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Posts from the Mark Gorton Category


The Pedestrian Crush: It Doesn’t Have to Be Like This

Although there is undoubtedly an amazing streets renaissance going on in NYC, there still remain places in dire need of improvement. Every workday, heavily-used areas like the blocks surrounding Penn Station are overwhelmed with pedestrians making their way home via buses, subways, the Long Island Railroad and Amtrak. The sidewalks are so clogged by this "crush of humanity" that people are forced to walk in the streets. If you've never seen it, or if you're claustrophobic, get ready.

Open Planning Project Executive Director Mark Gorton recently went out to sample the atmosphere on a typical weekday evening and posits that we can do much better in how we choose to allocate street space. His words sum it up nicely:

The reason it's so crowded here is not because there's not enough space. It's because we give all of our space to the least spatially-efficient form of transportation available. 

Of course he is referring to the automobile -- especially the single-occupant vehicle. Oddly enough, I did a PSA over three years ago which aired during our New York City Streets Renaissance campaign launch. I filmed most of it in the same location. It still looks much the same, perhaps worse.


Streetfilms: Carmaggeddon Averted as Broadway Comes to Life

When New York City opened up new pedestrian zones in the heart of Midtown this summer, naysayers predicted a traffic nightmare. Nearly two months later, we're still waiting for the much-feared Carmaggedon.

In this video, Streetsblog publisher Mark Gorton takes us on a tour of Broadway's car-free squares and boulevard-style blocks, where conditions have improved dramatically for pedestrians, cyclists, and, yes, delivery truck drivers. As Mark says, the counterintuitive truth is that taking away space for cars can improve traffic while making the city safer and more enjoyable for everyone on foot. There are sound theories that help explain why this happens -- concepts like traffic shrinkage and Braess's paradox which are getting more and more attention thanks to projects like this one. While traffic statistics are still being collected by NYCDOT, there's already a convincing argument that Midtown streets are functioning better than before: To understand it, just take a walk down Broadway.


Streetfilms: A Conversation With Janette Sadik-Khan

In this exclusive Streetfilms interview, The Open Planning Project's Executive Director Mark Gorton talks with Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan about how her agency is redefining public space in New York City.

As the two take a walking tour of recently revamped streetscapes designed to encourage car-free movement and foster social activity -- including Broadway Boulevard, Gansevoort Plaza, Meat Market Plaza and the Ninth Avenue cycle track -- Sadik-Khan explains how she sees the city grid evolving from "utilitarian corridors" into civic amenities.

Too much of the time I think pedestrians have been seen as guests in this space. Putting a prime role for designing for people -- designing for pedestrians, designing for cyclists, designing for buses, designing for better mobility, designing for a more sustainable city -- is all part of the package.


Smart Para-Transit + Car Sharing = No Reason to Own a Car

Here is part four of Mark Gorton's essay, "Smart Para-Transit: A New Vision for Urban Transportation."


The Smart Para-Transit system I have described would be capable of replacing many of the automobile trips in the New York area. However, by itself, it would be insufficient to completely replace the need to own a car for many New Yorkers. If Smart Para-Transit were paired with a car sharing program, most all driving scenarios would be covered, and this system would eliminate the need for car ownership for all but the most driving-intense New Yorkers. Zipcar is an example of a private car sharing service.

The interface between the car sharing system and the customer would be the same as with the Smart Para-Transit system. The user would simply go to a website or a cell phone and enter what sort of vehicle they would like and the length of time they need the vehicle. The user would then be told the location of a nearby vehicle that meets their needs. A premium service that drops the car at the customer’s door could even be provided at an extra cost.

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Eliminating Congestion Through Smart Para-Transit

Here is part three of Mark Gorton's essay, "Smart Para-Transit: A New Vision for Urban Transportation." 

The biggest constraints on the transportation capacity of New York City’s road networks are the bridges and tunnels. The river crossings are jammed with traffic for a good fraction of each day. The only way to get more throughput capacity out of New York’s existing bridges and tunnels is to use them more efficiently. A vehicle carrying multiple people is more spatially efficient than a single passenger car, so by having HOV lanes, our existing bridges and tunnels can move more people at no extra cost. The Lincoln Tunnel already employs dedicated bus lanes, and this concept can be expanded.

Smart Para-Transit all by itself could provide good transit options but would not have trip times superior to a private car. However, if the Para-Transit buses and vans had access to HOV lanes at the river crossings and other constraints in the road network, the Para-Transit system could provide trip times superior to the private car. The Para-Transit buses and vans could zip through the bridges and tunnels while the private cars sat stuck in traffic. With quality vehicles, faster trip times, and cost savings, many people in the New York region would happily switch from private automobiles to Smart Para-Transit.


Peer-to-Peer Mass Transit: How to Make it Work

Here is the second installment of Streetsblog publisher and LimeWire founder Mark Gorton's essay, "Smart Para-Transit: A New Vision for Urban Transportation." Part 1 is here and you can also download the complete pamphlet.


Advances in information and communications technology offer the possibility of optimizing the performance of our existing road network in ways that were not possible even ten years ago. The ubiquity of web-enabled cell phones has put a mobile data input device into the hands of the vast majority of citizens. By applying cell phone, internet, and computer technologies, New York now has the opportunity to create a system which can vastly speed travel times, increase the throughput of our road network, carry more people, while at the same time, radically reducing the number of vehicles on the road, gasoline usage, CO2 emissions, congestion, traffic, and the harm that traffic inflicts on our neighborhoods.

A new form of mass transit can be created that offers trip times highly competitive with the private automobile to nearly all points in the region. This new form of mass transit takes advantage of the existing road network and requires very little in the way of capital investment. This new form of transit is Smart Para-Transit.


gorton_pullquote.jpgThe past 100 years have seen New York City and the rest of the country spend huge amounts of money on road infrastructure improvements to serve automobiles. With the advantage of hindsight, neglecting investment in mass transit while promoting automobile usage may have been a poor policy decision; however, highways, bridges, tunnels, and roads have been built, and New York must now maximize the value it receives from the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on its surface transportation infrastructure.

Although cars have been a significant presence in our world for as long as anyone can remember, from a historical perspective, the automobile is still a relatively new invention. The first 100 years of our society’s infatuation with the automobile was spent without bothering to answer the key question: "Can we fit all the cars we need to move around?" Congestion and traffic jams are a way of life in New York. The previous answer to congestion was to build more roads, bridges, and tunnels; however, the added road capacity only encouraged more driving and led to even more congestion. Our society now knows that it is impossible to build its way out of its congestion problems.


Smart Para-Transit: A New Vision for Urban Transportation

This is the first article in a five-part series by Streetsblog publisher and LimeWire founder Mark Gorton:


Traffic is a crushing problem that oppresses our city, yet many people who drive into New York each day do not have a good alternative.

I'm an engineer by training and the traffic flow problems facing large cities today have many similarities to the engineering issues that I have encountered at LimeWire, the peer-to-peer file-sharing service that I founded. LimeWire involves many computers connected to each other passing messages around a network. Early in the development of LimeWire, the network was choking on its message traffic as each computer tried to send more messages than the network could collectively handle. The solution to this problem involved having each computer reduce its message traffic and organizing the network to take advantage of efficiencies that could be gained by designing a new computer network architecture.

spt_3rgb.jpgFrom a network management point of view, the road networks of New York and many other large cities are horribly engineered. The traditional traffic engineering solution to congestion problems is to try to increase capacity. However, similar problems in computer engineering are solved by reducing the underlying need for traffic. Biological systems, which are the most sophisticated systems on the planet, are extremely judicious in how they move things around.

Our surface transportation system today is premised upon the primacy of the private automobile, yet the private automobile is the single most inefficient means of moving people in a city. By catering to the private automobile, we have inadvertently made an engineering choice that maximizes danger, noise, pollution, and congestion and creates a host of other problems that suck the life out of our public spaces.

In less than ten years, with minimal capital expenditures, we can create a new form of mass transit that transforms the way we run our surface transportation system and drastically reduces the need to have private cars in New York City. I call this new form of mass transit Smart Para-Transit. Smart Para-Transit takes advantage of innovations in information and communication technology to create breathtaking increases in efficiency of our road network. My very rough initial estimate is that widespread adoption of Smart Para-Transit would allow for an 80 percent reduction in automobile traffic in New York City.

The basket of ideas involved in Smart Para-Transit are too long for one blog post. So I am serializing the explanation over the course of a week. For those of you who can’t wait, you can download and read the full description.


What Does Summer Streets Mean for Business?

All this relaxed foot traffic surely brought a smile to the face of many a retailer and restaurateur

While press coverage of Summer Streets has been generally positive, tales of the miffed muffler shop owner and complaining cabinet maker are bound to continue, as reporters hunt for naysayers to "balance" out their stories. But what will be the economic reality of Summer Streets? Here, Streetsblog Publisher Mark Gorton gives his account of Saturday lunch with the family at an outdoor café on Park Avenue and 51st Street.

The host told us that he could seat us, but that they couldn't put our order in for at least a half hour because the kitchen was so backed up. He said on a normal Saturday they would have had three or four tables occupied, but there were about 30 tables filled. He pointed and said, "Look, even the manager is taking tables." We were happy to wait, so we sat and ate. As I looked around the café, only a couple tables looked to be filled by bikers. My guess is that lots of people who would never have bothered to walk along Park Ave. on a Saturday suddenly found it an interesting place to be.

Most of the stories we've seen reflect Mark's experience: In general, businesses which rely on foot traffic expected and/or received a boost from Summer Streets. Streetsblogger Larry Littlefield has suggested altering the route to exclude more car-dependent enterprises, like furniture stores. What else could, or should, the city do -- if anything -- to take such businesses into account? And how did (or will) Summer Streets affect your spending habits?

Photo: Ben Fried


Eyes on the Street: T.A. Rings in Bike Month


L-R: DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, Transportation Alternatives Director Paul Steely White and Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe at this morning's Bike Month NYC event on 9th Avenue.

Benepe with White and Streetsblog Publisher Mark Gorton.

Photos: Will Sherman/Transportation Alternatives 


Testify! Public Hearings on Congestion Pricing Tonight

I've been accused of "droning on" about congestion pricing here on Streetsblog, and not just by hostile commenters. Even Mark Gorton, our publisher, has mentioned that he's sick of reading about it.

Still, we continue to spill all of this ink over congestion pricing because it is far and away the most important game in town. If you want better, safer bicycling; faster more reliable buses; more honorable treatment of pedestrians and public spaces and a healthier, more pleasant and sustainable New York City -- congestion pricing is the quickest, most effective way to make these changes happen.

That's because congestion pricing is the only policy that simultaneously reduces the number of motor vehicles on New York City's streets while raising money for transit and public space improvements. Typically, activists and change-makers deal in compromise and small incremental improvement. This moment is different. Congestion pricing creates an opportunity to make relatively revolutionary change happen relatively immediately. I don't expect this sort of opportunity to come along again any time soon. Now is the time to do everything we can to try to help push congestion pricing through the City Council and State Legislature.

Tonight's your chance to contribute. There will be six simultaneous public hearings held throughout the metropolitan region. Sign up ahead of time as a speaker and write up even just a paragraph or two of testimony. If you can go, go!

Here is a note from Transportation Alternatives executive director Paul Steely White with more details: