Closed Proposal

NYC Congestion

Summary

From October 21, 2015 to January 8, 2016, people affected by congestion in the NYC area could use this site to learn about and discuss the causes and possible solutions. The public discussion is being compiled and will be submitted to local and state officials and transportation advisory groups.

Congestion is hardly a new problem, but there’s been some new activity around finding answers. The Mayor and Uber reached a temporary truce that involves a study of the impact of Uber and other for-hire vehicles and advice from a new Technology Advisory Group of transportation policy, economics and other experts. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer held a large public hearing, where transit officials, commercial transportation providers, mass transit advocates, traffic engineers, and economists offered data and debated what the City and State should do. Council Member and City Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez, speaking at NYU's Rudin Center for Transportation Policy, released a set of proposals for making transportation safer and more efficient.

With all this attention on what the experts think, it's time to bring the people into the discussion. Share your experiences and on-the-ground knowledge. Help evaluate the various proposed solutions and add your own ideas--so that policymakers are also hearing the voice of the people who know first-hand about NYC congestion.

Discussion 1. Congestion Contributors: Private Vehicles? - 36

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Subtopics

1|Personal vehicles: Who's using them to commute, and why? - 10

According to NYC-DOT (PDF), the average number of vehicles entering Manhattan's CBD every weekday has dropped slightly from 778,000 in 2010 to 731,000 in 2013 (the latest data available). But even with fewer vehicles, average traffic speed has slowed from 9.35 mph (2010) to 8.51 mph (2014). That may not sound like much, but when almost three-quarters of a million vehicles are trying to move, even small losses in average speed have big effects. (You can see NYC's urban mobility scorecard (PDF)," calculated by Texas A&M's Transportation Institute, and compare it with other Eastern cities.) According to one study (PDF), congestion costs NYC about $16 billion a year in productive time lost during commuting. Also, vehicle emissions are a major source of pollution, as the City is trying to cut 80% of its greenhouse gas by 2050.

What to see lots of data on persons and vehicles entering the CBD over time? Go NYMTC online and select Data & Models, then Hub Bound Travel.

Of course, not all vehicles entering the CBD are personal automobiles. (You can read and talk about the impact of other kinds of vehicles in Topic 2 - e-hail and FHVs and Topic 3 -Trucks, buses, etc. But private vehicles get a lot of attention when it comes to reducing congestion because they're the least efficient way to move people in and out of the City--especially when the car is carrying only 1 person.

The next two subtopics of this post discuss ideas for reducing the number of private vehicles in Manhattan, but maybe it's important first to know more about why people are driving into the City. Using census data, a recent study found that commuters who rely on private cars tend to be either (1) from middle- to high-income households with poor public transit options (e.g., Staten Island; eastern Queens), or (2) from middle-income households with average public transit options. (The same study found that other medium and high household-income commuters tend to use a combination of public transit and taxi or e-hail services like Uber. See Topic 2 - e-hail and FHVs) to discuss these services. Low-income households use public transit where it's available--and are just out of luck where it isn't).

If you drive to and from Manhattan for work, why do you chose to drive? Have you considered other forms of transportation? What would make you switch?

When government officials are thinking about solutions to congestion, what factors do you think are most important, e.g. length of travel time, reasons for driving, access to public transportation?

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we don't own a car but on the 1-2 occasions a year that we RENT one there is never a place to park in our neighborhood, yet the locals continually claim these free spaces - there should be a limit on local parking and car use in Manhattan proper, we are in affordable housing so the paying to park over night is a huge expense which could be eliminated by some sort of system that allowed everyone the opportunity to park on the street and drive in town here but not every single day like one is entitled to this, some kind of voucher system, also just too many cars, we live by West Street and the excessive number of vehicles with one driver frequently on a cell phone is insane, mandatory car pooling needs to be put into place here to cut back on this traffic and more enforcement of the phone distraction, it's not about someone else's convenience at the expense of someone else's air quality

Thanks for your comment, Anita. One way to reduce the number of cars in the city is to introduce congestion pricing, which you can read more about in subtopic 2 on this page. Basically, drivers would have to pay a toll—like you would if you crossed a bridge—to drive into central Manhattan. Hopefully, that would give drivers a good reason to use the bus or subway. Another way to reduce congestion: the city could ban private vehicles from entering Man, which you can read about in subtopic 4 on this page. Which would you prefer, considering that you occasionally rent a car? Or do you have a different idea?

P.S. To read more about cutting down on distracted driving and other annoying driving habits, check out topic 3, subtopic 4.

The biggest problem i find with traffic in the CBD is parking. Usually individual driving along the streets are looking for a space to park their vechile. Parking is a litmited resource yet it is managed like an unlimited right. Since the price of parking does not shift with demand it incentivizes people to park for as long as possible. If parking spaces were priced more accuratly with demand, indiviudals would park for shorter intervals, allowing more people to use the same space over a given amount of time. Since less people now while be looking for parking while driving, traffic should also decrease as well.

Welcome to the discussion, jonbranch99. It sounds like your time-of-day pricing idea for parking would be part of the solution to NYC congestion. You may want to take a look at sub-topic 2 (the section on congestion pricing immediately below).

One proposal has suggested restricting on-street parking to commercial deliveries. Presumably, other vehicles would have to park in garages. What do you think of this proposal?

The site that you hae referred me to makes a number of excellent points. From reading it and other comments on thos site i firmly beleive a hollisitc approach would serve NYC best in fighting congestion. That entails SmartPark refrom,expanding loading zones, expanding the parking tax and abolish the exemptions, complete streets for all arterial roadways and enacting Move NY in its entirety.

There are several neighborhoods in Manhattan where on-street parking is restricted to commercial vehicles only between 7am-7pm: the area between the empire state building and the central library, for example.

Using this as a case study, are the goals set out in the car free plan from restricting parking acheived there?

In the rare occurance that I drive into the city, it is usually because depending on the time of day it is the quickest way in, the most convienant. If I drive before 7:30am I can get to E Midtown in 20 minutes ($16 tolls + $25 parking) vs 30-45mins on the Ftrain ($5.25).

Factors that are most important are availablity and access. People drive when it is convienant. If MTA subway and buses were free for NYC residents this would go a long way to incentivizing residents to take mass transit.

I own a car but rarely do I ever drive into the Manhattan central business district during peak hours. I live in the Southeast Bronx and definitely prefer to take the subway or bike. Personal automobiles should especially be limited within the CBD due to congestion and public health issues. Areas outside the CBD also need to be taken into consideration and require substantially more traffic calming and alternative uses of public space. This space could be dedicated to other uses such as: physically seperated pedestrian space, bus only lanes and bicycle lanes. Additionally, NYC should increase the number of loading zones within existing parking to reduce double parking, reconfigure streets to increase safety, and increase automated enforcement via cameras. The city needs congestion pricing, toll balancing (both MoveNY), a residential parking permit system, variable tolling, zoning that bans autocentric construction, and needs to remove parking minimums.

I should add that I utilize my car for intra-borough trips more than anything. In the Bronx we lack efficient cross-Bronx mass transportation. It can take over an hour via bus to get from neighborhoods like Castle Hill to Morris Heights.

In the Bronx we need more agressive implimentations of SBS in more locations. Physically seperated bus only lanes where feasable, off board payment, elevated platforms for those with limited mobility, traffic light priority, etc.

More protected bicycle lanes would also encourage more New Yorkers to give it a try and realize the benefits of utilization. Most trips in this city are short, and here in the Bronx many arteries have aggressive traffic with little enforcement. Traffic calming would go a long way and is happening but slowly and not aggressively enough.

Public health should be priority. All other modes (buses and bikes) should have priority of personal automobiles.

Nick, thank you for your comments; you seem to have thought a lot about these issues. With the personal details and Bronx-specific knowledge you give as well, they should provide room for a comparative discussion.

2|Reducing the number of cars through congestion pricing - 10

Congestion charges are often proposed as way to reduce the number of vehicles in an area. These charges can take a lot of forms. One of the most common is "time of day" pricing that increases road tolls or parking fees during times of heaviest use. With new traffic monitoring technology, it's possible to adjust prices whenever volume goes up. (Uber's "surge pricing" is an example you can discuss in Topic 2.3 - Ride share services. "Cordon charges" impose a fee for crossing the boundary of a highly congested zone, like center city. Some cities in Europe and Asia use cordon charges, and Mayor Bloomberg proposed this unsuccessfully in 2008 as a way to reduce congestion in the CBD.

Traffic experts like congestion pricing because it imposes the costs of congestion directly on the vehicles causing it. But such charges tend to be really unpopular with the public -- although a 2013 study in Washington DC (PDF) found that people were more positive if (1) the money from congestion charges was dedicated to providing transportation alternatives and (2) there were transparency and accountability measures in place to make sure this really happened. A recent survey of NYC-area residents (PDF) similarly found that people are much more positive if (i) money from new charges reliably goes to public transit improvements, and (ii) they think that the proposal can improve road and bridge speed and condition.

Some people worry that congestion pricing unfairly hurts hurt middle-income drivers more that wealthy drivers. (NYC's low-income commuters are generally using public transit, not driving.) Others respond that this is a problem only when drivers don't have public transit alternatives: if people drive when they could use public transit, they should be prepared to pay for their choice. A different concern is that congestion-zone type charges could lead commuters to "dump" their cars on streets of neighborhoods right outside the zone and use public transit for the rest of their commute. However, a study done by WEACT for the 2008 proposal (PDF) concluded it was very unlikely that many drivers would find it worthwhile to park above the cordon line just to save the difference between the congestion charge and subway or bus fare--especially if they had to pay to park or spend time cruising to find free street parking. The study notes that "dumping" concerns didn't materialize when London and Stockholm instituted congestion pricing, in part because of proactive steps like starting residential parking permits for nearby streets.

Do you think congestion charges should be part of the solution to NYC congestion? Which kind would be fairest and most effective?

In your mind, are there conditions that would make a CBD cordon charge system more acceptable? (For example, use the money to provide good public transit alternatives for those now driving; start residential parking permits in surrounding areas).

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Are carpool lanes a viable alternative to congestion pricing? I have seen these lanes in a couple of different formats. Some are strictly high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lanes that require all cars to have 2 or more occupants to use the lane (some cities also allow for motorcycles, buses, and/or alternative fuel vehicles to use the lanes with only a single occupant). Other carpool pool lanes allow either HOVs or toll-pass holders to use the lanes for a fee. This fee can also be tied to surge-type pricing to incentivize people to either carpool or take mass transit during high-congestion periods. It seems a more targeted strategy like this could be more palatable to the public than a blanket congestion charge that hits everyone, even carpoolers.

Thank you for your comment, EverCommutes. The The FHA released a report noting HOV/HOT lanes as the most viable option to reduce congestion. Do you think such options could completely replace congestion pricing and still get similar results?

I don't know enough about the issue to say for sure. I can imagine that a combination of solutions could be helpful (up to a point; too many could cause confusion). I would bet that studies of the number of drivers who currently commute vs. those who drive alone would be helpful. Plus NYC would have to determine whether taxis, ubers, etc. could use the HOVs.

Yes please! NYC missed a golden opportunity to implement this under Bloomberg when it would have come with millions of dollars from the federal government! Just look to London, congestion pricing is smart.

Congestion pricing is a must for NYC. Time of day, and cordon/zone pricing should be in effect.

The congestion price funds should go into making NYC mass transit free to use.

I feel that parking permits for residents would only serve a small percentage of NYC residents. If transit was free and access was abundant, why would one need a vehicle.

Congestion pricing should be a part of the solution. However, it should be implimented throughout the day to maintain balanced pricing of the tolls. Automobiles entering the central business district should pay the most and those utilizing outer crossings should pay comparitively less due to more limit transportation options at this time. We want them to circumvent the CBD if they do not need to enter. Perhaps in the future other commercial cores could also recieve congestion pricing boundaries, such as Downtown Brooklyn.

Ensuring the public that all collected funding would be dedicated to transportation improvements would go a long way. Additionally, a residential parking permit system could alleviate concerns about excess parking near mass transportation stations outside the CBD. As congestion further decreases, the city could begin to increasingly reallocate dedicate automotive space to other uses as occured in London.

You say that congestion charges tend to be really unpopular with the public. What we learn from both Stockholm and London is that, yes, this is true *before* the charges are implemented. People don't like the idea of paying for something that was once free to them. After implementation, however, both cities saw approval skyrocket, as residents saw firsthand how wonderful it was to have a congestion-free city.

In Stockholm, for example, only 36% of the region's residents favored the program before it was implemented. This is even worse than approval rates for the Move NY program, which stood at 44% in May 2015. Politicians were convinced the congestion pricing program would amount to political suicide, and residents predicted dire consequences including license plate theft, toll evasion, and mass exoduses from the region.

But a remarkable thing happened *after* the program was implemented: there was a complete reversal in public opinion. By the end of 2007, just a few months after the scheme was permanently implemented, 65% of residents viewed the program favorably. This number has only increased since that time; by 2013, the approval rate was at nearly 75%.

All of this is to say that public opinion should not be a barrier to good policy. Yes, it may be difficult to push the legislation through, and there might be some political fallout in the short-term. But as soon as New Yorkers see firsthand the benefits of a congestion pricing program -- which would happen almost overnight -- their opinions will change dramatically. Residents would see how wonderful it is to not be woken up by a cacophany of car horns. They would experience how great it is to travel smoothly down formerly gridlocked streets. They would know how great it is to have a well-funded, world-class public transportation system. Business owners would reap the financial benefits of serving one or more additional clients every day because their employees spend more time working and less time sitting in traffic.

All of the above happened in London and in Stockholm, and there's no reason to believe it wouldn't happen in New York as well.

Welcome to the discussion, anbalmer! The situation you noted in Stockholm is interesting. Could you provide a link to the study that produced the results you mentioned? The data would be useful to look at relative to the Move NY plan.

Thanks! Most of the numbers I cited came from this study: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0965856408001638

And this is also a nice presentation about Stockholm's program (PDF)
http://www.apta.com/mc/internationalpracticum/previous/2014/presentation...

3|Reducing congestion by increasing telecommuting and flextime? - 4

According to a March 2015 report by the City's Comptroller (PDF), New York City workers face longer commute times than workers in any other of the 30 largest U.S. cities. At an average commute of 6 hours, 18 minutes per week, NYC workers have the dubious honor of beating out No. 2: San Francisco at 4 hrs., 57 minutes. The report also found that workers have little flexibility in their schedules--which forces most to commute at prime times.

It's not easy to get a handle on the number of metropolitan area workers who telecommute or have flextime options. An analysis of 2005-2014 American Community Survey census data found that 2.5% of workers nationally telecommute (defined as working for someone else, rather than being self-employed). This percentage has more than doubled since 2005, but it's still tiny. Data from the same source paint a surprising picture of the "typical" telecommuter: a 49-year-old college graduate — man or woman — who earns about $58,000 a year and belongs to a company with more than 100 employees. Some studies argue that telecommuting is better for employers, employees and the environment, and estimate that the current number of telecommuters nationwide (3.69 million) could grow to 19 million by 2021 (PDF).

Double taxation is a significant problem some non-NY residents face if they telecommute from NYC jobs. And so maybe changing the NY State Tax Code would help, but what about things over which employers and employees have more direct control:

Does your employer allow telecommuting for most workers? If so, do most eligible people take advantage of it? What steps might lead more people to take this option?

If your employer doesn’t allow telecommuting, can you think of arguments or incentives that might change this policy?

What about a flextime policy?

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Telecommuting is available on a limited bases. If it was rolled out in a major way, most people I work with drive in and live in NJ so the office would be empty.

My employer does offer flex time, but only as a work-life balance benefit. Allowing people to arrive late/work late would only encourage people to drive in.

Thanks for your comment, jamesarrufat. Can you talk a little more about your company's flextime policy? Are there ways that the policy could be adapted to encourage more people to take public transit vs. driving in?

Flex time is generally reserved for employees who have gotten approvals from department heads to; work any 8 hours in a day, or work a compressed 10hr 4 day work week with one day off. It isn't encouraged and the approval process is lengthly. It is affectionately (unoffically) referred to as the Mommy Track carrer plan.

The company participates in TransitChek allowing pretax dollars to be used for transit via a Visa prepaid card. Although I know that many employees use this card to pay for parking as well.

My company (retail) has made some efforts to mobilize employees. For example all central employees were given laptops and email and systems access from a employee owned smart phone.

In my mind the biggest incentive to taking mass transit would be if it was the most cost effective/most convenient solution.

Not exactly telecommuting but the city could work with employers to create staggard commute times. This way transportation is not overwhelmed during certain hours of the day. The traditional 9-5 is becoming obsolete, especially when taking into consideration the analytical service industries.

4|Towards a carless Manhattan? - 12

The basic goal of congestion pricing is to reduce the number of vehicles that enter a congested area. But some people would go further and ban personal vehicles completely in Manhattan. Although it sounds pretty drastic, this idea has been around for awhile, including in a famous 1961 essay by Paul Goodman (PDF). Other cities, including Paris and Dublin, are seriously considering banning private cars from the city center, although sometimes (e.g., Madrid) bans apply only to non-residents bringing cars into the area.

What are the likely costs, and the likely benefits, of banning all private cars from Manhattan's CBD? What about if the ban applied only to non-residents?

A less drastic proposal would remove the residential parking surtax exemption, to stop subsidizing car ownership by Manhattan residents. (Now residents pay a 10.375% tax for parking, instead of the 18.375% others pay.) This idea has been part of several congestion-reducing proposals: for example, the Livable City Transport Plan (2002), Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free (2007). Most recently, it's a small part of the Move NY Fair Plan (the rest of which you can discuss in Topic 4 - Move NY Plan. Move NY estimates that eliminating the exemption would add about $15 million a year to a new fund for public transit and road improvements--which is a pretty small amount compared with what's needed. (See Topic 5 - Money Problems.Solutions) Move NY argues that getting rid of the exemption is important in principle, to "ensure that the responsibility for contributing to our transportation infrastructure is shared by all residents of the region." (PDF, p.23) Other people have argued it's unfair for commuters from outer boroughs to have to pay more for parking than Manhattan residents, who probably have a higher income.

If congestion is really a problem, does it make sense for Manhattan to encourage people to own cars by giving them tax breaks--or are there other reasons why the resident exemption is good policy?

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*This was such an interesting comment, that we created a new post to talk about telecommuting. Reducing congestion by increasing telecommuting and flextime?*
The problem with NY is the working culture. White-collar workers think they need show up at the office to prove their value for the company, but in fact much of their work can be done from distance.
If NY city convince some of the larger companies to home-shore their labour a couple of days per week, this would solve not only problems with congestion. Probably it would be healthier for the workers not having to commute every day.

It's necessary to reduce the amount of on-street parking in Manhattan. More blocks should be designated as no parking, at least on one side. Meters are necessary to have people pay for using the public space.

private cars are fine in CBD, just stop subsidizing their use.

1) MoveNY

2) Gov't employees have no placards, zero, even the Mayor

3)) eliminate all free curbside parking in all of Manhattan would be a start.

ON A CBD PERSONAL CAR BAN: I don't own a car, but I also don't think it's realistic to ban personal cars throughout the entire CBD. The CBD is very large and encompasses many residential neighborhoods. I can conceive of endless special situations where a private car may be nessesary, especially given their necessity outside of city limits. However a personal car ban in the densest business districts, like the financial district or midtown, does make sense. Few actually live there, they are small enough that they can be walked into if one parks outside of the zone, and they are the most likely destination of current personal car commuters. Basically I see a below-60th St car ban as becoming very problematic and contested due to the diverse districts within that large area, while focusing a ban on the commuter districts would be easier to accomplish while achieving the same ends.

ON RECLAIMING PUBLIC RESOURCES: I feel that one of the most obvious and straightforward steps we could take to reduce congestion in the CBD is simply eliminate free on-street parking, as this does nothing but incentivize personal car use while simultaniously wasting public resources and contributing to congestion as drivers circle the block crossing their fingers for a free spot. In fact, I'm of the opinion that ALL business districts in NYC should meter all public parking. I read a study several years back estimating that NYC meters less than 8% of it's on-street parking, and that the city has no official count of on-street parking spots. Let's get an up-to-date census of our 'parking lane' assets and work to meter at least all those spaces outside of residential zones, perhaps keeping them somewhat pricier than commerical parking garages in order to incentivize the use of off-street parking first. Almost every street in the CBD currently loses two lanes of traffic to publicly-subsidized parking, not only is that a counter-productive incentive, it is also an unfair use of public resources. I should add: Google tells me that the average price per square foot of real estate in midtown east is currently $1,367. If the footprint of a 12 ft x 6 ft vehicle is 72 square feet, parking it on the street in midtown makes free, sedentary use $98,424 worth of property.

"Carless" sounds ecotopian but still inspires as an ideal. How about building some super-efficient compact National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)-type parking garages around Manhattan's periphery and totally ban curbside parking with all the suffocating blight it brings? The City would collect revenues from such garages (and going after motorists to pony up on unpaid parking tickets would become moot) and perhaps provide low-cost, frequent shuttle buses to the nearest transit locations. This would also relieve motorists' stress re finding vehicle storage for the day. And: Let's dedicate freed-up curbside space everywhere to more tree plantings, safer and more enjoyable pedestrian passage, and more bicycle lanes.

Welcome to the discussion, David, and thanks for your comment. As I understand it, you propose banning curbside parking throughout Manhattan and having everyone park in garages on Manhattan's periphery. Would this impose an additional cost on Manhattan residents, who presumably would have to drive to a parking garage and then find a way back?

Yes, get the private cars out! Aside from police presence, my best couple days commuting via bicycle was when the Pope was in town because all the private cars stayed home!

Welcome to the discussion, kspo­_bk! As you suggested, banning private vehicles altogether may very well lessen congestion in the city. Aside from an outright ban on private cars, what other vehicle limiting options would you suggest?

Rather than ban personal cars, time restrictions on commercial vehicles should be enacted.

In no way should the city be subsidizing car ownership in NYC.

The city should ban automobiles from certain sections. The Financial District comes to mind as a great canidate. Additionally, many more streets should be pedestrianized and sidewalks expanded elseware.

And yes, begin to reduce subsidies for automobile ownership. This is one of the biggest problems if not number one.

Trying to ban cars would be a political nonstarter and could easily be a rally cry against any and all action with MoveNY. I would start smaller with the suggestions here about raising the taxes, but I would also suggest another small way to raise revenue and get car owners voting for your plan. I would institute a NYC resident permit, that would allow parking in onstreet free spaces in Manhattan and maybe elsewhere. This would not cost much to NYC residents maybe a small $1 a year registration fee, but then you can charge a non-resident like $1000 a year for the permit. You can also charge non-residents a daily rate in which they would have to find a digital parking meter to purchase a special daily permit to park in a free spot, maybe $10 dollars a day. This would make resident drivers happy as it could free up parking spots, but it should increase some revenues as the number cars I see parking in my neighborhood with NJ state plates is ridicoulus, close 20% of the cars have out a state plates.

It may sound fair for everybody to have to pay the same tax rate for parking but you have to also factor in the fact that parking in Manhattan is much more expensive so the dollar amount paid is actually higher there even if the rate is lower.

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