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Posts from the Bruce Schaller Category


NYC’s Taxi Regulations Are Obsolete. How Should They Change?

The de Blasio administration’s proposed slowdown in new for-hire vehicle licenses for a one-year study period could be the opening move in a major rewrite of the rules governing the city’s taxi and livery industry. The current system is an anachronism, and a big overhaul could harmonize the city’s growing array of medallion taxis, green cabs, and Uber-type services in a way that lessens the need for private car ownership without contributing to congestion in the city core. But what, exactly, would that system look like?

Green, yellow, black? Does it matter? And do they reduce congestion or make it worse? Photo: Johannes Ortner/Flickr

How should yellow taxis, green cabs, and black cars be regulated to lessen dependence on private cars without making Manhattan congestion worse? Photo: Johannes Ortner/Flickr

It’s a big task. Set aside, for a moment, the merits of a one-year cap on new for-hire cars. Let’s start with the basics and go from there.

First off, New Yorkers use car services in vastly different ways. “New York City is two worlds,” said Elliott Sclar, a city planning professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. “There’s Manhattan below 96th Street, and then there’s the rest of the city.”

Outside the Manhattan core, car service options consist mainly of black cars and, more recently, green boro taxis. They tend to serve journeys that would be indirect and slow using transit. And congestion outside the city center is mainly due to private vehicles, not car services, so there’s not much reason to discourage new taxis and black cars in most of the city.

Meanwhile, sky-high demand for travel in the Manhattan core is like a black hole sucking in for-hire drivers from across the city. Most taxi customers in or near the Manhattan core have a decent transit alternative, but they hire a car for speedier service or a more luxurious ride. According to TLC, 94 percent of yellow taxi pick-ups are either in Manhattan or at the airports, and the fastest-growing for-hire companies, powered by e-hail apps like Uber, do 72 percent of their business in Manhattan south of 60th Street.

The result is a crush of taxis and black cars driving around the central business district.

The de Blasio administration says it needs to slow down the increase in for-hire licenses to study congestion, but given the large campaign contributions the mayor received from the yellow taxi industry, the surface explanation is hard to swallow. In the end, the one-year cap on new for-hire licenses might have more to do with navigating tricky political waters, where the administration faces hard-charging Uber on one side and medallion interests on the other, than with alleviating Midtown congestion.

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Jon Orcutt and Bruce Schaller Are Moving on From NYC DOT


Jon Orcutt and Bruce Schaller.

Two key architects of change at NYC DOT are moving on after seven years with the agency. DOT Traffic and Planning Commissioner Bruce Schaller departed at the end of May, and DOT Policy Director Jon Orcutt announced on Twitter yesterday that he will be leaving next week.

Orcutt and Schaller were two of former DOT chief Janette Sadik-Khan‘s major hires after she took over as transportation commissioner in 2007. They each played leading roles implementing reforms that prioritized safety, efficiency, and public life on New York City streets, and both leave tremendous legacies.

Orcutt came to DOT from a career in advocacy, starting with Transportation Alternatives in its formative late 1980s period and moving on to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, where he was a founding staffer and later executive director. He led the development of DOT’s first strategic plan in 2008, which set the stage for many reforms that followed, and in the early days of the de Blasio administration he was the lead on the Vision Zero Action Plan.

Inside the agency he was known for pressing for bold changes. He had a hand in too many projects to count, but spearheading the development and launch of bike-share tops the list. Count the implementation of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, the city’s new pedestrian wayfinding program, and the introduction of protected bike lane designs among his other major contributions.

Schaller had stints in public service before joining DOT, but in the years leading up to his time at the agency, he was best known for a series of reports from his consulting firm, examining everything from regional driving patterns to the travel habits of neighborhood shoppers. At DOT, his data-driven brand of communications helped the agency tell the world about its work in new and rigorous ways. The reports produced by DOT clearly conveyed the safety improvements, economic impacts, and other benefits attributable to the agency’s street overhauls.

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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.


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.

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."


Brodsky Sows Doubt, Misinformation at Brooklyn Pricing Debate

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.


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."


Brooklyn Workshop Focuses on Residential Parking Program


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:



Weingarten: “Teachers Are Not Abusers of Parking Permits”

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. (

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 (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: