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Posts from the "Bruce Schaller" Category

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NYC DOT Shares Its Five Principles for Designing Safer Streets

Photos: NYC DOT

At Madison Avenue and 135th Street, a mix of additional pedestrian space and crossing time, turn restrictions, clearer markings, and tighter corners led to an 18 percent reduction in injuries. Photos: NYC DOT

Earlier this month, NYC DOT put out a major new report, Making Safer Streets [PDF], that collects before-and-after data from dozens of street redesigns and distills five key principles to reduce traffic injuries. The excitement of election week overshadowed the release, but this is an important document that livable streets supporters will want to bookmark. It’s an accessible guide to how DOT approaches the task of re-engineering streets for greater safety.

Under Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, DOT has elevated safety as a departmental priority, and it often follows up a redesign by reporting on the change in traffic injuries after six months or a year. After six years of implementing these projects, the department now has an especially compelling data set – multiple years of before-and-after safety records from dozens of redesigns. Reviewing these projects and what has worked best, the report authors distilled DOT’s approach to safety improvements into a design philosophy.

Deputy Commissioner for Traffic and Planning Bruce Schaller, the lead author, says Making Safer Streets is “the most comprehensive data-driven report on safety we’ve put together.” What makes it especially notable for New Yorkers and residents of other major cities, he said, is its focus on urban streets. “When we look at safety and the elements of design that make safe streets, [other studies] are still not a clear guide to what we should expect to work in NYC.”

The DOT team hopes the report will serve as a reference not only for planners and engineers, but for any city resident who cares about street safety and wants to evaluate how streets are functioning and what would make them better. It’s written in accessible language and comes in at under 30 pages, with a raft of graphics and photos doing much of the communication.

The guiding idea in the report is that greater simplicity, order, and predictability will make streets safer:

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CB 6 Committee Gives Thumbs Up to Park Smart Expansion in Park Slope

In a short, quiet and rancor-free meeting, the Brooklyn Community Board 6 Transportation Committee last night approved a resolution supporting the expansion of NYC DOT’s Park Smart pilot program throughout Park Slope’s commercial streets.

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DOT plans to extend the Park Smart zone from the light blue areas on this map into the orange areas.

When the Park Slope pilot launched in April 2009, the city raised the peak hour meter rate from 75 cents per hour to $1.50. A report released this June found that adjusting the price of parking had cut traffic by increasing the rate of turnover, which makes curbside spaces available more frequently. As the only Park Smart pilot currently outside Manhattan, the Park Slope project bears special significance for future attempts to introduce better curbside parking policy in the outer boroughs.

Last night, the committee voted in favor of expanding the Park Smart area and the time that peak hour rates are in effect. The resolution did not touch on increasing the peak meter rate to $2.25 per hour but rejected the idea of extending the time limit at curbside spaces from one hour to two hours.

DOT expects to carry out the following adjustments in the spring, when new Muni meters will be installed:

  • Extend peak meter rate hours to 7 p.m. (They’re currently in effect from noon to 4 p.m.)
  • Expand the Park Smart zone so that it encompasses Fifth Avenue from Dean Street to to 15th Street, Seventh Avenue from Lincoln Place to 15th Street, 9th Street from Fourth Avenue to Sixth Avenue, and side-street spurs off of Fifth and Seventh Avenue

The interesting exchange of the evening happened when one committee member raised the prospect of extending the time limit from one hour to two hours.

Extending the time limits could wipe out the gains that the higher peak hour rates have achieved, explained DOT Deputy Commissioner Bruce Schaller. “The combination of the rate and one-hour time limit is affecting turnover,” he said. “If you relax one of them, you have to make up for it with the other.”

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Schaller: Road Pricing Won’t Fly Without Driver Support

BQETrafficJam.jpgRoad pricing won't ease this BQE traffic jam unless drivers want it to, says Bruce Schaller. Image: photoAtlas via Flickr.
Road pricing isn't going to happen unless drivers want it to, writes Bruce Schaller, one of the architects of New York's congestion pricing push. That's the central conclusion of a new paper Schaller penned for the journal Transport Policy [PDF]. 

Schaller argues that the high-profile debate over congestion pricing in 2007 and 2008 helped forge a consensus in support of sustainable transportation, even if no such consensus exists around road pricing. He also writes that New York's experience showed that it's easier to sell congestion pricing when it is "embedded in goals related to climate change and the city's growth" as compared to narrower transportation-related goals. 

Overall, however, Schaller concludes that New York's failure to pass congestion pricing is indicative of the overwhelming political obstacles to pricing roads in the face of driver opposition. "Congestion pricing can be thwarted by a relatively small group of people," he writes, "particularly when it requires approval from several legislative bodies."

The five percent of New York City workers who would have paid the congestion fee were able to block its implementation despite the support of four of the five relevant government bodies: the City Council, the mayor, the State Senate, and the governor. The measure ultimately met its demise in the State Assembly. In comparison, the mayor of London was able to implement congestion pricing without any legislative approval at all. 

Schaller links the outcome of New York City's congestion pricing saga to the prevalence of veto points and preference for the status quo endemic to the American political system: 

The out-sized power of negatively affected groups to block a proposal is not new to road pricing. Because neighborhood residents have been able to stop large-scale highway, transit and airport projects, major transportation projects since the 1970s have been subject to a 'do no harm' constraint.  Proponents of such projects have had to plan them to 'be sited, designed and mitigated so as to leave no victims in their wake.' (Altshuler and Luberoff, 2003, p. 228)  Drivers in New York City who would have had to pay as much as $2,000 annually in congestion fees showed a similar power to prevent adoption.
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Mayor’s Office: Electric Cars Must Comply With PlaNYC Goal of Fewer Cars

Volt_Plug_In.jpgNew York City is not looking to create infrastructure for charging cars on city streets. Image: theqsqueaks via Flickr.

"Electric vehicles are here. They're coming, and they won't stop." Last night, DOT Deputy Commissioner Bruce Schaller opened a panel discussion on electric car adoption in New York City with an implicit message: We should be prepared.

At a meeting that brought together representatives from the mayor's office, two electric utilities, and General Motors, there were two big takeaways for livable streets: The city is working to keep electric vehicle adoption compatible with the goal of reducing personal vehicle use, and on-street space isn't going to be given over to charging stations.

A variety of plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars are expected to hit the market in the next two years, presenting both challenges and opportunities for sustainability-minded cities. Schaller began the evening by noting that, nationally, widespread adoption of plug-in hybrids could take the greenhouse gas equivalent of 82.5 million cars off the road. With numbers like that, New York can't help but take notice.

"In 2007, electric vehicles were just a glimmer in our eye," said Neal Parikh, who leads transportation initiatives at the Mayor's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability. "Now we think it's a real opportunity." He believes that if New York is to meet its PlaNYC goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation 44 percent by 2030, electric cars have to be part of the solution. Parikh was the lead author of the city's recent report on electric vehicle adoption.

While moving toward EVs will require action from the city and other players, including car companies and utilities, Parikh forcefully rejected any measure that would take away from PlaNYC's other transportation goals. While Britta Gross, a GM manager in charge of electric and hydrogen vehicle development, repeatedly claimed that allowing EVs into carpool lanes and offering them free or dedicated parking have proven effective at speeding EV adoption, Parikh said not to expect those offers in New York City. One of his slides put parking incentives directly under the heading "Won't Work."

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Brodsky Sows Doubt, Misinformation at Brooklyn Pricing Debate

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Fred Siegel of the Progressive Policy Institute moderated Sunday's debate.

On Sunday, Temple Beth Emeth in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn hosted a classic congestion pricing match-up: Michael O'Loughlin of the Campaign for New York's Future vs. Assemblyman Richard Brodsky (who, it turns out, went to shul at Beth Emeth until age ten).

The crowd of 50 could best be described as congestion pricing agnostics. An informal survey indicated that most take the subway to work (the temple is a short walk from the B and Q trains). They wanted proof that the plan would work as advertised, and based on the Q & A that followed the debate, they still need to be convinced.

The two opponents knew each other's talking points almost by heart. Each had rejoinders ready for nearly every argument and statistic thrown his way. When Brodsky claimed that his license plate rationing scheme would reduce more traffic than pricing, O'Loughlin effectively skewered the idea, using rhetoric usually reserved for the other side. "How do you tell someone who has to drive to the hospital that they can't, because they have the wrong license plate number?" he asked.

During the Q & A, the crowd asked pointed questions that probed deeper than the usual anti-pricing tirades. But as they moved the discussion away from broad pro-and-con arguments, and toward the nitty gritty specifics of the proposal now before the City Council, the Westchester Assemblyman who represents some of the wealthiest car commuters in the metropolitan region, pounced on every opportunity to raise doubts about whether congestion pricing would work as projected.

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DOT: Relax Brooklyn, Parking Permits Not Just for Downtown

Borough Prez Candidate De Blasio Qualifies His Opposition to Congestion Pricing

A crowd of nearly 200 filed into the auditorium at St. Francis College in downtown Brooklyn last night, ready to pop a few questions to DOT about residential parking programs. But first, three of Brooklyn's City Council members gave some of their first public comments since the Congestion Mitigation Commission delivered its final recommendations last week.

David Yassky kept his speech short, pretty much sticking to the sentiment that RPP is good because it will "give neighborhood residents first crack at the parking spots on residential streets."

Tish James, who had previously expressed support for congestion pricing if RPP was attached, staked out the position that Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, and Prospect Heights -- her district -- should all be covered by RPP, regardless of what happens to pricing. (This foreshadowed a major theme of the evening -- fear that one's neighborhood would be left outside looking in when the RPP boundaries are drawn.) James then ran through her "wish list related to congestion pricing," which ranged far and wide, including: capital improvements to transit ("the G train sucks"), taxi stands, more bike lanes, ending placard abuse, and re-instating the commuter tax. It wasn't exactly clear at the end where she now stands on pricing itself.

Bill de Blasio opened by saying, "I need to see complete, tangible, absolute progress on RPP before I can think of supporting congestion pricing." He then proposed that RPP zones should be allowed to sprout all over the city in neighborhoods near subway lines, to deter park-and-ride behavior. At one point he delivered some provocative rhetoric about weaning ourselves from the automobile, preparing for a different future, and changing our habits. But his verdict on pricing? "We don't expect the current plan on the table to pass."

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Brooklyn Workshop Focuses on Residential Parking Program

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Hours after the Congestion Mitigation Commission revealed that residential parking programs would be attached to its congestion pricing plan, about 70 Brooklynites gathered at Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope last night to talk about RPP. The event was the third DOT/EDC neighborhood parking workshop held this week, following others in Long Island City and Forest Hills. This round of workshops focused tightly on RPP compared to the first round, in November, which examined parking in general.

DOT Deputy Commissioner Bruce Schaller, on hand for the evening, told me that RPP was still in the early planning stages, and that it comprised one part of DOT's broader parking management program. While development of RPP will proceed regardless of congestion pricing's ultimate fate, Schaller noted that "the commission's report gave more definition to what the timeline would be." In addition to permit fees and eligibility requirements, the big issues that need to be hammered out, he said, include defining the boundaries of permit zones, drawing up a process for establishing new zones, and determining how to administer the details of issuing permits and enforcing the rules.

Workshop participants sat at tables in groups of eight while DOT staffers led the exercises. First the DOT reps presented data gathered from observations of the study area, which included the northern blocks of Park Slope and most of Prospect Heights. A few numbers that jumped out:

  • The vacancy rate of residential (non-metered) parking spots never exceeded five percent
  • Among parked vehicles observed at 2:00 p.m., 41 percent were registered outside Brooklyn and 29 percent were registered outside New York City
  • Among vehicles that parked overnight, 35 percent were registered outside Brooklyn and 27 percent were registered outside New York City (the numbers may be a little exaggerated, since they don't measure newcomers accurately)

In the main exercise, participants were presented with four RPP program options. Each option applied different rules to four categories of parkers:

  1. Local residents
  2. Non-residents who work in the neighborhood -- "local employees"
  3. All-day parkers -- park-and-ride commuters, relatives in town for the holidays
  4. Short-term visitors -- shoppers, people going to the dentist

The options were intentionally left somewhat open by DOT, since the details are still flexible. Here's the rundown:

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Weingarten: “Teachers Are Not Abusers of Parking Permits”

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A car with a teacher's permit on the dashboard is parked beneath a "No Parking Anytime" sign. The license plate number does not match the one printed on the permit. (UncivilServants.org)

United Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten sent a letter to Mayor Bloomberg Friday expressing objections to his plan to reduce the number of city government parking permits and prevent unions and city agencies from printing their own. Weingarten's letter echoed Teamsters president Gary LaBarbera's recent assertion that "parking permits are a form of compensation for teachers"and other city employees (Is anyone paying taxes on that "compensation?" Is it accounted for in any city budget?)

In her letter, reprinted below in full, Weingarten makes three particularly remarkable claims:

  1. "Teachers are not abusers of parking permits."
    A quick visit to UncivilServants.org (or your own neighborhood streets) shows Weingarten's blanket claim is, obviously, incorrect.

  2. "Teachers do not clog areas such as lower Manhattan" with their personal vehicles.
    Not only are teachers' cars part of the Lower Manhattan traffic jam, in a city where 43 percent of elementary school kids are unhealthily obese, teachers and education officials have been known to clog school playgrounds with their personal vehicles. In one notorious case, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum intervened to stop city employees from using the Tompkins Square Middle School's playground as a parking lot in 2004.

  3. Parking permits are necessary to "attract the best and the brightest to teaching" in New York City.
    Really? I'm no education policy expert and I'm sure that some teachers really do need to use cars for work, but do the world's best and brightest come to live and work in New York City for the convenient parking?

I think Weingarten and the unions may find that they are fighting a costly and losing battle here. The public has little sympathy for the maintenance of a city employee parking system that is so blatantly abused. Few issues draw the ire of such a broad range of New York City civic groups as city government parking placard abuse.

A recent Independent Budget Office report found that cops, firefighters and teachers drive to work at double the rate of any other group of New York City workers. Why?

As DOT Deputy Commissioner Bruce Schaller told Streetsblog in the very first post we ever published, "Free parking has a tremendous impact on the decision whether to drive or take transit." Moreover, among teachers working in Manhattan, "nearly all of these auto commuters have transit alternatives," Schaller said. His 2006 study found that ninety-five percent of the government employees driving into Manhattan from Brooklyn and Staten Island live in neighborhoods where the majority of their neighbors use transit.

No one is proposing eliminating teachers' permits. Rather, there just needs to be a more centralized and rational system for distributing parking permits based on real need. And there needs to be real enforcement. Hopefully Weingarten and the unions will realize that they are better off pushing for a parking "cash-out" law like California's than fighting to maintain their oft-abused parking privilege.

Here is Weingarten's letter to the Mayor in full:

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Highlights of Monday’s Traffic Commission Meeting

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Westchester Assemblyman Richard Brodsky's claim that congestion pricing "smacks the middle class" was not challenged by reporters after Monday's meeting despite a recent IBO report that says otherwise. Brodsky said a carbon tax would be fairer and praised Mayor Bloomberg for suggesting it.

Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner Bruce Schaller has clearly been busy. At Monday's Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission meeting he presented more than a dozen separate congestion pricing scenarios. Having run each of them through NYMTC's state-of-the-art regional traffic model, Schaller delivered estimates for how each of the various pricing schemes would impact total vehicle miles traveled, costs and revenue.

Commission chairman Marc Shaw introduced the day's discussion by saying that "Everything's still on the table" while acknowledging that some of the scenarios Schaller was modeling were "obviously controversial." Shaw also went out of his way to express disappointment that the New York Times had chosen to editorialize against the idea of East River Bridge tolls "before we've even had a public discussion about it."

Schaller's Powerpoint presentation is available in its entirety below. There were a lot of numbers and transportation policy jargon but here are a few notable points:

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Shoup Dogg, Parking Policy Cult Hero, Fills Fordham Auditorium

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Click to play Streetsblog's Donald Shoup theme song:
[mp3]shoop30.mp3[/mp3]

Spencer Wilking reports:

There's nothing more blessed to the New York City driver than finding an open parking spot. Donald Shoup, professor of Urban Planning at UCLA, would like New Yorkers to reconsider that ideal. The parking policy cult hero addressed a crowd at Fordham's Pope Auditorium Monday evening. His mission: Eliminate free parking.

"Some people think that charging for curb parking is un-American. I think it is very American to ask people to pay for what they use," Shoup said. "We're not a nation of freeloaders."

Shoup contends that much of the congestion on New York City streets is due to drivers circling the block, hunting for that elusive free parking spot. Shoup's bold plan is to charge more for curbside parking, which he believes would free up more parking space for people who need it, reduce congestion-causing cruising and generate funds for local street improvement projects. He also said that his ideas on parking would be easier to implement than Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan.

Armed with a Powerpoint presentation, Shoup displayed Al Gorian flare, weaving humor, amusing visuals and staggering facts to keep his audience both entertained and informed.

Shoup's lively lecture and the fact that he may very well be the only academic in America to focus solely on parking policy has earned him cult hero status in the world of urban planning. In his introduction, Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives joked that Shoup is a rock star who "prefers loose tweed to leather." With his characteristic droll delivery, Shoup replied, "Maybe I should change my name to Shoup Dogg."

The professor began his lecture by illustrating the ills of American parking policy, first citing the staggering amount of real estate Americans allocate for cars. He believes faulty public policy has created a culture that expects free parking everywhere. "The planning process has gone wrong and it costs a lot of money," said Shoup. "Because we so deviate from normal business practice with curb parking we get these very inferior results."

In New York City, this is compounded by the cost differential between curbside parking and private lot parking. Shoup says the low, often free, cost of curbside parking versus the high cost of off-the-street parking has created a perverse situation in which drivers are more inclined to cruise around hoping to be rewarded with a free parking spot.

Shoup quoted Seinfeld's George Costanza to sum up the essential New Yorker attitude when it comes to curbside parking: "It's like going to a prostitute. Why should I pay when, if I apply myself, maybe I could get it for free?"

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