Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

New York could use congestion charging to begin better integration of transit service between New York City and New Jersey

Congestion charging is a form of tolling used in very dense cities with a high amount of traffic as a financial penalty aimed at shifting trips from cars to transit.

Congestion charging zone 1/2 mile aheadLondon.

Singapore, Stockholm, and London ("Congestion Pricing Cuts London Traffic By 30%. Now New York City Wants In") are the foremost examples. In London, one of the benefits was an improvement in throughput times for buses, improving surface transit.  From the NYT:
Within a year of the fees being charged in 2003, the number of vehicles entering an eight-square-mile area of London dropped by 18 percent, according to city officials. Traffic delays went down 30 percent. The average speed of vehicles in the zone rose to 10 miles per hour from 8.8 m.p.h.

Air quality improved, too, with a 12 percent reduction in emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter from vehicles in the zone.
London has just added a new charge, on high-polluting vehicles ("London's ultra-low emission zone: what you need to know," Guardian), which went into effect earlier this month.  In 2021, the zone will expand to cover a much larger portion of the city.

New York City attempted to create such a system in 2007/2008, during the Bush Administration, when the US DOT put out a tender to support innovation.

Despite support in various quarters, it was scotched by the State Legislature, which was more focused on limiting costs to residents commuting to the city and living outside of Manhattan ("Congestion Pricing Plan Dies in Albany," New York Times).

In March, New York State approved the creation of a congestion charge system in New York City ("Congestion Pricing," NYT).  It will cover Manhattan south of 60th Street.

Desires to placate suburban commuters were overcome by the fact that the Metropolitan Transportation Agency--it runs the subway and bus transit in New York City, and the Metro-North and LIRR commuter railroads, along with various bridges--is desperately in need of upwards of $40 billion to fund improvements primarily to the subway system, which has experienced serious service degradation because of the need for infrastructure improvements.

The Governor, Andrew Cuomo, reversed his previous opposition to congestion charging seeing it as the only way to raise the kind of capital the system needs to get out of the hole.

New Jersey not happy.  Last week, the NYT ran a story, "New York Is Adopting Congestion Pricing. New Jersey Wants Revenge," about how New Jersey politicians and others are against the congestion charge, figuring that many Jerseyites will have to pay not only a bridge toll but now a congestion toll as well, so that "they will be charged twice."

Note to New Jerseyites: entering the London congestion zone with a high emissions vehicle results in two charges.

I think that the Jerseyites have a point about seemingly being "double charged" but it's actually about the scarce road space they are consuming, in three pieces--roads, bridges, and Manhattan. The point is to reduce car trips to and within Manhattan's most congested areas, as well as to use the funds generated to pay for improvements to the transit system.

How about conceiving the congestion charge revenue stream more broadly, to improve transit services to, within, and from New York City--not just for MTA?   From the standpoint of NYC being a regional destination, the success of the region's transit system, not just the transit system in New York City, is vital to New York City.

Ultimately, better transit serving New York City from New Jersey is a good thing for the economy of NYC too.

Could New York State and New Jersey (with some participation by Connecticut) were to jointly manage various mobility revenue streams such as congestion charging, gas taxes, tolls, etc. more broadly, and use the congestion charge revenue stream to improve the region's transit system, not just New York's.

Some people are already thinking this way.  From the article:
... some New Jersey leaders, including Loretta Weinberg, the Senate majority leader, argue it would only be fair for New Jersey Transit to get a cut of the revenue from congestion.
Use the onset of the congestion charge as a way to forge a formal alliance between NJ Transit, PATH, the MTA, NYC Ferries (+ Connecticut + Amtrak) and create a German style transport association?  (Connecticut pays MTA to run Metro-North railroad services to New Haven and other branches, using the old New York, New Haven, and Hartford rail lines, although the state runs other railroad passenger services separately.  Amtrak is a major regional actor and owns the Northeast Corridor tracks which are used by some of these agencies for local service as well as Penn Station, which is also used by Long Island Railroad and NJ Transit.  Amtrak also provides some services beyond the footprint of Metro-North, such as to Albany.)

-- A Port Authority That Works, NYU (it suggests that the PATH train service should be run by NJ Transit or MTA, although the latter is extremely unlikely)
-- "The PATH Train Loses $400 Million a Year. Why Keep Spending Billons On It?," NYT
-- "Lawmakers push Metro-North to fix Rockland, Orange service, tap into engineer surplus," Gannett Westchester Newspapers (this service is provided by NJ Transit under contract)
-- "Regional Rail for New York City - Part I. Transport Politic
-- "Regional Rail for New York City - Part II," Transport Politic
-- "New York Regional Rail: A Coda, Transport Politic
-- "New RPA report calls for combining LIRR, NJ Transit and Metro-North into one rail network," 6thsf
-- "Lamont pitches tolls for rail improvements," Connecticut Post
-- "Who Killed Transit on the New Tappan Zee? Feds and State DOT Won't Say," Streetsblog
-- "A Bridge Too Far? The Staten Island/Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Missed Connection," Journal of Public Transportation, 16:3, 2013

From the abstract of "A Bridge Too Far":
Few urban areas are as economically and socially integrated as the New York City borough of Staten Island and the New Jersey communities of Bayonne and Jersey City just across the Hudson River. These strong links are illustrated by travel patterns across a north-south corridor from Staten Island up into Bayonne. Yet transit planning and development policy and implementation have been radically different in the two areas, with slow and, right now, stunted development of transit in Staten Island, New York City, as contrasted with the muscular and systematic approach taken in Bayonne and Jersey City, New Jersey. This paper analyzes the links between the two areas, describes the different transit policies taken in each, assesses the outcomes of these different policies, and offers suggestions for ways in which transit and development links could be improved, in particular an extension of the HudsonBergen Light Rail (HBLR) into Staten Island.
Proof of the need was made clear during the 2014 Super Bowl.  While the game was in New Jersey, many of the Super Bowl Week events were in New York City, and the transit systems being under-linked created many problems for patrons.

Although in advance of the game, MTA did create a "Regional Transit Diagram" showing the different rail transit networks on one map.
Regional transit diagram/map created by MTA for New York and New Jersey for the 2014 Super Bowl

In the past, I've argued for a German style Verkehrsbund--transport association--linking multiple agencies in a compact that creates a unified system for planning, service integration, and fares in the DC area ("The answer is: Create a single multi-state/regional multi-modal transit planning, management, and operations authority association," 2017), as well as in New York and New Jersey ("The power "of understandable graphics: a proposal for integrating NYC-area railroad passenger service," 2014).  Even if the agencies remain separate, with separate branding, fares, schedules, fare media and customer services AND PLANNING are integrated.

-- "Verkehrsverbund: The evolution and spread of fully integrated regional public transport in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland," Ralph Buehler, John Pucher & Oliver Dümmler, International Journal of Sustainable Transportation (2018)

Interestingly, last year after I criticized ("Branding's (NOT) all you need for transit") a Mobility Lab piece by Stewart Mader, chair of the PATH Riders Council saying the solution for all things wrong with transit is branding, instead countering that branding is one of only three necessary elements for great transit:

1. An integrated transit/mobility system.

2. Within an integrated transit organization and delivery system, treat transit as "a design product," ensuring that each and every element within the system of providing transit and mobility services is designed to be effective, efficient, successful, powerful and connected.

3. An integrated branding system, including maps, schedules, and fare media.

he wrote pieces, including a superb op-ed in the North Jersey Record making the same point.  From "A Transit Vision for the Tri-State Region":
During the past half-century, Germany’s urban regions have harmonized their transit customer experience via the Verkehrsverbund, or transport association. The first such organization, Hamburger Verkehrsverbund (HVV), was established in Hamburg in 1965 to unify fare payment and harmonize schedules, and today, it serves 2.5 million daily riders in a region with 3.4 million residents.

The Verkehrsverbund model shows us how agencies can strengthen their ‘connective tissue’ by working together to harmonize maps, customer information, fare structure, and ticketing, while still maintaining each agency’s culture, history, and responsibility to those that govern it. Joining together on the customer experience is the best way for agencies to make transit appealing to new and existing customers alike.
(Like the MTA Regional Transit Diagram, Stewart Mader created a similar map diagram showing NJ and NY subway and light rail service.)

Transit in Paris and London (although not perfectly, "Sadiq Khan pushes for tube-style services on London's railways," Guardian) is run similarly to the German approach.

Hamburg transport association's planning responsibilities extend to two neighboring German states, because the regional transport system is bigger than but anchored by the city-state.

Oklahoma City's Metropolitan Area Projects Plan program as a model of a program delivered in phases.  It is a miracle that the legislation for the NYC's congestion charge passed at all.  There's no way it would have passed if at the outset it would have included New Jersey, and needed additional executive and legislative approvals from the State of New Jersey, let alone agreement with New York State.

But what about thinking of the use of the revenue stream from congestion charges in phases?

In the vein of my concept of Transformational Projects Action Planning, one of the influences is the OKC MAP program.  While called "metropolitan," the fact is the projects, mostly infrastructure oriented, are limited to the city proper, and they are paid for by an add-on sales tax that has to be regularly approved.  Each iteration--they are working to get approval for a fourth round--comes with a projects plan.  Projects include:
  • renovations to the State fairgrounds
  • Bricktown Canal
  • Downtown streetcar
  • an indoor arena
  • minor league baseball stadium
  • creation of a riverfront district and recreational dams
  • school improvements
  • Downtown Library
  • 70 acre public park
  • trails system
  • etc.
Each set of successful projects built the support for the continuation of the program in a successive round ("The wrath of grapes: Oklahoma City MAPS Its Future," HuffPost).
CanNew Jersey and New York come together and take a similar approach to the congestion zone revenue stream, complemented by other funding sources contributed by the member entities?

... Adding revenue streams, and phasing involvement by other transit agencies, using the congestion zone charging system as the fulcrum.

What could an expansionary transit agenda look like for New York City, New York State, and New Jersey?  In the vein of my pieces on the Purple Line ("Setting the stage for the Purple Line light rail line to be an overwhelming success: Part 2 | proposed parallel improvements across the transit network") and Northern Virginia ("Using the Silver Line as the priming event, what would a transit network improvement program look like for Northern Virginia") where I suggest that congruent with new transit infrastructure programs a wide ranging complementary improvement program for the transit network should be implemented concurrently to make both the new line(s) and the network stronger and more successful from the outset.

From the NYT article:
Instead of kvetching, leaders in New Jersey should improve their transportation network before congestion pricing takes effect, says Charles Komanoff, a transportation expert who helped conceive of congestion pricing in New York.

"We are all painfully aware of New Jersey Transit's problems, but my God, in 21 months buses can be mobilized and the miles of highway into the Lincoln and Holland tunnels can be reconfigured," he said.  "The silver lining is that it's going to take so long to put this into effect is that there is ample time to deploy your alternatives."
Recognizing that I don't have the kind of fine grained understanding of the NY-NJ-CT transportation network necessary, this is merely a gross-grained set of ideas, most of which come from various other sources, not all of which are cited.

This would add on to the MTA Way Ahead program for the rehabilitation and improvement of current MTA transit agencies.

Necessary first step

1.  Create a Verkehrsbund

Short term program
Next three years

1.  Add a westbound bus only lane to the Lincoln Tunnel.  This is done into Manhattan in the morning, but not back to NJ in the evening. 
-- "One Mindblowing Fact Missing From BuzzFeed's Port Authority Listicle," Streetsblog
-- Express Route to Better Bus Service: How to Improve Bus Travel across the Hudson River, and Beyond, Tri-State Transportation Campaign

2.  Add NJ Transit commuter bus service serving Manhattan via the Holland Tunnel.  Currently, buses go to the PATH bus terminal only via the Lincoln Tunnel.  This would require expanding and reconceptualizing the commuter bus network, involve identifying primary areas and developing street stops, etc.

3. Add dedicated bus lanes to the George Washington Bridge.  A bus station serves the bridge, providing connection to the 175th Street Station on the A subway line.  The bridge was built to accommodate subway service, but it wasn't included.  (Below it is suggested that the C subway line be extended across the bridge to New Jersey.)

Cuomo Bridge.  Peter Carr, Journal News.

4.  Add dedicated bus lanes to the Tappan Zee Bridge?  Enhanced transit services such as commuter rail, express bus services, and busways while discussed during the public planning process, were removed from the final plan.
-- Promoting Bus Rapid Transit Options on the New Tappan Zee Bridge and I-287 Corridor, Columbia University student project
-- "Cuomo Bridge busing, mass transit options need to be priorities: Letter," Gannett Westchester Newspapers

Intermediate term program/early phase
Next five years

1.  Integrated fare media system between the systems including railroads.  London is the model, where the Oyster card is usable on buses, the London Underground, the River Bus (ferry), the London Overground railroad franchise, as well as other railroads not part of the London Overground system.
-- Expanding Access in One Swipe: Opening Commuter Lines to Metrocards, NYC Comptroller

Ideally this would work on transit systems in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York.

(Note that the CharlieCard in Boston is used by other bus transit agencies elsewhere in Massachusetts and the SmarTrip card is interoperable between DC and Baltimore.  New York and New Jersey could leverage the cost of creating this system by porting it throughout their states.)

2.  Integrating the services into a single zoned system of fares.  London and Hamburg are models.  Neither are the cheapest when it comes to fares or passes, but the integration is exemplary.

Probably Connecticut would only want to participate in this system in relation to the transit shed of the Metro-North service, but having the media card work on other Connecticut rail and bus services would be desirable.

3.  Completion of the LIRR connection to Grand Central Station (underway).
-- MTA | Capital Programs East Side Access

Intermediate term program/late phase
5-10+ years

1.  Convert as much of the train network as possible to through running trains, instead of their being LIRR or Metro-North or NJ Transit trains that terminate at Penn Station, Grand Central, or Atlantic Terminal.  This will increase capacity for the network and stations, while reducing the demand for train equipment.
-- "Regional Rail for New York City - Part I. Transport Politic
-- "Regional Rail for New York City - Part II," Transport Politic
-- "New York Regional Rail: A Coda, Transport Politic
-- Trans-Regional Express (T-REX), Regional Plan Association

2.  Add "easy to build" infill stations on the rail networks in New York City and New Jersey.  Within New York City on the LIRR and Metro-North passenger rail networks, treat them as part of the intra-city transit system rather than as commuter railroad stations.
-- Port Authority Could Soon Study Feasibility of Marion PATH Station in Jersey City," Jersey Digs
-- Metro-North Penn Station Access Project, MTA

3.  Do all the necessary improvements to increase capacity of the PATH system into New York City
-- "5 reasons Port Authority should not extend PATH train line to Newark," Jersey Journal

4.  Improving Metro-North service in Connecticut.
-- "Getting there: Is 30-30-30 plan for Metro-North off the rails?," Wilton Bulletin
-- "Metro-North's Way Ahead Plan Seems to Neglect Connecticut," WCBS-radio
-- "Metro-North bar cars are back, but just for Connecticut," Gannett Westchester Newspapers

Longer term/early phase
10-15 years

1.  The best way to add capacity to the current system is to speed up the reconstruction of the signaling system, which will reduce the amount of time between trains.

2. Build a new PATH bus terminal in Manhattan
-- Trans-Hudson Commuting Capacity Study, Port Authority

3. Reconstruction of the Hudson Tunnels to Penn Station.  (Planning underway.)

4.  Create a high quality Staten Island transit connection across the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge to the transit network in New Jersey.  It could start with a gondola system as has already been proposed but a gondola system has limited capacity. Originally, the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail proposed to cross the Bayonne Bridge to serve Staten Island.
-- "Gondola imaginative but unlikely," Hudson Reporter
-- "A Bridge Too Far? The Staten Island/Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Missed Connection," Journal of Public Transportation, 16:3, 2013

Longer term/New York

1.  Add infill subway stations and short extensions to the subway network, including extending the R to LaGuardia Airport.
-- "The R Train, LaGuardia Airport, and the Ripple Effect in Transit," Vanshnookenraggen (although the issue isn't that system planners don't understand the value of extending the subway to the Airport, it's both public opposition and the fact that the FAA won't allow airport landing fee revenues to be used in this way; that's why JFK and Newark Airport have separate systems emanating from the airport and connecting to transit)
-- "Building a better city: QueensWay vs Subway," Vanshnookenraggen
-- "What trains on the NYC subway should be extended further?," Quora
-- "New York City Subway Expansion Proposal," Pedestrian Observations

2.  Improve the railroad network as needed.  Add "harder to construct" infill stations within New York City on the LIRR and Metro-North passenger rail networks
-- How the Long Island Railroad could shape the next economy, Long Island Index

3.  Improve Penn Station.  (Planning underway.)  Move Madison Square Garden to the Hudson Yards or another location.  (Although this will degrade transit access to events.)

Longer term/New Jersey

1. Extend some NYC subway lines into New Jersey. This will require legal changes since only the Port Authority is allowed to offer such service across the state lines. The Itinerant Urbanist suggests extending the 7 line to Hoboken, the L to Secaucus (and even beyond to Newark), and a line across 59th Street to Weehawken.
-- No. 7 Secaucus Extension Final Report, New York City Economic Development Corporation
-- "A Subway Ride to New Jersey? It Could Happen, Officials Say," NYT
-- Secaucus, RethinkNYC
-- "The futureNYCSubway: Manhattan’s West Side," Vanshnookenraggen
-- "The sixth borough subway," Itinerant Urbanist

2. Extend the C line subway from Manhattan across the George Washington Bridge first to Fort Lee, then to Paterson.
-- "The sixth borough subway," Itinerant Urbanist

3. Create a subway line in New Jersey along Bergenline Avenue, which was first suggested by Alon Levy.
-- "Bergenline Avenue and New Hudson Tunnels," Pedestrian Observations


1.  Northern New York (e.g., Westchester etc.)
2.  Should there be development of a deeper rail network in New York State comparable to efforts in Connecticut and Massachusetts?
3.  Pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.
4.  Improvements to the Metro-North transit shed in Connecticut.
5.  Discussion of the 2nd Avenue Subway extension plans
6.  The high cost of building transit infrastructure in NYC.
7.  Ferries
8.  Intra-city bus service improvements
9.  Freight railroad services as a truck congestion measure

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