Last Friday RR attended Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s Transportation 2030 Conference just up the street at John Jay College. The purpose of the conference – in its own words! – was to “address long standing transportation debates and identify ambitious solutions that will enhance the economy, safety, and accessibility of Metropolitan New York,” and also to “highlight new innovations in transportation technology that promise to make our transit system more efficient and eco-friendly.”
Maybe I’ve been spoiled by my recent experiences with the horizontal orientation of Occupy Wall Street, but I must say I was surprised at the lack of interactivity. Why draw together hundreds of New Yorkers with expertise and/or passionate interest in some aspect of local transportation and only give a couple dozen of them a chance to share their thoughts? Yes, after each panel of speakers held forth, the moderators took questions. (Quite a few audience members took the opportunity to go on rants ending with the most rhetorical of interrogatives.) But that’s no substitute for real brainstorming, involving everyone. At the one OWS General Assembly I attended, the crowd of hundreds broke out into groups of twenty or so to discuss a proposal to form a Spokes Council. The idea was that each group would discuss the issue, then report its findings back to the whole group. In that gathering, everyone got a chance to participate. No one fell asleep. I can’t make either statement about the plenary session of Transportation 2030.
Of course, there were highlights: RR got to hear DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan speak for the first time. Even better, RR got to whoop and clap for the Prospect Park West bike lane in the presence of prime opponent (and PPW resident, and former DOT Commissioner) Iris Weinschall.
The next brightest luminary was ex-Port Authority head Chris Ward, who made a great point and put forth an intriguing proposal. The great point was that though we might think of New York City’s transportation infrastructure as being eternal and immutable, it actually isn’t: It’s the result of “thousands of decisions” made every day. Those decisions can change direction. So it’s no waste of time, Ward said, to consider what sort of city each of us would like to live in twenty years from now. What we want may just be possible.
The intriguing proposal had to do with mitigating the deleterious effects of truck traffic in the Central Business District. Ward suggested dividing the area into zones modeled on the Postal Service’s ZIP codes, then letting logistics companies bid for the right to make all deliveries within a particular zone. These companies would be required to operate zero- or low-emissions electric vehicles, and execute deliveries at the least disruptive times of day. This system would drastically cut down on Vehicle Miles Traveled both across and within zones, and would also raise revenue to improve mass transit.
I wonder what other fascinating ideas were lurking in the minds of audience members, with no way into daylight.