July 11, 2014.
2011 - 2014
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. New Yorkers concerned with getting NYC to confront its backwardness in addressing its chronic car-caused traffic problems would do well to review this archive of George's letters, most recent first.
Monthly Letters from George
George (seated, front row) attends an MTA Lower Manhattan Access public hearing, circa 2002.
NJ's Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Line: A True Success Story
Presenters: Philip Maccioli, CEO, 21st Century Rail Corp., and James Greller, Hudson County Improvement Authority
New York's transit advocates have been patiently waiting to see where Mayor Bill de Blasio, who took office in January 2014, will stand regarding proposed investments in NYC in modern light rail. Numerous mayors of other more sophisticated cities in the world have certainly embraced this transit mode, including, very recently, Washington DC. An April 16 NY Times article explained how our nation's capital will be opening a new streetcar line, the first of eight, this summer on the H Street NE corridor, 65 years after that city's last line closed down.
But Mayor de Blasio doesn't need to take his entourage on a costly junket down to DC to see real streetcars in operation - they're right here, across the Hudson, running along the waterfront through Jersey City - the now well-known Hudson-Bergen Line. In fact, if you know where to look, and have sharp eyes or a pair of binoculars, you can actually see them from Manhattan!!
Thanks to the energy and tenacity of NJ's rail advocacy community in the '90s and '00s, the state's political leadership wisely rejected a half-baked waterfront busway proposal, which would have in effect been a new stealth highway encouraging even more private cars, and instead chose the LRT line, and its subsequent expansions.
Two of these rail advocates, Philip Maccioli and James Greller will be our featured speakers at our June 17 joint vision42/AFNY meeting. The two will present "The Hudson Bergen Light Rail Line: A True Success Story". Mr. Maccioli is president and CEO of 21st Century Rail Corporation and is on the advisory committee of vision42, while Jim Greller is senior transport planner at the Hudson County Improvement Authority.
Plan to attend to learn how citizen-advocates can make a difference and how light rail transit can transform the quality of life and the economies of our cities. We will also provide an update on efforts to advance vision42, our plan for an auto-free light rail boulevard on 42nd Street, and other IRUM initiatives. The meeting will be at the TA offices at 127 W 26th Street, 10th floor . . . Also save the date for this summer's very popular Auto-Free NY Walking Tours, on Tuesday July 15, and Tuesday August 19, both from 6-8pm. More information about these tours will be posted on this website.
Mayor De Blasio Should Focus On Regional Rail!
Presenter: Anthony Callendar and Paul DiMaria
At our May vision42/AFNY meeting, to be held at the TA offices, we will feature a revised draft of a presentation aimed at the new city administration, called "Why Regional Rail Should be an Important Transport Priority for NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio." Longtime IRUM transit advocates Anthony Callender and Paul DiMaria have prepared the presentation and would welcome your reaction.
While recent NYC mayors have often deferred to the governor on Regional Rail issues (ie nothing gets done), remaking the region's three commuter rail lines, the LIRR, Metro-North and NJ Transit, into an integrated regional rail system is of critical importance to the city's long term economic and environmental sustainability.
Contrary to popular understanding, NYC's mayor has substantial power to influence public transit policy, even for services not directly under city control. For many years, IRUM has been pressing City Hall to push for better use of these three commuter rail lines - truly the "sleeping giant" of regional mobility - that converge within the city, by remaking them into a coordinated Regional Rail system, with frequent service, integrated fares, and through-running. The discussion this month will be on how the new mayor can make this happen.
Achieving Vision Zero: A Community Effort to Save Lives
Presenter: Thomas DeVito, Manhattan organizer from Transportation Alternatives
Surrounded by hundreds of square miles of cars-only suburbs, NYC has for decades done everything possible to invite motorists from these parts into its densely populated core, and to let them drive as fast as they like, wherever they are. As detailed in books like Robert Caro's "The Power Broker," this post-war motor-vehicle siege inspired numerous other cities on a private-vehicle "race to the bottom" and indirectly contributed to global warming and large-scale pollution of the atmosphere which will lead to enormous catastrophes in the near future. It was only NYC's massive subway system, which couldn't be sold off, dismantled or otherwise sabotaged, that saved the city from the dismal fate of the urban cores of many other American cities.
As dangerous as smog and global warming can be, the real danger, as anyone who walks or bikes in the city knows practically from their first step, are the 4,000-pound "particulates" hurtling down our city's streets. Some 300 lives are violently ended each year on the killing fields of New York's streets and sidewalks, about half of them pedestrians or cyclists, the other half motorists and their passengers.
Unlike his foot-dragging predecessor, Mike Bloomberg, candidate and then Mayor Bill De Blasio made clear that he would act decisively against this murderous "slow-motion riot." DiBlasio announced in February 2014 the Vision Zero project with a 42-page plan, modeled after a similar effort begun in more sophisticated cities in several Scandinavian countries. Vision Zero's core concept is that all traffic deaths are inherently preventable. There may be some traffic-weary auto-free advocates who might carp that short of banning all motor vehicles from New York's streets, or assigning one cop to monitor each motorist, the goal of zero traffic fatalities is not achievable. Yet if the program produces a significant reduction in our annual municipal "road kill," it will be well worth paying attention. City Hall will need to turn the spotlight on those goliaths traditionally most willing to derail such safety campaigns: the taxi industry, the NYPD, the State legislature which decides city speed limits, the Port Authority and its devotion to toll revenues, and "windshield-perspective-only" DoT bureaucrats.
The guest speaker this month is Thomas DeVito, a Manhattan organizer for Transportation Alternatives, who will speak on "Achieving Vision Zero: A Community Effort to Save Lives." The meeting will be from 6-8pm, at the T.A. office in Manhattan.
Designing Complete Streets
Presenter: Will Sherman, planner at Nelson/Nygaard Consulting
Except for limited access highways, most streets in urban area in the US must accommodate not only motorists but also buses, light rail lines, pedestrians, cyclists and pedicabs.
Yet, in urban America, most streets are overwhelmingly geared towards motorists. Even in NYC, with its massive system of subways, buses and regional rail lines, and a small but growing number of dedicated bike lanes, the dial is set for high-speed motor vehicles, and all else is an afterthought. Fortunately, a new movement both here and abroad is afoot to redesign urban streets toward more sustainable modes. Even NYC, traditionally one of the least sophisticated of cities in this regard, has taken baby steps to embrace a sprinkling of sustainable streetscapes. For rail advocates this is an important shift.
The March 2014 Auto-Free NY/vision42 working group meeting featured Will Sherman, a planner and associate at Nelson/Nygaard Consulting, who presented "Designing Complete Streets." Complete Streets are for everyone - they are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities. According to Smart Growth America, Complete Streets make it easier to cross the street, walk to shops, and bicycle to work. They allow buses to run on time and make it safer for people to walk to and from train stations. Question: where would light rail fit in?
The meeting included a progress report on efforts to advance vision42, like launching an international digital design competition that would focus on the entire length of 42nd Street, rather than just a single block, and advancing a proposal by adjoining community boards to have the NYC DOT map a comprehensive street use planning study, using GIS databases to quantify current street space use, possibly involving the CUNY Mapping Service at CUNY's graduate center, located in Community Board 5. Plans for a presentation to be made to the new city administration on Regional Rail were to be updated, along with a review of the list of individuals and organizations who have seen past vision42 presentations, in order to consider follow-up visits.
Celebrating Auto-Free NY's 25th Anniversary
Auto-Free New York celebrated the 25th Anniversary of its advocacy for sustainable transport in NYC this month, with a remarkable historical review by George Haikalis, utilising slides, beginning in 1989 with Earth Day gatherings.
Meanwhile a new sea change may be happening in NYC. Mayor Bill De Blasio won his office in November 2013 with an overwhelming majority of those New Yorkers who voted choosing him over the rightwing opponent, a former transit official and deputy in the Giuliani administration. Recognizing for the first time in years that the majority of New Yorkers do not own cars and actually want safer streets, our New Mayor, with actual and potential political capital in hand, is calling for "Vision Zero" (meaning the zeroing out of death-by-motor-vehicle statistics in NYC, within a decade!) as a centerpiece of his transport policy. There is much to hope for and to celebrate, but we still have a long way to go to reach AFNY's goals, as articulated in our four-year comprehensive Livable City Transport Plan, posted here.
Our February meeting will reflect on what Auto-Free NY has accomplished over these past 25 years, but more importantly, will highlight progress and chart next steps on current initiatives:
1. Creating a grid of auto-free streets in Manhattan beginning with vision42 - a plan for an auto-free light rail boulevard on 42nd Street;
2. Remaking the currently disjointed three commuter rail lines that converge in Manhattan into a coordinated regional rail system with frequent service, integrated fares and through-running; and
3. Using cordon tolls to reduce car use in NYC's crowded core, that at the same time would provide funds to improve public transit.
Snacks and beverages will be served! Plan to attend, but please RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org.
January 2014 [meeting cancelled due to inclement weather]
Light Rail for the Brooklyn-Queens Waterfront
Presenter: Alex Garvin, urban planner and author
On the crowded streets of NYC, the never-ending conflict between pedestrians and vehicles greatly diminishes the livability of our city. For years IRUM and Auto-Free NY have called for creating a network of car-free spaces on streets that currently have the greatest pedestrian volumes, as a way to reduce these conflicts (the city has taken baby steps in this direction). Some of these pedestrianized streets would accommodate modern light vehicles, attracting many motorists. All other streets would continue to serve "essential' car and truck traffic. Of course conflicts would still continue, in this scenario.
Looking into the future, perhaps there is a way to completely separate vehicles from pedestrians. In early December, Jeff Bezos, who heads Amazon, the on-line shopping behemoth, floated a proposal to develop an armada of goods-carrying drones to speed his firm's deliveries. Could passenger-carrying drones be next?
At our November Auto-Free New York/vision42 working group meeting, we heard a presentation about autonomous motor vehicles that would be smart enough to yield to pedestrians on crowded city streets. This month, we will hear from an expert who has tracked the long struggle to advance a completely different transport technology. Lawrence Fabian of Trans21 will present a Progress Report on Personal Rapid Transit (PRT). The concept is to construct a network of elevated guideways that can host small vehicles operating as autonomous taxis, completely avoiding conflicts with pedestrians and surface vehicles.
Larry sees the utility for this concept even in a city like NYC with a substantial rail transit network, to serve as a feeder mode, but also to handle the many trips that are not well-served by line-haul rail transit. The PRT concept is not new, having surfaced in the '60s and '70s. It has been derided by rail advocates as forever "just a few years away." Recently, there have been several interesting developments in this mode and Larry will fill us in, with an illustrated presentation, at our December Auto-Free NY/vision42 working group meeting.
Light Rail for the Brooklyn-Queens Waterfront
Presenter: Alex Garvin, urban planner and author
"Light Rail for the Brooklyn-Queens Waterfront" was presented by Alex Garvin, noted urban planner, educator and author. Garvin oversaw the urban design of NYC's 2012 Olympic Games bid, and led the post-9/11 redevelopment efforts for Lower Manhattan, as well as a study of the Atlanta Belt Line that will encircle Atlanta. A former planning commissioner for NYC, Garvin is president and CEO of AGA Public Realm Strategists, an adjunct professor of urban planning at Yale University, president of the Forum for Urban Design, and member of the vision42 Advisory Committee. Garvin points out the potential for self-funding of the Brooklyn-Queens Waterfront light rail project, through the development that it will stimulate.
Driverless Cars: Coming to Manhattan Any Time Soon?
Presenter: Alain Kornhauser, PhD, from Princeton University
Auto-Free New York has long called for reducing car use in dense urban areas, like NYC. If NYC is already overrun with motor vehicles, what would be in store for us if self-driving (autonomous vehicles) are introduced?
Actually, the answer is far more complex than it might seem. Autonomous vehicles could certainly result in more vehicle-miles of travel -- motorists would no longer need valid drivers' licenses (actually quite a few don't even have them now!); car nuts could authorize vehicle movements just to fill up the roads; impatient bus passengers could give up waiting and summon vehicles to complete their journeys; cabbies would have to find new work, etc. But many of the measures to throttle back on motor vehicle use in dense areas, described comprehensively in AFNY's Fewer Cars: a More Livable City Four Year plan, could actually be facilitated by autonomous vehicles - like congestion pricing, empowering pedestrians at crosswalks, and better enforcement of traffic laws, such as speeding.
It is a complex journey with many questions. For example, would teenagers without licenses be allowed to take a self-driver out for a spin? Will software be invented that will able to recognize the typical NYC motorist's ubiquitous hand signal - the raised middle finger?
Find out more at our October meeting. We are honored to have as guest speaker Alain Kornhauser, PhD, head of the Transportation Engineering program at Princeton University. Dr. Kornhauser is a real expert and pioneer in this field.
Regional Rail A Top Transport Priority for NYC's Next Mayor
Presenter: George Haikalis, chair, IRUM
As NYC gears up to select a new Mayor this November, transportation issues often seem to get lost in the sea of other important issues. Yet the Mayor's office has substantial power to influence public transit policy, even for services not directly under city control. Especially important to the economy and sustainability of the city are good rail links that connect the city and its suburbs. For many years, IRUM has been advocating making better use of the three commuter rail lines - the "sleeping giant of regional mobility" - that converge on the city, by remaking them into a coordinated Regional Rail system, with frequent service, integrated fares and through-running. The discussion this month will be how a new Mayor can make this happen.
Summer Walking Tour: Jackson Heights
Presenter: Ed Walters, et al
Our summer 2013 Auto-Free NY walking tour will be in Jackson Heights, Queens on Tuesday, August 20. Our tour host will be longtime AFNY/vision42 advocate Ed Walters, who together with other Jackson Heights residents and community leaders, will give us a firsthand look at NYC's newest auto-free street segments, where motor vehicles that once roamed freely have been banned, and the street space they once commandeered has been reused for community amenities like seating, planters and children's play space.
Much of Jackson Heights was developed as a planned garden city-like medium-rise community, just before the auto-era. The walking tour will include a discussion with community activists about how this pre-auto culture was preserved and how the current overuse of motor vehicles can be reduced. The tour will also provide an opportunity to see and discuss new opportunities for circumferential rail passenger links that could share track space with little used rail freight lines, and a much broader regional plan remaking the commuter rail lines serving NYC into a full-service regional rail system with frequent service, integrated fares and through-running.
The tour, which is free, will end with some refreshments in one of the Jackson Heights gardens that has been beautifully restored -- and kept auto-free as well. The walking tour, taking place rain or shine, will begin promptly at 6pm, just outside the turnstile area at the Broadway/Roosevelt Avenue subway station entrance on Roosevelt Avenue between 74th and 75th streets. (Take the E, F, R, M or #7 trains).
Why Not Upgrade to World Class: The JFK Airport Express Plan
Presenter: George Haikalis, AFNY Chair
One of the key hallmarks of a modern city is fast, frequent, one-seat-ride rail service to its major airport(s). Recently, even Salt Lake City -- in so-called 'red state' Utah -- has started up a rail line linking its downtown and its 'international' airport.
So where's NYC's one-seat airport access to JFK, the nation's busiest international air hub? As of 2013, it's still the laughingstock of the civilized world - with visitors stuck in overpriced cabs, caught in endless traffic jams on the Van Wyck Expressway!
Over the decades, activists have tried to get refurbished the LIRR Rockaway Beach line in Queens, a 4.2 mile long high-speed line abandoned generations ago - but no-one listened, except a handful of NIMBYs who prioritized their fears over the transit needs of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. Then, in 2012, two major events cast a new light on this rail right-of-way.
One was Hurricane Sandy in October, which cut subway service to the Rockaways and made clear the area's lack of good transit options. The other was the opening of the High Line Park in Chelsea, an overdesigned strolling attraction meant to further hypergentrify that part of west Manhattan, in preparation for the shoehorning in of a whole new phalanx of taxpayer-subsidized Mondo Condo luxury mega-high-rises. This new park gave abutters along the Rockaway Beach line the motive to start a campaign to make it the 'High Line' of Queens - and preclude a rail line.
The Rockaway Beach line rail right-of-way lies on an almost arrow straight shot between the Manhattan central business district, the nation's largest, and JFK, in central Queens. Tree-choked, rat- and weed-infested, this priceless city-owned rail right of way could easily provide a key link between the MTA's LIRR mainline in Rego Park and the Port Authority's JFK AirTrain at Ozone Park. Restoring this link and purchasing a small fleet of rail cars that can run on both the LIRR and Airtrain tracks is all that is needed.
Now a 68-page, lavishly illustrated new report - dubbed the Capstone report - has just been issued under the auspices of IRUM and NYU's Wagner School of Public Service, and will be discussed at our June 2013 meeting. The report, available in pdf format, was prepared by four urban planning students at the Capstone Program at Wagner: Scott Hobbs, Hang Huynh, Gabriel Kleinfeld and Daniel Simoes.
Take a Tour of Modern Light Rail in France!
Presenter: Roxanne Warren, vision42
Anyone who has ever been to any of the great cities in Europe - Paris, Berlin, London, Rome, Amsterdam, Madrid - knows how efficient and coordinated public transit can be. NYC may have a huge subway system, but it still buries its head in the Bloombergian desert sand about light rail, and it has one of the most uncoordinated regional train systems that the rigid minds of petty bureaucrats can devise.
Part of the problem for some New Yorkers who feel for their revolvers when the word trolley is mentioned is that they are simply unfamiliar with the progress that many cities here and abroad have made in providing better alternatives to the private automobile. To address this unfamiliarity, at our May 2013 combined Auto-Free NY/vision42 working group meeting, Roxanne Warren will take us through a slide presentation of the new light rail system in France. These images of a remarkably advanced urban light rail system were shown by Greg Thompson and Tom Parkinson at our January meeting.
Revisiting Red Hook, Brooklyn's Trolley Plans
Guest Speaker: Bob Diamond, Chairman, Brooklyn Historic Railway Association
Cities all over the world have retained or reintroduced modern street railways, whether they are called streetcars, trolleys, light rail lines -- or most often abroad -- trams. As for street railways here in NYC, don't hold your breath, particularly before New Year's Day, 2014, when a new mayor for NYC will be sworn in. Our billionaire Mayor Mike Bloomberg, like his great hero Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, has always made clear his deep personal allergy to trolleys - his "Sustainable New York" plan be damned!
As New Yorkers consider the current rather sobering crop of potential successors to Bloomberg, they should closely examine the views of these candidates - at least those stances that get past the incredible corporate/real estate clampdown on public statements or debate about such actual topics like surface transit. NYC residents should support candidates who express an understanding of the benefits of this unique mode of surface public transit, that serves as both a 'carrot' providing a genuinely enjoyable ride, and the 'stick' - a commanding street presence with a self-enforcing path.
One local champion of this appealing and environmentally-friendly mode of travel is Brooklyn-based Bob Diamond. Bob is truly a grassroots activist, having built actual streetcar track and repairing historic trolleys in Red Hook, for over two decades. He was featured in a cover story in the New York Streetcar News, back in the day.
Will Smart Growth/Smart Transportation Be Part of the Empire State's Future?
Guest Speaker: Peter Fleischer, Executive Director, Empire State Future
Across America, city and state governments are slowly beginning to realize that smart growth and smart transportation go hand in hand. New York State, of course, has the good fortune to contain the city with the continent's by far largest urban transit system, so logically the state would also be a national leader in smart growth. Unfortunately, it still has far too many politicians who think smart growth refers only to their reelection campaign accounts and certain developers' and lobbyists' wallets.
But now, New York State has the additional good fortune to have an advocacy group focused on a more evolved notion of smart growth/smart transportation -- Empire State Future. With a small staff and very long list of affiliated organizations, Empire State Future can really make a difference.
Our March 19 Auto-Free NY/vision42 working group combined meeting will feature guest speaker Peter Fleischer, Executive Director of Empire State Future, who will outline his organization's vision for "Sustainable Community and Economic Development in NYC and NY State."
Light Rail Advances in Turkish Cities vs. NYC Stalemate
Guest Speaker: Jack May, VP, NJ Association of Rail Passengers
Over the past twenty years, more than twelve of Turkey's cities have installed and begun operating new light rail transit systems. Here in NYC, a 42nd Street light rail line proposal was endlessly delayed via engineering studies through the '90s, and finally stabbed to death by the Giuliani Administration in 1998. Since then, residents and visitors have been subjected to nothing but surface transit stalemate, some baby steps in bus deployments, and the inevitable traffic, smog, crashes and noise inherent in a road mix that overwhelmingly favors high-speed private cars.
Our February Auto-Free NY meeting, held jointly with the vision42 working group, featured special guest speaker, Jack May, who serves as vice president of the
New Jersey Association of Rail Passengers. May gave us a tour of the remarkable light rail investments in these Turkish cities.
The Mayor's New Parking Push: More Parking Equals More Cars!
Guest Speaker: Dan Gutman, environmental advocate and planner
Back in the 1980s, off-street parking in the Manhattan Core was severely limited as part of a settlement for meeting new more responsible Federal Clean Air Act requirements. These restrictions proved to be successful in slowing the growth in car traffic into the city, since limited parking space drove up the cost of driving and encouraged travelers to the core to use public transit.
Now, against the public interest, and in complete contradiction to all the noise about sustainability emitted from the Mayor's Office, the Bloomberg Administration is pushing to soften these restrictions in order to facilitate more ultra-high-end development. Dan Gutman, a long term environmental advocate and planner based in West Midtown, will share his experience at our January AFNY meeting on the likely impacts of these changes.
Setting a New Path for Amtrak's Future
Guest Speaker: Al Papp, Vice Chair, Legislative Policy & Strategy, NARP
Please join on Tuesday, December 18, when we welcome back guest speaker Albert L. Papp, who is Vice Chair, Legislative Policy & Strategy at the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP). Mr. Papp will make a presentation - "Setting a New Path for Amtrak's Future." NARP has been at the forefront in advocating for preserving and expanding the nation's intercity rail passenger system.
NYC Transit Riders Get Organized
Guest Speaker: John Raskin, Executive Director, Riders Alliance
For far too long, New Yorkers have lacked a formal organization dedicated to advocating for serious transit investments. Now, just such a group has formed. At our next meeting of Auto-Free New York, John Raskin, executive director of the Riders Alliance, will describe this grassroots transit advocacy organization. The Riders Alliance is off to a vigorous start, and will hold its first event next Monday, November 19th. This much needed initiative fills a major vacuum, since the demise of the Committee for Better Transit after the passing of its founder Steve Dobrow more than ten years ago. Steve was a member of the vision42 Advisory Committee.
Plan to attend our November 2012 AFNY/vision42 meeting to find out more about this new initiative. Although not required, an RSVP is recommended, at email@example.com.
The Mayor's "Big Gulp" Plan: Supersized Buildings for Midtown East
Guest Speaker: John West, urban planner
Recently, Mayor Bloomberg and some of the real estate interests that form an interlocking matrix around City Hall floated a plan to rezone the city blocks surrounding Grand Central Terminal, so that the existing large buildings there can be torn down and replaced with towers perhaps three or four times their size.
This mayoral "Big Gulp" of supersized buildings would add another four million square feet of office space to the East Midtown area - already one of the world's most congested workplaces. Regardless of the merits of the rezoning plan, it might make more sense if our billionaire mayor also included in it better transportation, in particular the vision42 plan for an auto-free light rail boulevard on 42nd Street, directly fronting on these properties.
A modern light rail line would provide world-class surface transit from the ferry terminals, the Port Authority Bus Terminal and the heavily used north-south subways -- providing an attractive alternative to the current plague of yellow taxis, black cars and single-occupant private cars.
For our September 2012 Auto-Free NY/ vision42 working group meeting, our guest, architect and urban planner John West, will lead a discussion of the Mayor's proposed rezoning plan.
July, August 2012
Summer Walking Tours
July: Brooklyn's Fulton Mall; August: Roosevelt Island
The Air Quality Alert Summer of 2012 has arrived in NYC, and once again the traffic, smog and severely lowered quality of life for residents rich and poor, are as bad as ever. Yes, cars still pollute and run people over, and yes, the city is still doing everything possible to lure motorists into the city, despite all Mayor Bloomberg's expensive public relations campaigns about sustainability, some sprinkled bike lanes and corporatized ped malls for tourists. The Mayor's move this summer to outlaw Big Gulps - the supersize sugar drinks that are ruining people's health - is to be commended, yet the biggest 'gulp' of all, the unfettered use of motor vehicles in a crowded city, is all but ignored.
Maintaining our independent perspective about these facts of life here in NYC, Auto-Free NY this summer is venturing out -- "boots on the ground" and all that -- to actually visit our car-beleaguered city, and to see how lame City Hall is in doing anything substantive towards devehicularization and a more sustainable NYC. This summer's popular Walking Tours will visit Brooklyn's Fulton Mall in July, and Roosevelt Island in August:
JULY 24: Brooklyn's Fulton Mall: "Freshened" Up? But Still No Light Rail! It's been quite a while since Auto-Free NY last visited the Fulton Mall in Downtown Brooklyn. A few years ago, the pedestrian/bus-only mall on Fulton Street in Downtown Brooklyn received a mild makeover, with new lights, benches, plantings, signs etc. More of the irreplaceable historic cast iron buildings that gave the street so much character are being torn down, to make way for bland big boxes. But the mall's central character continues to resemble a concrete two-lane highway somewhere in Ohio, only less charming. And the city's law enforcers continue to look the other way, as numerous private cars penetrate this car-free space.
The good news is that there are still plenty of pedestrians who feel comfortable being at the Fulton Mall, Brooklyn's authentic "main street", and prefer to shop and people-watch here instead of going to the recently built (and heavily subsidized) nest of big-box stores just a few blocks south, at Atlantic Center. On the tour, plans for adding a modern streetcar/light rail line here will be reviewed, as will opportunities for expanding the NYU/Poly campus as an alternative to NYU's proposed massive expansion in the West Village.
Above right: View of Fulton Mall in downtown Brooklyn, looking west from Flatbush Avenue, summer 2012. Note private car on supposedly car-free mall, and bus stop at extreme left.
Lower right: This seating area at the eastern end of the Mall was reclaimed from the street by the recent mall makeover. [Photos: Wayne Fields]
AUGUST 28: Whos' Afraid of an Auto-Free Roosevelt Island? Roosevelt Island's narrow, two-lane medieval-feel "main street," originally conceived as the centerpiece of a car-free island, continues to be dominated by the tiny number of island residents who own cars. Though autos were to be corralled into a garage at the north end of the island, workers at the hospital at the island's south end demanded and got access to free (ie subsidized) parking space. Current plans by the permanent government call for this hospital to be demolished and replaced with a new technology campus, which to us looks like another pharaonic monument which will be an even greater generator of car trips, traffic, smog and parking garages. However, with a little imagination, one can envision new transit access, including a potential light rail line that would replace car lanes on the Queensboro (Koch) Bridge, that would cut car chaos. We will review AFNY's vision for light rail and pedestrian/bike access to the island from the Queensboro Bridge.
Please note carefully the meeting points and times for these two tours. An RSVP is recommended, but not necessary, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (212) 475-3394. The tours are free, and will take place rain or shine. See you on July 24 and August 28!
Getting TOD (Transit-Oriented Development) Right
Joint Meeting of AFNY and vision42; Special Guest: DAVID FIELDS
Long before the Bush/Cheney-era housing bubble burst around 2007, urban planners had been rethinking America's romance with endless outward metropolitan development, a trend made possible by over-dependence on free-wheeling motor vehicles for regional mobility. As cities across America have discovered, modern light rail transit can lure travelers out of their metal and plastic cocoons and convince them that an auto-free and more sustainable lifestyle can actually raise their quality of life. Now planners are also learning that new rail stations can also help to focus urban development in more people-friendly ways.
Among the leaders in rethinking the shape of our cities is the firm of Nelson/Nygaard, at which our June speaker, David Fields, is a principal. Plan to attend our next Auto-Free NY/vision42 working group meeting to hear more about the shape of cities to come. This special meeting will be co-sponsored by the American Planning Association Metro Chapter's Transportation Committee.
(Please note that because of the larger expected attendance, the meeting will not be at the TA office but instead will be held at the nearby Van Alen Institute, 30 West 22nd St., 6th Floor, NYC. Although not required, an RSVP is strongly recommended, at email@example.com.) Also coming up this summer will be our popular walking tours, scheduled for mid-July and mid-August. Stay tuned for details!
The Tappan Zee Bridge: Which Way Forward?
Joint Meeting of AFNY and vision42; Special Guest: FLOYD LAPP
Governor Andrew Cuomo's top 2012 transportation project is fixing the Tappan Zee Bridge. The current plan being pushed by the state and the mainstream media is a new bridge with no transit, and 8 wider lanes replacing the current 7 narrow lanes . . .
The projected cost of this replacement bridge is "north" of five billion dollars. It seems unlikely at this time that motorists will pay even a third of that cost through higher tolls. At our May Auto-Free NY/vision42 working group meeting, our guest speaker will be Floyd Lapp, a transportation planning expert long known in NYC. Mr. Lapp will lead a discussion on the merits of this project and about the difficulty of advancing worthwhile "mega-projects" in the NY-NJ-CT region. Floyd was director of the Transportation Division at the NYC Department of City Planning, and is a member of the vision42 Advisory Committee.
Following the discussion there will be updates on the vision42 initiative for an auto-free light rail boulevard on 42nd Street and other efforts to reduce car overuse in the crowded core of our city. Plan to attend - it should be an interesting evening. An RSVP is not necessary to attend, but is recommended - send to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also - don't miss National Train Day, this year at Grand Central Terminal's Vanderbilt Hall on Saturday, May 12, from 11am-4pm. This free event will feature tours of vintage and modern train equipment, a Kids Depot for children, model train display and live entertainment. [See the National Train Day website for details.]
Roads to Rails: The Queensboro Bridge: Putting People on Top
Joint Meeting of AFNY and vision42
Discussion of IRUM's plan to restore light rail service on the Queensboro Bridge's lower deck outer roadways and remaking the upper deck into a promenade for pedestrians and a bike route for cyclists.
Roads to Rails: Second Avenue in Manhattan
Joint Meeting of AFNY and vision42
For our March 20 meeting, AFNY and the vision42 working group continue their monthly dialogue on practical ways to reduce our crowded city's overindulgence in motor-vehicular surface transportation. While an auto-free light rail boulevard on 42nd Street, river-to-river, remains our top priority, we hope to broaden our constituency by highlighting the many opportunities for re-purposing NYC's public thoroughfares from an emphasis on moving motor vehicles to a location for surface light rail transit and pedestrian amenities.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Manhattan's renowned grid of crowded streets hosted the world's most extensive network of street railways (or "trams" as they are affectionately called in Europe). Barely fifty years later, this extraordinarily rider-friendly means of urban transport -- and considerable public investment -- had been dismantled by a coalition of ill-advised "progressives," misled and prodded on by powerful auto industry interests. Tracks were removed and surfaces were repaved to satisfy the auto's insatiable appetite for more road space.
The so-called 'solution' became the problem as streets, bridges and tunnels quickly filled with private cars, traffic slowed to a crawl, pedestrians found it more difficult than ever to cross streets and travel by bus became the mode of last resort.
But this sorry situation is reversible. No bus route in the entire US is busier than the MTA's M15 First and Second Avenue line. While MTA and NYC's Department of Transportation have made a noble first step in remaking the buses running in "limited" service on this line into a "Select Bus Service," there is a long way to go to transform Manhattan's East Side into a livable urban place.
At our March meeting we will revisit a plan for light rail on the East Side developed by Philipp Rode, a graduate student from Berlin Technical University who did an internship at the Institute for Rational Urban Mobility, Inc. (IRUM) over a decade ago. [Mr. Rode's thesis is posted on IRUM's website: www.irum.org.] We will also review the current performance of the M15 Select Bus Service and the ongoing construction nightmare of the 2nd Avenue Subway. Please plan to attend. Note that our meetings now return to the TA conference room, 127 West 26th Street, NYC.
Latest Developments in Streetcars: Kinkisharyo Trams
Joint Meeting of AFNY and vision42
Special Guest: Representative from Kinkishariyo
After more than eight years in office, Mayor Mike Bloomberg has recently made some modest first steps in "de-vehicularizing" the city, such as installing pedestrianized spaces in Herald Square and Times Square, and adding miles of physically separated new bike lanes, for example Eighth Avenue from Greenwich Village to 23rd Street. But the Mayor still apparently considers even the thought of LRT in his city radioactive, preferring to fiddle with painted bus lanes in a few streets.
While Bloomberg dithers, dozens of more sophisticated and democratically run cities around the world have been rushing to complete new installations of this city-friendly urban transport mode. Not only that, but they have been quick to adopt the latest innovations in light rail vehicles and equipment, meaning that NYC is falling even further behind in investing in its surface transit.
Cars still rule supreme in Mayor Bloomberg's worldview, even though the majority of citizens of his city do not own cars, yet suffer lower quality of life because of them. This so-called "windshield perspective" also rules in the city's mainstream media, which maintains a cloak of economic censorship over transit advances in more sophisticated cities throughout the world.
To help clarify New Yorkers' vision of the latest thinking in new design streetcars, Auto-Free NY last fall invited representatives of three of the world's largest railcar manufacturers to each make presentations on their latest tramcar product lines, particularly those that would be suitable for the long proposed 42nd Street light rail line. New Yorkers should have the right to know about the remarkable innovations worldwide that are taking place in new LRT equipment.
For our February meeting, it will be Kinkishariyo International's turn to talk about their latest equipment, in particular "wireless" streetcars - electric vehicles that do not require overhead catenary wire. Please come by the TA office to see these fascinating new developments. Also, cross the Hudson River and take a ride on the Hudson-Bergen LRT line (which uses Kinkishariyo cars, by the way!), to see for yourself what modern trolleys are really like.
Planning for a Design Charette for 42nd Street LRT - First to Second Avenue Block
Joint Meeting of AFNY and vision42
Special Guest: Ed Walters, photographer
Our January meeting was held jointly with vision42 at the spacious offices of the Open Space Institute, just north of Herald Square. The meeting was a workshop to briefly sketch design elements for an auto-free light boulevard on 42nd Street, focused on a single block - between 1st and 2nd avenues. The idea is that a design charette involving planners, residents, building owners and the public would gather to hash out what kind of street they would like it to become, presuming an LRT crosstown line is installed. Ed Walters presented a fine and comprehensive set of photos of the block as it looks now, including views of the UN, Tudor City and the Ford Foundation.
October, November, December 2011
Presentations by Manufacturers of Advances in Modern Light Rail Vehicles
Back on September 8, in a televised speech, President Obama laid out a strong vision of a credible national jobs program, calling for immediate federal investments that included numerous key infrastructure projects. [In case you missed this speech, we urge you to visit whitehouse.gov for the unadulterated version.] At seven minutes into the 32-minute speech, as the President discusses how infrastructure projects, in particular transit and light rail, can relieve chronic traffic congestion, a remarkable image appears on a sidepanel, of the Houston Metrorail light rail system (LRT).
In today's cars-only corporate media climate, it's not often that the President of the US appears with an image of a modern light rail vehicle, and certainly not in prime time. But that's even less so with NYC's Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who apparently considers even the thought of LRT in his city radioactive. While Bloomberg dithers, dozens of more sophisticated and democratically run cities around the world have been rushing to complete new installations of this city-friendly urban transport mode. Should our billionaire Mayor ever take his private jet to Zurich some weekend, perhaps taking a sample ride on one of Zurich's new fleet of modern tram cars that are the pride and joy of this eco-friendly Swiss city could help him overcome his distaste for LRT.
Modern streetcars in today's advanced cities provide a double incentive -- the proverbial "carrot and stick" -- for motorists to get out of their cars. The "carrot" consists of quiet, clean and people-friendly surface transport, while the "stick" is the taking away of some roadspace that would otherwise be pre-empted by automobiles, most of which each carry only one person, the driver.
To help clarify New Yorkers' vision of the latest thinking in new design streetcars, Auto-Free NY has this fall invited representatives of three of the world's largest railcar manufacturers to each make presentations on their latest tramcar product lines, particularly those that would be suitable for the long proposed 42nd Street light rail line. New Yorkers should have the right to know about the remarkable innovations worldwide that are taking place in new LRT equipment. You are cordiallly invited to attend these free presentations, to be held at the Van Alen Institute, at 30 West 22nd St., 6th Floor:
Tuesday, Oct 25, 2011 6-8pm -- Bombardier
Tuesday, Nov 15, 2011 6-8pm -- Siemens
Tuesday, Dec 20, 2011 6-8pm -- Alstom.
Finessing the 34th-42nd Street LRT Loop Proposal
[The September Auto-Free NY meeting was run jointly with the vision42 working group.] The discussion of design options for the 34th Street segment of the 34th Street/42nd Street light rail loop will continue. New input from our two summer walking tours, held in July and August, will be considered. Both tours were well attended and a number of ideas came up.
Also, plans for relocation of the blacktop portion of Robert Moses Park at 42nd Street and First Avenue, now being advanced by East Side elected officials, will be discussed. The vision42 plan for an auto-free light boulevard on 42nd Street could be an important element of this discussion.
As a special treat, Olympia Kazi, Executive Director of the Van Alen Institute, will describe the Institute's 2010 competition, "Life at the Speed of Rail", as well as the components and complexities of putting together a design competition. This could be useful for vision42. [Time permitting, an updated version of "a light rail grid for Manhattan", first shown at the Dec 14, 2010 meeting, will be presented.]
July and August 2011
Summer Walking Tours - Miracle [Light Rail] on 34th Street
At every major bridge and tunnel in NYC, you can see the many motorists driving private cars solo into Manhattan who haven't gotten the message that the bike lane program has solved all of our city's traffic problems. For the summer of 2011, with NYC once again mired in the worst smog on the East Coast, thanks mostly to too many cars, Auto-Free NY is going to revisit 34th Street in midtown -- the city's crossroads of commerce and transit -- in order to take a close look at light rail for this key corridor.
Early in 2011, the NYC Dept of Transportation's modest plan to close part of 34th Street to private cars was run over and crushed by defenders of car privileges in midtown. Lost in this latest battle over street space, which involved a "nominal" bus lane, was the bigger picture about the imbalance of motor vehicles on our streets. If we examine the 45 crosstown streets between 14th Street and Central Park in midtown Manhattan, only 42nd Street hosts more pedestrians per square foot than 34th Street. Yet the timid city DOT could only muster enough courage to suggest closing a single block of 34th Street to vehicular traffic -- between 5th Avenue and 6th Avenue.
It seems city officials, peering thru the windshields of their company cars, or past the lapels of taxi industry lobbyists, didn't notice the huge crowds trying to get to Macy's (the self-proclaimed world's largest store) or to Penn Station -- the nation's busiest railway station. Nor did they acknowledge all the pedestrians [and potential shoppers] who stay away because of the unpleasantly crowded sidewalks and traffic noise and smog. Rather than boldly calling for all three blocks between 5th and 8th avenues to become auto-free, instead the NYC DOT retreated and now is half-heartedly struggling to splash on some terracotta-colored pavement in a feeble attempt to speed crosstown bus travel. [Memo to real New Yorkers: it's still quicker to walk!]
Perhaps it is time for our jetsetting billionaire Mayor Bloomberg - who travels to one of his estates in Bermuda almost every weekend, to invite some of his NYC DOT officials to climb aboard his personal jet and junket them to Vienna or Budapest and see how real grown-up cities treat their urban cores -- with auto-free streets and modern light rail lines.
Find out how 34th Street can be miraculously remade - and not just for the benefit of merchants! Vision42 has a remarkable plan for a midtown surface light rail loop that would utilize 34th Street. Join us for our next two AFNY walking tours on Tuesday, July 26, and Tuesday, August 23 -- both days from 6-8pm. Both tours will begin in the center of the pedestrianized plaza at the front door of Macy's on Broadway, between 34th Street and 35th Street, promptly at 6pm - rain or shine. The JULY tour went east to the East River; the AUGUST tour headed west to the Hudson River. Both tours are FREE, take place rain or shine, and there is no need to RSVP. See you there!
Threading Light Rail Thru Midtown East
Several years ago NYC rezoned a key segment of the East River waterfront just south of the UN's headquarters, from 35th to 41st streets. This bonanza from our government allowed the developers to quickly demolish the sturdy and historically relevant 1906 Waterside electric generating plant in 2008, creating the current fenced-off and barb-wired riverfront prairie along First Avenue, from 38th to 41st streets, pictured at right (shown: June 2011 view looking north from 38th Street, with UN building in the background, and Tudor City at left). In this space, the unstoppable developers, the Solow company, will soon shoehorn in a massive wall of luxury residential and office towers. Some 5,000 new high-rise housing units will be added to an area that is at least a half mile walk from the nearest (and already severely overcrowded) subway line, at Lexington Avenue.
As for the long-promised Second Avenue subway line, it will not reach this part of midtown for at least 20 to 30 years! It is currently being built from 63rd to 96th St., and many years from now, when that's done, the next segment to be funded -- IF funding can be found -- will be from 96th to 125th Street - add another decade or so. That leaves buses.
But get this - no new bus service is planned! In fact, against strong community opposition, the MTA recently discontinued the M104 crosstown 42nd Street bus. Not to worry -- Mayor Bloomberg has thoughtfully allowed developers to add a whopping 1,200 new parking spaces so that the tower's luxury apartment dwellers can store their luxury 4-WD racing vehicles - and continue avoiding public transportation.
Our billionaire Mayor, ever busy networking with global environmental leaders, and also hoodwinking the environmental community with his 2030 sustainability plan, has unfortunately been busy inking deals (or at least looking the other way) as a wave of cars-preferred big-box stores and developments such as this new East midtown plan, with huge parking garages above or below ground, engulf the City. Bloomberg's environmental legacy, other than a lot of new trees, will be ever more car chaos, as the common on-the-ground experience for East Midtown residents, workers and visitors.
It doesn't have to be this way. Come to our next AFNY meeting this June 28. Our guest speaker John West, a board member of IRUM, and a member of Community Board 6, will describe how a more sophisticated city would create a genuine urban fabric in Midtown East, and invest in significant public transportation, in particular a modern light rail line, that could be threaded through this area. Please take note that this June meeting will be held at the Van Alen Institute, at 30 W 22nd Street, not at the TA office. It will be a joint meeting with vision42. Hope to see you there!
New Book: "Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism on the Road
to Economic, Social and Ecological Decay"
Special Guests: Yves Engler, author and Montreal political activist; and Bianca Mugyenyi, Concordia University
Our May AFNY meeting will feature two special guests from Montreal: Yves Engler, author and political activist, and Bianca Mugyenyi, campaign coordinator at Concordia University's Centre for Gender Advocacy. They will be unveiling and discussing their newly published book "Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism on the Road to Economic, Social and Ecological Decay."
Please plan to attend our meeting this month as we learn their perspective on the automobile crisis. The meeting, to be held at the TA office on West 26th Street, is free and there is no need to RSVP.
The Mayor's Updated Sustainability Plan: Would PlaNYC 2.0 Reduce Car Use?
Panelists: IRUM board members Jeff Gold, Jill Greenberg and George Haikalis
Almost four years after Mayor Bloomberg's Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability released the first plaNYC, it has now produced an updated plan - plaNYC 2.0. The original 2007 plan floated a raft of suggestions that would take take hold no later than 2030 - even while the City continued incentivizing private car commuting, and was in the midst of an aggressive parking garage/shopping mall construction spree, that would serve to lock in more private car usage.
Almost all of the press attention on the first plan focused on one strategy -- congestion pricing. We know what happened to that strategy. On the other hand, the plan called for the creation of a handful of midtown pedestrian plazas, mostly along Broadway, and there is no doubt that the Times Square and Herald Square plazas are very popular, particularly with tourists, shoppers and the merchants that line these plazas.
Join us at our next Auto-Free New York meeting to learn what's contained in the new plan, and see how its transportation strategies compare with those contained in Auto-Free New York's longstanding, comprehensive
Livable City Transport Plan - which itself has gone through several upgrades already.
Rail Access to the Region's Airports:
Where We've Been, Where We're Headed
Special Guest: Anthony Callendar, transportation planner; former senior staff analyst, Aviation Dept., Port Authority
Most airports in the US are heavily dependent on parking revenues for operating and capital costs. As a result, airport authorities have, over the decades, for the most part, fought against extension of rail systems to serve growing travel demand. Nowhere has this been more pronounced than here in the NY metropolitan area - the nation's most rail transit-oriented city!
Eventually forced to respond to growing public pressure, worldwide ridicule, enlightened politicians, and just plain common sense, NYC eventually built rail connections at JFK and Newark Liberty Airports, but these require inconvenient transfers, and fares have been set very high. No rail link is available to LaGuardia Airport, although it is less than two miles from the last stop of the N and W train in Astoria.
The result, not surprisingly, is ongoing endless automobile traffic and taxi dominance for travel to airports, with resulting congestion and pollution, as well as disincentives for tourists.
Plan to attend our next Auto-Free NY meeting, where we will hear from Anthony Callendar, a transportation planner formerly at the Port Authority, on how we got into this situation and how we can do better.
The Case for Light Rail in NYC
Joint meeting, AFNY and Vision 42
Special Guest: Paul Gawkowski, Transportation Planner; former director, NYC Transit Operations Planning, Bklyn & Queens Surface Transit
For our February 2011 meeting, we continue our series of advocating for the return of streetcars and modern light rail to NYC. We are lucky to have as guest recently retired transit professional Paul Gawkowski, who has been in the trenches for many years trying to make surface transit work better in Brooklyn and Queens.
Mr. Gawkowski, sharing with us his years of hands-on experience in transit, will treat us to a special audio-visual presentation offering his ideas on reintroducing street railways in NYC, once a world capital for this mode of urban travel.
Our February meeting will be held in conjunction with the regular monthly meeting of vision42 -- an initiative to advance an auto-free light rail boulevard on 42nd Street.
Light Rail for Stamford and New Haven: Why not in NYC?
Joint meeting, AFNY and Vision 42
Special Guest: Stephen Gazillo, director of transportation planning, URS Corporation
Some three dozen American cities, and countless other cities throughout the world, have added new light rail/streetcar lines to provide attractive alternatives to motor vehicular travel. Replacing pavement on urban
streets with modern, low-floor streetcar and light rail tracks is a surefire way to combine the 'carrot' of better transit with the 'stick' of disincentives to drive in dense urban places.
Even Los Angeles - "car central" - will be adding over the next ten years about 41 miles of new LRT and subway tracks to its existing 79-mile system. But NYC remains mired in traffic chaos, transit bureaucracy paralysis and cost overruns. Look at New Jersey! New light rail lines have been operating less than a mile away from Manhattan, directly across the river in Jersey City and Hoboken. In fact, the Hudson-Bergen light rail line on the waterfront can easily be seen in operation from New York, including from the windows of the editorial offices of the NY Times' skyscraper on Eighth Avenue! Now two nearby cities in Connecticut - Stamford, and New Haven - are planning new lines.
For our January AFNY meeting, which will be combined with Vision 42, our special guest will be Stephen A. Gazillo, who is director of transportation planning at the URS Corporation. Gazillo will present an overview of planning efforts for new light rail/streetcar lines for Stamford and New Haven, CT and extensions to the existing line in Charlotte, North Carolina.
In addition, progress reports on the vision42 plan for an auto-free light rail boulevard on 42nd Street, and NYCDOT's planning study for a trolley linking Red Hook with Downtown Brooklyn, will also be made. Time permitting, other AFNY initiatives, including transit and motor vehicular pricing strategies, will also be reviewed.
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