Testimony of Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives to the New York City Council Transportation

Good morning, I am Paul Steely White, executive director Transportation Alternatives. I am also testifying today on behalf of the Citywide Coalition for Traffic Relief, a growing coalition of over 135 community, advocacy and business groups citywide that have called upon the Mayor to reduce citywide traffic volumes by 15% by the end of 2009. Most of these groups are from the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island, where despite the pro-car posturing of some of their elected representatives, only 1 in 5 residents commutes to work in Manhattan's Central Business District by car. Along with my brief testimony today, I am submitting the coalition's five-point traffic relief charter, and a list of 12 additional transportation solutions that Transportation Alternatives submitted last year to the Mayor's office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability.

Mayor Bloomberg's sustainability plan will not be successful unless big changes are made to New York City's 6,000 miles of streets. About 30% of our city's carbon comes from transportation, and transportation is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions.

The streets, depending on how they are designed and managed, can either facilitate access to parks and open space or deter it. For example: because Mayor Bloomberg's Department of Transportation assumes that pedestrians walk faster than they actually do, our City's senior citizens do not have enough walk signal time to cross big streets that lay between them and recreational opportunities. If, on the other hand, the streets are designed and managed to perform for the supermajority of New Yorkers who are dependent on walking, then streets can even serve as recreational destinations in and of themselves.

The quality of our city's transit system and the length of time it takes New Yorkers to commute will also depend largely on the streets. Given the skyrocketing costs of underground transit expansion and with more New Yorkers riding the bus than ever before, the word “transit” will increasingly refer to street-based mass transit, otherwise known as buses.

If New York City is to be sustainable, the streets must be radically altered to minimize emissions and maximize the most efficient modes of travel. But this is a huge challenge, because today the streets are an inefficient mess.

New York City manages its garbage much more strategically than it manages its streets. Let me explain what I mean by this. Garbage used to be just garbage. All trash was the same. Then, thankfully, came the age of “waste management”. Waste management is not accommodating all the garbage, but rather reducing it at the source. Waste management distinguishes between different types of garbage, recognizing that some of it is needless and much of it can be avoided by recycling. New York City has been a leader in solid waste management, so that today we have an ever improving system of incentives and disincentives that reduce garbage, reduce the impacts of waste removal and encourage recycling.

Today, unfortunately, traffic is still just traffic; New York City has not entered the age of traffic management. This is unfortunate, because clearly not all traffic is the same. Per traveler, car traffic is many times more spatially inefficient and polluting than bus, pedestrian and bike traffic. And, a significant portion of car traffic is completely unnecessary: 20 to 50% of all traffic in some areas of the city is simply circling the block for parking; 80% of Manhattan bound drivers have a transit alternative they are not taking because most of them do not pay for parking; and 22% percent of citywide driving trips are a mile or less in length. Unnecessary car traffic, of course, equals unnecessary pollution, unnecessary noise and unnecessary congestion.

So if Mayor Bloomberg wants to improve commute times, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make room for 50 million annual tourists, a million new residents and their attendant travel and quality of life requirements, he needs a serious traffic management plan that reduces unnecessary vehicular traffic and switches car trips to surface transit, bicycling and walking.

Six weeks ago, in this very same room, the council considered a piece of legislation, Introduction 199, that would, for the first time in the history of the city, do just that: set traffic management targets for New York City and establish modern data gathering and analysis to measure performance against achieving them. Unfortunately, representatives of Mayor Bloomberg's Department of Transportation testified in opposition to this commonsense bill.

It's great that New York City has a 2030 sustainability plan. But a 2030 plan is meaningless without immediate action. If the Mayor does not set an ambitious sustainability agenda for 2007, 2008 and 2009, then his plan will to fail and merely shift accountability to his successors.

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Committee oversight hearing on PlanNYC 2030's Sustainability Goal to Improve Travel Times by Adding Transit Capacity for Millions More Residents, Visitors, and Workers.