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Posts from the "Ted Kheel" Category

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In Memoriam: Ted Kheel, Transit Advocate and Visionary

The New York Times called Ted Kheel, who died Friday at the age of 96, New York City’s pre-eminent labor peacemaker from the 1950s through the 1980s. And he was. Ted was also a steadfast advocate for civil rights, a fierce champion of mass transit, a stalwart defender of labor, an urbanist, a philanthropist, and a visionary. And, for the better part of a century, a vital element of progressive struggle in New York and beyond.

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Kheel was an ally of Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders.

Ted became famous in the 1950s and 1960s as the mediator who settled newspaper strikes, railroad strikes and other high-stakes disputes. He was a fixture in The Times — his square jaw and determined face signifying probity and civic virtue. But much of his finest work was done out of the spotlight. It was Ted’s heretical but constant agitation to allocate surplus toll revenues from Robert Moses’s Triborough Bridge & Tunnel Authority to the financially ailing public transit agencies, that in 1968 led NY Gov. Nelson Rockefeller to combine the TBTA with the Transit Authority and the commuter railroads into the MTA — and destroy Moses’s power to fund highways and starve transit.

Ted’s transit advocacy rested on what he called “the fundamental principle that car travel and mass transit are interrelated, like two sides of an equation. There should be a balance,” he wrote, “but instead, our system is enormously, unconscionably out of balance,” causing road gridlock on the one hand and inadequate transit service on the other. Ted fought for five decades to correct that imbalance, with stories in New York magazine like “How To Stop Cars from Devouring the City” [PDF]; with a self-financed lawsuit [PDF] to overturn bond covenants through which the Port Authority enjoined itself from expanding mass transit, that Ted pursued all the way to the Supreme Court (losing on a tie vote); and, in his final years, with an even more audacious venture that would draw me into his orbit and point the way to a new transit revolution with the potential to surpass that of 1968.

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Wanted: Crowd-Sourced Transportation Analysis

My recent post refuting David Owen's attack on congestion pricing ignited a long, rich thread. Here's one comment, from "Jonathan," that struck a nerve:

[A] cordon-pricing plan … which doesn't charge center-city residents could result in an increase in those residents' automobile use. If the streets are free of outer-borough traffic, more of my Manhattan neighbors might drive to work, or simply make extra automobile trips within the cordon that without CP [congestion pricing], they would have made by subway or taxi.

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Jonathan's right: Any Manhattan cordon-pricing scheme will lead to an uptick in car trips that start and end within the charging zone. It's one of those "rebound effects" that congestion-price modeling needs to account for, and which I've taken pains to incorporate in my Balanced Transportation Analyzer pricing model.

Indeed, I daresay that the BTA handles just about every issue ever raised on this blog about congestion pricing. How many transit users will switch to cabs? Will variable tolls really flatten rush-hour peaks? Won't faster roads lure back the trips killed off by the toll (Owen's conundrum)? And many more.

Technically, the BTA is a spreadsheet. But I think of it as a vast mansion, whose 46 interlinked "rooms" (worksheets) are stocked with precious data and ingenious algorithms for cracking open questions like these:

  • How does congestion on weekends compare with weekdays?
  • How sharply do traffic speeds rise as volumes fall?
  • Which boroughs and counties stand to pay the most with congestion pricing?
  • Will a cordon toll lead to more bicycling, and will that improve public health?
  • Can decommissioning vehicle lanes increase congestion pricing's benefits?
  • Which will boost transit use more: lower fares or better service?
  • How many fares does a cabbie get in a ten-hour taxi shift, with and without pricing?

Multiply that list a hundredfold and you get a sense of the BTA's hidden treasures.

I say "hidden" because, except for a few mavens like "Gridlock" Sam Schwartz, who calls it "the best [modeling] tool that I have seen in my nearly 40 years," the Balanced Transportation Analyzer remains largely untapped by advocates. To me, it's as if we're all starving while this rich storehouse next door goes to waste.

Which prompts me to ask: Why is the BTA so underused? Is our community missing out on a valuable tool? What should we do about it?

Let's make this an open thread, with emphasis on what can we do together to make the BTA more accessible and useful to New York's livable streets community. (The model is adaptable to other cities, so those of you not from NYC are also invited.)

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Bloomberg Tests Free-Transit Waters

Mayor Bloomberg lifted a page straight from the Kheel Plan playbook yesterday in calling on the MTA to make crosstown buses free [PDF]. Bus riders and transit advocates should be beaming.

m14.jpgPhoto of M14 bus: Kriston Lewis/Flickr.
Free buses will save bus riders time and money and will benefit everyone by luring some taxi and car users to transit and easing traffic gridlock. Ted Kheel recognized this as far back as the 1960s. Over the past year, he and I have quantified the benefits from free buses, and they're striking:

  • MTA Bus engineers recently clocked "dwell time" -- those maddening seconds and minutes taken up by passenger boarding -- on the Bx12 Limited route from 207th Street to Co-op City. A typical run takes 56 minutes and 17 seconds, with passenger stops consuming 16 minutes and 16 seconds -- nearly 30 percent. The engineers found that doing away with fare collection could slash dwell time on the Bx12 to 2 minutes 36 seconds: an 84 percent reduction and a 24 percent saving in total trip time.
  • The combination of free fare and speedier service -- including less waiting, since faster buses would arrive more quickly -- would attract many more riders. We estimate 28 percent more (16 percent from the fare savings, 12 percent from the time savings).
  • The 28 percent gain in ridership wouldn’t require more buses, even on crowded routes, since the average fare-free bus would travel 32 percent faster. (That 24 percent time saving equates mathematically to a 32 percent speedup.) In effect, absent the human gridlock to collect fares, buses could complete four runs in the time it now takes to do three.

To be sure, these numbers aren't fully proven. The speed gains were measured on one bus route among hundreds, and the imputed boosts to ridership are based on elasticity studies from years ago. But the numbers make intuitive sense. And they're certainly impressive. We place the time savings to bus riders alone at $460 million a year, even valuing passengers' time at a meager nine bucks an hour. The additional travel-time savings to motorists from attracting even a modest number of drivers to transit buses would probably be worth far more.

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Whither the MTA: Beyond the Failed Stopgap

This week’s MTA vote won’t just cost New Yorkers 25 percent more per ride, it will also be costly in lost time.

Using the Balanced Transportation Analyzer (BTA), I estimate that the fare hikes and service cuts which begin June 1 will:

  • Add an average of 6 percent more waiting and travel time to bus and subway commutes; which will...
  • cause 40,000 more autos to pile into the Manhattan Central Business District each day; which will...
  • slow traffic by an average of 5 percent in the CBD and 1-2 percent across the City; costing...
  • drivers, truckers and bus riders $600 million in lost time annually within the CBD, and probably $1.5 billion or more citywide.

The one-two punch of higher fares and less frequent service can be expected to shrink subway use by around 8 percent and bus ridership by 6 percent. This is a calamity not only to our city's vitality but for the MTA as well, since it cuts deeply into the very revenue these measures were supposed to generate. Indeed, the BTA model projects that the real gain in farebox revenues won't even reach $500 million -- well under half of the projected $1.2 billion deficit.

The key criteria by which New York City transportation policies are judged are driver expenses, rider expenses, driver travel times and rider travel times. The MTA and the legislature have managed to worsen three out of four -- and, for good measure, have aggravated others, such as traffic pollution and mayhem. A stopped clock could hardly have done worse.

Advocates spent four months in feverish but fruitless campaigning for a stopgap solution -- the Ravitch Plan -- that was buoyed more by Dick Ravitch's sterling reputation than by its intrinsic merits. Indeed, the plan was rife with inequities:

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Beyond Ravitch: Still Time for a Bolder Plan

As Albany lawmakers ponder which of a half-dozen Ravitch plan variations they might support, the possibility looms that no solution may come in time. New Yorkers could see their fares rise 25 percent while service is cut back -- a twin catastrophe in this tough economic time. Yet no big new ideas are being advanced to protect mass transit users, which is why I believe the time has come for consideration of Ted Kheel’s and my traffic plan.

Our plan rests on three powerful attributes: revenue generation, tolling equality, and sheer efficiency. We achieve these with an inclusive pricing model that asks drivers to pay a fee ranging from $2 to $10 upon entering the Central Business District with the price dependent on the time of day, and charges taxi passengers for their contribution to congestion as well.

The basics:

  • Our toll plan generates $1.7 billion a year in revenue; that’s twice as much as the $800 million from Ravitch’s tolls, even though our top toll of $10 matches Ravitch’s $5 (we charge inbound only). As for Sheldon Silver’s $2 toll plan, it nets just $450 million.
  • Our plan has no free riders; oops, make that free drivers. Jersey drivers pay the toll, drivers entering the CBD at 60th Street pay the toll, and Manhattanites pay the lion’s share of a 33 percent taxi fare surcharge that raises a quarter of our total revenue. Under the Ravitch and Silver plans, East River drivers who make only 36 percent of crossings into the CBD would be coughing up 60 percent of new toll revenues.
  • Everyone wins something in our plan. Buses are free (paid for by $800 million of our $1.7 billion revenue pot). Straphangers get deep off-peak discounts (paid for by the rest -- though some of the reductions might need to be deferred to help stanch the MTA deficit) and a bit more elbow-room in rush hour due to peak-spreading. Drivers get a 20 percent traffic speed-up in the CBD (faster travel “upstream” too), while the variable toll offers a measure of choice.
  • Free and faster-moving buses will achieve three goals. They’ll lure enough drivers and straphangers out of gridlocked streets and packed trains to ease crowding on both. By stopping drip-torture boarding that halts movement during Metrocard-swiping, they’ll traverse their routes fast enough to handle the influx. And they’ll provide a huge break to riders across the city, a disproportionate percentage of whom live in poorer, non-Manhattan neighborhoods.

Too good to be true? No, it’s real, the numbers have been checked and re-checked, the plan works.

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Kheel Planners: MTA Austerity a Recipe for Gridlock Hell

gridlock_alert_1.jpgNew Yorkers can expect more misery on the streets as well as underground if the MTA has to follow through on the austerity measures it unveiled yesterday. The transportation analysts behind the Kheel Plan -- the congestion pricing variant that balances higher driver fees with free transit -- calculate that the likely combination of service cuts and higher fares and tolls will put tens of thousands more cars on the road:

Kheel's team reported these likely consequences from a combination of a 25% across-the-board subway-and-bus fare hike and proposed service cuts, along with a $1.00 increase in MTA bridge and tunnel tolls:

  • An additional 30,000 cars (a 4 percent increase) driven into the City’s most congested streets
  • A 6 percent drop in subway ridership and a 4 percent drop in bus ridership;
  • A 4 percent decrease in already snail-paced traffic speeds

The figures derive from an updated version of the Balanced Transportation Analyzer, the Kheel planners' number-crunching algorithm. The new BTA will be unveiled shortly, together with a revised Kheel Plan, "with time-varying tolls and subway fares sufficient to close the MTA deficit and fund vital expansions." That means the new plan will include the option to charge fares during peak times, spokesman Mark Hannah told Streetsblog. (Charles Komanoff outlined the revisions on Streetsblog this June.)

Free transit was not bandied about much at the Ravitch Commission's public hearings in September, but Kheel's team sees a window of opportunity in the next election. "Our major goal is to make our plan an issue in the 2009 campaign," Hannah said, noting that several electeds have reacted positively to the Kheel proposal. "It's a matter of, at this point, getting a champion."

Meanwhile, for all you wonks in the audience, follow the jump for more information on the methodology behind the projections.

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“Kheel Plan II” to Revive Free Transit Proposal for ’09 Races

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“In for a penny, in for a pound” is how the Brits express what we Americans less elegantly call “the whole hog”: why do something halfway when you might as well go all the way?

That’s the thinking behind Ted Kheel’s free-transit proposal. If an $8 congestion fee, as unsuccessfully proposed recently by Mayor Bloomberg, infuriated drivers, Kheel reasons, then let’s go the whole hog and charge $16 to drive into Manhattan. Drivers are already as mad as they’re going to get about any congestion charge. With $16, we won’t stir up twice as many hornets, but we’ll raise twice the revenue — enough to finance universal free transit throughout the five boroughs and disarm the faux-populists who sank Mayor Bloomberg’s more modest plan.

In retrospect, it seems clear that Bloomberg's plan appeared to too many people to be “all stick.” There wasn’t enough direct and concrete payoff, for anybody, to attract wide public support. The Kheel Plan remedies this defect with the very considerable, tangible, obvious "carrot" of free transit.

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Kheel to Push Free Transit Pricing Plan in ’09 Mayoral Race

As former deputy mayor and Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission Chair Marc Shaw predicts that congestion pricing may re-emerge soon in the form a proposal to toll 60th Street and the East River bridges, the Daily Politics reports that Ted Kheel is planning to put up $1 million to promote his free transit plan heading into the 2009 mayoral election.

"If I was half my age, I would run for mayor in 2009 on the issue," said the 93-year-old Kheel, who has already met with what a spokesman described as "one serious mayoral contender who showed interest in the free transit idea," although he declined to reveal which would-be candidate that was.

Kheel plans a multifaceted campaign to keep congestion pricing in the news that will include advertising and coalition building. No further details were immediately available.

"I now see free mass transit as the key to the resolution of traffic congestion, a problem cities throughout the world face, I am now prepared to spend an additional million dollars to save the city I was born in from choking on automobiles."

The Kheel plan would double the proposed congestion charge for private autos to $16 ($32 for trucks) and eliminate transit fares.

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Kheel Plan Getting Lots of Play, Except Where It Counts

With Michael Bloomberg expressing doubts about an apparently favored proposal to move the congestion pricing boundary south to 60th Street, Newsday columnist Ellis Henican challenged the mayor yesterday to get behind the Kheel free transit plan.

[T]his is the giant carrot to accompany Bloomberg's congestion-pricing stick. Charge $16 instead of $8, the authors suggest - and add parking and taxi surcharges. Really make the drivers pay. Then take that money and make all the buses and subway free.

Bold enough for you?

Henican talked with lead author and Streetsblog contributor Charles Komanoff, who said the same approach could be applied to the LIRR, Metro-North and Jersey Transit.

Meanwhile, there's a lively discussion going on over at Second Ave. Sagas, where blogger Benjamin Kabak says he likes the Kheel plan, a lot, but sees it as too good to be true.

People in New York City are, stupidly, married to their cars. They demand below-market, on-street parking. They demand access to roads at the expense of wide sidewalks and bike lanes. They demand access to roads at the expense of common-sense bus rapid transit lanes. They demand the right to drive as though it were protected by the Constitution, and this is simply a misguided and harmful attitude.

But sadly, the ideal society where a Kheel plan could pass because it would negatively impact the people who could afford and positively impact the people who need it doesn't exist. Ted Kheel should be applauded for his vision, and his plan deserves as much attention as anything under consideration now. It's groundbreaking; it's visionary; it would work; and it just won't happen.

Setting aside the Kheel plan's chances of being taken seriously by the mayor and the Congestion Mitigation Commission, before it's over they may be among the few who aren't at least talking about it.

In related news, a new program in Chicago that will allow seniors 65 and up to take transit for free has been deluged with applicants. The AP, via WTHI in Terre Haute, IN, reports that "Governor Rod Blagojevich says response has been so strong that the state is adding a second toll-free number to accommodate callers who are registering for the program."

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Kheel Planners Detail Free Transit Proposal


Yesterday, Theodore "Ted" Kheel's traffic plan was officially unveiled with a 52-page report (pdf) outlining his proposal to make transit free via a round-the-clock $16 congestion charge for cars ($32 for trucks) entering Manhattan below 60th Street. The report says Kheel's "Bolder Plan" would cut CBD traffic by 25 percent, and traffic citywide by nearly 10 percent, all while increasing mass transit funding and decreasing the number of overcrowded trains and buses.

Skeptical? So was lead author Charles Komanoff, he says, until he delved into the data. Not only do the numbers add up, Komanoff writes, the Kheel plan offers an irresistible political hook:

Don Shoup wrote recently that the dilemma confronting congestion pricing is not that opposition is too high, but that support is too low. Free transit resolves this dilemma by offering as tangible a benefit as one can imagine. As I said last week to a legislator from Central Brooklyn who has lined up against the mayor's congestion pricing plan, "Are you really going to tell your constituents that you walked away from a plan that would let them ride the trains and buses for free?" I wish you'd seen his double-take, followed by: "Um, okay, what's this Kheel Plan again, and how exactly is it going to work?"

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