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PlaNYC: Don’t Drive Yourself to Extinction!

by Worldchanging NYC local blogger, Wendy Brawer:

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Known as America’s most walkable city, New York is one of the very few where a car is not a necessity. Yet the word "pedestrian" shows up only nine times in PlaNYC’s 26-page transportation section, and virtually every mention of "sidewalk" is in relation to bus and subway access.

There are eight mentions of the word "walk," including two in the chart demonstrating how important human power is to NYC’s workforce –- yet there are no initiatives to support it. This illustrates my chief complaint about PlaNYC: that human power, community-based initiatives and education are for the most part left out.

But I won't give up my dreams of shady, wider sidewalks dotted with benches and drinking fountains, car-free parks all summer/all year, and immediate safety improvements to stem mobility-related loss of life!

There is a cycling initiative in PlaNYC: to complete by 2030 the master plan for 1,800 miles of cycling routes that has been languishing on planners’ desks. This includes 1,296 miles of striping and "share the road," reminders and 540 miles of separated "no smoking" lanes. PlaNYC also endorses supporting and encouraging cycling with improved public education, increased bike storage infrastructure, and “improving observation of traffic and bicycling laws.”

But as one of NYC’s millions of daily walkers and cyclists, I’m left wanting more, much more, in the plan to support the CO2-smartest, cleanest, cheapest, healthiest and often the fastest modes to get around in this dense urban grid. They made the daffodil our official flower last week; it’s a pity they didn’t Dutch-up our streets more at the same time!

There is much to appreciate in PlaNYC, including many immediate and sensible improvements to our great mass transit system. We have the highest bus ridership in the country -- but the slowest busses, thanks to the incredible congestion on Manhattan streets (and the streets in the boroughs leading into Manhattan). So it's great that PlaNYC includes "Bus Rapid Transit" (BRT) -– especially helpful for working people who live in the outer boroughs beyond the subways. Implementations of BRT and other mass transit improvements in the plan include:

  • "Bus Prioritization," which will change traffic light sequencing to keep the busses moving.
  • Bus stops and subway entrances will be improved and connected to speed up daily commutes.
  • The subway system will be brought up to a "state of good repair," and the upgrades necessary to accommodate many more riders will be made.
  • East River bridges will get dedicated bus/HOV lanes.
  • Ferry services will be expanded, especially to keep the flow on and off Manhattan moving -- although they need pollution control upgrades and intermodal connections to the land-based mass transit.

The transportation plan includes 21 first priority projects funded by the Mayor’s newly proposed "Sustainable Mobility and Regional Transportation Financing Authority" (SMART), which in turn would get a lot of its own funding from congestion pricing income -- that is, the fees charged for driving into the "Central Business District" at certain times of the weekday.

NYC has 787 bridges -- this fact alone, when combined with the anticipated growth in the city's residential and visitor populations, attests to the complexity of our transportation planning challenge. It's good news for New Yorkers that PlaNYC takes improvements to mass transit seriously. And in making PlaNYC happen, we fortunately have a new DOT Commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, who as noted at Streetsblog, has shown a commitment to explore the best practices solutions from around the world. As we progress with implementing the plan, let's get human-powered transit brighter in the Mayor's vision for 2030.

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