Testimony of Jon Orcutt, Tri-State Transportation Campaign
Access to the Region’s Core draft environmental impact statement
Tuesday, March 27, 2007

 

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I am Jon Orcutt, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a regional policy organization that favors a more sustainable transportation system.

We congratulate NJ Transit on the completion of the DEIS for new commuter rail capacity between New Jersey and Manhattan, and agree that the ARC project needs to be advanced as quickly as possible. The existing rail tunnels into Penn Station – and the station itself – are bottlenecks holding back rail expansion in New Jersey. It’s critical for New Jersey to have good access to the Manhattan job market and important for the city to have strong connections to New Jersey’s workforce. We urge all involved federal, state, regional and local agencies to approve funding and move it to construction as quickly as possible.

Providing commuters with quick and reliable mass transit options will encourage some people to get out of their cars. The DEIS estimates that the proposed project will reduce auto trips across the Hudson by 5% versus what we would see if the project is not built. Last month, Governor Corzine set ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals, and Mayor Bloomberg is likely to announce similar targets for New York City in the near future. A stronger regional rail network will be a crucial part of any plan to reduce the region’s transportation impact on our atmosphere and to create a more efficient and liveable metropolis.

With regard to some of the specific impacts in Manhattan identified in the DEIS, we think it is worth calling the public’s attention to the issue of pedestrian space in the Penn Station area. This is a set of issues that will fall to city government, not NJ Transit, to address, but they are nonetheless consequences of significantly expanding rail service into Penn Station.

We commend the DEIS for its straightforward discussion about the need for additional pedestrian capacity around Penn Station when NJ Transit doubles its Manhattan train capacity. It appropriately discusses the likely need to widen sidewalks in the station’s vicinity, among other measures, but we feel it understates the problem of pedestrian circulation and it does not entirely spell out the implications of having more pedestrians, more taxis and more buses all in an already congested street environment.

First, the coverage of the sidewalk analysis should have extended outward by a number of blocks, especially to the north. The impact of Penn Station on Midtown sidewalks and crosswalks certainly extends further north than 35th Street. Pedestrians can be seen every morning and evening walking in the street all the way between Penn Station and Times Square on 7th Avenue and also frequently along 8th between 34th and the PA Bus Terminal. We think the so-called “pedestrian level of service” findings, whatever
method they were created by, are also overly optimistic. If people are walking in the avenues for blocks, one would expect more “F” conditions than listed in your tables. But the specific numbers and the consultants’ expensive attempts to create a science around the issue are largely irrelevant – it’s enough to know that the sidewalks are failing and that New York City forces mass transit commuters to walk in heavily trafficked avenues to understand that large additions of mass transit capacity and more development in the area will obviously make things even worse unless something is done about it.

It’s also noteworthy that the analysis does not consider the possibility of future high-rise development (the “Garden swap”) in the enn
Plaza-Madison Square Garden super-block, which would crowd the pedestrian environment even further. We understand that that is outside the scope of the ARC study, but if such development is in the offing, it adds urgency to the need for the city to address pedestrian capacity in the area.

Clearly something will have to give, and community boards, civic leaders and elected officials should use the Manhattan pedestrian and traffic analyses in the project DEIS as a starting point to demand a realistic Penn Station area pedestrian plan from city government. In our opinion, it will have to reallocate space from the streets to the sidewalks and figure out ways to prioritize essential vehicle traffic over discretionary car trips that do not need to be in the vicinity of what is already the United States’ busiest train station.

Thank you.