Short Talks, Big Ideas: Event Recap


Last night’s Short Talks, Big Ideas event presented to a sold-out crowd, showcased the best in transportation innovation for nearly every NYC mode. The impressive speaker lineup was:

-Noel Hidalgo, Code for America, showcased the work of bike data hackers at Bike Hack nights.
- Lois Goldman, North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, discussed pedestrian safety measures in Newark, including a crash stat map and a planned demonstration of what various car speeds can do to a 10 year-old crash test dummy.
- Emily Gallo, Taxi & Limousine Commission, showed off the new lime green Boro Taxis and taught us that 97% of yellow taxi pickups are in Manhattan or at the airports.
- Kevin Ortiz, MTA, gave a behind-the-scenes look at wireless connectivity in the subways, and assured us it will be completely installed by 2017.
- Eric Goldwyn, Columbia University, shared his research on NYC dollar vans, which carry 125,000 passengers a day, making them the 20th largest bus system in the U.S.
-Gary Roth, MTA NYC Transit, made the case for bus security cameras, and showed how they work to show false injury claims.
- Robin Lester Kenton, NYC DOT, showed the power of Instagram photography for infrastructure, with special before/after shots of DOT-enhanced roadways. Follow NYC DOT on Instagram here.
- Randy Gregory II showed off his 100 Ideas for the Subway, some of the recommendations from his popular blog.

The event was moderated by Sarah Kaufman, Research Associate at the NYU Rudin Center, who is always looking for new presenters. Contact her at sarahkaufman /at/ nyu /dot/ edu if you’d like to speak in Spring 2014.

See below for some photos and check out #BigIdeas13 for tweets around the event.


Upcoming events at the NYU Rudin Center


Please join the NYU Rudin Center on the evening of November 4th for our next edition of Short Talks, Big Ideas, showcasing innovative work and ideas at the frontier of transportation innovation. Free registration is now open: http://wagner.nyu.edu/events/rudin-11-04-2013

We’ll cover streets, bikes, transit, dollar vans, data, wi-fi, photography, and more. #BigIdeas13
Also, we’re co-hosting the November 19th event “Closing the Enforcement Gap to Save Lives on NYC Streets” with Transportation Alternatives. Register here:

https://secure3.convio.net/ta/site/SSurvey;jsessionid=99462DC93AA291251B5950A7105F2B2D.app365b?ACTION_REQUIRED=URI_ACTION_USER_REQUESTS&SURVEY_ID=6420&pw_id=2441&autologin=true

 

Hope to see you in November!

Tracking Your Car Travel Patterns?


Ever wonder which streets have the slowest car traffic? What your average driving speed is? Where you brake the most? New data may help us find that out. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that The New York City Department of Transportation recently received a grant from the Federal Highway Administration to launch a program that monitors 500 cars with transponders around the city. Data will be available through apps to both car users and the city DOT. Participants in the program will receive a discount on their car insurance, and the city will have more data about car travel. Our own Sarah Kaufman was quoted talking about the potential pros and cons of the program.

Will pay phones become charging electric vehicle stations?


Photo via Flickr.com user Susan Sermoneta

Over the last decade, cell phones have become ubiquitous in cities across the world, creating less and less of a demand for the public pay phone. According to the Department of Technology and Telecommunications, there are still a little over 10,000 public pay phones on New York City sidewalks. The operational contracts for these kiosks expires in October 2014 and the city has the opportunity to transform the remaining kiosks to meet 21st century needs.

Earlier this year, the city sponsored a design contest to re-imagine these 20th century relics for the mobile 21st century. Several contest winners included electric vehicle charging stations as part of their design.

The electric vehicle is on the rise in the United States, electric vehicle sales are the fastest growing sector of the automotive industry and the number of E.V. models on the market has quadrupled in the last year. One challenge facing E.V. owners is the number and location of charging stations, especially in urban areas.

Converting kiosks into charging stations with two to three parking spaces each would be one potentially creative way to reuse the kiosks, which already have electric power. Finding charging stations can be a challenge for E.V. owners: Jay Friedland, legislative director for Plug in America, said that in one California town, E.V. owners use municipal owned Christmas tree light wiring to recharge.

Conflicting jurisdiction and interests of city agencies could complicate the process, which would involve formal applications and approval from the city. Earlier this year, New York Governor Cuomo announced plans to bring 3,000 charging stations to the state over the next five years and put 40,000 E.V.s on the road in that same period. Converting even a percentage of New York City’s pay phones to charging stations would meet statewide goals and increase access to charging for eager owners.

Taxis, Taxes, and Monorail. The NYC Mayoral Transportation Forum


Earlier today, UTRC hosted a panel discussion to ask mayoral candidates about their transportation policies. In attendance was Sal Alabanese, John Liu, Bill Thompson, and Anthony Weiner on the Democratic panel (Christine Quinn and Bill de Blasio were no shows),

Democratic Mayoral Candidates: Sal Albanese, John Liu, Bill Thompson, and Anthony Weiner (left to right)

and Adolfo Carrión, John Catsimatidis, Joe Lhota, and George McDonald on the Republican / Independent panel.

Republican and Independent Mayoral Candidates: Adolfo Carrión, John Catsimatidis, Joe Lhota, and George McDonald (left to right)

Here were some the highlights:

  1. Most candidates support expanding SelectBusService and Express Bus Service in the outer boroughs to provide transit to underserved areas; however none mentioned creating exclusive busways to improve this service.
  2. Anthony Weiner and Paul Steely White (of Transportation Alternatives) got into a friendly debate about cycling in the city. After Weiner mocked the polls indicating support for cycling, White said that bicycles poll higher than the mayoral candidates in front of him.  
  3. Sal Albanese and Joe Lhota both explicitly support the city investing in mass transit infrastructure. Lhota believes that the N/R trains should be extended to Staten Island.
  4. Joe Lhota was the only candidate to bring other transit modes into the discussion, such as Light Rail on Staten Island’s Northern and Western shores. He also supports construction Metro North Railroad stations at Co-Op City and Parkchester.
  5. John Catsimatidis said that another subway line would never be built in our lifetime, but supports constructing “aboveways” (monorails) throughout the city.
  6. The Democratic candidates disapprove of the “Taxi of the Future.”
  7. Bill Thompson supports a commuter tax, but almost all of the other candidates believe that it is unattainable.
  8. Sal Alabanese believes that New York City Transit should be under city control. Anthony Weiner said that the city needs more control of the MTA board.
  9. There was a lot of discussion of tolling in the city, with candidates divided about additional tolls in the city, particularly on the East River bridges.
  10. Anthony Weiner noted that the city pays $7000 per student that takes a school bus. While candidates disagreed about labor costs, many mentioned that inefficient routing was a large reason for the high costs of school buses.

Democratic Mayoral Candidate Anthony Weiner fields questions from the press after the panel.

Pedestrians vs. Left Turn Signals



Despite the new signs, pedestrians cross illegally between Broadway medians at 96th Street.

Last week I traveled to my homeland on the Upper West Side. As a recent transplant to Brooklyn, I had forgotten the nightmare that is the intersection of 96th Street and Broadway.

In 2010, a new median station entrance opened for the 1/2/3 IRT Line 96th Street station. The entrances had previously been located on the sidewalks. While the new station is beautiful and makes sense for circulation of subway users, it has created a hazard on the street by forcing pedestrians to the median.

Existing Conditions

Diagram 1: Existing Pedestrian Movements at 96th Street and Broadway

To rationalize traffic movements, NYCDOT installed left turn lanes on Broadway, creating new signal phasing. This change has created a lot of confusion and caused dangerous situations and conflicts between cars and pedestrians.

To mitigate these challenges, NYCDOT has placed signs such as “Wait for Walk Signal” and “No Ped. Crossing Use Crosswalk” (pictured above) to encourage better pedestrian behavior. However, in New York, pedestrians walk wherever and whenever they please. So, if they don’t see cars moving, they go, often putting their lives at risk. This not only occurs at 96th and Broadway, but many other busy intersections throughout the city with left turn signal phases.

At this intersection, after the east-west traffic stops and before the left-turn signal phase begins, people begin to cross north-south on the western and eastern crosswalks in the intersection, despite the red light and eventual on-coming traffic.  In addition to the potential crashes this creates, pedestrians act outraged, as do the drivers. This prevents cars from moving through the signal with sufficient time, and creates congestion for the following phase as well. Congestion and danger is furthered by people illegally crossing between medians (see Diagram 1).

Diagram 2: Potential Solution: The Pedestrian Scramble ("Barnes Dance")

It is true that better enforcement and ticketing by the NYPD might change pedestrian behavior, but I believe the DOT should explore more creative solutions for this intersection. One possible solution (Diagram 2) could be a variation on the “Pedestrian Scramble” or “Barnes Dance,” which would stop all traffic and allow pedestrians to cross in one movement. This would decrease the amount of separate pedestrian movements and perhaps cause less confusion, while allowing pedestrians to take direct routes. This approach could reduce conflicts between pedestrians and cars, improving safety, health, and convenience for all intersection users.

Innovations in Bus Rapid Transit: Event Recap


By Carson Qing

This week, the NYU Rudin Center and the Wagner Transportation Association (WTA) hosted a panel discussion of recent innovations in bus rapid transit (BRT) in the New York City metropolitan area. The panel’s presenters included Ted Orosz from MTA New York City Transit, Eric Beaton from the New York City Department of Transportation, and Tom Marchwinski from New Jersey Transit.

The discussion highlighted how transportation providers were able to find innovative solutions to implement BRT under the unique context of the New York City metropolitan region, where street widths, curbside usage, land use characteristics, and competing transit options often pose challenges for developing a BRT system similar to those built in Latin America and Asia. The panel’s speakers highlighted how implementation of Select Bus Service in New York City and bus rapid transit in high-volume, medium-density, and suburban settings in New Jersey have succeed in reducing travel times, improving level-of-service, and attracting new riders by adapting BRT characteristics to better fit the context of the corridors and communities they serve.

The presentations are available for download here: Ted Orosz, Eric Beaton, Tom Marchwinski

 

 

Don’t-Miss Events in April


We have a fantastic set of events slated for April at the NYU Rudin Center:

April 9th (morning): Local Innovations in Bus Rapid Transit: A Panel Discussion – This panel will focus on innovative bus planning in the New York Metro area, and the unique challenges it presents to both policy makers and citizens.

April 9th (evening): Short Talks, Big Ideas: Transportation Innovations – Join the NYU Rudin Center for this high-energy series of short talks about how we’re using, improving and thinking about the future of transportation.

POSTPONED UNTIL FALL April 10th: Climate-Proofing Connectivity: The Future of New York’s Links to the Northeast Corridor – This symposium will convene experts on climate change, next-generation aviation, and high-speed rail planning to explore how New York’s external transportation connections can adapt to climate change in the coming decades to provide secure, resilient and sustainable economic lifelines in the face of an uncertain future.

April 20th: Rethinking Regulation Design ChallengeThis challenge is about bringing stakeholders to the table to develop innovative, realistic, and implementable solutions to help address the problems government regulators face when monitoring illegal apartment conversions in NYC, and non-compliant “Chinatown” motorcoach companies. (with NYU Wagner and OpenPlans)

All events are free and open to the public. Click on the event titles to register. See you in April!

Event Recap: NY Open Transportation Data Meetup


Last night, the NYU Rudin Center co-organized the kickoff meeting of the NY Open Transportation Data Meetup group, with Noel Hidalgo of Code for America and Cate Contino of Straphangers Campaign. The event was held at the great ThoughtWorks space. Presentations by Neil Freeman of NYC DOT and Mike Frumin of MTA showed the variety of data sets currently available.

The event also featured community announcements by NYU Wagner students promoting an upcoming design challenge surrounding Chinatown Bus regulations, Frank Hebbert of OpenPlans showcasing the IfWeKnew tool, and the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA previewing its upcoming report on data visualizations.

The group also discussed its wishlist for future data sets and projects, which will be posted on the group’s site shortly.

Hope to see you at the next event!

A Modest Proposal: Transportation Enterprise Zones


It’s a quiet week here at NYU and the Rudin Center, with the students still out on break and many of my colleagues in Washington, DC for the annual Transportation Research Board conference. I skipped the conference, but did make it to George Mason University’s School of Public Policy on Saturday morning for Transportation Camp DC, an un-conference organized by Frank Hebbert of NYC-based Open Plans.

Like all unconferences, Transportation Camp’s sessions were hit-or-miss. But I managed to end up in three that were quite interesting.

The first was on crowdsourcing strategies for mapping bike travel, organized by Kari Watkins and Alex Poznanski of Georgia Tech. They have been updating the CycleTracks app first launched by the city of San Francisco (which has received tens of thousands of trip logs from bikers) to map bike trips in Atlanta. This is a topic that’s dear to my heart, and I’m thinking actively about how Rudin can advance similar strategies here in New York to lay a baseline understanding of how bikes are used before the CitiBike launch this spring.

The second was about tactical urbanism and its meaning for transportation (I missed the organizer’s name unfortunately). Most of the discussion was about how tactical or informal and formal urban interests can interact. One participant suggested the need for a national organization like Project for Public Spaces to step up and develop a toolkit for helping community activists cross the bridge from tactical intervention to pilot, and how to connect with organizations like arts councils, business improvement districts, etc. that can inter-mediate their relations with authorities to get needed permissions and funds to evolve beyond one-offs.

The final conversation was about what session leader Andrew Jawitz of Car Free Maine called “civic hardware” – using cheap DIY technologies like Arduino and Raspberry Pi to build automated vehicle trackers for under $200. (Perhaps the best example was the Transit Appliance  that turned the beloved Chumby into an ambient next bus display for your desk or night stand)

• • •

The real epiphany of the day for me popped into my head during the tactical urbanism session, and really gelled during the civic hardware chat. Just like the old American maxim that “states are the laboratories of democracy”, by corollary “blocks are the laboratories of a city”, someone said.

Well then, why don’t we change the rules for transportation in the places that are really problematic?

What if we designated “transportation enterprise zones” and encourage experimentation and innovation by loosening some of the regulations that stifle mobility innovation? Immediately, a bunch of recent examples where this approach might have helped came to mind. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, huge swaths of New Jersey’s Hudson County were cut off from Manhattan due to the months-long knockout of PATH commuter rail (service to Hoboken, where I live, has still not been fully restored nearly three months after the storm). While buses, ferries and licensed taxis filled many of the gaps, and informal vans (so-called “dollar vans”) already carry many passengers across the river to New York each day (because as interstate commerce they cannot be regulated by the Port Authority or either state), I wondered if there might have been other rules that could be relaxed – parking, pickup and dropoff locations, even labor and safety regulations – that might have spurred additional providers to pick up the considerable slack left by the PATH’s destruction.

More prosaically, I wondered if a transportation enterprise zone might have been a way to steer a course through this fall’s squabble between San Francisco-based electronic taxi hailing app Uber and the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission. The conflict arose over the app’s end-run around the city’s decades-old separation of taxi fleets, designed to ensure a steady supply for street hails by prohibiting yellow cabs from making pre-arranged pickups. A citywide rule change, spurred by a left coast startup’s complaint, seemed premature. But why not pilot it for rides originating in a limited zone, perhaps one that by luck of the geographical draw (say Lower Manhattan south of City Hall) has suffered from a chronic shortage of empty trolling cabs?

Other potential test beds come to mind – Detroit’s buses are an endangered species. Could more lax rules entice some budding entrepreneurs to fill the gaps? New York’s airport taxi dispatching schemes are an over-regulated mess, with numerous shady operators operating at the margins – why not de-criminalize them and work on improving the flow of vehicles through the terminals instead of punishing drivers and passengers alike with archaic queues?

Where else might this work? The enterprise zone idea originated in the 1970s, when British geographer and urbanist Peter Hall proposed that the model of Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan might be re-imported to the United Kingdom to spur investment. He argued that “fairly shameless free enterprise” might be used as an “extremely last-ditch solution… only on a very small scale.” (1) People like Paul Romer (here at NYU’s Urbanization Project) have more recently argued, in the developing world at least, for the opposite – that they are a high priority strategy to be implemented expeditiously and on a massive scale. The result is the so-called “charter city”.

I object to charter cities. In the name of anti-corruption they throw the baby out with the bath water. As Rudin Center visiting scholar Greg Lindsay has argued, they work great on paper but are destined to failure when they get entangled in the messy land struggles of developing nations. But targeted deregulation is something worth trying when nothing else works. And enterprize zones are a viable pragmatic response to stagnation and partisan paralysis. As one analysis conducted for the Minnesota state legislature noted “…enterprise zones have received support from both ends of the political spectrum. Professor Hall was a Fabian Socialist. The Thatcher government, on the other end of the political spectrum, enacted legislation adopting the zone program in Britain. Both the Reagan and Clinton administrations proposed zones with the latter succeeding in enacting them. Congressmen Jack Kemp (a conservative Republican) and Robert Garcia (a liberal Democrat) were coauthors of the initial federal proposals.”(2)

Why not give it a shot? What would you propose for a transportation enterprise zone?

References:

  1. Stuart M. Butler, “Enterprise Zones: Pioneering in the Inner City,” Economic Development Tools (1981): 25-41.
  2. “Enterprise Zones: A Review of the Economic Theory and Empirical Evidence”, Don Hirasuna and Joel Michael (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Minnesota House of Representatives Research Department), January 2005, http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hrd/pubs/entzones.pdf.