Feb 2, 2012.
2006 -- 2010
Auto-Free NY was founded in February 1989. Since January, 2002, Auto-Free NY's website has presented a monthly letter from its chairman and founder, George Haikalis, introducing each monthly meeting's theme. Because these themes are critically important, and NYC is so backward in addressing its chronic car-caused traffic problems, we archive George's letters here, most recent first, for your information and reading pleasure.
Monthly Letters from George
Above, George (in white sport coat) attends an MTA Lower Manhattan Access public hearing, circa 2002.
Light Rail Around the World - Why Not New York?
Joint meeting, AFNY and Vision 42
This month, Auto-Free NY and the Vision 42 working group are holding a combined meeting, on Tuesday, December 14, at which there will be a brief presentation: "Light Rail Around the World - Why not in NYC?", followed by progress reports on efforts to advance Vision 42 - an auto-free light rail boulevard for 42nd Street and cordon pricing.
Bring your ideas for this open discussion, which will be held at the Transportation Alternatives meeting space at their headquarters office on West 26th Street.
Traffic Pricing in NYC: A New Spreadsheet Model
Special Guest: Charles Komanoff, Nurture Nature Foundation
In the photo [on our front page], taken in summer 2010, we can see morning inbound overflow traffic under the Gowanus Expressway in Brooklyn, itself packed with cars, clearly showing the success of City Hall and the Department of Transportation in incentivizing private car use and helping commuters to avoid mass transit.
There is, of course, a better way. Auto-Free NY is once again honored to have well-known energy economist and activist Charles Komanoff as guest speaker, for our November 30 monthly meeting. Mr. Komanoff will make the case for a new model for traffic pricing in NYC. Mr. Komanoff is a co-founder of the Carbon Tax Center, but has long been known in local, regional and national environmentalist circles as the person who almost single-handedly revived the NYC bicycle advocacy group Transportation Alternatives in the late 1980s.
Mr. Komanoff has created websites condemning reckless motorists in NYC, and laying the case for East River bridge tolls. Mr. Komanoff's 1981 book, "Power Plant Cost Escalation: Nuclear and Coal Capital Costs, Regulation and Economics," supplied the analytical framework that helped stop the corporate takeover of American energy policy by the nuclear industry, without which we would perhaps have been even more surrounded by leaking, radioactive, costly and heavily armed nuclear power plants than we are today.
Mr. Komanoff is a riveting public speaker, who can transform what could have been dry economics into a compelling vision of an achievable world that will actually be sustainable. As it becomes more obvious to all of us how unsustainable our society is, in large part because of the automobile, Mr. Komanoff, in a reprise of his nuclear industry takedown, could play a key role in saving us all over again! Come to our November meeting and hear his latest take on traffic pricing in NY.
"Surrender your Parking Permits"
Special Guest: Ian Sacs, P.E. Director, Transportation and Parking, City of Hoboken, NJ
Hoboken, NJ, just one mile across the Hudson River from NYC, has always been a transportation pioneer. The first steamboats were designed and built there nearly two centuries ago. And a modern light rail line -- the Hudson-Bergen Line -- has been serving the city for over a decade. (Hint to Mayor Bloomberg -- what are you waiting for?)
Now Hoboken is trying a new approach to dealing with its chronic parking (also known as private car storage) problem by making car ownership less of a necessity and more of an option. To do this, the city is beefing up its menu of alternative transportation options, and topping off the selection with a program structured to encourage residents to consider giving up their cars, called "Surrender Your Permit". In technical terms, this is called demand-side parking management.
Join us at the next Auto-Free New York meeting and find out how it works!
Winning Over Community Boards for Sustainable Transport Plans
Special Guest: Ken Coughlin, Manhattan Community Board 7; board member, Transportation Alternatives
We are honored to have for our September meeting's guest speaker Ken Coughlin, a member of Manhattan's Community Board 7. Ken has long been the leading advocate for a carfree Central Park. His tireless efforts have helped gain a drastic reduction in the hours that the loop roadways may be used by motor vehicles. Ken will explain what steps remain to complete the job.
Ken will give a brief overview how important these advisory bodies are in gaining the attention and support of local elected officials to advance sensible transportation measures to reduce vehicle traffic in dense urban areas.
We are extending this invitation to members of the Regional Rail Working Group (www.rrwg.org) and the vision42 Working Group (www.vision42.org), because efforts to remake the area's three commuter rail lines into an interconnected regional rail system with frequent service, integrated fares and thru-running, and efforts to convert traffic-clogged 42nd Street into a river-to-river auto-free light rail boulevard need solid local support.
Following the presentation and discussion, time will be available for progress reports on other IRUM initiatives. Also, a brief slide presentation depicting modern auto-free streets and light rail lines in Berlin, Vienna and Budapest, which was shown at this past week's vision42 working group meeting, will be again presented.
Summer Walking Tour #2: Amtrak's Little-Used West Side Rail Line in Manhattan
One of the best ways to cut car traffic in urban areas is to give Americans better transportation choices. And one of the most cost effective ways to do that is to make better use of any existing rail lines: since they already exist, you don't have to pay to make them!
NYC has, on Manhattan's West side, the barely used Amtrak two-track rail line. This line starts at around West 31st Street, where it peels off from the tracks that connect Penn Station to NJ, angles around the Javits Center, heads up in a cut near 10th Avenue, then goes underground around West 63rd Street. Going straight north, it surfaces around West 125th Street, then crosses into the Bronx at Spuyten Duyvil, where it joins the tracks along the Hudson shore that are familiar to Metro-North riders.
This two-track rail line, bordering some of the most densely developed urban land in the US, where hundreds of thousands of people live, averages only about one train an hour in each direction! Its adjacent neighborhoods, far from the nearest subway line, are choked with traffic and its resulting noise and air pollution. A local train or subway service could be instituted on this line, but only if stations are planned for and built at strategic locations in advance.
How can such a valuable rail resource sit little-used amidst our ongoing transit and environmental crises? For the most part, it is due to endless bickering between self-serving transit bureaucracies, combined with a clear lack of vision and courage from the City Administration, and Mayor Bloomberg in particular. Our billionaire Mayor, with the aid of the corporate media, are content to blow their horns about the popularity of the newly pedestrianized Times Square Shopping Mall, with tourists sitting around looking at corporate billboards. This is not a genuinely sustainable vision of NYC - just public relations.
Come see this underused rail line for yourself, on our August Auto-Free NY Walking Tour, which is free and open to the public; no reservations are needed. It is still possible to catch a few glimpses of this valuable resource, before it is completely built over by developers, who are, thanks to the city's indifference and/or venality, making no provision for any stations along this line. The August 24 walking tour begins at 6pm sharp, meeting at the NW corner of 11th Avenue and 59th Street, rain or shine.
Summer Walking Tour: Long Island City Transit Enhancements
NYC's plan to remake Long Island City into the central business district for the borough of Queens is on a collision course with City Hall's love affair with the automobile. The City's plan to rezone the area's industrial, light manufacturing and warehouse facilities in order to shoehorn in yet more office buildings and publicly subsidized luxury condos does not now include any meaningful efforts to reduce auto dependence in this congested district. Left out, for instance, is a light rail rail line, that would be cost-effective and would easily connect the widespread developments in this district. Meanwhile, the MTA's plans for the nearby Sunnyside Intermodal Transfer Station for the LIRR at Queens Plaza -- a sort of Grand Central Station for western Queens -- remain stalled.
In order to curtail car traffic in Long Island City, first and foremost there must be major improvements in public transit in the area. Auto-Free NY's longstanding plan for replacing two car lanes on the upper deck of the Queensboro Bridge with a pedestrian promenade, and converting the bridge's Lower Deck to a 4-lane highway with the two outermost lanes dedicated to a new light rail service, would effectively act as an "upstream meter" to reduce congestion in LIC. This would reduce the car chaos that developed decades ago when Robert Moses and Mayor LaGuardia usurped the bridge lanes dedicated to rail transit to create these motor vehicular lanes.
For our July walking tour, come witness with us firsthand the car chaos at the bridge plaza, and consider our proposals for change for yourself. Perhaps we will get to see firsthand one of the frequent fender-bender accidents, or see road-raging motorists attacking each other! Join us on our summer walking tour, Tuesday, July 27, 2010, 6-8pm. Meet us in the Queens Plaza subway station at 6pm sharp, at the western end at the 24-hour token booth. Tour begins promptly at 6pm rail or shine. [Also, save the date -- Tuesday, August 24, 2010, for the second in our popular summer walking tours: to one of Manhattan's many underused transportation resources -- the Amtrak West Side rail line. . . .]
Revisiting 'Goodbye Gowanus' -- Getting Rid of the Expressway
Back in July 1994, the New York Streetcar News, a bi-monthly published under the aegis of the Committee for Better Transit, produced a bold plan calling for tearing down Brooklyn's troubled Gowanus Expressway and replacing it with a street-level boulevard similar to Manhattan's West side, and adding a new light rail line running from Staten Island's sole subway line over the Verrazano Bridge to Battery Tunnel, and finally adding a short subway link, via the Battery Tunnel, to create an express train from the N and R subway in Brooklyn to Trinity Place in Manhattan. One of the beauties of this plan was its affordability and speed with which it could be built.
This plan unquestionably proposed dramatic change for this part of the city. In fact, having such a transit-friendly plan show up like that undoubtedly scared the bejesus out of the City's Dept. of Moving Lots of Traffic (ie the DOT). Their response was to cook up a feeble tunnel replacement plan that would, at triple the price of the rebuild plan, never ever see funding. The DOT studied it to a quick death and then gave the community the finger.
But the problems of the Gowanus corridor are as complex as they are entrenched in bureaucracy. This Moses-era highway nightmare demands fresh thinking, not more bureaucratic baby-steps or eyewash. Join us this June 22nd as we revisit this plan and see how 16 years of letting the city do nothing except patch and expand the existing elevated highway has only worsened our traffic, clean air and environmental crises, while blocking the creation of substantial alternatives and stalemating for another generation the redevelopment of one of NYC's biggest automobile slums along the length of Brooklyn's 3rd Avenue corridor.
In the meantime, you can read the actual 1994 proposal on our LRT page, Goodbye Gowanus, along with a thoughtful letter written by Alvin Golub and published in the July 1997 Streetcar News as additional clarification. We will add photos and diagrams here as time permits.
History of Streetcars in Greenwich Village
In 1832, the nation's first street railway line began operation in Greenwich Village. These horse-drawn rail cars opened a new era in urban transportation and led to the construction of the most world's most extensive streetcar system, in NYC. In the late 1890's, NYC's streetcar system was rapidly converted to the newly developed electric propulsion. A few remnants of this vast streetcar network, which extended through all five boroughs, still lie buried under the city's potholed streets. But most were ripped out decades ago and sold off as scrap metal.
To Robert Moses and other champions of the motor car in NYC, streetcars were seen as inhibitors of unfettered automobility. They were right. The streetcars were the ultimate "carrot and stick" transport measure, making surface public transit smoother and more efficient while slowing and reducing capacity of vehicular travel. Once freed of streetcars, the city's roads became overrun with cars and trucks, leading to the chronic motor mayhem that bedevils New Yorkers to this day.
Streetcars and modern light rail systems are enjoying a revival in the US and abroad. New light rail systems have been introduced in thirty US cities and planning for many more is underway -- except in NYC. Here we seem determined to be the very last US city to introduce modern surface rail transit, just like we were the very first to initiate service.
Plan to attend the May 25, 2010 meeting and learn about the history of streetcars in Greenwich Village and how we can bring them back.
Saving Public Transit: What's the Green Solution?
Special Guest: Cheska Tolentino and Marvin Holland, Transport Workers Union.
Transit operating budgets are under assault, not just here in NYC or NJ, but in urban areas across the US. If these assaults succeed, transit agencies will have little choice but to raise fares and cut service.
The resulting downward spiral -- higher fares and less service discouraging riders, leading to even higher fares and less service -- is exactly what we don't need, in the face of America's environmental crises caused by car dependency. This downward spiral could even rival the decline in transit ridership that lasted for decades after the 1940s, a decline which tore apart our cities and social fabric even as the federal government spent heavily to subsidize and promote car-dependent suburban sprawl.
These proposed budget cuts don't just translate into a worsening of smog, traffic, car crashes and global warming. Service cuts in transit also mean job cuts, again at the worst possible time, as urban areas face steady losses in employment and record levels of joblessness.
Over thirty years ago, under President Reagan, the Federal government ended most operating subsidies of the nation's transit systems, even as it dramatically expanded tax cuts for the rich and sent the nation's military, weapons and missiles budget soaring. Perhaps it is time to reconsider federal support of transit operating budgets as a relatively low-cost way to enhance the environment and buttress the livability and economies of dense urban areas.
Come to our next Auto-Free NY meeting and learn how transit unions are fighting back to gain the public support needed to prevent this meltdown of the transit industry.
New Council Member Raises Hopes for Reducing Car Chaos in Lower Manhattan
Special Guest: Honorable Margaret Chin, NYC City Council
A new champion for the interests of Lower Manhattan was sworn into office at the beginning of this year -- NYC Council Member Margaret Chin. We're delighted to have her as our special guest for our upcoming March 2010 meeting of Auto-Free NY. A longtime resident and community activist in Chinatown, Councilmember Chin has dedicated herself to improving the livability of her neighborhood. Her new office expands her area of responsibility all the way to the Battery.
As newly appointed chair of the Council's Committee on Lower Manhattan Redevelopment, Ms. Chin is in an excellent position to advocate for a better vision for NYC's historic heartland, and to press for policies that differ from the Mayor's decidedly mixed policies on reducing car chaos downtown.
Please visit her City Council website for a fine introduction, and plan to join us on March 23rd where you can offer your suggestions for relieving traffic congestion in Lower Manhattan.
Emancipating the Lincoln Tunnel --or at Least One Tube!
It's no secret that the tens of thousands of people living anywhere near the entrances to the Lincoln Tunnel, on either side of the Hudson River, are captives of a motor vehicle-only culture that has reigned in the NY-NJ-CT metropolitan region for nearly a century. The last cross-Hudson rail tunnel were completed in 1910 -- one hundred years ago! Since then, the Port Authority of NY and NJ, created in the 1920s and charged at that time with expanding rail capacity regionally, has instead doggedly pursued car-dominant facilities pretty much to this day.
The only significant cross-river transit improvement the Port Authority has done since that time was to install a counterflow bus lane -- not enough, and risky to boot. The PATH train was simply taken over in 1962 from the Hudson & Manhattan RR, and as the poor stepchild of the Port Authority's portfolio of subsidiaries, has not been expanded by even one inch of new trackage in all that time.
It's a new century, new priorities, new sources of information - and it's time for change and progress. Some 15 years ago, the Committee for Better Transit proposed that one of the three separate two-lane tubes in the Lincoln Tunnel be converted to light rail. It's way past time to dust off this proposal and make it a reality.
Help Auto-Free New York celebrate its 21st Anniversary and come to our February meeting to learn more about this proposal.
The Rockaway Cut Off in Queens: Restoring a Rail Link to JFK
Special Guest: Robert Kozma
Nearly 50 years ago, the LIRR shut down its commuter train service over the Rockaway Cut-Off in Central Queens. Although the commuter trains are gone on this north-south connecting route, this priceless but weed-strewn asset - a substantial rail right-of-way in a crowded city -- remains intact to this day. All of the overpasses (save one) still stand, and the ties, tracks, third rail and signals are still there, as if in an automobile-induced Twilight Zone.
NYC's notoriously poor or non-existent transit connections to its three airports have long been considered a laughingstock for the rest of the civilized world. That such a wealthy city, able to subsidize billion-dollar stadiums and luxury condos, and pour public monies into highway enhancements, cannot find the money to restore this rail line to provide a one-seat ride linking the nation's largest business district with JFK, the nation's busiest international airport, is a disgrace.
This ongoing disgrace is made even worse by our billionaire Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who expends hot air on not-going-to-happen-in-our-lifetime sustainability scenarios and other diversions like enforcing low-salt diets, rather than focusing on our city's traffic crises and doing what's needed to alleviate the car-clogged highways to the airport. The Mayor's first priority should be unclogging highways, not arteries!
Find out how this valuable asset can be brought back to life, so that NYC can start to catch up with more sophisticated cities both here and abroad. Join us on January 26, 2010 for the next AFNY meeting, where our informal discussion will be led by Robert Kozma, retired public transit operations specialist.
The Bronx's Grand Concourse at Age 100:
From "Boulevard of Exhaust Fumes" to "Boulevard of Dreams"?
Special Guest: Erika Matthias, landscape designer, filling in for Taewook Cha, from AECOM
The Grand Concourse in the Bronx is now celebrating its 100th birthday. Design competitions, museum exhibits and a scholarly new book -- "Boulevard of Dreams", by Constance Rosenblum -- are reexamining this once proud boulevard that was built during the heyday of the City Beautiful movement of the late 1890s. But after World War II, severe urban poverty, racism and worst of all, Robert Moses and his highway builders, devastated the county. The Grand Concourse today is little more than an at-grade express highway, a day-and-nightmare of noise and air pollution tormenting the tens of thousands of residents who live near it.
But the dominance of the car here is not etched in stone. We can overcome bureaucratic inertia, budgetary crises, misinformation from the city's newspapers and deepset institutional racism. One of the eight award winners for a contest to redesign this traffic nightmare, Taewook Cha, has proposed a bold new vision for a green boulevard, which includes a light rail line. His proposal is now on display through January 3, 2010 at the Bronx Museum of Art in Morrisania [info: (718) 681-6000], as part of an exhibit of all the winners in the Grand Concourse 100 competition. We strongly recommend a visit there!
Mr. Cha is a director at NYC-based AECOM Design & Planning. Some of the notable projects he designed for firms previous to AECOM include the 200-acre Hengchun Tropical Botanical Gardens in Taiwan; the signature hotel/casino in MGM Mirage's City Center Project in Las Vegas, a key part of a $7.4 billion resort entertainment complex; and the $66 million 80-acre Louisville Waterfront Park in Kentucky. Mr. Cha was also invited as an expert adviser for the Linear City Project, an urban revitalization study of the Kowloon-Shenzhen rail corridor connecting Hong Kong and mainland China.
Don't miss a chance to hear this innovative designer present the proposal in person at our next Auto-Free NY meeting on Tuesday, Dec 15. Note that this meeting will be held jointly with Vision 42, the advocacy group calling for light rail on 42nd Street.
Crossing the Hudson River: A New Rail Tunnel, A New Governor, New Connections?
Why Governor-elect Christie Should Deep-Six the Deep Cavern Plan
Special Guest: David Peter Alan, Chairman, Lackawanna Coalition
Perhaps the single biggest transportation failure in the metro-NYC region is the motor-vehicle Hudson River crossings, the inevitable result of generations of interstate political shenanigans mixed with unaccountable authorities adding one non-rail-transit tunnel after another. Each and every weekday here in NYC, "jam-cams" and buzzing helicopters from corporate all-news radio stations report on hour-long or worse traffic back-ups at the Lincoln Tunnel and the George Washington Bridge.
With this traffic mess staring them in the face daily, our elected officials and the transit professionals that report to them, on both sides of the Hudson River, are like deer caught in the headlights. They simply cannot find a way to advance Trans-Hudson rail transit plans that would offer attractive alternatives to those now stuck in traffic. There are, however, two individuals who perhaps have the power to actually do something about it: the governors of NY and NJ.
If NY's Governor David Paterson, his term in office swamped with problems, is unlikely to offer any leadership on this issue, NJ's new Governor, Christopher Christie, might. His state is on the brink of building a new passenger rail tunnel under the Hudson River to NYC, which would normally be a cause for celebration but instead is seen as a huge mistake because of its extreme deep-cavern station that dead-ends at 34th Street in NYC. Perhaps a narrow window of opportunity may open for a more enlightened and more interconnected regional transport plan.
Plan to attend our next Auto-Free NY meeting on Tuesday November 24 and hear how rail advocates in NJ -- the Lackawanna Coalition -- hope to make a difference. The meeting will be held [for this month] jointly with the Regional Rail Working Group (www.rrwg.org), so there will be plenty of rail advocates from both sides of the river. And in the meanwhile do read our special feature, Light Rail in the Lincoln Tunnel! for some additional background on the three-tube Lincoln Tunnel and an intriguing streetcar option for that tunnel network.
Can We Get the City Planning Commission to Actually Plan?
Special Guest: Professor Tom Angotti, Hunter College
The core concept of our Auto-Free New York Plan is its comprehensive, coherent all-over approach. In order for strategies to reduce car use and create more pedestrian-friendly streets to be successful, this concept is critical. During the past year, and perhaps in response to the upcoming mayoral election in November, City Hall has implemented a number of highly visible new features to our streets, like the plazas on Broadway in midtown and new "hardened" bike lanes. While these efforts are welcome, they are little more than ad hoc initiatives dreamed up behind closed doors in City Hall.
The NYC Planning Commission, established during a civic-minded charter revision in 1936, was supposed to create a long range "Master Plan" to guide the city as it made decisions about development and transportation. This was never done. Subsequent charter revisions spelled out a role for communities to participate in the planning process.
Unfortunately, planning as envisioned in the charter has essentially failed in NYC. Instead, the Planning Commission has become a Zoning Commission -- a "mockery of ad-hoc-ery" -- largely favoring big developers, who mistakenly equate adding more cars with raising property values. And community input has been marginalized or ignored.
Make plans now to attend our October meeting where our guest, well-known author Tom Angotti, Professor of Urban Studies at Hunter College, will speak about the current planning process and how it can be reformed to make NYC a more liveable city.
Considering the MTA: Just Whose Transit System is It?
Special Guest: John Rozankowski
The NYC Transit Authority, a state agency, was created in 1953 to muddy the waters as to who would be responsible for fare hikes on the city's subways and buses. At that time, huge fare hikes were looming, because the late 1940s and 1950s, nationwide but especially in NYC, were marked by the shifting of public funding from transit systems to the great suburban build-out, which resulted in the car-dependent suburbs that now ring, and some say, are strangling NYC.
Fifteen years later, in 1968, this authority was merged into the newly formed Metropolitan Transportation Authority, along with the commuter railroads and the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority. The MTA quickly became one of the largest unelected, unaccountable "public" authorities in a city with more than 800 "authorities", constituting a permanent "shadow government". The MTA has been marked by figures like David S. Mack, the MTA's board vice chairman. Mack, finally forced out of the position in Sept 2009, was infamous for comments he made in June 2008 in response to a question about whether he'd ride the LIRR if not for his free lifetime pass: "Why should I ride and inconvenience myself when I can ride in a car?"
Today, City Hall, and of course, NYC residents who actually use the public transportation system, have little control over the operations of these vital lifelines so critical to reducing car overuse in the city. It has gotten so bad that even the NY State legislature, perhaps one of the most corrupt and ineffective in the nation, still managed to pass a bill over the summer, spearheaded by Richard Brodsky in the Assembly, and Bill Perkins in the Senate, requiring NYC authorities be more accountable and transparent -- but Governor David Paterson, under pressure from Mayor Bloomberg, is acting to delay it, water it down or -- torpedo it altogether.
Maybe it's time for a change. Come to the next Auto-Free New York meeting and participate in a discussion led by a longtime transit advocate, John Rozankowski.
Summer Walking Tour #2: New Ped Zones in Herald and Times squares
Some 40 years ago, Mayor John V. Lindsay proposed that segments of Herald Square and Times Square be made car-free. Now, in the closing months of his eighth year in office, Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered these streets closed to motor traffic.
From the perspective of pedestrians, tourists and bicyclists, how successful are these new spaces? We'll find out during our August monthly Auto-Free NY meeting, as we continue our popular summer walking tours. We will visit "Broadway Boulevard" -- these two big new pedestrianized spaces. Our summer walking tours go rain or shine, are free, and no reservations are needed.
Summer Walking Tour #1: Fordham Road Bus BRT Experiment
Our July meeting kicks off our popular summer walking tours -- this time, to Fordham Road in the Bronx. Some 75 years ago, in the 1930's, General Motors joined forces with Robert Moses, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and the city's elites to rid the NYC of its extensive and very popular street railway network -- the world's largest at the time. With pluck, persistence, payola and even some WPA money, they succeeded in dismantling a priceless and irreplaceable urban investment.
Today, New Yorkers must endure an immense but second-rate surface transit system of some 6,000 buses carrying about 3 million passengers a day. Our city buses, mostly in shared, not dedicated, lanes, must yield to private motorists. If not slowed by private vehicles, our buses may find their bus stops blocked by them, since enforcement is extremely uneven.
Now Mayor Bloomberg and a handful of environmental advocates have 'discovered' the bus. They are calling for a Cinderella-like transformation of this ugly duckling of public transit into a sparkling new mode of travel: BRT, or bus rapid transit. These advocates see BRT as a way to forestall the serious investment in light rail transit and dramatic changes in city street use, which inevitable oil shortages are going to necessitate in the near future. In an unusual model of municipal cooperation, the NYC Dept. of Transportation and MTA NYC Transit Bus have actually taken a baby step together. They are transforming a busy bus route in the Bronx -- the Bx12 on Fordham Road -- into a model of what BRT could be like.
Have they succeeded? Are such experiments a good substitute for doing something substantial? Join us at our next Auto-Free New York walking tour and see for yourself!
Can Rail Freight Cut the Stampede of Diesel-Belching Monsters?
Special Guests: Benjamin Miller, Senior Fellow, CUNY Institute for Urban Systems; and John McHugh, Counsel, East of Hudson Rail Freight Task Force
Some of the noisiest and most polluting vehicles in our neighborhoods are giant trucks. Almost completely unregulated, spewing diesel fumes, blaring interstate airhorns at all hours, often with unsafe equipment or poorly trained drivers, these huge vehicles substantially lower our quality of life, even as some of the trucks deliver essentials, pour more concrete on an already overbuilt city and struggle to remove the prodigious amounts of waste New Yorkers produce.
Rail freight is yet another transportation area where NYC lags decades behind other more sophisticated cities. Putting freight, garbage, imports and mail on rails rather than trucks has the potential to remove a substantial number of these harsh vehicles from our streets. Come to our June AFNY meeting to hear two experts bring us up to date on developments here.
Who should lead NYC for the next four years?
Special Guest: NYC Councilmember Tony Avella, from Queens
Everyone in NYC knows by now that Mayor Bloomberg is already campaigning hard for reelection, having spent by now more than $7.5 million on ads, according to the NY Times on April 24. The billionaire Mayor has gotten enormous mileage out of his much-publicized occasional use of the subway to commute to City Hall, although he has done little to stop the fare increase. The Mayor also deserves credit for his sustainability initiative, although it is set for 2030 - 21 years from now.
One challenger, NYC Councilmember Tony Avella, has tossed his hat in the ring for the election this November. Elected to the City Council in 2001 to represent northeast Queens, Mr. Avella has long been seen as a champion of community-based planning and sensible development. Where does he stand on transportation issues? Find out at our next Auto-Free NY meeting, where Mr. Avella will be our guest speaker. [Please note the slightly earlier starting time for this meeting, at 5:45pm, rather than 6pm.]
Light Rail Surges, But Not in NYC
Special Guest: Joseph Kenas, Staff Engineer, Bombardier Transportation
Phoenix, Arizona has long been considered one of the most car-oriented cities in the US, with no subway, and only a basic bus system offered as a last resort for its one million residents. But in December 2008 the city's transit system, Valley Metro, opened a remarkable 20-mile-long starter light rail line connecting to its downtown. The futuristic new light rail cars even have racks that can hold as many as 8 bicycles! Ridership on its new line has surpassed all expectations and voters are pressing elected officials to fund extensions, totalling 37 more miles.
Alas, our city sleeps. Mayor Bloomberg, rather than pressing for investment here in new light rail lines for surface transit, has instead called for "bus rapid transit" as a cheap-o substitute.
Meanwhile, the MTA, as we all know, is in big trouble. For example, the extension of the #7 subway line on the west side to serve select real estate interests may be one of the most expensive transit projects per foot in the history of the planet. Light rail lines would cost a fraction as much. The MTA's bus system alone carries some two million riders per day, by far the nation's busiest, yet bus stops and bus lanes have traditionally been ignored by motorists -- in fact, a veritable plague of drivers with special placards issued to the Mayor's friends still park in bus stops and bus lanes.
The Mayor's claim that NYC is the world's capitol is belied by the numerous new light rail lines now opening in more sophisticated cities both here and abroad. Find out what's up with these new transit investments at our next Auto-Free New York meeting, when a technical expert from the world's largest light rail car manufacturer will get us up to speed on what NYC is missing out on.
Sustainable Transportation for NYC
Special Guest: Joan Byron, Pratt Center for Community Development
Why does NYC cater to motorists when the majority of its residents don't own cars? The current overindulgence in motor vehicular traffic here in NYC is neither sustainable from an environmental standpoint nor fair from a social justice perspective. Look at all the perks motorists here get: free parking, high-speed traffic light timing throughout our nation's most densely populated neighborhoods, no speed limit enforcement at all, toll-free bridges, and more. These direct and indirect subsidies to drivers, who overwhelmingly are in higher income brackets and drive in solo from the suburbs, really add up. But one well-respected organization -- Pratt Institute, in Brooklyn -- has been studying this problem.
Plan to attend the next Auto-Free New York meeting to hear how Joan Byron, Director, Sustainability and Environmental Justice Initiative at the Pratt Center for Community Development has, championed for a better deal for non-motorists in this city. From helping communities cope with automobile-maddened city and state transportation agencies, turning plans for highway expansion into deconstruction of ugly and intrusive roadways, to thinking comprehensively about ways to speed bus travel in our traffic-clogged city, Joan has been a real leader in shaping a more sensible transportation policy for NYC.
Celebrating Two Decades: Progress and Challenges
Twenty years ago this month a handful of advocates of sustainable transportation began what has become a long-standing movement to reduce the overdependence of motor vehicles in our crowded city. We called
ourselves Auto-Free New York -- a direction, as much as an ambitious end state.
Help us celebrate our anniversary. What have we accomplished? What's left to do? As AFNY chairman, I will give a summary of our accomplishments over those twenty years. But it is clear that we have a long way to go.
We will meet this month with the vision42 working group, at the TA office on West 26th Street, and chart a path for the next twenty years.
Streetcars -- the Ultimate Traffic Calmers
Robert Moses, who basically held sway over NYC urban planning for more than 30 years, knew what he was doing when he oversaw and helped speed the dismantling of NYC's gigantic streetcar network -- the world's largest at the time. He saw streetcars as being in the way of his plan to advance the motor vehicularization of the city's streets. Within a generation, he exceeded beyond his wildest dreams, with every square foot of the public street space packed with cars and trucks. Replacing streetcars with buses, which obediently pulled to the curb to let cars pass, made it clear which mode was favored.
Now cities throughout the world are bringing streetcars back -- except in NYC. In recent years, Auto-Free New York has focused on reintroducing modern light rail lines in pedestrian-only streets on a few of Manhattan's most crowded thoroughfares. But the concept of an extensive grid of light rail lines in all five boroughs remains to be explored. We have asked Jonathan Boyer, a well-respected expert in light rail from the transportation planning firm STV to share his thoughts on this initiative. [Note that this meeting, to be held at the offices of Transportation Alternatives at 127 West 26th Street, will also combine the December meeting of the Vision 42 group.]
Regional Rail - A Sensible Jobs Program
With the economy continuing to spiral downward, cries for the government to build new transportation infrastructure grow louder. But we can do much better than building "bridges to nowhere"!
Join us next Tuesday to hear IRUM's proposal for Regional Rail. Our speaker will be Joseph Clift, who was formerly Director of Strategic Planning for the LIRR. Also plan to attend our December meeting, where will hear another rail expert discuss how light rail in all five boroughs can help reduce car use in NYC. The December meeting will take place at the Transportation Alternatives office on West 26th Street in Manhattan.
"Drill-Baby-Drill" vs. "Public Transportation"?
Why isn't better public transportation a key issue in the Presidential campaign this year? Americans now face multiple serious crises related to the car. Soaring gasoline prices, worsening climate change, chronic traffic congestion, peak oil, the meltdown of the American airline industry, and the political chaos caused by American drivers giving terror-sanctioning states abroad huge amounts of oil money, have led even the most rabidly car-hugging suburbanite motorists to start looking at what if any transportation alternatives they might have.
Both the Obama and McCain campaigns, in speeches, debates and advertising, have studiously avoided mentioning the words, "public transportation." Of course, the Republicans are much worse on energy issues in general. The whole world was sobered on witnessing an arena full of Republicans chanting "Drill-Baby-Drill" at their August '08 convention in Minneapolis. Meanwhile, Democratic VP candidate Senator Joe Biden's mode of travel home to Delaware each night after a session in Congress -- he uses Amtrak -- has gained some note. But a discussion on Federal support for better urban, regional and intercity public transportation, including Amtrak, seems to be lost in the vehicular smog of talk - really, just wishful thinking - on alternative-fueled cars or subsidies -- yet more rescue cash -- for Detroit auto industry executives.
The time might never be better to have an actual dialogue with the American people about public transportation. America's unsustainable yet corporate-planned overdependence on motor vehicles for passenger and freight transportation is destroying our environment and our economy before our eyes. Find out what the candidates want the Federal government to do to move us toward a more sustainable country -- and planet at our October meeting, where Jeffrey Gold, Vice President of IRUM, hosts an open forum. Local representatives from the Obama and McCain campaigns have been asked to present their views.
Who Should Pay for Better Transit in NYC?
With financial storm clouds looming over NYC, MTA officials are predictably laying the groundwork for the next round of fare hikes. A short time ago, Governor David Paterson asked respected civic leader Richard Ravitch to head up a Commission to consider who should pay for the MTA's debt-ridden transit system, and how much they should pay. The Ravitch Commission met on Monday, September 15, 2008, to hear comments from invited speakers.
The Commission will hold similar hearings in Long Island and Westchester. Written comments are welcome! Join us next Tuesday and offer your own suggestions on what IRUM should say.
Summer Walking Tour #2: Linking Penn Station to the new Hudson River Passenger Rail Tunnel
Auto-free advocates in NY have long pressed for making better use of the region's far-flung commuter rail lines as a practical way to cut car use. The MTA's commuter rail lines are truly a "sleeping giant of regional mobility". While these lines do a reasonable job of bringing suburban commuters to high-paying jobs in Manhattan's Central Business District, their high fares, infrequent service and disconnected terminals make them far less useful in diverting motorists to other destinations. For example, one commuter we know who travels from Maplewood, NJ to Yonkers struggles each weekday with a NJ Transit train to Penn Station, then the 7th Avenue subway to Times Square, then the shuttle to Grand Central and then Metro-North to Yonkers. In such cases, most sensible commuters would choose to drive, clogging the George Washington Bridge in the process.
Yet NJ Governor Jon Corzine's transit advisers apparently like it this way. They insist that connecting their new $10 billion Hudson River passenger rail tunnel directly into Penn Station would cause catastrophic damage as it passes through Manhattan's Far West Midtown community. This connection, long favored by regional rail advocates, who have now been joined by Amtrak officials, would be part of a more sensible vision of linking existing tracks and platforms at Penn Station with those in Grand Central Terminal. Such a link would allow trains to pass thru Manhattan, carrying travelers to many more destinations.
Come and see for yourself whether NJ Transit's claims are real or exaggerated. Join our walking tour, which will meet at 6pm sharp in Penn Station, at the Amtrak Info Desk, Amtrak Level. As a special bonus -- after we reach the Hudson River at 28th Street we will walk along lower 9th Avenue to the Gansevoort Meat Market to see firsthand the City DOT's new "street enhancements". These much-touted changes have provided better space for cyclists and most importantly, have had little or no adverse impact on motorists -- the latter being the City DOT's single most important guiding principle. Should these bureaucrats whose salaries we pay do more? Perhaps an auto-free light rail boulevard for 9th Avenue, like our long-proposed vision42?
Summer Walking Tour #1: Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards: Is the Sky the Limit?
For July we focus on Brooklyn's traffic-besieged yet transit-rich hub at Atlantic Avenue, on the edge of downtown, where a whopping ten subway lines, the LIRR's Atlantic Line and dozens of bus lines meet up with Brooklyn's tallest building, BAM and a Bruce Ratnersville shopping mall with Chuckie Cheese fast food!
Across the 8-lane street/highway from the transit hub/shopping mall are acres of open space over the LIRR's storage yards. Brooklyn is a borough rapidly gaining population and gentrifying. Developing property here is like operating your own mint, and the greedier you are the more you make. Why not add a publicly subsidized basketball arena and millions more square feet of luxury-only residential and prime commercial floor space here?
As can be expected, the city's plan to encourage (ie, subsidize) all this activity at this busy hub seriously shortchanges one critical ingredient - better transit. Three of the borough's busiest thoroughfares -- Flatbush, Fourth and Atlantic Avenues -- meet in one colossal traffic mess that is a nightmare for those on foot or bicycle. Despite decades of pressure from neighborhood and activist groups, the city has no plans to curtail traffic here, and only extremely limited plans to provide affordable housing for the thousands of new job-holders who would be working in the huge new office towers or flipping burgers in the fast food joints - ie, lots more commuters!Join Auto-Free New York on a unique transportation-focus tour of this mega-hub. Neighborhood experts will be on hand to point out problems and opportunities. Note that we will meet at the street-level LIRR ticket office area in the Terminal.
NYU 2031: Balancing a Big University's Growth with a Small Village's Sustainability
Special Guests: Gary Parker, Director, Gov't/Community Affairs, NYU; and Daniella LaRocco, Project Manager, Office of Strategic Assessment, NYU
Auto-Free New York has long had its roots in Greenwich Village. Not only does its Chair live here, but many of its initiatives were based here. Remember the First International Conference for Auto-Free Cities? It was held right on the New York University "campus"! Then there was the campaign to make auto-free the few blocks of Washington Place between Washington Square Park and Broadway -- another Auto-Free New York initiative.
Long sequestered in the Village is NYU, unquestionably a dynamic, vibrant university -- certainly one of the jewels in the city's crown of educational institutions. As such, NYU is fostering plans for tremendous growth, but finds itself shoehorned in one of Manhattan's most historic -- and contested -- downtown neighborhoods. The school initially floated rather startling long-range plans that were published in the February 6 Villager newspaper -- forecasting broadscale demolition and the building of high-rise student housing that would replace existing open space, a community garden and miniature forest, and even the school's gym. At around the same time, NYU signed on to a pact with the Borough President's office setting forth planning principles meant to balance growth and sustainability.
Our special guests at the June 24 meeting will be two key planners from NYU itself - so bring your ideas! Of particular interest will be NYU's concepts for enhancing the streetscape and the public realm as it deals with the very challenging problems of dealing with its future development. The June meeting will be in the Village itself, for a change, rather than our usual meeting place downtown near the WTC site. Time permitting we will have a brief walking tour after the meeting to see some of the projects under consideration.
Amtrak and Rail Freight: What's Ahead?
Special Guest: Doug Bowen, NJ transit advocate and managing editor of Railway Age magazine
Each year for the past eight budget cycles, the Bush administration has played chicken with Congress about our national rail system, proposing a complete shut-down budget for Amtrak. Each year Congress comes up with just
enough funds to keep this nationwide system going for one more year. In the meantime, the freight railroads which host Amtrak, after 40 years of triage -- cutting branches and mainlines in a period of deregulation -- have barely enough track capacity left to accommodate the existing freight business.
Just as the nation discovers that a highway and airplane-only system is inadequate to meet its growing transport needs, and to deal with increasing concerns about declining oil resources, climate change, pollution and traffic, the rail system is not there to rescue us.
Please plan to attend our May monthly meeting. Find out where this industry is heading from Doug Bowen, a giant among NJ's transit advocates, and a seasoned journalist at Railway Age magazine who has covered the rail beat for many years.
Special Earth Day Program: What Next for Congestion Pricing?
Special Guests: Brian Ketcham, Carolyn Konheim, Charles Komanoff and others
Who torpedoed congestion pricing? Was it just one politician - Sheldon Silver - in Albany? Was it all stick -- and no carrot? Why didn't Mayor Bloomberg's plan gain support in the State Legislature after being approved in the City Council? What could be done to restart this initiative? Are there other options to reduce car use and improve public transportation in the Manhattan CBD and citywide?
Please join us at our next Auto-Free NY meeting for a lively discussion with Brian Ketcham, Carolyn Konheim, Charles Komanoff and others, some of the strongest advocates for using pricing to persuade motorists to do the right thing -- to use public transit to get to the region's core.
Vision42 -- Great Idea . . . But Who Will Foot the Bill?
Despite widespread support, the vision42 plan for an auto-free light rail boulevard on 42nd Street will nonetheless cost close to 500 million dollars for a 2.5 mile, river-to-river line. As MTA and city and state legislators debate how to meet the serious shortfalls in MTA's capital and operating budget, it is not realistic to expect vision42 to push aside other, much-needed projects, like keeping the subways and buses in a good state of repair. The answer is to devise a financing plan that captures the value created by vision42 -- a value that would not occur unless this project is completed.
Plan to join us at the next Auto-Free NY meeting to hear a highlights of a detailed financing plan, just completed by the well-respected firm Urbanomics.
Celebrating Auto-Free's 19th Anniversary:
From Roadways to Railways: Making Room for People
For nearly a century, roadbuilders and their champions -- our elected officials -- have paved over, torn down or removed rail tracks to make more room for highway lanes, reducing the people-carrying capacity of these arteries while creating car chaos in the core of our city.
Well, the reverse is possible! Now, with the region's population growing, and with a serious and well-financed effort to reduce car traffic into the core via some form of congestion pricing, it is time to get serious about re-using the space that would be released for enhanced rail service.
To celebrate our 19th Anniversary, Auto-Free New York Chair George Haikalis will detail on February 26th the case for making this conversion on selected lanes of three river crossings leading to the Manhattan Central Business District (CBD): * the Lincoln Tunnel; * the Queensborough Bridge; and * the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. Don't miss our February 26th meeting!
Mayor Bloomberg and Free Public Transit
Special Guest: Charlie Komanoff, economist and activist
Almost a year ago, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said:
"From a public policy point of view you really should have all of your mass transit free..."
-- weekly radio show, March 9, 2007
As 2008 rolls out, this could be our number one resolution. Over the past year, IRUM, our parent organization, has been hosting a major research initiative, studying the benefits and costs of providing free buses and subways in NYC, paid for by high cordon fees imposed on those who insist on driving their private cars into Manhattan's Central Business District. The study has produced some pretty amazing results. Last June we presented some very preliminary findings and this month we invite you to see an overview of the completed study.
Theodore Kheel, the renowned labor mediator, was the guiding light on this study, and funded it through his Nurture New York's Nature foundation. Economist and long-time activist Charles Komanoff coordinated this research and will present the results.
New York's Green Spaces: Parks or Parkways?
Special Guest: Hilary Kitasei, Chair of the Henry Hudson Parkway Task Force
A look at any street map of NYC makes it obvious that many of NYC's finest green spaces are really not much more than landscaped settings for high-volume motorways. Most of these highways date from the beginnings of the Robert Moses era, the 1920s, at a time when only a tiny percentage of New Yorkers -- overwhelmingly the rich -- owned automobiles. At that time, the modest volumes and relatively slow speeds of cars interfered little with park bikeways and landscaped pedestrian paths.
But in succeeding decades, massive investments in more roads and suburbs, and corresponding cuts to transit investments, spawned exponential growth in car ownership and use in the NY metro region. The highways that cut through our green spaces now overwhelm them, diminishing the scenic by-ways and further encroaching on adjacent park space. Meanwhile the DOT is planning to expand them even further, to straighten out curves to encourage speeding, to add heavy truck traffic and do other things to increase automobile use in the city.
Our December AFNY meeting features speaker Hilary Kitasei, who is chair of the Henry Hudson Parkway Task Force. Please join us and learn how these unwelcome and unhealthy trends can be reversed.
Why Aren't New York's Streets More Walkable?
Robert Sullivan, contributing editor to Vogue Magazine; author of Rats and Cross Country
New York is by far the nation's most densely populated city, and proudly features the nation's highest level of pedestrians. Yet many residents and visitors cannot walk freely through the city without the enormous stress of being challenged, assaulted and even run over at virtually every crosswalk by the overwhelming levels of motor vehicles. Perhaps once a week a speeding cab or car mounts the sidewalk and knocks down walkers like bowling pins -- and the Mayor looks the other way.
Although NYC has the potential to be a walker's paradise, regrettably, City Hall has long held to its special treatment of the "carriage trade" -- the well-to-do, who in 1920's-style glitz and elitism, insist on "front door service," at whatever costs to the public. Our October meeting features widely read author Robert Sullivan, who will discuss how to make our neighborhoods walkable once again.
While NYC Sleeps, Light Rail Blossoms in France
Paul Rivey, Civil Engineer and Urban Planner, Paris, France
More than a dozen medium-sized French cities have built new light rail systems in the past two decades. Now even Paris has caught the spirit and completed its first line within the city walls. Light rail provides an
appealing alternative to motor vehicles in densely built places.
But where's NYC? The Mayor's new 2030 sustainability plan completely ignores this winning mode. Find out how France succeeded. Come to the next Auto-Free NY meeting to hear Paul Rivey, a French urban planner and civil engineer, talk about the City of Light -- and Light Rail!
Our Free Summer Tour of Newark's Remarkable New Light Rail Line!
Last summer, Newark, New Jersey's largest city, hoping to usher in a new chapter in its history, opened its second light rail line downtown. The mile-long, $207 million Newark Light Rail line, most of it on-street, links its two main commuter train stations that serve the state's far-flung rail lines -- Penn Station and Broad Street -- with a new riverfront ballpark, the state's largest performing arts center, the main public library and numerous empty lots waiting for development. [Newark's Penn Station also offers connections to Amtrak, PATH trains to NYC and links to Newark Airport.]
Just as the modernization and extension of Newark's original light rail line triggered an initial wave of investment and redevelopment, this new line is forecast to play an important part in the next wave of economic - and now, more sustainable -- renewal of new sections of the city. It will mean people from all over NJ and even Philadelphia can more easily journey around the state or get to Newark's downtown, without a car -- introducing a high-quality transportation alternative that will be seen as truly far-sighted once gas gets to $5 or $6 a gallon in the near future.
Meantime NYC continues to dawdle in its self-induced traffic jam stupor, even as a new generation of costly new luxury housing, much of it built with public subsidies, threatens to bring even more vehicles onto the city's overcrowded streets. Remember the Carrot and the Stick? The Mayor's new congestion pricing plan unfortunately focuses on charging fees and setting up more systems to track people's whereabouts - ie, the "Stick" -- rather than on advancing bold new transit plans -- the "Carrot". And the city's ongoing, feeble plans for "bus rapid transit" -- a modest, but much-needed enhancement of existing "limited" bus service on just five busy routes -- remain on an extremely slow track even after five years of costly planning and bureaucratic knot-tying.
Our summertime tours of nearby light rail lines are lots of fun - and you don't need to be a railroad buff to enjoy them! Please join us for a tour of Newark's remarkable new light rail line and a quick look at new developments downtown!
125th Street Walking Tour: Light Rail and a Car-free Street for Harlem?
Now enjoying a remarkable renewal, 125th Street in Harlem has long been its "main street". And like all busy streets in NYC, its businesses and institutions were once linked to nearby residents by a busy streetcar line running down the center of the street, and connected to an enormous streetcar grid throughout the city.
Robert Moses changed all of this. He hoodwinked well-meaning elected officials into believing that ripping out the street railway tracks in NYC would pave the way for more auto travel, which would be good for the city. While Moses did make it possible for a small fraction of the city's travelers to get around more quickly, this came at a tremendous price.
Join us on a brief walking tour of 125th Street as we highlight the automotive chaos that the motor vehicle has brought to Harlem, and imagine what this street could be if it were remade into an auto-free light rail boulevard!
Price Matters: The Best Things in Life are Free, So Why Not Public Transit in NYC
For many years Auto-Free New York's Livable City Transport Plan has called for "nearly free" public transportation. New York City took a big step in that direction when after decades of activist pressure, the MTA finally introduced MetroCards some 10 years ago. the MetroCard allows for unlimited ride passes, quantity discounts and vastly improved free transfers between bus and subway. Ridership soared, largely because of these pricing innovations. Price really does matter - it strongly affects our travel behavior, whether on transit or in cars!
Now, with Mayor Bloomberg calling attention to environmental negatives of excess car use in NYC, it is perhaps the best time ever to consider Auto-Free NY's long-standing more comprehensive approach to transportation pricing. In particular the city should move to raise the price for motorists to enter the Manhattan Central Business District, who now for the most part pay nothing to use costly-to-maintain bridges and potholed streets, and to further lower the price for transit use. Just how low can we go? Well, all the way to zero is a possibility!
Thanks to a generous grant from a foundation affiliated with NYC's storied labor negotiator Theodore Kheel ('Nurturing New York's Nature'), IRUM is carrying out a detailed study of free and reduced fare transit combined with Manhattan CBD Cordon Tolls. A progress report will be given at the next Auto-Free NY meeting - please join us!
Mayor Bloomberg Discovers Sustainable Planning
Comparing the City's plaNYC2030 with Auto-Free NY's 4-Year Plan
On Earth Day 2007 (April 22, 2007) Mayor Mike Bloomberg delivered a passionate speech calling on New Yorkers to support plaNYC 2030, a comprehensive plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in NYC, and make the city a model of sustainability, at least by 23 years from now, in 2030. At present, with less than a thousand days left in his term, and perhaps with his eye on the Presidency in 2008, the Mayor has found a new theme to champion. While most of the media attention predictably focused on the one part of his plan calling for an $8 Manhattan congestion pricing charge, there are a remarkable 126 other strategies in the plan, for making the city cleaner, greener and more efficient.
A sustainable, less automobile-dominated city has long been the chief goal of Auto-Free NY since its founding in 1989. Seventeen years ago, on the 20th anniversary of Earth Day in 1990, Auto-Free NY unveiled its comprehensive Livable City Transport Plan, which called for 15 transportation strategies to improve transit, reduce car use and make the city's streets more people-friendly. The hallmark of this plan was its ability to be completed in just one mayoral term -- or four years!
After six years in office, the Mayor is to be credited for being willing to so publicly take on motoring interests that control New York, and to do something about our unsustainable city, rather than continuing his predecessors' program of denial, window dressing and slick public relations. Once again, though, the "devil is in the details". Although there are many similarities between the Auto-Free NY plan and the Mayor's, there are also some very serious differences, which must be examined.
Find out about the two plans at our next Auto-Free New York meeting. But first take a look at the Mayor's plan (available as an enormous downloadable pdf file because of all its fancy photographs; or you can request one from the city by mail). Then compare it to Auto-Free NY's Plan. Let's hear your responses at our next Auto-Free monthly meeting, this May 22nd! Please plan to attend.
The Carbon Tax: the Ultimate "Sin" Tax -- and Essential Climate Policy Tool
Special Guest: Charlie Komanoff, co-founder, Carbon Tax Center
The last person to "get" global warming -- and perhaps the one who could do the most about it -- was President Bush. The Decider actually mumbled the words in his State of the Union address in January. Now the US Supreme Court has weighed in on this seminal issue of our time. In one of its most important environmental decisions in years, it ruled on April 2 that the federal Environmental Protection Agency has the power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide, produced by automobile emissions and coal-burning. This ruling does not force the EPA to act to control tailpipe emissions, but makes it much harder now to not act, due to fierce pressure from environmental groups and more enlightened state governments, particularly California and Massachusetts.
But we don't have to wait for foot-dragging, stalling federal agencies beset by automotive interests to act to cut the emissions that are ruining our planet. We have already seen how effective price controls are in cutting consumption of harmful substances -- just look at tobacco consumption, which has steadily fallen as various forms of cigarette taxes have been imposed to try to make up for the enormous cost to society of treating victims with lung disease or disposing of their corpses and buttressing their remaining families.
And while tailpipes of modern cars daily spew in our faces poisonous substances such as benzene, compounds of arsenic and mercury, albeit in small amounts, carbon dioxide is a much bigger problem, because of the large, and growing quantity produced by our car-addicted, industrializing world. Some highly visible North Americans, led by our war-not-diplomacy White House and by gloating, middle-finger-raised SUV drivers, have until recently set the worst possible example to the world. Now, with the icecaps melting, with this new Supreme Court ruling, with scientists warning of a massive new wave of extinctions approaching, with governments all over the world bonding together to stand up to the Bush regime, and even some well-off corporate executives beginning to respond positively, the time has come to act, and one key way to stem these crises may be a carbon tax.
Auto-Free NY is therefore honored to have well-known energy economist Charles Komanoff make the case for a carbon tax at our April meeting. Mr. Komanoff is a co-founder of the Carbon Tax Center, but has long been known in local, regional and national environmentalist circles as the person who almost single-handedly revived the NYC bicycle advocacy group Transportation Alternatives in the late 1980s. He has created websites condemning reckless motorists in NYC, and laying the case for East River bridge tolls. Mr. Komanoff's 1981 book, "Power Plant Cost Escalation: Nuclear and Coal Capital Costs, Regulation and Economics," supplied the bulletproof analytical framework that provided a more accurate slingshot for the various Davids who together finally slayed the nuclear industry Goliaths of the 1970s, without which we would today have been surrounded by leaking, radioactive, costly and heavily armed nuclear power plants.
Finally, Mr. Komanoff is a riveting public speaker, who can transform what could have been dry economics into a compelling vision of an achievable world that will actually be sustainable. As it becomes more obvious how unsustainable our society is, in large part because of the automobile, Mr. Komanoff, in a reprise of his nuclear industry takedown, could play a key role in saving us all over again! Don't miss our April meeting!
Brooklyn Matters: the Documentary
Special Video Showing produced and directed by Isabel Hill
The March Auto-Free meeting was an extra-special event: the airing of the documentary "Brooklyn Matters", produced and directed by Isabel Hill. This powerful film examines the controversial mega-developments proposed for Brooklyn, as that borough gets overrun by a wave of Manhattan-style Goliath high-rises. Jon Orcutt, the director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, has said it is a "powerful look and indictment of how red-carpet treatment for big real estate substitutes for any real planning skill or capacity by public agencies in New York City."
More information about the movie, along with other venues for its showing, can be seen at the Brooklyn Matters website. In addition, transportation consultant Bryan Ketcham, from Community Consulting Services, plans to be there.
Pedicabs, not Gas-Guzzling Cabs:
Pedicab Regulations and the Future of Green For-Hire Transportation
Special Guest: Pedicab Pioneer and Industry FounderGeorge Bliss
The vehicle of choice for New York City's ruling elite, at least those that cannot afford black cars or stretch Hummers, is the ubiquitous Yellow Cab, for travel in Manhattan (subways and buses, to this minority, are for the "little people"). No matter how awkward it is to get in and out of a cab, how squalidly kept or badly driven they are, or how slow it is for them to move through the City's chronic traffic, yellow cabs allow these "very important" travelers the opportunity to separate themselves from the masses. But yellow cabs are major gas guzzlers and polluters, and their reckless, often exhausted drivers, trapped in a 'sweatshop of the streets", are the number one cause of chaos and congestion on Manhattan's streets.
Years ago, a true pioneer, George Bliss, thought there was a better way. He introduced pedicabs to NYC. This 'green' industry has grown to the point that the yellow cab fleet owners, and the elected officials that are beholden to them, are now trying to force them off the road and crush them under their V-8 wheels.
Come to the next Auto-Free NY meeting and learn more about this struggle. Also, call the City Council member who represents you and ask that the Council postpone its vote on this important issue. If you don't know who represents you, call 311. Meanwhile, see you on the 27th!
Life After the Automobile?
Special Guest: Mitchell Joachim, Director of Terreform design collaborative
In many "practical" scenarios about the future of cities, the automobile is portrayed as the central feature of mobility. While sleek, futuristic vehicles may be depicted, the sad truth is that the pollution, injuries and deaths, and dramatic loss of urban space remain the unspoken consequences of these "rosy" forecasts.
Fortunately, there are increasing numbers of planners, engineers and architects who are willing to think the unthinkable -- a city without cars. Our special guest this month, Mitchell Joachim is one of those individuals. Don't miss the next meeting of Auto Free New York.
Can we reduce car traffic in the nation's most crowded island?
Special Guest: BP Deputy Policy Director for Transportation, Meghan Shane
Just what exactly can a democratically-elected Borough President [BP] do to influence transportation policy in the maw of NYC's permanent government? A lot, says Manhattan's new BP, Scott M. Stringer (at right), who was elected in November 2005. The five BP offices were established by charter in 1898 as members of the old Board of Estimate, which held considerable administrative control over the physical development of the city. But the BP offices lost their voting power in the city budget process after the Board of Estimate was judged by the US Supreme Court unconstitutional and abolished back in 1990.
Already in his short time in office, Mr. Stringer has shown that an activist BP can make a difference. Find out just what is on the table. Our special guest, the BP's Deputy Policy Director for Transportation, Meghan Shane, will let us know. Come to our next Auto-Free NY meeting.
Moving NYC Towards Energy Independence:
Freeing Ourselves from Gas-Guzzling Automobiles
Special Guest: Dan Miner from the NYC chapter of the Sierra Club
A Community Forum on 42nd Street Light Rail
The herculean effort to advance Vision 42 -- a plan for an auto-free light rail boulevard on New York's 42nd Street -- is now in its seventh year. Nearly five of those years have passed under the Bloomberg Administration. The number of pedestrians on this famous artery continues to mushroom with the completion of each new mega-structure in the corridor, and more oversized skyscrapers are in the pipeline. The agonizingly slow crosstown M42 city bus continues to be a runner-up for the Straphangers Campaign's "Pokey" award for the slowest bus route in the city.
Okay - but where is the Mayor on this proposal, and on transportation investments in general? We know he's eager to see more development in the city and concerned with his legacy. Surprise, Mayor Bloomberg! The vision42 plan would accommodate both interests! Without good surface access and an attractive walking environment, how can we expect and live with more development? And what better way to leave a mayoral legacy than to make this city's most renowned crosstown thoroughfare a showcase for livability and sustainability?
Manhattan's Community Boards 4 and 5 and the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation have teamed up to host an essential Community Information Forum on Tuesday, October 24, 2006, from 6-8pm, at SUNY College of Optometry's Schwartz Theater, at 33 West 42nd Street, Lower Level. The event is FREE and open to the public. We urge all those interested in fewer cars and a more livable city to attend this forum.
Time to Grow Up: Changing Commuter Rail to Regional Rail
The metropolitan New York area has four separate rail operators, serving three states, with two key stations in Manhattan. These four entities are each run as private fiefdoms jealously guarded from having any meaningful connection with any of the others.
But now, six years into a new millenium, and with a new Governor to be voted in this November after twelve long years of indifferent leadership, it is time to grow up. A comprehensive Regional Rail system is essential. If we are to make real progress in reducing car use in NYC, we must advance a new, more sophisticated mindset about these rail assets -- offering more frequent service, better integrated fares and thru-running.
Find out how this can work and what you can do to make it happen. There is a terrific exhibit open now (and FREE!) at the Municipal Art Society Urban Center, on Madison Avenue at 51st Street. Plan to attend a key Panel Discussion to be held there this coming Wednesday, September 27, from 6:30pm to 8pm (Please RSVP-see below). Visit the Urban Center gallery, which is open from 11am-5pm (closed Sunday and Thursday), and see the exhibit that describes this plan for sustainable rail transport in NYC and the suburbs. Also, save the date in October for a Community Informational Forum about Vision 42 on Tuesday, October 24, from 6pm to 8pm, to be held at the SUNY College of Optometry - Schwartz Theater, 33 West 42nd Street. (This forum will replace our normal monthly auto-Free NY meeting for October.)
Ride Light Rail Now - but not in NYC!
Annual LRT Tour to New Jersey
New Yorkers who want better surface transit have three long years to wait before a new Mayor is voted into office who might be more willing to entertain proposals for modern light rail transit in NYC. But while NY's City Hall may be lost in a car-traffic-induced stupor, real New Yorkers can simply cross the Hudson River to ride a modern trolley -- and judge for themselves. Why not just do that -- on Tuesday, August 22, when Auto-Free NY takes its annual summer sunset ride on this remarkable urban transit vehicle.
New Jersey has just completed its fourth light rail line -- in Newark -- while we continue to fidget and wonder which five bus lines should be "upgraded" to the feeble half-step forward of "BRT" -- bus rapid transit. But even these modest proposals are stalled, because the powers that be in this city worry about imposing any restraint on the private motorists [and chauffeured elites] who demand all the city's street space for themselves. For BRT (or light rail) to work, some motorists are going to have to accept some inconvenient truth. Mayor Bloomberg for his part has shown zero interest in the otherwise very well-received proposal for an auto-free light rail boulevard on 42nd Street - Vision 42. Modern low-floor light rail transit is blooming right now in the Garden State, so why not see what the real thing is like? Join us on the 22nd!
Taming the Wild East [Manhattan]
Annual Walking Tour - East Midtown to the River
All eyes have been focused on the Mayor's plan to pour thousands of tons of concrete all over West Midtown with stupefyingly oversized high-rises of new car-friendly development, coupled with a $2 billion extension of the #7 subway to a single deep cavern terminal station some 130 feet below Eleventh Avenue and 34th Street.
Meanwhile, on the East Side, slipping in not quite below the radar screen, is a massive set of buildings planned to be built on the site of the soon-to-be-demolished historic Con Ed Waterside Power Plant, on the East River just south of the United Nations. The power plant, dating back to the era of quality buildings that produced the original Penn Station, torn down in the mid-1960s, is giving way to super-sized luxury condos with oodles of subsidized parking. Even the feeble palliative of adding a deep-cavern station on the #7 subway just before it plunges under the East River on its way out to Flushing is not feasible because of the steep grade. The city's only solution for better transport -- more slower-than-walking buses!
We can and must do better. Remaking 42nd Street into a river-to-river auto-free light rail boulevard -- vision42 -- is the answer. Please join us for an Auto-Free New York walking tour of East Midtown. For more info please visit the Vision 42 website.
NYC Car Storage: Free Lunch, at Curbside
Special Guest: Jeffrey Otto, policy analyst for the Citizens Housing & Planning Council
Who wouldn't want a free parking space right outside one's front door? But wait -- this isn't Peoria! In NYC, where space is at a premium, every square foot counts. There is no such thing as free parking, even in the outer parts of the 'outer' boroughs. Instead, the name of the game here in NY is, as with other aspects of life involving privilege and City Hall, to get someone else to pay for it.
Naturally, the corporate media plays into the inconvenient truths, giving us endless stories about motorists griping when they have to move their cars for street cleaning, or whining if they have to spend any time circling their neighborhood looking for a free space. Meanwhile, apologists for the automobile argue that it is the general public who park their cars in NYC, which while technically true leaves out the fact that the majority of households in the city don't have cars, and that non-driving NYC residents are in effect, subsidizing the driving habits of the well-to-do and suburbanites.
Automobile storage is particularly vexing to the City's half-hearted efforts to create more affordable housing in NYC (even in the face of a crisis of gentrification and evictions, the public is currently subsidizing the explosion in new high-rise, rich-only luxury building). A complex thicket of city zoning laws requires new buildings to provide a specific amount of parking. These laws came about largely due to pressure from city residents who now use valuable, publicly-owned street space to store their private vehicles, and are not happy to have more motorists compete for their space. Yet requiring this space in new buildings dramatically drives up the cost of housing.
Hear more about this dilemma at our June 27 meeting from special guest Jeffrey Otto, who is a policy analyst for the Citizens Housing & Planning Council. who will enlighten us on Residential Parking Strategies for Reducing Car Use in NYC.
Emancipating West Midtown from Lincoln Tunnel car chaos
Special Guest: Mark Muriello, from the Port Authority
Too many cars -- too little tunnel. After three tries, the Port Authority of NY & NJ struck out on dealing with congestion at the Lincoln Tunnel. The first two-lane tube under the Hudson River, completed in 1939, was immediately swamped with traffic. A second tube arrived in 1945 and faced the same fate. Finally, still trying to build itself out of its problem, the authority built a third tube in 1956 and failed again.
What to do?
After living with an intolerable situation for over fifty years, and trying all kinds of non-solutions, the Port Authority is beginning a "no holds barred' study of options for solving the problem. To demonstrate their seriousness, they are even willing to risk a visit to the lion's den of auto-apprehension -- a meeting of Auto-Free New York!
Bring your suggestions and ideas to our next Auto-Free New York meeting on Tuesday, May 30, where the special guest will be Port Authority spokesman Mark F. Muriello, Assistant Director, Tunnel, Bridges & Terminals. Mr. Muriello will speak on "Options for Reducing Congestion at the Lincoln Tunnel".
In the meantime, you can bone up on the solution Auto-Free NY has been proposing for more than ten years, our Light Rail in the Lincoln Tunnel! plan.
Special Guest: Choreographer Eleanor Dubinsky
New York's mainstream media, from the tv networks to the sleazy tabloids to the supposedly august NY Times, must hew to car advertisers' demands and editors' class privileges. As a result, we are relentlessly propagandized by these media into viewing our transit system as hell on earth and automobiles as paradise. Although we all know the opposite is more truthful, it still takes powerful medicine to counteract this steady blare of anti-city, anti-environment misinformation, so that we New Yorkers can stay human.
As an antidote, for our special Earth Day program this year, we turn not to a professor or an engineer or a bureaucrat but to an artist. For our April AFNY meeting, Auto-Free NY invites you to join us for a very special celebration -- guest artist
Eleanor Dubinsky will present TRANSIT - her site-specific dance, video and sound performance installation about public transportation, art and internationalism.
Ms. Dubinsky is a multidisciplinary artist and choreographer. She tells us her work, TRANSIT, originates in her experiences living between NYC and Prague and traveling on the subway in both places. TRANSIT examines urban international culture through the lens of public transportation, transforming train and subway stations into interactive works of art in which audiences experience large, simultaneous projections of people on buses, subways and trains, not just in Prague and NYC but also Paris, Havana and Buenos Aires. The work gives the sensation of being in multiple cities at once, while dancers and musicians perform inside of the projections, interacting with the video footage and the audience.
TRANSIT has been performed in the main train station of Tabor, a city in the Czech Republic; a window storefront in midtown, Manhattan; the gallery of the Czech Center New York (Madison Ave. at 83rd St.), and the Center of Creative Arts (COCA) in St. Louis, Missouri.
Don't miss this special evening! More on Ms. Dubinsky: Eleanor Dubinsky is a choreographer and recording artist making international video, sound and performance works that explore the boundaries and intersections of nation, person and place. Transforming or operating beyond conventional art spaces, her pieces create the experience of travel and a sense of immersion in the unfamiliar while inspiring people to connect to the unknown and to one another. Based in New York since 1999, she is the recipient of a 2005 Manhattan Community Arts Fund grant and a 2003 Fractured Atlas Creative Development Grant, and has been a resident artist at The Center of Creative Arts in St. Louis, MO, The Experimental Television Center in Owego, NY and CESTA Arts Center in Tabor, the Czech Republic. Dubinsky has had the pleasure of working with artists such as Ann Carlson, Felix Ruckert, Mary Ellen Strom, Jennifer Monson and Paul Benney, and performing in venues such as Movement Research at the Judson Church, Draftwork presented by Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church, PS 122, the Movement Research Festival, the 4+4 Days of Movement Festival, Prague and Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival.
Bike-Rail: Putting Bikes on Top
Special Guest: Fred James - Inventor, environmentalist and transportation visionary
Since the earliest days of the development of railways and bicycles, countless inventions have been proposed to combine the best features of these modes in a new transportation device. Now, despite intensive mainstream media whitewashing, public concern continues to mount about the rapid depletion of petroleum reserves, the specter of global warming and the automobile's theft of public urban space, leading to the crowding out of cyclists from urban roadways. In this changing climate, a new round of proposals for elevated bikeways is emerging.
Such visionary ideas are more important than ever, in particular to counter the entrenched bureacratic mindsets of the city's car-obsessed permanent government and to remind us that much more is possible than City Hall's grudging baby steps of giving us a little new sidewalk space here and there, or adding a few shrubs and ye olde bollards along a median. For an overview of the state of the art of railway/bicycle technology, come to our next Auto-Free NY meeting and hear a report from environmentalist, inventor and transportation visionary Fred James. George Bliss, founder of the pedicab industry in NYC, will also participate. To learn more about BikeRail in advance check out BikeRail.
Our 17th Anniversary - the Uphill Battle for Auto-Free Streets:
As we celebrate the 17th year of our campaign to create a grid of auto-free streets in the core of New York City, it is worth taking stock of where we have been and assessing the long road ahead. Pedestrian streets may be well-proven and beloved in cities, large and small, throughout the world, but here in provincial New York, they remain elusive. While the current city administration might have been expected to be interested in this issue, it turns out to be exactly the opposite. A car-free Central Park is still bitterly opposed by the couple of car-huggers that dominate the city's Department of Transportation, and suggestions that auto-free spaces might be most appropriate throughout whatever is built at the World Trade Center site has been greeted with contempt by the City Planning Department.
Happy New Year! Got an Auto-Free Resolution?
Let's hope that 2006 is a year of real progress for NYC in its coming to grips with the automobile siege. Resolve to drive less, walk, bike and take transit more, make your voice heard in the city's car-crazed media and help the organizations that are working to improve not the quality of driving for the motorist minority but the quality of life for the residential majority of this huge city! As always, Auto-Free New York's
Livable City Plan is a great starting point for discussions of AFNY's primary goal of 20 percent fewer autos in Manhattan and a 5 percent reduction citywide.
If you must drive, try not to run anyone over! Remember that you are driving through people's neighborhoods, so think twice about blowing your horn or speeding. Resist the endless car-culture and reckless-driving indoctrination that dominates our commercial media. Try not to get in fights with other motorists -- far too many drivers in this city are full of rage, hopped up on drugs, don't have licenses or insurance, carry all kinds of weapons, etc. Consider dumping that gas-guzzling terror-state-supporting SUV for a car that gets better mileage . . .
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