Greater Greater Washington

Posts about NYC DOT

Roads


Who has the best anti-speeding ads, New York or DC?

We know that most elected officials are very concerned about people talking on airplanes but aren't willing to do much about distracted, reckless, and just speeding drivers who kill people on US roads every day. Can advertising persuade these drivers to be safe?


Image from NYC DOT.

New York's DOT created a series of ads that highlight the tragedy and loss that comes after a moment of inattention or the rush to get somewhere faster claims a life.


Image from NYC DOT.

Meanwhile, here in DC, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) put together this 3-minute video about the dangers of speeding, featuring MPD chief Cathy Lanier, DDOT head Terry Bellamy, and others.

Former GGW contributor Stephen Miller hopes that New York's next police commissioner, former commissioner Bill Bratton, will show the same level of concern about speeding that Lanier and others at MPD seem to.

Perhaps what we need is DC officials' attitudes coupled with New York's ad-making prowess. The regional Street Smart campaign, which runs ads each spring, has recently garnered more mixed reviews or outright derision.

What kinds of ads do you think are most effective?

Bicycling


GGW on the road: Citibike struggles with software glitches

When it opened on Memorial Day, New York's Citibike instantly became the nation's largest bikeshare system. But after an alternatingly fun and frustrating Saturday touring New York City on 2 wheels, I found that the system continues to struggle with crippling software glitches.


Photo by Omar Rawlings on Flickr.

"Excuse me, do you know how this thing works?" I turned to see two middle-aged women fiddling with the bike beside me at the Citibike station in Midtown Manhattan. "Well, this is my first time using Citibike," I replied, "but I use the system in DC regularly, so hopefully this is similar." I must have looked competent, because this was already the third such inquiry I had received that morning.

It's important to note that Citibike is less than 2 months old and is already wildly successful. But the problems that plagued the system early on are still widespread and need to be resolved before it can be a legitimate transportation option for New Yorkers.

One of the system's biggest drawbacks is its unreliable software. Reports say it's the result of a corporate dispute between operator Alta and its partner that led to a switch in software.

Of the roughly 2 dozen interactions I had with docking stations over the course of a 24-hour membership, I experienced more software problems than I have in 2 years with Capital Bikeshare. The first 3 times I attempted to purchase a one-day pass, I made it to the last step of the cumbersome touchscreen process, only to receive an error message, forcing me to cancel the transaction and start over.

After the third time, the line of would-be cyclists behind me had grown so long that I decided to step aside. I walked a couple of blocks to the next station, where I repeated the process, finally succeeding on my second try. My friend, who encountered the same problem, succeeded on her third try, repeating the same steps on each attempt.


Photo by Robyn Lee on Flickr.

With memberships secured, the next hurdle was obtaining a bike. As with Capital Bikeshare, day and weekly pass users must insert their credit card at the kiosk each time they want a bike. There, they'll receive a new, 5-digit access code which they can enter at individual docks to unlock a bike.

However, on several occasions, I had to enter the same code at multiple docks before the dock let me remove a bike. After a night out with friends, I entered my code at each of 5 full docks nearby, only to be rejected each time. I waited a few minutes, got a new code, and tried again with no luck.

Determined, I walked the few blocks to a nearby station, where I repeated the same process several times, again with no success. After a circuitous conversation with a pleasant, but ultimately futile customer service rep, I threw in the towel and hailed a cab back to my hotel, deprived of a leisurely bike ride on a nice night.

There are even more issues, however. Even when it works, the registration process is slow and confusing, taking several minutes per person to complete and resulting in long lines. In tourist areas around Times Square and Central Park, these queues have become prime targets for bike rental hawkers, who pose as Good Samaritans to mislead prospective bikers about the fees associated with Citibike.

Citibike's mobile app was great for finding open docks and available bikes throughout the city, but its information on bike lanes was poor. Hoping to avoid the pedestrian chaos of Times Square as I headed south on Broadway, I followed a bike lane shown on the app. I made a left on 48th Street, then a right on 7th Avenue, and found myself in the middle of 5 lanes of fast-moving downtown traffic with no bike lane in sight.

As a regular bike commuter, I shrugged off the honks and yells from motorists that ensued, but I can imagine the tourists I met earlier being put off by the same experience.

Overall, the system functioned more often than it didn't, and allowed my friends and I the freedom to explore the city at our own pace, while enjoying the beautiful weather and getting some exercise along the way.

And while the glitches were frustrating, the quality and quantity of bicycle infrastructure, everything from protected on-street lanes to recreational paths and bike-specific traffic signals, was impressive, a part of the larger transformation of the city's streets led by Mayor Bloomberg and his transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.

And the Citibike system continues to expand; despite the problems, underserved neighborhoods are already clamoring for stations of their own. As it grows, it can become what Capital Bikeshare is for DC: an integral part of the city's larger transportation network. But for that to happen, the system's operators need to iron out the software problems and provide users more reliable information.

Pedestrians


How soon can DC fix Florida Avenue?

Florida Avenue, NE is very dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists. The sidewalk on one side is too narrow for people to walk and doesn't meet ADA requirements, while the roadway has more lanes than necessary. How quickly can change come? Can the DC government put in temporary fixes? How soon?


Photo by Yancey Burns reproduced with permission.

If DC expands the sidewalks permanently, it will require new stormwater outlets and pipes, resloping the roadway, upgrading lighting, and more. But could the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) use planters, paint, bollards, and other temporary items to create safe walkable and bikeable places in the meantime?

DDOT is hoping to do just that, said Sam Zimbabwe, Associate Director for Policy, Planning and Sustianability at DDOT. The agency will soon kick off a study to consider how to make Florida Avenue safer, which Zimbabwe hopes will finish by early 2014; temporary fixes to implement the recommendations could come as early as next summer.

Temporary changes can make a difference for safety

There are multiple precedents from elsewhere in the country for how a combination of temporary barriers and paint can quickly recapture excessive asphalt to improve pedestrian safety. New York City, in particular, has led the way under the leadership of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan to improve safety for all modes of transportation and create great new public gathering spaces at the same time.

While large projects such as the Times Square renovation have gotten most of the attention, smaller projects throughout the city have included painted bulb-outs to reduce sidewalk crossing distances, and removing "slip lanes" to slow traffic at turns.

In New York, the city DOT provided basic planters and paint to delineate the new expanded pedestrian and bicyclist areas, as well as some simple furnishings. Local business groups and others then provided the plants and additional benches, tables and other items.


Pearl Street Plaza in NYC. Photo by NYCDOT on Flickr.

In DC as well, local developers, businesses and schools could help maintain certain blocks. For example, the NoMa BID includes the 200-300 blocks, Two Rivers PCS and Union Market developer Edens each own property in the 400 block, and Gallaudet abuts the 600-900 blocks. All are willing to take on the landscaping and other maintenance work adjoining their properties.

DC has some precedent for these types of temporary safety upgrades. After a person was killed at 15th and W, NW, DDOT installed temporary bulb-outs and retimed the signals. There's now a permanent design, but in the meantime, people there have enjoyed a safer intersection for the last 4 years and for however many more years it will take to permanently reconstruct the intersection.


Temporary fixes at 15th and W, NW. Photos by Stephen Miller.

Why can't DC do this now?

Must there be any kind of study? Why not simply install some temporary measures tomorrow?

Zimbabwe explained that DC faces some constraints from federal law and the regional Transportation Planning Board (TPB). Florida Avenue is one of DC's "major arterial" roads, is considered a regionally significant piece of the transportation network, and is part of the "expanded national highway system" under the recent federal MAP-21 transportation bill.

In order to change a part of the transportation network that used federal funds in the past, or a regionally-significant link, DC (or Maryland or Virginia) has to go through certain steps. It has to submit the project to the TPB's Constrained Long-Range Plan (CLRP). TPB takes the list of projects, runs models to determine the overall effect on regional air quality, and makes sure that the air quality is below certain levels as required by the federal Clean Air Act.

Therefore, DDOT cannot go out tomorrowor even this yearto restripe Florida Avenue to reduce lanes for ADA compliant walking areas or bicycle facilities. Instead, it has to decide what it wants to do, submit the project next February, and wait for the TPB to approve the project, along with the others in the region, later in the spring.

For 2013, DDOT submitted streetcar routes, bus lanes on H and I Streets, making New Jersey Avenue NW two-way, and more, but nothing about Florida Avenue. A 2010 NoMA transportation study recommended removing a lane on Florida Avenue NE, but DDOT has not yet included this project in its portion of the CLRP project list.

The best-case scenario at this point is for temporary fixes to happen in about 18 months. In an email, Zimbabwe says that an upcoming study will "assess short-term low-cost design improvements" which DDOT could potentially install in late summer 2014, in addition to planning for the higher-cost, permanent changes.

Paint, signs and barriers are cheap and easy to move around. By trying temporary fixes, DDOT could make the road safer immediately, and also determine what works well before spending more money on a permanent change.

Politics can present obstacles as well

Besides having bureaucratic processes from TPB and federal rules, DDOT officials may feel they need a lot of studies to weather any political opposition that might come up.

Groups like AAA have criticized DDOT for moving too quickly on projects which convert driving lanes for other transportation users. In Glover Park, a traffic calming project is not yet complete, and yet Georgetown residents are already calling to reverse the changes.

It will likely take continued public pressure, and support, from the neighborhood and others to ensure that DDOT can move ahead quickly with temporary pedestrian and bicycle improvements without waiting for a long design and construction process for permanent fixes. Hopefully by the end of next year (at the lastest), DDOT has the opportunity to use Florida Avenue NE as an example for relatively rapid, low-cost upgrades that improve safety for all modes of transportation.

Bicycling


New York sees similar bike and communication debates as DC

New York City is 13 times the size of DC and its greater metro region 3½ times as big. Political fights there are also far larger, including ones over bicycle lanes and public spaces, as a New York Times profile on Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan details.


Photo by nickdigital on Flickr.

It explains how Sadik-Khan has pushed forward with many innovative projects including closing parts of Times Square to traffic and building separated cycle tracts, which have gained worldwide praise and passionate fans in New York.

At the same time, some of the projects have irritated some people who want to influence what goes on in New York and want to be consulted on projects. And a few missteps, such as seeming dismissive or brusque toward stakeholders, may have contributed to the tension.

There are many parallels to Adrian Fenty, Michelle Rhee and Gabe Klein in the way people talk about Sadik-Khan (and Mayor Bloomberg) in the article. There are also many clear ways DC is different, besides the fact that cronyism was never a factor with Bloomberg.

For example, one of the aspiring mayoral candidates, Congressman Anthony Weiner from Queens, seems to have decided to ride a wave of anti-bike lane sentiment even though he once supported increasing cycling, including with bike lanes. Yet he changed his tune by the time he attended a dinner with Mayor Bloomberg last year:

"When I become mayor, you know what I'm going to spend my first year doing?" Mr. Weiner said to Mr. Bloomberg, as tablemates listened. "I'm going to have a bunch of ribbon-cuttings tearing out your [expletive] bike lanes."
Here in DC, even amid a very contentious mayoral race, both candidates insisted they supported retaining the existing bike lanes and building more. Despite criticizing the 15th Street bike lane recently, Jack Evans also maintains he supports keeping it.

People can argue whether those sentiments come from heartfelt beliefs or from realizing what's politically unpopular to oppose. Even if it's partly or largely the latter, that means that livable streets has a political currency that leaders ignore at their peril. The 2013 mayoral race may well reveal whether that's also true in New York.

For DC (and Arlington), having small jurisdictions is a blessing; if New York were just Manhattan and Brooklyn, for instance, there'd be little political gain in Weiner's stance. He would instead be running for Nassau County executive, which would probably be a better job for him.

In any jurisdiction, though, there is indeed value in listening to communities and building consensus and support for a project. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer built broad support for an Upper West Side bike lane by fostering a dialogue over specific complaints and how to fix them. Sadik-Khan's first revolutionary change, pedestrianizing Times Square, had strong support from area businesses.

DDOT has been doing more listening of late, scheduling meetings on the Circulator, the Anacostia Streetcar, and more. Its livability studies in various neighborhoods have garnered broad praise from most neighborhoods.

Some people will oppose projects regardless. Others will complain they never were consulted no matter how hard an agency works to reach out. Despite well over 150 public meetings on the zoning rewrite, the same people showed up at the DC Council oversight hearing on the Office of Planning for the third year in a row to complain that OP wasn't communicating enough.

But with good community relations, these voices will be few, supporters more numerous, and aspiring elected officials will know that winning cheap applause by feeding on a fear of change won't ultimately pay off. Mayor Bloomberg, for his part, remains strongly supportive of Sadik-Khan and her initiatives.

Public Spaces


Where could DC make space for pedestrians?

Since the pedestrianization of Broadway, the Times Square Alliance has found that foot traffic in Times Square is up 15%.

The BBC has a great video about counting foot traffic in New York's busiest pedestrian space:

What places in our area would be nicer as pedestrian spaces, either part or full time?

At Thursday's Cities in Focus event at EMBARQ, an audience member asked about pedestrianizing 18th Street in Adams Morgan. DDOT Director Gabe Klein said he has had discussions with Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham about closing 18th Street to cars on the weekends, and the department is continuing to pursue the idea.

Initially skeptical, Graham and 18th Street business owners have apparently shown growing interest. This is not surprising since, much like Times Square little more than 18 months ago, 18th Street has reached a point where it doesn't really work for pedestrians or motorists.

Other places where this might be beneficial, especially on weekends: M Street in Georgetown, as Georgetown Metropolitan wrote, 7th Street downtown, or King Street in Old Town Alexandria. Where else might this work?

Roads


No Mo'neme

DDOT Director Emeka Moneme has resigned. The Post reports that Moneme was "irked by Fenty's hands-on managing style"; my sources say there was a growing dissatisfaction with Moneme from the Fenty administration as well.


Former DDOT Dir. Emeka Moneme.

I've frequently criticized Moneme for focusing on getting projects done rather than getting the right ones done. Whether it's the streetcar, intercity bus loading, or a neighborhood streetscape redesign, DDOT reveals its internal conflict between planners who have good, progressive ideas and engineers who are still stuck in LOS-land.

But even if DDOT's output didn't always reflect it, Moneme's heart was clearly in the right place. He wanted to make the city safer for pedestrians and bicycles, and make sure our transportation network aids rather than hinders the development of walkable communities. Just look at his great comments in Eric Weiss's "war on drivers" hatchet job. And there's merit to the charge that Fenty was too "hands-on"; he would often attend community meetings and instruct Moneme to adopt a certain policy regardless of the wisdom of that approach or the research DDOT had put into making a decision.

Fenty's choice to succeed Moneme will have enormous influence over DDOT's direction. We could get an old-school traffic engineer focused on moving as many cars as fast as possible. Or we could get a visionary, progressive leader who will bring clarity to DDOT's actions. New York City stood at the same fork in the road last year when replacing their DOT Commissioner. The two finalists were Michael Horodniceanu, a "cars-first" traditionalist and DOT insider, and Parsons Brinkerhoff VP Janette Sadik-Khan. Mayor Bloomberg chose Sadik-Khan, and now we have separated bike lanes, brand-new plazas, a boulevard-like design for Broadway, and more.

We need a similarly visionary leader for DDOT. And that wouldn't be unusual for Fenty, who plucked an innovative founder of a school reform organization to be chancellor of the DC Public Schools, and picked a national leader on Smart Growth to run the Office of Planning. So far, he has stood behind them despite controversial actions.

DDOT needs a strong leader with a clear vision as much as DCPS, OP, MPD, and other city agencies. And it needs the Mayor to stand behind that leader. Just as with NYC DOT, there are plenty of conventional, established people who could take over. General Counsel and interim Director Frank Seales Jr. is not the visionary leader we need. Fenty should find DDOT's Janette Sadik-Khan, their Michelle Rhee, their Harriet Tregoning. Who is it?

Update: sign this petition to ask Mayor Fenty to find and appoint a world-class leader as the next Director. We should impress upon the Mayor now how important his choice will be.

Update 2: Streetsblog's Aaron Naparstek pointed out that, after calling NYC DOT's Horodniceanu "cars-first", they found out he's not so bad. (Sadik-Khan was still the best choice for Commissioner.)

Transit


Breakfast links: streets for people edition


Bogotá's Ciclovía. Photo by themikebot
on Flickr.
Outdoor seating causes rapes? Cleveland Park ANC Commissioner Frank Winstead was in top form Monday night to oppose late-night outdoor seating at Comet Ping Pong, arguing that it would "turn [the neigborhood] into Adams Morgan, with the murders [and] the rapes." From Marc Fisher's summary, it sounds like Winstead's crusade and the resulting publicity may have actually helped Comet by building sympathy.

This is what visionary transportation leadership looks like: NYC DOT's Jeannette Sadik-Khan has convinced Mayor Bloomberg to try a car-free boulevard on three Saturdays in August, modeled on Bogotá's extremely successful Ciclovía. Streetsblog has video of the announcement. Too bad our Mayor still wants more street space for cars and DDOT lacks coherent policy leadership. Could DC do something on Car-Free Day?

Fairfax subsidizes employees living far from Fairfax: Some Fairfax police officers get county cars to drive home, even when they live far outside the county, reports the Post. This forces the county to spend huge sums on gas, tolls and maintenance. And the cars mostly go to detectives and commanders, not patrol officers. "Once members of the department are given a take-home car, they then move far away from the county," said one officer. Democratic candidate Gerry Connolly is quoted opposing the wasteful practice.

Obama hasn't stopped talking about rail or bikes: On Monday, the candidate said, "We can invest in rail, so that cities like Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis are connected by high-speed trains, and folks have alternatives to air travel." Via Matthew Yglesias. He also told bicycle advocates he would support bicycle and pedestrian funding, reports Streetsblog.

Roads


New Partners: Congestion pricing and transportation finance

The panel at the New Partners conference on transportation finance featured NYC's congestion pricing hero Bruce Schaller, and Michael Replogle of Environmental Defense. As David Burwell of Project for Public Spaces said when he introduced the panel: The transportation trust fund is brokenot just broken, but broke. Actually, the highway fund is broke now, and the transit fund has a few years left in it. (So the Bush Administration has decided, in its wisdom, to transfer the transit money to the highway fund.)

In any case, we need to find innovative ways to fund transportation. There are a variety of strategies, like a VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled) tax, congestion pricing, and more.

Since the same committee that has to reauthorize the transportation fund also is the one considering the climate cap-and-trade proposal to auction off CO2 allowances. One program is bankrupt, the other will generate lots of money. Maybe we can use the CO2 revenue to finance the transportation system.

Michael Replogle, Director of Transportation for Environmental Defense Fund: Scientists say we have about ten years to reverse the greenhouse gas emissions or face unpredictable climate change. Our economy is struggling and new economic powers are rising in countries like Asia. How do we align the ways we finance transportation with our public policy goals for performance?

The highway trust fund is headed south, and a few years after that the transit trust fund is projected to go broke. The Transportation Study Commission just recommended a 40-cent gas tax. There's talk from that commission and another to call for more user fees and tolls. At the state and local level, there's an increasing reliance on sales taxes. Public-private partnerships? Shift transit money to highways as the President has recommended (which wouldn't help Smart Growth and climate change)? Or do we do nothing and let the system degrade?

Public-private partnerships have led to new light rail lines, in Portland (where ¼ the cost of the new airport light rail was funded from a development project with Bechtel), or the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail. A toll road in Chicago was paid for by selling a 99-year lease to a private operator, while Indiana used money from that to fund a $100B expansion of its highways. The Beltway in Northern Virginia is adding new HOT lanes under an 80-year lease, and now Virginia wants to add even more lanes with its own money. These can cut either way, and it depends how the deals get done.

Road tolls are growing, from Singapore which created a congestion charge in 1975 and financed better transit, and Oslo in the 1990s; New York congestion prices the Hudson River tunnels and is now considering a congestion pricing charge; and Minneapolis is turning HOV lanes into HOT lanes and using the money to finance a new transit line.

Will this hurt or help Smart Growth? That depends on whether we use the money to manage the roads and transit for higher productivity, cut pollution, and generate revenue for public transportation? Or, will these funds just be used to built more roads faster and spur even more traffic and sprawl, which is the outcome of a lot of our public investment.

If we just add toll managed lanes and use the money to pay for the lanes or for even more lanes, as the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments wants to do, we just end up with more lanes, not better transit. On England's A1 highway, the private operator's contract ensures their revenue goes up if the congestion goes down, such as if they schedule maintenance during nighttime hours. Why not extend that here and link the operator's revenue to congestion and pollution?

In Singapore, which is competing with America for the best and the brightest in biotechnology and other fields, after 30 years of congestion pricing the trasit share has gone from 40% to 67%. They adjust the charges four times a year to keep speeds at peak productivity. Traffic dropped 45% when they implemented the system and has stayed steady while incomes and auto ownership went up sharply. Germany is doing emission-based truck tolls, charging old dirty trucks, and cut CO2 emissions 7%.

VMT fees were just successfully piloted in Oregon. Even the US Chamber of Commerce supports this, and it's a way to get beyond the gas tax. We protect privacy but charge people more to travel in congested corridors at peak times.

Under the Urban Partnership Agreements, San Francisco is looking at congestion pricing on Doyle Drive (an approach to the Golden Gate Bridge); South Florida is using congestion pricing to clear congestion and raise funds for bus rapid transit to give people a choice. Follow the money, and we can help these instruments serve Smart Growth.

Bruce Schaller, Director for Planning and Sustainability for NYC DOT: Joined NYC DOT in June of last year for implementation of the PlaNYC intiative. PlaNYC began with forecasts that NYC would add 1M new people over the next 30 years. They started by looking at land use, where to put the people, but quickly expanded the focus to a range of parts of the city's infrastructure including transportation. But PlaNYC includes adding housing within walking distance of subways and commuter rail (a change from the way the city has been growing since WWII); ensuring all NYers are within a 10-minute walk of a park; having the cleanest air of any big city. Congestion pricing is just one of 127 initiatives in PlaNYC, but has received most of the attention.

Once you take the status quo out of the option list, then the discussion changes. It's how do you plan for growth, not whether or not you will have it.

City's public space vision is that the streets and sidewalks aren't just about moving from Point A to Point B but that they are a public space as well. They prioritize more effective ways to get people around (transit) over driving, and for its effect on air quality. Finally, they aim to create a funding stream to finance transit improvements.

Quick review of the proposal now on the table, from the congestion pricing commission: The congestion charge will be an $8 daily fee if you enter the zone below 60th Street between 6 am and 6 pm. Trucks pay $21, but clean trucks pay only $7. They removed the internal charge but added a $1 surcharge on taxi and livery fares, increase parking meter fees and partly eliminated the parking tax rebate. This is projected to create a 6.8% reduction in VMT and $491 million net revenue that would be devoted to transit improvements.

Here are potential issues and objections raised with congestion pricing:

  • Will the system work as envisioned? They've done extensive modeling on traffic demand and believe it will.
  • Will it meet needs for improved transit? Absorbing drivers who shift, and the overall growth of the system? That's where detailed short-term transit improvements come in and a commitment to implement them before the start of pricing.
  • Will the funds be used as intended? They've worked hard on the draft legislation to ensure this.
  • Are there viable alternatives? Many were analyzed, both pricing and non-pricing alternatives including many modifications of the mayor's plan some of which made it into the commission recommendations.
  • Cost to deploy the system? Recent changes by the commission reduce the cost by reducing the numbers of cameras.
  • Is it unfair to those who must drive? 80% of drivers have a viable transit alternative according to Schaller's research for TA. That has gone a long way to addressing this issue.
  • Economic impacts? Partnership for NYC, the business group, did a study showing the high costs of existing congestion.
  • Neighborhood impacts? They've made a commitment to neighborhood parking programs like
  • Equity across income groups? Does this hurt the working people? Drivers have 30% higher income than transit users. The legislature may consider a low-income tax credit for low-income drivers into the CBD.
  • Regional equity: are different parts of the region paying their fair share? This is interwoven with the offset because people from NJ will get the offset. Their position is that drivers from all areas will contribute to transit subsidies in proportion to the numbers of drivers from those ares, even if the contribution goes to the Port Authority instead of NYC. The legislature may revisit the NJ contribution.
Burwell: I couldn't help thinking how far we've come. Just 20 years ago NYC was proposing a 8 or 12-lane highway underground along the West Side. From there to this new system is quite some progress.

Question: How does the VMT tax pilot program work in Oregon? Replogle: They have a satellite-based GPS that tracks when you drive your car. It doesn't track exactly where you are but what zone you are in: if you are inside the State of Oregon, and whether you are inside or outside the Portland Growth Boundary. If you are inside, it's 10 cents, if outside, 1.8 cents. When you go to the gas station, a device communicates between your car's computer and the gas pump, and if you have the system, it deducts your gas tax from your gas charge and adds the mileage fees back in. The overall revenue is the same as the gas tax.

Question: How did PlaNYC come up with the $8 per day level? Schaller: They looked at several levels, $8 and a couple above that. As you go above $8, you start to find an increased number of trips that aren't taken at all, which could have an economic impact. So part was a concern about suppressed trips. $8 is also the round-trip toll through the Queens-Midtown Tunnel and the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, so it's an existing level of charge, and thus more likely to be able to make it through approvals.

Question: How does reducing the carbon footprint sell as an argument for congestion pricing? Schaller: Yes, it's a strong point. A number of fortuitous things brought us to this point, and one is the maturation of the discussion over global warming. In focus groups [Schaller] did for the Manhattan Institute, he was surprised how strongly received the environmental arguments were. In studies in the past, the environmental concerns have not weighed, but now people have gotten there. Replogle: climate is rising as an issue in public consciousness, but it's not the only issue. There are people motivated by asthma and the health impacts, and many are upset that the transit system isn't as good as it needs to be. Schaller: By itself, the environment is not sufficient, and perhaps none are sufficient on their own.

Question: How does NYC plan to increase the transit infrastructure? Schaller: There are a number of large projects, 2nd Avenue Subway, East Side Access, that have been funded to an extent but not fully. There are also short-term improvements; they have two-page summaries of the transit benefits to every Council district, Senate district, and Assembly district in the city.

Question: Strategies used to address equity issues? Burwell: Also what about in cities without alternatives unlike NYC? Replogle: A lot of work to make sure NYC transit improvements that go in place before pricing are ones that serve the neighborhoods without good transit alternatives now. The low-income tax credit Schaller mentioned has also come up in the Bay Area, to create a means-tested lifeline discount for congestion pricing fees. Studies show clearly, across the country, that our current system of financing is highly inequitable. If you introduce congestion pricing, will it help or hurt against the high degree of inequity? The answer depends on what you do with the revenues. If you put the revenues into expanding the roads, it exacerbates inequality and environmeental problems; if you put it into transit, it alleviates the inequity.

Question: Does tolling really finance a whole system, or is it just 10% of the system? Replogle: This is a key public policy question in Congress and state legislatures. There's no single answer. It will be determined by our elected officials if we increase gas taxes or what. But we will need to be much more dependent on user fees if we're going to get control of the system, increase the productivity and effectiveness of the system. There's a growing role for private investment to transform the system into a more effective one. There will be a robust exploration of different options in the next few years.

Question: How far are we from the VMT tax being applied in other communities? Replogle: the National Surface Policy Commission Report says 2025. The minority view signed by Secretary Peters says maybe 2015. He feels we need to be talking about a more rapid transition to VMT fees to measure the traffic on our networks. Now we don't even have a good way of measuring how much traffic there is. We need to know that to tackle reducing emissions. If you can't measure it, you can't manage it. It will also enable a host of market innovations to deliver new safety services like 911, managing traffic intersections to reduce red light running and reduce speeding, to enable pay-as-you-drive insurance, and other innovations.

Schaller: It sounds like a good idea, but don't be too optimistic on how quickly you can move. In England, where London has congestion pricing, the national government moved toward a national road toll program and then backed right back off. People on both sides of the Atlantic need to think about what are the intermediate steps to move toward this in a more organic way, how do we move step by step and show people the benefits of additional pricing programs. Replogle: truck-based emission tolls could be a good intermediate option. We have a lot of old, dirty trucks; they run forever and you can keep rebuilding those engines, and we have no way to push for a replacement strategy. Germany got a buy-in from the trucking industry for their truck-only VMT program to better compete with dirty trucks coming from Eastern Europe.

Question: How do you ensure that the transponders aren't used for surveillance, like enforcing speeding, or knowing who was in a high-crime area? Replogle: This is an important issue that needs to be explored. The Oregon pilot test was specifically designed to only track your zone, not the specific location. Whenever you use your Visa or cell phone your information is given out. We always come to live with a balance.

Question: One opposition to congestion pricing comes from businesses. How did NYC get 135 businesses not to say they'll move to the suburbs? What has been the experience in other cities? Schaller: The business community was a leader in pushing for congestion pricing. Of those working int he CBD, only 16% drive to work, so the huge majority of employees aren't affected. At this point, if you're in business in Manhattan, you're not there by accident, you're there because you want to be in Manhattan, with real estate prices and the cost of doing business. Companies that are in the delivery business have not been as supportive.

Replogle: The experience worldwide is that business leaders recognize that congestion and unreliability in transportation imposes a growing set of costs on their business and their operations that makes it harder to attract workers if they don't have good choices. Congestion pricing is a positive sell to the public and business if it delivers significant improvement in the quality of transportation, reliability, travel time and 2) better travel choices. Better performance and better choice. A lot of small businesses fear if fewer people drive past their shops. Experience in London, Stockholm, Oslo is that there has been no negative impact on commercial activity including small shops. The center city areas have become even more robust by becoming more attractive to pedestrians. Burwell: We used to have minimum parking requirements. In Boston there are now no minimums. In London, now there are maximums. New commercial real estate is limited to 1 space per 12,000 sq ft.

Question: Congestion pricing, are there potential negative effects longer-term? Schaller: There aren't any anticipated; if one returns to basic economics, what congestion pricing is doing is internalizing the external cost people create when they drive. When one person drives they slow down other people behind them, and placing on everyone the cost. These programs are a plus by correcting what is now a missed price signal, and the economic studies have shown there's a large cost to the excess congestion. A certain amount is reflective of economic health; beyond that you have a cost. If you bring down the excess cost you have a better economic environment.

Burwell: the trust fund is broken. There's a new transportation bill at the federal level to reauthorize next year. This is the time to think about transportation financing as a Smart Growth issue. Please get involved in this important debate for next year.

Parking


"I'm all for bike lanes but" not enough room to double park

Today's Gridlock Sam column in the NY Daily News contains this letter that reveals the amazing absurdity of New York's parking mess.

This truck driver depends on double parking to make deliveries, but new bike lanes interfere with space for the double parking. Does he criticize the lack of loading zones? No, it's clearly the bike lanes at fault. And rather than solving the real problemagain, the lack of loading zonesDOT is working to allow parking on the median. The full letter:

Dear Gridlock Sam,

I own/operate a commercial vehicle used to deliver to grocery stores in the Bronx. Things have gotten tricky with new bike lanes on both sides of the street (ex: Franklin St.) ... This makes it nearly impossible to make a delivery.

If I double-park next to it, I'm guilty of blocking traffic since my truck would be in the middle of the street. With no loading/unloading zones, finding a parking spot plus additional room to unload is nearly impossible. I'm all for bike lanes, but where does that leave those trying to make a living?

Sam's answer: it's legal for commercial vehicles to double park outside the bike lane (except in Midtown). Sam continues, "It's illegal to double-park on a traffic island, but [DOT would] prefer motorists use the island rather than double-park in a moving lane; DOT is considering changing the rules."

Only inside the weird bubble of NYC traffic land does this make any sense. Let's back up. New York's parking is hard to find. But trucks need to make deliveries. There aren't enough loading zones. But residents of many neighborhoods see being able to park in every possible space, for free, as a "right." So instead of allocating a couple spaces per block to loading zones (which is the case on commercial streets in DC, including in front of my apartment building), we instead make it legal for trucks to double-park. This has the side effect of making congestion worse, since now many travel lanes become blocked.

The swarm of double-parked trucks creates a hazard for bicyclists, so DOT creates bike lanes. But now, the bike lanes interfere with double parking, and when trucks double park in the remaining space, it blocks traffic. So what's the solution? Clearly, parking on medians! Huh?

The hole keeps getting deeper. But the solution is simple. Stop assuming that residents are inherently entitled to every curbside space. There is plenty of room for trucks to park on the side of the road to make deliveriesit's just that today, it's always full.

Support Us
DC Maryland Virginia Arlington Alexandria Montgomery Prince George's Fairfax Charles Prince William Loudoun Howard Anne Arundel Frederick Tysons Corner Baltimore Falls Church Fairfax City
CC BY-NC