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Transportation Tidbits in This Year’s PlaNYC Check-In

To mark Earth Day on Monday, the de Blasio administration released its first PlaNYC progress report [PDF], the latest annual check-in on the citywide sustainability plan released in 2007.

The report includes a few facts about the city’s progress on its transportation goals:

  • DOT’s PARK Smart program, which sets the price of on-street parking in response to demand, is set to roll out to two additional neighborhoods by the end of the year.
  • Construction on Waterside Pier, which would connect the East River Greenway between 38th and 41st Streets, is expected to begin this summer and to be completed next year. EDC also expects to complete environmental review and secure permits for greenway construction between 41st and 60th Streets by the end of this year.
  • As of last month, there are more than 4,300 Boro Taxis in service, including 250 wheelchair accessible vehicles.
  • DOT and the Office of Emergency Management have developed a “transportation playbook” for disasters, including bike-pedestrian facilities, temporary transit services, and HOV restrictions. DOT is working with other agencies to run “tabletop exercises” to review scenarios where the playbook can be used.
  • After hosting 23 Weekend Walks events in five boroughs last year, DOT anticipates holding more than 30 of these neighborhood car-free streets events this summer.
  • Capital construction on three pedestrian plazas will wrap up in 2014, with 10 plazas beginning the capital construction process by the end of the year.
  • The final version of EDC’s citywide ferry study, which came out in draft format last year, is expected to be released this spring.

PlaNYC annual progress reports are different than updates to the plan itself, which are scheduled every four years. PlaNYC launched in 2007 with congestion pricing as the marquee item. The most recent PlaNYC update in 2011 shifted focus away from transportation and included only minor goals for parking reform. The next update to the city’s sustainability plan, which will introduce a new set of goals, is anticipated next year.

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PlaNYC 2.0 Reactions: Rachel Weinberger, UPenn Professor

Streetsblog has been gathering responses to last week’s release of PlaNYC 2.0. This is the fourth installment. Read the firstsecond, and third parts.

In a phone interview with Streetsblog yesterday, Rachel Weinberger, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and an architect of the transportation section of PlaNYC 1.0, gave us her take on the update of the city’s sustainability plan.

On setting expectations:

The first PlaNYC seemed really bold in the transportation area. Maybe it seemed much bolder than we would think if it were to come out today.

On the significance of PlaNYC 1.0:

The shift in thinking is far more important than the specific projects that were enumerated in the first go.

One of the big accomplishments of PlaNYC 1.0 was that it got City Hall thinking in a way that opened City Hall up to the idea of hiring a [transportation] commissioner like JSK.

On parking policy:

The parking stuff [in the update] is a little bit anemic. But in PlaNYC 1.0 we couldn’t even touch it, it was considered untouchable. It was our judgment that congestion pricing had more legs than taking on the parking question. That’s telling.

Since we tried to break open that barrier, there’s been maybe a gestation period for the city to start coming around to thinking, “Okay, here’s an area of public policy that we can and should address.” … Now we’re on the threshold of being able to look at it in a robust kind of way. Now let’s do it.

On paving the way for other cities:

The first one also created space in other places, like Chicago and Washington. The sustainability director of Philadelphia went all around Philadelphia waving around PlaNYC, saying, “We’re going to steal everything we can from this document.”

Other cities benefited from the hard work that we did. It might be too much to push that hard again right away.

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PlaNYC 2.0 Reactions: Kate Slevin, Tri-State Transportation Campaign

Streetsblog has been gathering responses to yesterday’s release of PlaNYC 2.0. This is the third installment. Read the first and second parts.

In a phone interview yesterday afternoon, Kate Slevin, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, shared her first impressions of the city’s revised sustainability plan…

On the diminished prominence of transportation compared to the first version of PlaNYC:

So much has been accomplished on the transportation front already, it’s not entirely surprising that transportation wouldn’t be front and center.

On what’s better in the revised plan:

We’re encouraged that they addressed freight, and the way it was addressed. That was a weak point in the original. They’ll be working with the Port Authority to shift more goods onto rail, especially by the 65th Street transfer station (in Brooklyn). Obviously bike-share is a huge project and would benefit the city in a big way if they do it properly.

On the details that are lacking:

The parking section was less specific than I’d hoped.

The shortfall in the MTA capital program is going to require contributions from the city and the state and will probably involve some sort of revenue stream.

On the big picture:

Overall, take a step back from this edition of the plan and think about how far the city has come. If you think back six years ago to where we are now, it’s just remarkable. The streets are much safer. The fact that there are now bus lanes with pre-paid fares is a major step forward. These are improvements that were delayed for years.

We’re not too far away from a discussion of the next mayoral campaign. Advocates are going to be watching closely whether the candidates commit to policies that advance sustainability. Announcing this version of PlaNYC helps move that discussion forward and serves as a guidepost for whoever’s running for mayor.

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PlaNYC 2.0 Reactions: Joan Byron, Pratt Center for Community Development

Streetsblog has been gathering responses to yesterday’s release of PlaNYC 2.0. This is the second installment. Read the first part here.

Joan Byron, director of policy at the Pratt Center for Community Development, told us the update to the city’s sustainability plan includes some promising developments on the truck traffic front. She noted that some of the biggest differences between the revised PlaNYC and the original have to do with freight transportation:

PlaNYC 2.0 re-affirms the city's commitment to stop relying on truck-based waste transfer stations located mainly in the South Bronx and Brooklyn.

PlaNYC 2.0 includes a lot more specifics about freight than 1.0 did. The big projects it references — the Port Authority’s Cross Harbor Rail Freight Study, rail and barge upgrades at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal and at the 51st and 65th Street (Brooklyn) yards, and incorporation of rail improvements in the rebuild of the Hunts Point Produce Market — are already committed or underway, but it’s still significant that the plan calls them out. And it’s great that the city will be gathering more data about food-related freight movement, because the patterns of long-haul, regional, and local food movement have changed a lot in recent decades, and will continue to change, as food production continues to simultaneously globalize and to localize.

It’s great that there’s some space given to local truck congestion issues. I’d like to see more about pilot projects, and also a commitment to better data gathering and analysis by NYCDOT. There’s shockingly little information available now about types of goods being trucked within the city, their origins and destinations, specific time and other constraints affecting different subsectors, etc. Without a better understanding of the problem, it’s hard to know where the opportunities are for innovative solutions.

The Pratt Center cares about freight movement for a couple of reasons. Low-income communities and communities of color bear a disproportionate share of the impacts of both local and long-haul trucking. And truck-dependent industries — food production, construction, service and repair (of everything from TV cable boxes to big-building mechanical equipment) are important blue-collar employers that offer some of the best remaining pathways into the middle class for New York’s workforce. So there are environmental and economic justice reasons to make freight movement work better citywide.

Byron singled out the PlaNYC update’s section on transporting trash as a good sign:

It’s also a great relief to see explicit treatment of solid waste in this version of the plan, including a re-affirmation of the city’s commitment to implementing the Solid Waste Management Plan by moving ahead with planned marine transfer stations in Manhattan. Shifting away from truck-based garbage export will enable the city as a whole to reduce carbon emissions associated with solid waste disposal. And fairly sharing the burden of managing our trash gives all of us a stake in reducing our total tonnage. The status quo, relying on truck-based transfer stations located mainly in the South Bronx and Brooklyn, has kept the problem out of mind and out of sight for the wealthiest New Yorkers whose consumption contributes the most to the problem.

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PlaNYC 2.0 Reactions: Paul Steely White, Transportation Alternatives

Streetsblog has been calling around to transportation advocates and experts, gathering reactions to yesterday’s release of the first major update to PlaNYC 2030 since the citywide sustainability initiative was launched four years ago. Here’s our first installment, with Transportation Alternatives director Paul Steely — we’ll be posting more reactions later this afternoon.

White told us he was encouraged to see the addition of a public health section in PlaNYC 2.0, and that the new plan will benefit from being less wonky than the original:

The continuation and expansion of Summer Streets and play streets bodes very well for public support. I think if there was a flaw in the first PlaNYC, it was too CO2- and policy-oriented. What this clearly does better than 1.0 is make the sustainability agenda more relevant and tactile for New Yorkers. I think the play streets in particular really jump out.

The inclusion of bike-share was also an encouraging sign that Bloomberg is serious about launching a public bike system, he said, but the mayor will need to do some serious follow-up:

They’re reiterating their commitment to roll out bike-share in 2012 and committing to keeping the yearly membership cheaper than a monthly Metrocard. As long as the state legislature doesn’t double the cost of a Metrocard, that’s a good thing.

The mayor needs to prove that he still cares. Will he attend summer streets and play street events? Will he back up bike-share when the going gets tough? Will he extend bike and ped improvements to East Harlem and other neighborhoods clamoring for their fair share of safety?

What’s lacking in the updated plan? White said the revision fails to reform the anti-urban tendency of the Economic Development Corporation and the Department of City Planning to push for excessive off-street parking:

There are parking garages sitting half empty that the city forced developers to build. Each of those parking structures represent millions of dollars that developers could have been required to upgrade local transit stations, or improve the streetscape. It’s not enough to study off-street parking policy. The city must overhaul its broken off-street parking policy before a tidal wave of new car ownership eclipses the plan’s other gains.

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PlaNYC 2.0 Hints at Parking Reform, Touts Bike-Share, Lacks Transpo Focus

Four years after Michael Bloomberg launched New York City’s sustainability agenda with congestion pricing as the marquee item, transportation reform is no longer the centerpiece of PlaNYC.

The first in what should be a series of regular four-year updates of the plan was released this morning, and it includes 132 initiatives. While those encompass significant transportation improvements like bike-sharing, faster buses, and the extremely important addition of parking reform to the city’s green agenda, top billing today went to other initiatives.

Headlining the mayor’s speech today were plans to eliminate dirty home heating oil, provide financing for energy efficiency improvements, and install solar panels on top of landfills — projects that while eminently worthy, reflect a shift in the administration’s emphasis.

“Unlike every other city in the country where 80 percent of pollution comes from transportation and 20 percent from buildings, in New York City it’s exactly reversed,” explained Bloomberg. On transportation, the PlaNYC update goes for a slew of incremental changes rather than any new signature program, although it does give the city’s previously announced commitment to bike-share some more momentum.

During his speech, the mayor praised Select Bus Service, saying that “it gets some cars off the road and some pollutants out of the air,” though he didn’t mention any new plans to expand it. In discussing the steady progress on the 7 train extension, Bloomberg called MTA chief Jay Walder “a godsend to our city” for his management of the transit system. Finally, Bloomberg touted the impressive reductions in traffic deaths over the last decade. He did not mention any new transportation initiatives.

Bloomberg also had no choice but to address what he called the elephant in the room: congestion pricing. “The problems of not enough mass transit and too much congestion on our roads, too many pollutants spewed out by combustion engines still persist,” he said. “I don’t think we should look back and say why it didn’t get done,” he continued, saying he was still willing to work with the state to find answers to those problems.

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Mayor’s Office Highlights “Clean Heat Campaign” in Major PlaNYC Update

Four years after the release of PlaNYC 2030, the citywide sustainability plan that has framed New York’s recent transportation reforms, Mayor Bloomberg is in Harlem today announcing a major update in the effort to build a “greener, greater NYC.” The law that codified PlaNYC in 2007 scheduled revisions to the plan every four years.

The details of the revised plan haven’t been posted online yet, but in a press release the mayor’s office gave top billing to an initiative they’re calling the “Clean Heat Campaign,” which seeks to phase out use of the dirtiest heating oils.

The city is also touting a social networking tool called “Change by Us” meant to gather ideas and feedback from local residents on planning and sustainability initiatives. According to the press release, the platform works by asking a question “that residents can respond to by text message or through the Change by Us web and mobile sites.” Questions will be put out frequently, the city says, but it’s not clear yet how the responses will be integrated into the real-world planning process.

The full plan will include revisions to PlaNYC’s transportation and public space planks, which have helped guide the addition of new pedestrian spaces, bike lanes, and rapid bus routes for the last four years.

The signature transportation initiative in the original PlaNYC, congestion pricing, fell victim to the windshield perspective of Albany lawmakers in the spring of 2008. No one expects a congestion pricing revival today, but advocates will be watching closely to see if the administration takes full advantage of traffic reduction strategies entirely within its control. Most notably, reining in the proliferation of off-street parking that has accompanied new development in the city would address one of the big missing pieces in the original PlaNYC.

Streetsblog’s Noah Kazis is at the event in Harlem and will be filing a report later today. We’ll provide more details from the updated plan as they become available.

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To Curb Congestion, Parking Reform Must Be in PlaNYC Update

Traffic headed from Hell's Kitchen, a neighborhood where off-street parking has proliferated, toward the Lincoln Tunnel.

Three years ago, the Regional Plan Association held a panel on congestion pricing at its annual conference. The title of the discussion was “Making Cars Pay Their Way.” At the 2011 conference last Friday, a similar panel on curbing traffic took the more generic title, “Strategies to Manage Congestion.”

The difference is telling. Instead of an all-out push to put a price on Midtown’s packed streets or the East River’s traffic-clogged bridges — not that anyone has given up on that goal — the fight to reduce congestion in New York City is now a multi-front campaign.

Tops on the list for the RPA panel, after congestion pricing, was reforming New York City’s parking policy. Based on international experience and research conducted here in New York City, we know that stopping the proliferation of off-street parking would help prevent streets from getting even more clogged with cars. But parking policy was barely mentioned and off-street parking was completely ignored in the original PlaNYC four years ago. Since then, the city has aided and abetted the construction of huge amounts of off-street parking.

This week, the city will release its update of PlaNYC. Will it finally include what is perhaps the biggest missing piece of its sustainable transportation plan?

At the RPA panel, David Bragdon, the head of the Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, certainly seemed to agree that parking policy needs an overhaul. He repeated the story of a developer in Brooklyn who spoke to him after being forced to build more parking than he wanted because of mandatory parking minimums. The spaces now sit empty, said Bragdon. In affordable housing projects, he added, the problems with parking minimums may be even larger. “We may be adding costs unnecessarily,” he said.

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Bragdon: PlaNYC 2.0 Cheaper, Bottom-Up, But May Include Hudson Tunnel

Photo: Randy Rasmussen/Oregonian.

David Bragdon. Photo: Randy Rasmussen/The Oregonian.

City sustainability chief David Bragdon offered some more hints about what to expect from April’s update of PlaNYC this morning. Speaking at a livability conference hosted by NYU’s Rudin Center, Bragdon said that the update would eschew large capital projects and feature a larger role for neighborhoods and individuals. In terms of transportation, Bragdon seemed to suggest that a call for a new Hudson River crossing of some kind would be a part of PlaNYC 2.0.

Much of what Bragdon had to say about the PlaNYC update has already been revealed: That the plan will take on solid waste management, for example, or that the administration wants to allow street hails for livery vehicles.

But he did suggest one idea sure to inspire fierce controversy. “We will be proposing to charge people ten dollars,” said Bragdon, pausing for effect, “if they want to have a hard copy of PlaNYC.”

When Bragdon turned more seriously to transportation policy, he offered an intriguing discussion about New York’s connections to the west. Bragdon pointed out that the number of rail crossings underneath the Hudson River, two, hasn’t changed in a century, though in that time the population of New Jersey has tripled while that of New York City has doubled. “We’re still making do with what we have here,” he said, but “doing nothing has a high cost.”

With that kind of talk, it seems that some sort of post-ARC proposal to add rail capacity underneath the Hudson will be in PlaNYC 2.0. Perhaps the return of the Secaucus 7?

In large part, Bragdon focused on the update’s new approach rather than new policies. With the city grappling with the recession’s fiscal fallout, he said, there won’t be any major new capital commitments in the update. Outlays like the $134 million for public plazas, he said, will be maintained but not likely to be repeated. How that commitment could be squared with the goal of new capacity across the Hudson isn’t clear.

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The Evolution of PlaNYC: Transit, Tight Budgets, and the Sheridan

Photo: Randy Rasmussen/Oregonian.

David Bragdon. Photo: Randy Rasmussen/The Oregonian.

Last week Streetsblog sat down with David Bragdon, the new head of the city’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, to talk about next year’s update of PlaNYC. A new version of the city’s sustainability plan is set to be released on Earth Day, 2011 (that’s April 22), revising the 2007 roadmap for a city that prioritizes transit, biking, and walking.

In the second part of our interview (read the first installment here), Bragdon talks about funding transit in a time of fiscal austerity and the future of the underused Sheridan Expressway.

Noah Kazis: When we’re talking about transit, the elephant in the room is really the MTA’s finances. It has a $10 billion hole in the capital plan over three years. What can the city, what should the city do to shore up those finances?

David Bragdon: The city is already a direct contributor. Certainly the mayor had a proposal four years ago, before I got here, that would have provided ongoing financial stability for transit. Other people may have thought that wasn’t a good idea, but we’d like to hear what their ideas are, because nothing else has filled that gap in the meantime. So it’s sort of on the to-do list.

I mean, it’s essential for the city. The city depends on functional transit and continuing to expand and improve the transit network, and certainly the resources aren’t there right now. So in terms of what the city does, I mean like I say, there was a solution that was proposed, and I think we’ll keep looking for solutions that will work. Working with the next administration in Albany is going to be important as well.

There are a lot of interesting pieces to that Sheridan story that I think we’ll finally be able to move forward.

NK: If the state doesn’t step up? This is the Doomsday scenario.

DB: Well I think we’ll try to be positive about it with the new administration in Albany, and we’ll worry about Doomsday if Doomsday gets here. I can’t speculate about it.

NK: In terms of the progress on the transportation pieces of PlaNYC, a lot of the 2009 milestones haven’t been reached [PDF] because the money isn’t there. But there are some things that are in the city’s control that haven’t happened — bus lanes across the DOT bridges, for example. Is there a reason for the delay? Is there a way to expedite them, or are there some initiatives that might get taken out in the update?

DB: In a variety of areas, the city’s fiscal situation, and in terms of transportation the MTA’s fiscal situation, have prevented those from being realized. The same would be true in the parks arena. I don’t think there are a whole lot of things that haven’t been done due to lack of commitment. I think there are some that are going to take longer because of the financial resources.

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