, he needs to convey this desire
to his commissioners, whose work often consists of accommodating, and even encouraging, ever increasing traffic flow and car ownership.

Currently, key city agencies, like the Economic Development Corporation and Department of City Planning, foster development that generates tremendous car use. Big box stores in transit poor neighborhoods, like the proposed Fairway in Red Hook, Brooklyn or the Home Depots across Queens, encourage car ownership, driving and traffic.

Proposed residential developments in parts of Brooklyn and Queens with inadequate transit have been given variances or rezoned to have giant parking garages which city studies project will inject massive amounts of traffic into already strained neighborhood streets. Citywide, with few exceptions, traffic lights are timed to maximize traffic flow, and pedestrian and cycling improvements are forbidden because they may reduce the traffic carrying capacity of major streets.

Whatís it going to be Mayor Bloomberg, more traffic or less; quieter, more bikeable and walkable streets or traffic jammed frustration zones? Your agencies are working towards a traffic filled future. Do you agree?

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