Sunday, June 10, 2007
It was big news on Friday when Gov. Eliot Spitzer said he would ensure passage of the controversial congestion pricing plan for New York City.
The plan is part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's blueprint for reducing traffic and improving air quality in the city--a measure that is well overdue. The plan was also endorsed by U.S. transportation secretary, Mary E. Peters who appeared with Gov. Spitzer to announce that New York could be one of nine cities that wins a $1.1 billion aid package to fight traffic.
If passed by the state legislature, the plan would charge drivers $8 to travel below 86th St. between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Commercial trucks would be charged $21. Drivers operating solely in the commercial zone would be charged $4--for example a private car that lives and works in the area.
Most New Yorkers who live in Manhattan will endorse the package because the majority of them--well over 60 percent by last count, do not even own a car, let alone drive one in the city.
But those New Yorkers who live outside of the borough--mostly Brooklynites, and Queens dwellers, often drive to Manhattan. What's worse, many of them use Manhattan as a conduit to another destination when they drive, according to a pivotal study conducted by Partnership for New York City who released their findings in December 2006.
The organization also identified that the city loses $13 billion a year due to traffic congestion. This is what else they found:
--3.6 million people travel into Manhattan south of 60th Street each weekday, a third of them in cars, trucks or taxis.
--Delays endured by commuters, workers and other travelers annually cost some $5 billion to $6.5 billion in lost time and productivity and up to $2 billion in wasted fuel and other vehicle operating costs.
--Traffic delays add to logistical, inventory and personnel costs that annually amount to an estimated $1.9 billion in additional costs of doing business and $4.6 billion in unrealized business revenue each year
But there is also a serious loss of quality of life factor involved in overuse of motor vehicles. Pollution, noise, disease--lung cancer, emphysema, and other pulmonary problems, as well as death from traffic accidents with pedestrians and cyclists.
So, Benepe'sBike Blog certainly does endorse the plan, and hopes that the shortsightedness of both the residents in the outer boroughs, as well as the state legislature, which is expected to be against the plan, do not derail this initiative.
However, we also firmly believe that the congestion plan falls about 80 percent short of a real solution to traffic problems. New York still lacks the most fundamental, basic infrastructure that will encourage and allow cyclist traffic to substitute for a portion of motorized transit.
Although Bloomberg is a significant improvement over previous mayors in terms of installing cycling infrastructure--he reignited plans for the Greenway, one of the only safe cyclist paths in the city that had previously been delayed and even died under Giuliani, and he also engineered increased Central Park car closures--his efforts still fall far short from the ideal (crackdowns on the Critical Mass monthly ride notwithstanding).
It is still incredibly difficult to pass safely from the various bridges leading to Manhattan by bike. Transfers from the bridges are labyrinthine, poorly marked, and a sad example of engineering compared to the luxury overpasses and roadways that have been made for motorists.
Worse, the biggest resource cyclists have at their disposal, the upper portion of the Greenway, is not lit at night, making it unusable for safe commuting even within Manhattan.
Riding in the city is a game of cat and mouse, where riders are in constant fear of being hit. Perceived and actual danger from motorists is the single most important reason that people cited for why they will not ride in the city, according to a study by the NYC Department of Transportation.
The second most important reason for not riding is lack of parking facilities.
Perhaps the city is aware that these problems need correcting. But they need to work faster and harder to help New Yorkers get on their bikes.
That means more safe bike lanes, better enforcement of the lanes: I counted over 70 cars in the bike lane from Central Park 110th St. entrance to 157th St. last month--with two police cars passing, and doing absolutely nothing; better enforcement of traffic outlaw drivers --not cyclists who are too easy a target; and the conversion of major avenues to ped-and-cyclist-only traffic, a move that would put us on par with significant European cities like Paris, London, Amsterdam and Copenhagen.
Public bike parking facilities with locks and protection should be installed everywhere--in the same spaces now reserved for parking cars.
So Mayor Bloomberg, and Governor Spitzer: if you really want to have a decongested city, you need to work on making cycling safer, easier and more convenient.
Posted by Jen B at 4:11 PM