Greening New York: Sustainable Streets Index 2008

This is the first submittal of a series to be presented by Streets in cooperation with a number of groups and contributors over the remainder of this month, devoted to reporting on problems and problem-solving by key actors in the city of New York as they steadily increase civic, professional and political support for sustainable transportation innovation.This report was prepared by the New York City Department of Transportation, Dec. 2008. It gives an excellent feel for the new approach being undertaken by an energetic and amibitious consortium of groups, agencies, local leaders and concerned and active citizens. More follows.

Executive Summary

From 2003 to 2007, rising levels of mass transit ridership and bicycling commuting accompanied New York City’s population and employment growth. Vehicle traffic levels, however, were essentially unchanged. These years mark the first time since World War II that the City experienced a period of entirely transit-centered growth, where non-auto modes absorbed all growth in travel in New York City. These trends bode well for the long range transportation and sustainability goals of encouraging mass transit, walking, cycling and ferries established in PlaNYC, the City’s sustainability plan for 2030, and Sustainable Streets, the Department of Transportation’s strategic plan.

Today’s headlines focus on the need to fund the city’s transit system. Funding decisions made in coming months will determine the mixture of transit fare increases, service cuts, higher taxes and new tolls that are used to address the transit system’s fiscal difficulties. This report makes clear that these decisions are not simply budget choices, but have the potential to profoundly impact the city’s mobility systems, its economic health and its environment and quality of life.

This report looks broadly at trends in how travelers use the city’s streets and transportation systems since 1990. The report focuses on the period of economic expansion from 2003 to 2007. It also compares trends during this recent period with trends during the economic expansion of the 1990s. These comparisons are essential to understanding how New Yorkers are changing the ways they travel in the face of the population and employment growth of recent years and changes in transportation systems and operations. The analysis thus illuminates how well the city is positioned for sustainable growth once the current downturn in the economic cycle plays out.

Key findings are:

– Citywide traffic volumes were generally flat from 2003 to 2007, in contrast to the 11% increase in traffic in the 1990s. Particularly notable is that areas outside the Manhattan Central Business District (CBD) that showed sustained growth in traffic as recently as 2002, such as on the Westchester/Bronx and Staten Island/New Jersey borders, have shown little or no growth in traffic since 2002.

– Citywide transit ridership increased 9% from 2003 to 2007. Transit ridership growth was particularly strong in 2006 and 2007, reflecting the accelerating pace of job growth in those years.

– Transit ridership entering the Manhattan CBD increased 12% from 2003 to 2007.

Traffic entering the CBD from Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey was essentially unchanged from 2003 to 2007. Traffic entering the CBD across 60th Street declined by 8%, suggesting an auto-to-transit mode shift in this travel market.

– Bikes are the fastest-growing mode of travel into the Manhattan CBD, with a 70% increase since 2002. The New York City Department of Transportation’s continued expansion of bike facilities, including separated bike lanes on some corridors, has helped spur this growth.

– Ferry ridership was about the same in 2007 as in 2004. Current ferry ridership is 19% above the levels of the late 1990s, although not as high as the peak ferry ridership reached while PATH service was disrupted due to the 9/11 attacks.

Overall, these findings show that from 2003 to 2007, New York City entered into a fully transit-centered phase of population and economic growth. Transit services absorbed all of the growth in travel, while traffic volumes were flat or, in limited instances, declining. The trends in this recent period contrast with the 1990s, when traffic volumes increased (albeit at a slower rate than transit ridership), and with earlier decades when traffic increased and transit ridership either grew more slowly or declined.

The 2003 to 2007 trends show historic progress toward the city’s sustainability goals. They also raise equally important challenges and opportunities for maintaining and extending this progress. The most critical challenge is to expand transit capacity to absorb ridership increases and relieve overcrowding. Findings in this report underscore the importance of providing sufficient funding to meet transit capital and operating needs, and of investing in bus service expansions and improvements in areas beyond the reach of the subway system and where subway ridership exceeds system capacity.

Opportunities exist to enhance alternatives to motor vehicle use through continued expansion of the bike network, addition of bus lanes, and transformation of streets into places for pedestrian use and enjoyment. These improvements can play a key role in absorbing growth in travel in the city, expanding access to jobs and improving the environment. Enhancements to public space and streetscapes can both enhance the quality of life and produce economic benefits. Surveys in New York and London found that merchants and businesses identify streetscape quality as important to attracting tenants and customers, and that high quality public space is associated with increased property values.

For full report, click here

One thought on “Greening New York: Sustainable Streets Index 2008

  1. I love this website, the information is great and I have bookmarked it in my favorites. This is a well organized and informative website. Great Job!


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