Tri-State Transportation Campaign
Comments on the draft NY State Transportation Plan for 2030
Friday, March 24, 2006
 

Inadequate treatment of transportation-land use connection / smart growth as TDM

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign cannot endorse a state transportation plan that does not feature the problem and potential answers regarding the land use/transportation connection much more prominently.  We will recommend that the next state administration discard this plan and begin anew unless this is rectified in the final draft.  

The fact that the draft document contains more extensive discussion of Canadian border crossing issues than of grappling with traffic-generating land uses and innovative ways to foster different types of development in the future is an indication that a more sweeping change of outlook is needed at the State Dept. of Transportation.  The Department’s location of the issue exclusively under the “quality of life” section of the plan, and its omission from “demand management” and “corridor planning” sections, similarly suggests a fundamental misapprehension of the land use problem’s importance. 

  • Regarding “Corridor-based transportation management,” it is striking that there is no discussion of affecting land use policy to promote transportation efficiency in the state’s key corridors.  Is it immaterial to the Dept. of Transportation whether the Albany-NYC corridor, for instance, features vibrant, compact towns and cities or becomes clogged with low density sprawl?  
     

  • Discussion of integrating efforts of “transportation operators” should contain a discussion of agency coordination with municipalities, since that is obviously the way that transportation agencies can influence future land use decisions.
     

  • The demand management section contains no acknowledgement that sprawl development is a leading generator of additional traffic, nor that the Department’s past projects have facilitated sprawl, for instance, by expanding roads in counties like Monroe that are losing population, nor that planning efforts to locate future development in transportation efficient locations can reduce travel demand.  This is a major failing of the plan and in the Dept. of Transportation’s attempt to move into 21st Century transportation policy making. 
     

  • The plan states that “Localities will be encouraged to adopt land use plans that adequately guide future growth” and   “All transportation operators will be encouraged to support community planning efforts that promote higher population densities, development that is more transit friendly, and the preservation of farm land.” Encouraged by who?  Starting when?  How?  In what corridors?  To be believed on this point, the plan needs to articulate far more clearly how transportation policy makers are going to embark on this new course.  What are the policy mechanisms?  Use of the passive voice here without any specificity suggests this language is lip service.

   How does this language affect the critical Tappan Zee corridor, for instance, where the Dept. and associated agencies show all the signs that they will hit municipalities with a gigantic corridor engineering scheme developed in back rooms over the course of 3-4 years, with no land use planning?  Transportation agencies that are actually grappling with making their work relate to land use would begin with discussions all along the corridor about what communities want to look like by 2025 or 2030. 

   We strongly urge that the state plan discuss how the New Jersey or New Hampshire DOT’s are reinventing themselves in ways that will make smart growth happen more frequently.

   The NYMTC pilot examples cited regarding land use date to the mid-1990s and no next generation has taken their place, nor has NYSDOT played a strong role in any of them. The plan does not look ahead to key corridors where the approach will be used and further developed in the future.   The NYSDOT grant program mentioned is far too small to affect land use to any significant degree.  Neither does “context sensitive solutions” affect land use in a pro-active way.   

  • Tying DOT efforts on land use to the state’s Quality Communities program seems like a kiss of death. Quality Communities is anemic, largely invisible and is not even clearly about compact, transportation-efficient development.  Hopefully it will be supplanted by an ambitious smart growth program during the next administration.  It is unsurprising that the Quality Communities passage does not cite any success stories.   
     

  • NYSDOT’s industrial access program should also have smart location criteria and not encourage sprawl. 

Priority investments

  • We appreciate and endorse the stated “maintenance first” philosophy.  We encourage the State DOT to more prominently publicize annual statewide pavement and bridge conditions to underscore the need for resources and continual investment in this area. 
     

  • Regarding ITS, where is there data from existing highway ITS deployment other than E-Z Pass that suggests it has any effect whatsoever?  Since the early 1990s, the State has spent tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in this area without ever demonstrating its efficacy. 

Freight

  • The discussion on demand management contains no discussion of rail freight or short-sea shipping’s potential roles, despite the fact that any freight movement we shift to rail or water helps the situation on our highways.  What are the chief rail or waterway improvements we can make in NY State for which there is a case for public investment? 
     

  • Which bridges and tunnels do you foresee adding truck lanes to?  Why be unspecific about this?  What are the implications of the recent failure of the Port of New Jersey-Port of Albany container barge service for the Port Inland Distribution Network?  Which PIDN projects does the state support?   Will they be part of a future state capital program?

 Tolls

  • When does the Department anticipate the work of the “toll committee” beginning?  How will this commitment survive beyond the change of state administrations that will happen at the end of this year?

 Public transit

  • What is the point of mentioning projects “under study” like the LIRR Main Line third track (page 53) without endorsing the clear need for them?  A passive litany of issues under discussion does not function as a plan. 
     

  • Why does the public transit section contain no discussion of bus rapid transit’s potential to add low-cost mass transit capacity?  A great many jurisdictions around the world outside of New York are successfully implementing BRT projects.  Meanwhile, NYC Transit holds the distinction of running the slowest urban bus system in the U.S., according to the Federal Transit Administration. 

  Safety

  • We suggest that the state approach traffic law enforcement with the “broken window” theory the NYPD has applied to other types of crime – more aggressively enforcing laws against petty violations to deter or catch drivers likely to cause serious harm in the future.  The fact is that casual traffic law breaking in NY State has developed into an epidemic of dangerous behavior such as speeding, rolling through stop signs and red light running. 

  The plan should acknowledge that uncivility and lawlessness on roads is widespread and that tolerance of casual law-breaking is at least partially at fault.   Federal data suggest that lawbreaking occurs frequently in fatal accidents.  In Suffolk County, for instance, the deadliest absolute (about 170 deaths per year) and per-capita (11.7 road deaths per 100,000 population) county in the state, federal records show that law-breaking contributed to over 40% of fatal crashes.  That compares to 21% that involved drunk driving. 

  • We are surprised that a contemporary set of traffic safety recommendations contains no mention of traffic calming, a method proven around the globe for creating safer and higher quality neighborhoods and commercial districts.  Where are the department’s plans to promote traffic calming and extend expertise in the area to municipal governments, for instance by extending the NYSDOT Long Island traffic calming grant program to the Hudson Valley and other NYSDOT regions?   This seems to add evidence to the argument that the Dept. still has distance to travel in becoming a multi-modal, 21st Century transportation agency. 

 

Contact information:
Jon Orcutt
Tri-State Transportation Campaign
350 West 31st Street #802
New York, NY 10001
212-268-7474