Club Soda and Salt

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Posts Tagged ‘transit’

They can hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on April 18, 2010

Usually, articles about how New York is oppressing drivers by making them pay their fair share for space and infrastructure are the province of rags like the Post and the Daily News. Sadly, it seems like the Grey Lady has decided to horn in on the action:

For [Broad Channel’s] roughly 3,000 residents, daily trips to the peninsula over the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge are something of a necessity. The toll is $2.75 for drivers without an E-ZPass. But for the past 12 years, residents of Broad Channel and the Rockaways have been allowed to cross it without charge.

But their free ride is about to end.

Broad Channel is a middle-class neighbourhood on the fringes of New York City. As you can see below, it is located on a tiny island in Jamaica Bay, and is connected to the rest of the city by two bridges:


The bridge to the north goes to Howard Beach and the rest of New York, and is free. The bridge to the south goes to the Rockaways (another neighbourhood in the bay), and is the bridge at the center of the “controversy”. Since both bridges have been free, the rest of the city has been subsidizing the transportation costs for Broad Channel residents for 12 years. Some would say that the end of this subsidy is a reasonable step given the dire financial situation at the MTA. The New York Times, however, decides to focus on the fact that the locals – shockingly – are upset that the rest of the state will no longer pay to maintain a bridge that largely serves just them:

Under the new rules, residents of Broad Channel and the Rockaways who have an E-ZPass will no longer be credited the $1.13 toll they pay each time they cross the Cross Bay Bridge, although they will not be charged if they make more than two crossings a day.

To many people in Broad Channel, a largely working-class enclave, it means paying to get to the doctor’s office, go to work, pick up a child at school or attend a meeting of the local community board. It is not uncommon for families to have lived there for generations; many of the residents are civil servants.

How cruel! Of course, residents of Broad Channel have another way to get to the Rockaways:

Of course, the subway costs $2.25, but I guess it’s ok for transit riders to pay while drivers use the bridge for free. The times doesn’t think the subway is good enough, though:

The A train stops there, but the ride to the financial district often takes 90 minutes. Someone who uses the bridge to get to work will now have to pay nearly $600 a year.

The ride to the FD is indeed long, but the whole article is about these people needing to go in the *opposite direction*! Total non-sequitur. Moreover, driving to Manhattan will still be free for Broad Channel residents, since the bridge that connects them to the rest of Queens (and ultimately to downtown) is toll-free! So the 90 minute complaint is a total red herring.

So to summarize, rather that be forced to use the subway just like everyone else, middle class folks  people who have chosen to live in a relatively remote part of New York should have everyone else’s taxes pay for their free bridge(s). Do I have that right, NYT? Thanks for clearing that up.

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Spreading the benefits

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on February 16, 2010

Following on from my post on what I’ll call “social justice capture”, I was interested to come across this piece on Grist (via @theoverheadwire). The author talks a bit about the new light rail in Seattle, mentioning that he found it to be an inferior route to the airport, largely because of the stops along the way. He then notes that residents of the neighbourhoods where the light rail runs felt differently, and fought for those stops. This gets to the root of who these systems are for – neighbours, or passersby? I think it’s pretty clear which approach gets you to a system that has higher ridership and adds more value, but too many times those of us who live in the nice parts of town just want express routes to get us to a handful of places.

The article also talks briefly about the tension between smart growth and social justice, which centers around gentrification. This is an area where we simply do not have a good model (rent control/stabilization programs don’t work very well), and I can’t help but think that’s because a lot of us have limited experience with being on the wrong end of the gentrification stick. I’m hoping to write a bit about some thoughts on a good model soon.

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Half the story has never been told

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on February 8, 2010

Focus on coinage, not carbon (image from size8jeans on Flickr)

If  you’re trying to convince the public of anything, the face you put on your efforts is fairly important. This is especially true for a movement livable streets and urbanism, which seeks to do unpopular things like remove highway lanes and charge money for parking. Unfortunately, the movement is terrible at this. Despite pushing policies that disproportionately help the working class (good transit, jobs in downtowns, etc.), urbanists manage to be viewed as a bunch of white cycling-crazy technocrats, while people pushing for more lanes and parking and cars get to claim the populist mantle. It’s bloody tragic. And Streetsblog – and I don’t mean to pick on them, because they do great work – provided a pretty good example of why this week with this post talking with some degree of fascination about the fact that a lot of people bike not by choice, but out of necessity.

So what to do about this? How can people who love cities and transit claim the social justice mantle? I’m not ready to do the heavy lifting here, but I’ve got a few ideas about how to start:

1. Dial down the climate-change rhetoric: I hear a lot on the blogs about how transit is great for the environment, but fair or not, environmentalism is frequently viewed as a luxury concern of the upper-middle class. Hitching our star to the climate change bandwagon just confirms people’s suspicions that livable streets advocates are part of the nanny state that wants to tell them how to live and judge them for using cars. It certainly doesn’t broaden the appeal, even if it helps get the message out there a bit more.

2. Talk about jobs: Why is transit great? Why do we love walkability? For me, a big part of it is that transit helps everyone get to work more cheaply, and walkability can allow for more vibrant and healthy downtowns that create more jobs. I know that this gets a lot of play in a broad way, but there’s not that much focus on the impact on the working class. Yes, a walkable and accessible downtown is a delight for middle class families, but it’s a lifeline for a working class person looking for and commuting to a service industry job. This should be a bigger deal.

3. Talk about suburbanites too: Suburbs continue to grow, and grow faster than the cities they surround. But their faces are changing – inner ring suburbs in particular are becoming more diverse, and poverty is on the rise. These towns are going to look more like cities in some ways, and while I don’t expect a subway in every suburb, I do think that tweaking our solutions to appeal to different settlement models will provide an opportunity to widen the constituency.

4. Faces matter: Let’s be honest – it’s pretty rare to see a minority face or voice on Streetsblog. When it is, it’s usually a child or an elderly person. This is a serious problem. Streetsblog NY likes to get annoyed with NYC pols who avoid making hard decisions about transit funding, but then turn around and stage rallies with a bunch of “regular folks” about how awful all the subway cuts are, but it works. It’s time to play that game and make the movement look as diverse and grassroots as it is, or at least as it should be.

The fact is that livable streets are a huge boon for the middle and working class. Lower transportation costs, more jobs, and greater variety of affordable housing are all goals that have every right to be popular, but are currently painted as “elitist”. It’s time to think about how to turn that around. Recognizing that we’re not our own target audience is the first step.

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Regressive Progressives

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on May 16, 2009

One of the frustrating things about California liberals is the obsession with conservationism. I don’t mean conserving, say, Muir Woods; I mean the obsession with keeping our urban (and suburban) landscapes in stasis. I thought the NIMBYism in Brooklyn was bad, but compared to folks in the Bay Area, Brownstoner commenters look like Bruce Ratner himself.

The latest example of selfishness dressed up as concern for trees comes to us from the Peninsula, where a bunch of NIMBYs who voted for high speed rail are shocked to learn that said rail will involve “tracks” and “wiring” and possibly also trains. These are, of course, the same people who rejected sensible transit in the 60s, but at least that didn’t screw over everyone else in the state. This time, they are threatening to hold up a great project for years, because, well, I’ll let them tell it:

“When the bond issue passed in November everyone here was real excited,” said Redwood City Mayor Rosanne Foust. “But like they say, the devil is in the details, and when it became clear that this could be a reality, we realized there needed to be a whole lot of community dialogue to discuss how this would affect our city.”

State Assemblyman Jerry Hill said the key issue for Peninsula cities is ensuring that high-speed rail doesn’t create a divide.

“You want to avoid creating a scar down the middle of the community,” Hill said. “We want to be real careful that there is no socio-geographic distinction to being on one side of the tracks.”

And we know this guy is concerned about “socio-geographic” (huh?) divides, since he represents a bunch of people who live in incredibly wealthy suburbs. You want to bet that this guy’s neighbourhood features exclusionary zoning? I’d put good money on it. And then, of course, some hyperbole:

“Our home values will absolutely plummet with the prospect of 200 trains a day going by outside,” [Menlo Park resident Martin Engel] said. “While we speculate about what could happen, they’re not telling us anything about what their plans are.”

We should be so lucky as to see 100 departures a day to LA.

So, a few things:

1. Having the HSR run through the Valley makes a lot of sense, as it allows for connections to, well, the Valley, as well as SFO.

2. These people should be on their knees thanking God that they will get real rail infrastructure in the South Bay. Caltrain is currently a joke. This project will (one hopes) result in much better trackage for it.

3. Not to mention that it will eliminate very unsafe at-grade crossings in these towns. But, you know, change is scary.

4. Are they serious about wanting a tunnel when there is tons of existing ROW? What planet are they on? You are in a low-density area. No tunnel for you!!!

And yet, I have to hear people like this drone on about how much they compost and how much they care about climate change. What a bunch of hypocrites. You know what? I hope they build HSR through the East Bay instead, and all the economic benefits go to struggling and transit-friendly Oakland rather than a bunch of upper middle class ingrates who don’t know an economic engine when they see it. No really, they literally don’t:

Redwood City mayor Rosanne Foust said her community needs more information before it is willing to consider the idea of hosting a stop on the high-speed rail route.

“Overall for the state, high-speed rail brings tremendous opportunities, but what would the benefits be for a stop in Redwood City?” Foust asked. “We don’t know yet if this would be an economic advantage.”

Really, lady? You don’t know whether having a stop on a bullet train to LA will be economically advantageous? You don’t think that it will give you a huge leg up over all the other little towns along the 101? That statement is pratically Palin-esque in its ignorance.

Sorry if I’m being harsh, but NIMBYism is infuriating, especially when perpretrated in such dishonest fashion.

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Stranded in Toledo

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on June 28, 2008

There’s been a lot of talk about the death of the exurb, brought about by increasing fuel prices and transportation costs (combined with a slowing economy). What you hear less about (well, what I hear less about) is the new isloation being faced by semi-isolated medium sized towns. These places are too far away from large cities to effectively benefit from their infrastructure, but are also too close (and too small) to support effective infrastructure of their own. Toledo is a good example of this, being 2 hours from Detroit and Cleveland, and it’s about to get hit pretty hard by the cuts in flying amongst the major airlines.

Expensive oil is a double-whammy for places like Toledo. Their air links will continue to be severed as airlines are forced to cut back. Meanwhile, driving 90-120 minutes to DTW or CLE becomes a lot harder when gas prices are over 4 dollars a gallon. We have started talking a lot about investing in transit infrastructure in our metropolitan areas, and we should. But we should also remember that after decades of neglect in favour of cars and planes, our intercity rail infrastructure is a joke, and places like Toledo and Bakersfield and Harrisburg — places that are close to being in the middle of nowhere, but not quite — are probably about to be cut off as a result. Something to keep in mind as we (hopefully) have more success in getting politicians to address the problems of cities.

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The cost of bad policy

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on January 20, 2008

Shocking good sense from our new Minister of Trade:

Trade and Industry Minister Dr Keith Rowley says the annual subsidy on automobile fuel prices is now costing the State $2 billion a year.

And he says the time has now come for the Government to consider whether it should be spending this much money subsidising the price of gasoline and diesel.

Rowley, who is my new favourite politician, even makes the argument explicit:

“And, in so far as we have been buying at that price and subsidising local transport to the tune of $2 billion a year, the time has come in this country to ask ourselves if that is the best way to spend $2 billion.

“Subsiding[sic] transportation to the extent that nobody considers fuel cost when you plan a trip to go anywhere in this country,” Rowley said.

And people wonder why we have so much traffic? Here’s a big part of your answer. I can only hope that Rowley’s cabinet colleagues are paying attention.

I should note that we shouldn’t get rid of the subsidy in a vacuum, of course. It is just one part of moving toward a sensible transportation policy. Bear in mind that $2bn (that’s 300MM USD) can really get you a good deal of transit, and that’s where I think the money should go. We’d all be better off, I think. So of course that means that Rowley’s likely to be ignored…

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In which I talk about traffic policy again

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on December 30, 2007

As discussed here and elsewhere, Trinidad is currently suffering from a serious traffic problem, which is the focus of an article in the Express today. Somewhat surprisingly, one of the traffic officers interviewed hits the nail on the head:

The main cause of traffic: Too many cars. ASP Jackson stated that there were more than 400,000 cars on the nation’s road according to the Licensing Division. He said he would not be surprised if there were significantly more.

“What is the need for all these cars? Families that used to have one car, now have two and three,” said ASP Jackson.

Pretty much. Among the trappings of economic development: greater access to private vehicular transportation. Naturally, respondents in the article mention things like “more roads” as being the solution, but any transportation engineer worth her slat will tell you that that’s a short term solution. Besides, it’s also a solution that comes at great expense, what with having to tear down homes, businesses, and farmland to accomodate the new cars. In reality, the solutions that are likely to be effective aren’t likely to be popular:

  • Eliminate the massive gasoline subsidies
  • Introduce congestion pricing in downtown POS
  • Toll the major highways
  • Reform parking policy — no more free parking in POS, and stop building parking garage after garage!
  • Improve public transportation: build the promised train lines, keep going with the ferries, and make the PBR into a BRT corridor (and please please don’t allow private cars onto it as some people suggested! That is insanity!)
  • Improve bike and pedestrian friendliness of downtown POS and environs

These are the quicker solutions. Of course, there’s also the important long-term solution of focusing on transit-oriented development, which gets no attention that I can see in Trinidad (just look at all the weak attempts we make to emulate the worst of American suburban sprawl; Trincity is particularly horrifying).

You’ll  be shocked to hear that the government isn’t talking about any of this, even as it drives construction in POS to a fever pitch. After all, solutions are hard, and buildings are shiny! Instead we depend on traffic management serendiptity to save us. After all, God is a Trini.

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