Statement of Teresa Toro, Tri-State Transportation Campaign
New York City Council Transportation Committee Hearing re: Int. 199
January 25, 2007
I am Teresa Toro, NYC Coordinator for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. The Campaign’s mission is to achieve an environmentally sound, economically efficient and socially just transportation network.
I am here today to urge the NYC Council to pass Introduction 199, which would change the way the NYC Department of Transportation measures success – not only by traffic flow but by reducing congestion and implementing alternate modes of transportation, such as biking and mass transit. Intro 199 will help measure such movement, and is a crucial first step toward finding a better transportation policy – one that seeks to move people efficiently, not just cars. A citywide approach is absolutely necessary to ensure that traffic problems aren’t simply shifted to the next block or neighborhood.
On December 12, 2006, Mayor Bloomberg announced that he’s willing to be judged on travel times in the city as part of PlanYC 2030, expressing concern about the city’s congestion levels. He said: “adding to the capacity of our regional mass transit system, so that travel times stay the same - or get better” was a primary goal for the program , and necessary to stop our economy from “grinding to a halt” because of congestion. Mayor Bloomberg was right to note that congestion relief will only happen if the city increases its investment in mass transit. The ridership boom on the L train is an excellent example of development running far ahead of transit planning – an exercise we should take care not to repeat.
U.S. census data on NYC travel times shows that the challenge of meeting the mayor’s goal is a big one. Commute times in NYC dropped over 3% from 1980 to 1990, almost surely a result of recovery of the subway system from its low point via massive public investment. But commute times rose thereafter – by nearly 7% in the decade to 2000 – as gains from transit reconstruction flattened and ridership and street traffic boomed. A second set of data, released annually but not collected as intensively as the decennial census, indicated NYC commute times have at best failed to improve significantly since 2000, and are likely to be worsening further.
Travel times will not improve until the city develops the tools to examine where and why congestion occurs. If Mayor Bloomberg is serious about this goal, the Council and Administration will have to make some tough choices. It will be hard, for example, to achieve good travel times in the face of population growth without some way to unclog roads and devote more street space to efficient vehicles like buses and bicycles and essential traffic such as business deliveries.
Last, we should ensure that the term “travel time” applies to all modes of travel, including cars, bikes, walking, subway and bus transit. The data should be made available by borough as well as citywide, and be most detailed in its examination of major transit corridors. Mayor Bloomberg should jump at this chance to clearly define how the city is using its streets and sidewalks, how those uses impact communities, and how New Yorkers can benefit from encouraging less harmful uses. Success should be measured not by traffic speeds or number of potholes measured, but by quality of life and safety across all modes of travel.
Knowledge is power. By broadening the scope of data with the goal of reducing traffic congestion, we are arming ourselves with the kind of information that can improve the lives of all New Yorkers. We can plan how to move goods and people through communities without harming them. We also urge the Council to ask DOT to report these findings on a yearly basis, for public review and input.
The Council can make Intro 199 a reality, and I urge you to pass this bill. Thank you.
NYC Coordinator, Tri-State Transportation Campaign
Phone (212) 268-7474
The Tri-State Transportation Campaign is an independent, non-profit policy and advocacy group promoting environment-friendly transportation policies in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.