New York City

Quote of the Week: Manhattan as “Stockyard”

[T]he comforts of the [Manhattan’s] rich still depend on the abundance of its poor, the municipal wealth and well-being as unevenly distributed as in the good old days of the Gilded Age. When seen at a height or a distance, from across the Hudson River or from the roof of Rockefeller Center, Manhattan meets the definitions of the sublime. At ground level Manhattan is a stockyard, the narrow streets littered with debris and laid out in the manner of cattle chutes, the tenements and storefronts uniformly fitted to fit the framework of a factory or a warehouse.

Lewis Lapham, “City Light”, Lapham’s Quarterly, 7 October 2010 Continue Reading →

The Perils of Average Density

In his 2010 book Transport for Suburbia, Paul Mees notices a fallacy that seems to be shared by sustainable transport advocates and car advocates.  Both sides of this great debate agree that effective transit requires high density.

Sustainability advocates want higher urban densities for a range of reasons, but viability of public transit is certainly one of them.  Meanwhile, advocates of car-dominance want to argue that existing low densities are a fact of life; since transit needs high density, they say, there’s just no point in investing in transit for those areas, so it’s best to go on planning for the dominance of cars.  Continue Reading →

If On-Time Performance is 96%, Why Am I Always Late?

A New York Times article today highlights the perennial misunderstanding embedded in how transit agencies typically measure on-time performance.

By official accounts, 2009 was a banner year for the commuter railroads that serve New York City. Of all the trains that ran last year, the railroads said, nearly 96 percent were on time — one of the best performances since they began keeping records.

But the reality, as nearly any rider would tell you, can be considerably different, and vastly more frustrating. Continue Reading →

Dissent of the Week II: New York’s Select Bus Service

From Alon Levy on my post re: New York’s Bus Rapid Transit product, the Select Bus Service (SBS), which references this story in New York Magazine.

I’m going to say here what I said on the Urbanophile: it’s an uncritical fluff piece. The reality of SBS is that it’s a substandard product by European standards. The smoking gun is that during fare inspections on SBS, the bus has to stand still. The inspectors drive in and have to drive back, so the bus has to stay in one place until they get out.

Continue Reading →

Quote of the Week: Taking Bus Lanes Seriously

If we put railroad tracks down on space where a bus lane is and asked anyone would you ever stop your car on the railroad tracks, the answer would be no. The idea that 30 tons of steel is going to come down the street is enough of a deterrent. … We all have an explanation about why entering a bus lane is a little thing and it’s okay. And the fact is that it’s not okay—the fact is that 75 to 100 people on a bus are held up over that.

—  MTA Chief Executive Jay Walder

… as quoted in a must-read New York Magazine article on the success of New York City’s Select Bus Service.

Ridership Down in the US? Look Deeper

It seems to be, and I’m sure the New Republic’s Robert Puentes is right about the causes — (1) recession-driven unemployment (which both reduces commute demand and reduces discretionary income) plus (2) the epidemic of service cuts, which is proving yet again that not many riders are so “captive” that you can’t drive them away eventually.  Both of those factors are well-observed correlations.

But it’s interesting that the New Republic chose to feature this map from the Brookings Institution’s interactive source, which shows total numbers of public transit commuters by metro area, as opposed to this one, which shows the percentage of all commutes that go by public transit, or what’s technically called the Journey-to-Work (JTW) mode share. Continue Reading →

On Standard Street Grids

Nw portland grid

Is it true that while everyone loves Portland’s regular 200-foot street grid, urbanists are turning away from it as something to emulate?

Daniel Nairn, who just wanted to make a nice nerdy poster about street grids, points me to a fascinating Planetizen article by Fanis Grammenos and Douglas Pollard.  It argues that the standard street grid, an easily repeated pattern where most intersections are four-way, is and should be history.  The future, they argue, lies in more complex grids where there are a lot of street connections but where 3-way “T” intersections are the rule.  It’s an excellent article.  Read the whole thing. Continue Reading →

New York: Free Student Fares and the Budget Crisis

Today’s New York Times editorial on New York’s transit funding crisis goes beyond general warnings about the need to fund transit and digs into specifics: Raise bridge tolls, resist election year tax-cutting, hold the line on pay raises, and this:

What it should not mean is doing away with free passes for needy students. Both the state and city will have to contribute more to help pay $214 million a year to help keep these students in school.

Perhaps they read this.

New York: Cutting Service Without Cutting Abundant Access

GTrain-e1264194117440The U.S. service cut epidemic — the result of transit agencies relying on recession-sensitive funding sources — is about to touch New York again.  But as in the first round of San Francisco cuts, the New York MTA planners are doing their best to reduce service but not the abundant access.

As with everything in New York, the details are complicated, but here’s a simple example.  The G subway line is the only line running directly between Queens (the top of this map) and Brooklyn (the bottom).  It has long included a segment from Court Square to Forest Hills where G trains run alongside two other subway lines, the E and V which connect Queens directly to Manhattan.  (Full subway map here.) Continue Reading →