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Posts from the "Jeff Zupan" Category

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What Does the Future Hold for New York’s Transit Infrastructure?

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The shadow of the cancelled ARC project, which would have augmented these century-old tracks into Penn Station, hung over last night's discussion of transit infrastructure. Photo: NJ Transit via Second Avenue Sagas

Last night, the Museum of the City of New York hosted a panel discussion about the future of large-scale transportation projects in the region. Hosted by New York Times reporter Michael Grynbaum, the panel — the RPA’s Jeff Zupan, MTA Capital Construction’s Michael Horodniceanu, the General Contractors Association’s Denise Richardson, and the Pratt Center’s Joan Byron — engaged in a wide-ranging conversation, which covered everything from the demise of the ARC tunnel to the high cost of transit projects and the question of whether New York’s transit system is too focused on Manhattan and rail.

Here are a few of the more interesting comments from the event:

  • Zupan, who was director of planning at New Jersey Transit for ten years, said that plans to replace ARC were pipe dreams. “We’re not going to see any of that money any time soon for a substitute,” he said. “To think that we’re going to find a substitute for ARC I think is really folly.”
  • “It was a totally political decision,” Horodniceanu said of the ARC cancellation. Christie “didn’t conceive of it” and “won’t cut the ribbons.”
  • There was agreement that federal regulation is slowing down and adding to the cost of transit projects. “I think of myself as an environmentalist except when I look at the NEPA process,” said Zupan. Byron pointed to the “tortured” process for receiving federal transit aid, which she compared to highway spending, where the feds “just write the state departments of transportation a big check.”
  • The untolled interstate system has created a sense that “when I drive my car, it’s free,” said Richardson. “We have lost the concept of being willing to pay for all the things we use.”
  • Noting the amount of spending on the MTA’s four Manhattan-based mega-projects (the Second Avenue Subway, the 7 extension, East Side Access and the Fulton Street Transit Center), Byron said that many New Yorkers are “paying an inordinate share of the cost of expanding infrastructure [through the farebox] and not receiving a proportionate share of the benefits.” Continued Byron, “If people are not feeling the love for the MTA and its capital program, maybe there’s a reason for that.”
  • Horodniceanu explained that he was very concerned with the future of those transit projects if the state doesn’t find money for the MTA’s capital program. “If there’s no money in 2012 and 2013, we’ll slow down until the money will come back,” he said. If the state waits until the economy heats up, however, the current moment of cheap construction costs will have passed.
  • Zupan argued against spending billions to include commuter rail across the Tappan Zee Bridge, saying it wouldn’t have high enough ridership. “That’s one of those Manhattan-centric projects that I think Joan and I can both get against,” he said.”
  • The discussion mostly focused on transit, but when asked about bikes, Zupan said that “We have the specter of the former DOT commissioner suing the city because they’re putting a bike lane in in Brooklyn. That’s horrible.”
  • The otherwise quiet audience burst into applause when Byron suggested that bringing countdown clocks to buses would be even more important than bringing them to the subway. Byron pointed out that buses were in fact popular, prompting Grynbaum to respond, “I’ll have to tell my editors about that.”
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Highlights of the “Equal Tolls, Unequal Access” Discussion

April Greene reports on Monday's congestion pricing panel discussion at the New School:

"And now the last of the bald men will speak," said Jeffrey Risom, an urban designer at Gehl Architects of Denmark, as he took the podium at Monday night's congestion pricing panel at the New School. Indeed, all four panelists did possess this common trait, but the diversity of their backgrounds -- in academia, government, non-profits, economics, and private development -- set them well apart despite that shall-we-say glaring similarity.

Leading off from the event's title, Jean-Christophe Agnew, a professor of American Studies at Yale, spoke about congestion pricing's roots in bridge-crossing and stall-renting tolls in early modern Europe. Jeffrey Zupan of the Regional Plan Association fast-forwarded to 20th century New York when Columbia professor and Nobel prize winner William Vickery and Mayors Lindsay, Dinkins, and Koch, as well as the RPA itself, all proposed different modes of congestion pricing (none of which came to pass). Zupan also highlighted some points in New York's troubled transit history, among them the fact that, despite population growth in the millions during the last century, the extent of NYC's subway system peaked in 1937.

Environmental economist and "re-founder" of Transportation Alternatives Charles Komanoff jumped in next with some of the theories behind the plans. Quoting pedicab luminary George Bliss, Komanoff pointed out that mobility and community should not be in conflict, "they should enhance and serve each other." Jeffrey Risom followed with examples of Copenhagen's effective methods for reducing traffic congestion while bolstering quality of life: many use incentives for biking and walking rather than "punishments" for driving.

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Brian Ketcham Proposes a “Simpler, Cheaper Traffic Fix”

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Distribution of vehicles entering Manhattan CBD by direction and pricing status (Zupan & Perrotta, 2003).


In an op/ed piece in Monday's Daily News, Brooklyn-based transportation consultant Brian Ketcham proposed some changes to Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan. Ketcham, who has been pushing for some form of congestion pricing since his time working for the Lindsay Administration more than 30 years ago, argues that New York City should:

  • Put tolls on the free East River Bridges.
  • Move the pricing zone's northern boundary down to 60th Street.
  • Eliminate all free and long-term street parking and charge hefty garage rates at on-street meters inside the Central Business District.

It is not surprising to see the idea of East River bridge tolls popping up right now. Prior to Mayor Bloomberg's Long-Term Sustainability announcement in April, virtually everyone who was doing serious thinking about New York City traffic reduction was focused on the 170,000+ vehicles traveling over the free East River bridges each day.

In July 2003, Ketcham and economist Charles Komanoff published, The Hours, a study that found that tolling the free East River Bridges would "do away with more than 9% of the idle time that motorists, truckers and bus riders now lose in traffic tie-ups throughout New York City" with significant congestion reductions in the outer boroughs, in particular.

Earlier that year, Komanoff also published "Who Will Really Pay," a study that found commuters who drive to work over the East River bridges earn, on average, $14,300/year more than those who don't drive to work over a free bridge (download it here).

A September 2003 Transportation Alternatives study of East River bridge tolls by Bruce Schaller made similar findings. Schaller also noted the difficult "political realities" of tolling the bridges.

In November of 2003, Jeff Zupan and Alexis Perrotta at the Regional Plan Association published a study that tested four different congestion pricing scenarios, all of which included some form of East River bridge tolls (download it here). One of their models found, "At the East River bridges traffic would drop by about 25 percent, likely leading to the virtual elimination of congestion at those crossings," as well as "relief on local streets" and "less traffic on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway."

With all of that in mind, here is Ketcham's Daily News editorial, re-printed in full:

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RPA Refutes Anti-Pricing “Alternatives” Study

On Wednesday, Jeffrey Zupan, Regional Plan Association's transportation analyst, issued a comprehensive rebuttal of the main traffic reducing measures proposed in Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free's anti-congestion pricing report, “Alternative Approaches to Traffic Congestion Mitigation in the Manhattan Central Business District."

Thanks to Zupan, Transportation Alternatives and other critics, four fundamental problems with the Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free plan have emerged:

1. Any alternative plan which does not include some form of congestion pricing will forfeit $354.5 million in federal transportation aid -- much of which is dedicated to bus improvements in Brooklyn and Queens.

2. The plan does not address through traffic, which accounts for 39% of driving in the
Manhattan CBD. Congestion pricing does.

3. The plan does not address -- and may worsen -- traffic diversions from paid river crossings to free East River and Harlem River bridges, which hurt neighborhoods including Downtown Brooklyn, LIC/Woodside, Harlem and the South Bronx. Congestion pricing directly addresses these traffic diversions.

4. Some of the traffic reducing measures in the plan -- value parking pricing, variable tolls and BRT, for example -- would be far more effective if used with congestion pricing, instead of as a substitute for it. Many of the measures are not "alternatives" to congestion pricing but complements.

Among other problems with the report, the Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free plan applies an "equity double standard":  It harshly criticizes congestion pricing for its pocketbook impact on middle class motorists while ignoring the impacts of value parking, variable tolling and $200 double parking tickets that the plan would impose on these same motorists.

Zupan sums up the "Alternatives" report:

While many of these measures are worthwhile, the report overstates both their traffic reduction impact and their revenue potential. Many of these estimates are speculative, and the costs and difficulties of implementation are largely unaddressed. More importantly, nearly all of these would be far more effective if implemented in combination with congestion pricing.

The full text of Zupan's comments appears after the jump.

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Legislator Wants New Jersey Rep on Pricing Panel

From the Star-Ledger:

The leader of the New Jersey Senate called on New York yesterday to find a seat on its 17-member congestion pricing commission for a representative from New Jersey.

Senate President Richard J. Codey said 250,000 New Jersey commuters a day would be affected if New York approves congestion pricing.

"This is a collective failure on the part of New York’s leadership to recognize New Jersey’s important role in this decision-making process," he said. "The stakes involved in this process are far too important to be governed by purely parochial political considerations."

Codey yesterday called on New York officials to reconsider the appointments.

"If you’re thinking about the regional impact of this, New Jersey should have some say," said Jeffrey Zuppan, senior fellow for transportation at the Regional Plan Association, an independent group. "But the reality is officials in New York are probably not going to think about changing this intricately constructed compromise."

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“Triboro RX” Could Provide More Transit Opportunities

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The "Triboro RX" and New Transit Riders by Origin (Michael Frumin, 2007)

For the Regional Plan Association, Michael Frumin visualized their plan for a rapid transit line in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx that could be built almost entirely on pre-existing rail and would connect with at least twenty existing subway lines. The "Triboro RX", which originated in the 1996 Third Regional Plan, could provide effective transit between these boroughs at a fraction of the cost of most transit projects.

Working with Jeff Zupan and Alexis Perrotta, I helped to develop a possible alignment for the Triboro RX, and a crude estimate of what levels of initial commuter ridership one could expect to see if it were built. At the end of the day, we can comfortably say that at least 76,000 New Yorkers (including 32,000 diverting from other modes of transportation) would use the Triboro RX to get to and from their jobs every day. This number that is quite competitive with many existing lines, and without ever touching the island of Manhattan.

At the heart of our ability to make this estimate is the Journey-to-Work data published by the census -- counts of commuters between every census tract and every other census tract in the city. Given these flow data, the shape of the subway network with and without the Triboro RX, and a rough model of how people make travel decisions on public transportation, it's not so hard to guess which subway riders would use a new transit line if it were built. Estimating new transit riders is more nuanced, but we did our best with limited resources.

To create these transportation models, Frumin used one of The Open Planning Project's software projects GeoServer. Take a look at the fruits of Michael's labor:

How would the TRX tie into congestion pricing? The graphic above shows that the TRX would do a great job of providing mass transit to unserved communities in the outer boroughs.

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The New York City Parking Boom

The first in a three-part series on New York City parking policy.


Last December, in announcing the goals of his Long-Term Planning and Sustainability initiative, Mayor Michael Bloomberg raised the terrifying specter of New York City commuters in the year 2030 stuck in an eight-hour "rush hour." This all-day traffic jam would become a reality, the mayor said, if New York City failed to plan for growth.

Just a short bus ride away from the Queens Museum of Art, where the mayor delivered his speech, is Downtown Flushing. There, the ideal of the mayor's Long-Term Planning and Sustainability project is running up against the reality of New York City's current-day development boom.

Though Downtown Flushing is accessible by more than twenty bus lines and the number 7 train, two major new development projects, Flushing Commons and Flushing Town Center, have been planned with the assumption that people will come by car. Flushing Commons, a $500 million project which will include a hotel, retail, and community center, is being built on city-owned property. Flushing Town Center is a combination residential and retail complex whose $600 million cost is being helped along by a variety of state tax breaks. Together, the projects will create a net gain of 3,500 hundred parking spaces in Downtown Flushing, an amount more suitable for a suburban mega-mall than the most transit-friendly neighborhood in all of Queens.

New York has a reputation as a walking and public transportation city, and cutting commute times is one of the goals of the PLANYC 2030 project. Yet the city's recent development boom has included the planning and construction of tens of thousands of new parking spaces, many of which are being paid for by public money. New York City and State are, in essence, subsidizing a parking boom that, some experts say, may ensure decades of automobile dependence and traffic congestion no matter what Mayor Bloomberg's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability has to say about it.

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NYC Finally Cracking Down on Security Barriers

Security5.jpg In the aftermath of September 11th, concrete and steel barriers sprouted like  mushrooms around big buildings in New York City. It almost seemed to me to be a kind of status symbol. You knew you worked in an important building if your landlord had hardened it against truck bombs.

The barriers were often ugly and almost always stole vast tracts of sidewalk space from the public. Meanwhile, their security benefit was usually questionable. While annexing public space from the city's pedestrians the bollards did absolutely nothing to prevent a rental truck filled with explosives from rolling freely into Midtown (a camera-based congestion charging system like London's might help with that, however).

Jeff Zupan of the Regional Plan Association raised the issue here on Streetsblog in July with his short photo series of sidewalk-blocking bollards (here and here). He also wrote an excellent essay, Bombs, Barriers and Bollards for the RPA's Spotlight on the Region newsletter.

Five years after September 11th, the City has responded. Saturday's New York Times reports:

After evaluations by the New York Police Department, the city's Department of Transportation has demanded that many of the planters and concrete traffic medians known as jersey barriers be taken away. So far, barriers have been removed at 30 buildings out of an estimated 50 to 70 in the city.

Officials found that the barriers obstructed pedestrian flow and, in the case of planters, often ended up being used as giant ashtrays. Counterterrorism experts also concluded that in terms of safety, some of the barriers, which building owners put in of their own accord, might do more harm than good.

"Wherever possible, we want to avoid the appearance that the city is under siege or unwelcoming," Iris Weinshall, the city's transportation commissioner said in an e-mail message.

Photo: Jeff Zupan.