Next New York: Roads + Bridges, May 3, 2013

David Bragdon
Adam Forman
Roxanne Warren
Claire Weisz
Robert Yaro

DAVID BRAGDON: Part of the appeal of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is that it can respond to the growth in travel demand, which is increasingly intra-borough and inter-borough, not involving Manhattan. In other words, much of the growth in travel demand is not associated with the same armatures of the radial subway system. This BRT would supplement corridors that are vastly underserved in terms of high capacity transit, such as Jamaica to Flushing, where most of the growth is going to occur. That’s a really important demand in advocating for this network.

We should also keep away from a debate about the choice of vehicle, pitting BRT versus Light Rail versus streetcar. We should really focus on the advantages to the user regardless of which of those three modes is used, which is partly a right of way design issue. Features like the station area design, the off-vehicle payment, and most of all, the separated right of way, translate to speed and reliability for the user whether it is BRT or Light Rail.

ROXANNE WARREN: I agree that we should consider banning cars from certain streets. With our high percentage of transit usage in this city and the fact that, in Manhattan, only twenty-three percent of households even own a car, we should be combining auto-free streets with transit. 

ADAM FORMAN: What about Green Streets? We should think of more ways that green space can protect bike lanes while capturing rainwater and relieving the sewer system. This will demand significant coordination between the Department of Transportation, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Municipal Transportation Authority, Con Edison, and Verizon. I am wondering how to coordinate these city agencies and state agencies in order to build truly complete streets. 

ROBERT YARO: That could be one of the priorities for the next mayor. 

One of the things we heard today is a really outlandish idea that Park Avenue ought to have a park in it. 

CLAIRE WEISZ: A “supercharged” Park Avenue could connect all the way to the Grand Concourse, which is another example of how new transit routes could be inter-borough.

ROBERT YARO: Many of our boulevards and wider avenues could, in fact, become park avenues and multi-modal routes. I like thinking about how we can incorporate the next generation of infrastructure and get these streets built in a coordinated way. It just drives me crazy in this town when you see the number of times utilities will rip up the streets and then the city will come and do the same thing!

. . .

We really need to be planning for a polycentric city which is not all about getting in and out of Manhattan. Getting out of Manhattan is another thing we need to be thinking about, but we should be thinking about inter-borough routes as part of a broader economic development strategy for the city.

CLAIRE WEISZ: We have a real issue to grapple with in bringing roads and bridges design to the larger consciousness. This is such an important issue, and it is probably one of the most exciting topics for the future of public space. Not enough people understand that streets compose the largest percentage of New York City available to the public. It is sort of like the human skin, which never gets any recognition as the largest organ of the body.

ROBERT YARO: It’s not an accident that the radio stations do traffic and weather together. These are the two systems that we assume there is nothing you can do, other than knowing what might be coming your way. You assume that there is going to be weather and that there is going to be congestion. That could change!

DAVID BRAGDON: So are you saying that every ten minutes they should do a traffic and land use report?

ROBERT YARO: There is a whole new world of opportunities that we can bring to the next mayor.