Auto-Free New York – First/Second Avenue Light Rail

March 20, 2012   6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Transportation Alternatives
127 W. 26th St. (bet. Sixth & Seventh Aves.), 10th Floor
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Auto-Free New York

For our March 20 meeting, Auto-Free NY 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 (pdf) 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. We will also review the current performance of the M15 Select Bus Service and the ongoing construction nightmare of the 2nd Avenue Subway.