Thursday, August 13, 2009

What if everyone drove to work this morning?

And now let us turn to the Big Apple, New York City, and listen to what they have to tell us about what would happen if tomorrow everyone who normally commutes into the city by subway decided instead to drive in and park their car. For the non-initiated, that is for non-New York natives, this piece, originally written to the local language, has been prepared for the ROW and is divided into three parts: (a) map, (b) rant, (c)lexicon.

- Original posting to Streetsblog NY by Brad Aaron on August 10, 2009

1. The Map:

Let's start with their map:

You probably can already see what they are up to. It might be interesting and instructive to run a similar drill for such a transfer in your city. If you do, please share your map and basic nunbers with us. We will surely publish it.

2. The rant (that is the original language Streetsblog NY piece):

[The map shows the . . . ] amount of space that would be needed for cars if subway-riding New Yorkers thought like, say, a certain assemblyman from Westchester.

Sure, knocking the MTA is a favorite local past time, particularly for the politicians and press who are practically guaranteed a "Hallelujah!" chorus for every barb (today's scandal: fat cat transit workers poised to rake in cost-of-living allowance!!). But despite the MTA's problems, as Michael Frumin points out on his Frumination blog, the city's streets and highways can't hold a candle to the subways when it comes to moving commuters into and out of Manhattan's Central Business District.

Parsing data derived from 2008 subway passenger counts and the NYMTC 2007 Hub Bound Report [PDF], Frumin writes:

Just to get warmed up, chew on this -- from 8:00AM to 8:59 AM on an average Fall day in 2007 the NYC Subway carried 388,802 passengers into the CBD on 370 trains over 22 tracks. In other words, a train carrying 1,050 people crossed into the CBD every 6 seconds. Breathtaking if you ask me.

Over this same period, the average number of passengers in a vehicle crossing any of the East River crossings was 1.20. This means that, lacking the subway, we would need to move 324,000 additional vehicles into the CBD (never mind where they would all park).

At best, it would take 167 inbound lanes, or 84 copies of the Queens Midtown Tunnel, to carry what the NYC Subway carries over 22 inbound tracks through 12 tunnels and 2 (partial) bridges.

At worst, 200 new copies of 5th Avenue. Somewhere in the middle would be 67 West Side Highways or 76 Brooklyn Bridges. And this neglects the Long Island Railroad, Metro North, NJ Transit, and PATH systems entirely.

Take a gander at the map above to get an idea of the real estate that would be taken up by all those cars. Think such a proposition would lead John Liu to base his stances on congestion pricing and bridge tolls on principle, rather than wind direction? Could Deborah Glick overlook her personal hatred for the billionaire mayor long enough to save her constituents from carmaggedon? Would the prospect of seeing his district literally transformed into a parking lot prompt Sheldon Silver to finally take an unequivocal stand favoring transit over car commuting?

Right. Probably not.


3. The lexicon

New York for Dummies Guide for non-New Yorkers

MTA is the Metropolitan Transportation Authority , the organization responsible for delivering public transportation for the New York Region. MTA subways, buses, and railroads provide 2.6 billion trips each year to New Yorkers -

NYMTC is the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council is an association of governments, transportation providers and environmental agencies that is the Metropolitan Planning Organization for New York City, Long Island and the lower Hudson Valley. -

Individual local heroes named or hinted at: See links in article.

# # #
Brad Aaronhas written extensively on government, business, education, the environment, urban planning and transportation, among other topics, began freelancing for Streetsblog NY in early 2007 and became Deputy Editor in February 2008. He lives in Inwood, at the northernmost tip of Manhattan, where he can always get a seat on the A train.

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  1. A few nights ago the City of Philadelphia had a meeting to present the pilot project of adding bike lanes on two streets crossing center city. Both are one ways, one going across town east and one going across town west. They are also part of the east coast greenway project.About 100 people showed up with the Director of Planning presenting. Afterward was Q&A. Interestingly, the "bikers" we a calm group making suggestions or expressing support. The "anti-bikers" were an angry bunch, spewing out reason why they didn't want it on their street, why the city was wasting money on painting lines and how it interferes with tourist bus parking and church parking on sundays (one day a week during low traffic times) and how it will cause more traffic going from two lanes to one with a bike lane. It then downgraded to
    slurs about "bikers" behavior of not stopping at lights/stop signs, of how rude bikers are, etc. With all of that anger I felt like I was watching the Fox channel.One of the"bikers" made the point that every bike means one less car, making less traffic on those streets and that some cars will intentionally drive on other streets now with the bike lanes on Pi .When asked by a reporter my opinion afterwards, I said that Philadelphia was developed pre-automobile, so really, cars are trespassing on the streets of the non-motorized vehicles.

  2. Nalbion - Carfree cities listSaturday, 15 August, 2009

    I've often wondered if it'd have more impact to stage a "everybody drive to work
    (really slowly) day" than "walk/ride to work day" or "in town without my car

  3. Spencer, Otane, New ZealandSaturday, 15 August, 2009

    Intersting idea, one I've contemplated before. Then people who drive on a
    regular basis would appreciate the contribution to their lives OTHER people are
    having because those people use public/other means of transport. Sadly, it
    probably wouldn't make them abandon their cars, it will just make them more
    frustrated and uptight and incidents of road rage or violence will probably
    increase... That might government sit up and notice, investing in more... roads!

    Spencer, Otane, New Zealand

  4. My preferred version of "everyone drive to work day" is
    es day". Do that on a weekly basis and watch them suddenly find millions in
    funding for public transport ;-)

  5. Jason Meggs, San Francisco CA USASaturday, 15 August, 2009


    And we may have a chance to test just such a thing on Monday in the
    San Francisco Bay Area.

    Some 340,000 trips per day are made on our BART (metro) system, which
    will have find another way if workers' planned strike commences.
    (Workers have been asked, among other things, to begin paying their
    own retirement, which equates to 7% of their pay; meanwhile auto
    companies get bail-outs, transit is slashed and petroleum
    dependency/petroleum-first planning remains a top priority for subsidy
    on most every front in the USA.)

    In the past, bicycle demonstrators have successfully captured such
    moments by bicycling the Bay Bridge, a 4.5 mi/7.2km toll crossing
    which does not provide for bicycles and pedestrians. (BART does
    provide for many bicyclists and of course pedestrians including those
    who use wheelchairs. Bicyclists have won many transit-access gains in
    the past ten years thanks to campaigning.)


  6. Yes thanks, I didn't mean to suggest the two were equated; just responding to the "imagine this in your city" idea as the coincidence allowed me to also let people know of the transport earthquake brewing
    in SF.

    If I plotted the black spaces I think it would still be impressive, particularly if I included the origin parking spots for all those commuters and their requisite multiplier of additional spots "needed" (to be honest, the NYC map was a rough analysis in itself and ignored these and other factors; for example, there's no adjusting for the number of under-age folk or how many would carpool in that situation.

    The methodology is not entirely provided, but it's a great visual to build on and use elsewhere).\

    True, in the USA, New York is #1, and SF is a somewhat distant #2 for density, carfree households, transit use, etc., and NYC is much larger in population, compounding the differences.

    BART is also not the biggest transit provider in the SF Bay Area, but the Bay Bridge is the biggest single commuting corridor which gets
    loads of attention, and without BART, it will slow to a long, painful crawl for everyone (even buses with HOV lanes will still be stuck in
    traffic, and the buses will be over capacity with long lines to board them), even as the bridge still prohibits cycling and walking.

    In relative terms this is better than many in the world have it, still; but it's a change that will shake up society there and thus it's an opportunity to make public points about the difficulties the carfree face every day, on the path to changing that.

    In the past bicyclists have done this successfully by bicycling the bridge in an act of civil disobedience, although complicating the
    message the following year, with solidarity information about trains and a dangerously bad design, after winning the promise for future
    access (despite the need for immediate access), flopped in the car sponsored media (particularly as police blocked the bridge in violation of their own directives, yet the cyclists were blamed).

    Perhaps demonstrators should have cycled to their court dates to press on until their points were finally heard.


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