Statement of Teresa Toro, Tri-State Transportation Campaign

City Council Transportation Committee Oversight Hearing on Truck Traffic February 14, 2006

Good morning.  I am Teresa Toro, New York City Coordinator for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.  The Campaign is a non-profit policy watchdog organization that advocates for the development of a more balanced regional transportation system. 

A key to better transportation in the region and in New York City is the adaptation of the missions of the region’s transportation institutions to major new challenges.  The huge boom in the volume of truck traffic that we are in the midst of is certainly that for New York City, the metropolitan region, New York State and the United States.  I congratulate Chairman Liu for spotlighting this problem by organizing today’s public hearing.

It is absolutely essential that managing the growing burden of freight traffic become a major mission for the NYC Dept. of Transportation and NYPD during this century.  Every New Yorker is frustrated by the growing amount of truck traffic in this city, and unfortunately, things are poised to become worse before they get better.  The Federal Highway Administration estimates that truck traffic in New York City will increase by at least 50% from today through year 2020, and that is after very rapid increases in volume during the 1990s.

I want to be clear that our message is not about vilifying trucks, truck drivers or trucking companies.  Growth in trucks is being driven by a variety of economic changes and forces, and the movement of goods is obviously deeply embedded in our economic life.  Nor is reduction of truck traffic really on the table.  The growth trend is very strong.  But we can do a far better job of managing trucks, and perhaps take some of the edge off of the growth.  For that, it is necessary that the city have a set of policies that acknowledge that the trucks are coming and provide new tools to protect neighborhoods and keep traffic moving. 

Despite the identification of booming truck volumes by every agency that has looked at it, including the NYC Economic Development Corp. and the NY Metropolitan Transportation Council ญญญญ– one a city agency and the other a council of governments that New York City participates in – there is next to no management of truck traffic in New York City, and that failure is part of a broader void in overall city freight and transportation strategy. 

The impacts of this failure are felt brutally in lower quality of life in city neighborhoods, worse congestion on our highways and avenues, more deadly diesel emissions, more dangerous crashes and very costly infrastructure damage.

Since I testified before this committee about truck traffic impacts in March 2005, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign has met with civic leaders and community boards across the city about their perspective on truck traffic impacts and the city response to them.  Across New York City, we have found communities under siege by truck traffic, and feeling utterly abandoned by city government under the Bloomberg administration.

One leader of a western Queens civic organization said trucks going off route constantly damage public property – days before we spoke, a very old and large street tree had been knocked down by a truck which made too wide a turn at an intersection not on a truck route.   In another nearby neighborhood, civic activists say big box store development has increased truck traffic, which vibrates residential buildings and has made pedestrians in a lively neighborhood more fearful. 

A young woman in East Williamsburg sleeps on her kitchen floor because truck noise coming through her bedroom window keeps her up all night.  Community board members in the South Bronx say that their insurance doesn’t cover cracks in foundations in their homes caused by vibrations from passing trucks, and they worry about trucks running over family and friends.

In central Queens, community leaders say it is easier for trucks to use residential streets instead of legal truck routes, which are difficult to navigate and have poor connections to highways.  Some have had speed humps installed as a deterrent, but trucks make them sources of noise pollution when they bang over the humps at all hours. 

In many neighborhoods, community groups know where trucks over-night, with engines idling for hours, but despair about how to stop it.  Communities have to battle with the city DOT to get simple “no trucks” signs on non-truck route streets.  City DOT has told some in Queens that signs at the Nassau border “are enough.”

The Bloomberg administration clearly needs to finish the truck routing and enforcement study that the city DOT began under Mayor Giuliani and put some real emphasis on implementation, put more enforcement resources into protecting neighborhoods from trucks on inappropriate routes and do a better job of making truckers live up to existing rules on weight, length and emissions. 

It’s long past time for some leadership focus on the problem – when mayors, deputy mayors and commissioners are paying attention, studies don’t take a decade or more to complete.   For example, Mayor Bloomberg recently gave the DOT two months to come up with a traffic relief plan for Staten Island. 

The problems neighborhoods have with excessive off-route truck traffic should lead Mayor Bloomberg to revive NYC DOT’s flagging traffic calming program – the agency should come up with intersection designs that discourage trucks from making turns onto inappropriate streets yet permit passage of emergency vehicles.  This is possible – the DOT has looked at it in the past, and it can yield a variety of local benefits. 

Last year, Mayor Bloomberg said he opposed the plan to build a rail freight tunnel between New Jersey and Brooklyn, with a new rail yard in Queens.  But he has offered nothing in its place.  Others will testify here that that project could take significant numbers of trucks off our roads in the future, especially the biggest rigs that are slowly beating the Throgs Neck Bridge and other spans into costly disrepair. 

Mayor Bloomberg, if the rail tunnel will not work or is politically unacceptable, what is your freight plan?  What other opportunities are we not pursuing, such as train ferries or better rail connections into the wholesale markets at Hunts Point, because the Bloomberg administration has offered no leadership on this critical transportation and quality of life issue?

In 2001, we estimated that the city’s interim solid waste export plan that followed the final closure of the Fresh Kills landfill added over a quarter of a million new annual truck trips to city streets and highways.  Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to rebuild the marine transfer station system has won praise, but it does not appear to be on the same fast track that the growth in trucking in our city is on. 

We have seen no evidence that the administration has done any work to establish the rail and barge connections to the MTS system that will be needed to move garbage containers from the MTS’ to export destinations without resort to trucks.  What is the target date for full operation of a new export system that reduces use of trucks?  As we feared in 2001, the interim plan is becoming permanent because of the lack of priority given the issue by city leaders. 

The lack of truck management, neighborhood protection and freight infrastructure development policies and priorities is but a symptom of a city administration that is leading New York City into the 21st Century with no transportation policy whatsoever.  It is a striking and dangerous symptom, however, that degrades the quality of life in nearly every city neighborhood and directly impacts property owners, motorists, pedestrians and taxpayers.  I applaud the committee for its focus on the problem, and strongly urge the City Council to keep up pressure for action on the problem of truck impacts. 

Thank you.

Teresa Toro
NYC Coordinator