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This ornate traffic light, was one of seven put up in New York City on the heavily traveled Fifth Avenue in 1922. The city had experimented with traffic signals in 1917 when a device invented by an engineer, Foster Milliken, was installed at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street. On May 16, 1921 the New York City Board of Estimate approved five new traffic towers to replace these original towers along Fifth Avenue at 34th, 38th, 42nd, 50th and 57th Streets.  Two more towers were eventually added to the plan and placed at 14th and 26th Streets, making a total of seven towers running up and down Fifth Avenue. The first new tower was put into service at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street on December 14, 1922  at 2 pm amid much fanfare. On April 27, 1925 the new city law went into effect, and amber or yellow lights were eliminated to signal that northbound and southbound traffic had the right to proceed. The decline in crash rates in and around the London congestion charging zone has far outpaced the decrease in traffic volumes. Evidence keeps mounting that congestion pricing can catalyze major reductions in traffic crashes. In short, driving in the London charging zone isn’t just smoother and more predictable, it’s safer. The research reported last year was compiled in a working paper, Traffic Accidents and the London Congestion Charge.
Would a new surcharge on taxi and for-hire vehicle trips in Manhattan below 59th Street thin out traffic on congested streets? Every year the city’s Independent Budget Office releases a list of options to cut expenses and raise revenue for the city budget [PDF]. At a hearing about Manhattan traffic this morning convened by Borough President Gale Brewer, a simple consensus emerged: The fundamental issue is the limited amount of street space in the Manhattan core and the practically unlimited demand to use it. McLoughlin, who commutes from Monmouth County each day, backed Move New York toll reform as a step in the right direction for reducing congestion. Uber also backed Move New York, which would include surcharges for taxi and for-hire vehicles below W. Where traffic is worse, the politics of turning a wide, car-centric street into a safe, efficient street are tougher. For a moment yesterday, it seemed like the big clash between the taxi medallion industry and app-based car services, framed in terms of Uber’s effect on snarled Manhattan traffic, might veer into unexpectedly brilliant territory.
But the moment didn’t last long, with Governor Cuomo extinguishing the road pricing talk right away.
The Uber fight was a rare case where transportation issues became front-page news, but the arguments about streets and traffic tended to descend into stupid talking points really fast. When you’re talking about the downsides of congestion, it’s tough to avoid framing the problem like an old-school traffic engineer, placing paramount importance on the movement of cars. You can try to reason with these people and explain the difference between peak speed and average speed, or show the data about bike lane redesigns that had no discernible effect on traffic. The bottom line: Traffic crashes are significantly lower with congestion charging — by as much as 40 percent within the cordon zone. Traffic crashes within the charging zone are down by approximately 400 per year, relative to ongoing trends, corresponding to a 38-40 percent decrease — a reduction several times greater than the drop in vehicle miles traveled. Even with considerable mode-shifting from cars to bicycles, motorcycles and taxis, crash rates for “uncharged” vehicles within the zone are 12 percent below those for the same vehicle classes in the control cities. The congestion charge has led to an estimated 46 fewer serious and fatal crashes within the charging zone each year, including 4-5 fewer fatalities per year. Toll reform is polling better in New York City than congestion pricing did, even when pollsters don’t mention that the Move NY plan would mean billions in transit revenue. Road tolling a la American turnpikes and thruways is already extensive in China, as a means to finance highways rather than manage traffic.
The biggest driver of China’s interest in congestion pricing is air pollution, with gridlock, which is spreading to more hours and more areas in every city, a close second. The economist’s paradigm of “congestion causation” (the aggregate delay to other road users caused by each additional car trip to the CBD) has barely surfaced in transportation planning and the design of road pricing instruments in China, yet it seems an important metric for screening candidate cities for congestion pricing.
You can drive into the center of town and clog up the streets without paying a dime, but you’ve got to pay a fare to ride the bus. Among former critics of ideas to toll the East River bridges, reactions to this one have been mixed. Brodsky, who hasn’t held office since a failed run for attorney general in 2010, represented the wealthiest Manhattan-bound car commuters in the NYC region. Reforming NYC’s road pricing system will make the regional transportation network more equitable in profound ways. Two of the nation’s leading lefty commentators weighed in on transportation incentives last Friday, when both economist Paul Krugman at the New York Times and Matt Yglesias at Slate went on a congestion pricing kick.
As Krugman noted, congestion pricing is an important mechanism to account for the cost imposed by drivers on society in the form of lost time. The flipside of congestion pricing would be to account for the social benefits of non-automotive modes by subsidizing them. Toward the end of last week, City Council speaker and current 2013 mayoral frontrunner Christine Quinn set off a burst of transportation policy buzz when she said she still supports congestion pricing but doesn’t expect it to get revived in Albany.
Remember, though, that while risk-averse Albany electeds may try to preemptively dismiss road pricing as politically impossible, public support for the idea is actually quite strong when it’s framed as a way to fund transit, according to a series of Quinnipiac polls conducted in 2007 and 2008. Capital New York’s Azi Paybarah has done a huge service by graphing the results of those Q poll congestion pricing questions.
New York: A place where space for cars comes at the expense of space for walking, biking, and transit. In a piece that ran this weekend, editorial board member Josh Greenman reminds us that people drive motor vehicles to make useful trips, and that New York is already more walkable than Miami. Greenman sees himself as a sort of mediator between different factions — the bike, the car, and the pedestrian.
Behind the zero-sum vision of some pro-bicycle advocates is a tacit assertion that in some parts of the city, cars, those corporate tools, have no claim to the road.
Here’s how Streetsblog evaluates the transportation and planning subjects we write about.
City streets should be safe from traffic violence, so that people of every age can walk without fear of injury or death. People should have convenient access to jobs, schools, and other destinations in their daily lives.
Major streets have been designed to maximize automobile throughput during times of peak demand (i.e.
Traffic clogs streets during the times of day when demand for travel is most intense, delaying surface transit and motorists while discouraging walking, bicycling, and social activity. This article is even more disingenuous because of the Daily News waging an ongoing war against bikes.
Bottom line-fix the problem of an excessive number of private autos in the city, and most of the other problems will go away. Or you could say the same thing in economic terms: If you give away any scarce, valuable resource for free, you will create a shortage of it by encouraging people to use it wastefully. We create a shortage of street space by giving it away for free to automobiles, so we create a shortage of street space for everyone – including pedestrians and bicyclists. One only has to look at a single avenue in NYC to understand the notion that NYC’s transportation system is decidedly not balanced. For Josh Greenman, his fellow tabloids journalists and many many other New Yorkers, transportation still is not a serious and legitimate realm of policy. For guys like Josh, the way to show Seriousness is, as Ben notes, to position oneself as the Centrist, above the fray, fair and balanced. While the livable streets movement is a real and good thing, this proposal is pie in the sky. It’s really great to have this articulated so clearly and, given the scope of the subject, concisely.


I can’t tell you how many times this argument has made me nearly flip my lid, and have never been able to put it this well, thanks Mark. I’ll also add the second picture from the bottom vividly illustrates the concept of designing streets to move as many people as possible, as opposed to as many cars as possible. It’s too bad that photo is deceiving because the field of view is different in each of the three photos. This has also been done in Munich, Portland, and NYC, though I couldn’t easily find the resulting images.
The device was a revolving flashlight that would flash signals as red to stop and green for go.  This may sound ridiculous now, but in the early days of traffic signals there was no standard for color relating to traffic. A driver proceeding north on Fifth Avenue has a green signal flashed against him at Forty-second Street to indicate he is to stop and let the crosstown traffic move.
The towers would be a gift from The Fifth Avenue Association, but would then be maintained by the city. A year ago I reported on research that vehicle crashes in central London fell as much as 40 percent since the 2003 startup of London’s congestion charge. And safer for cyclists as well as drivers, with the number of people on bikes expanding considerably as car volumes have fallen.
The new results stressing crash rates (per mile driven or bicycled), rather than crash numbers, appear in the paper’s final, peer-reviewed version published in January in the Journal of Public Economics. Not much it won’t, according to transportation economist Charles Komanoff, whose traffic analysis has helped shape the Move NY toll reform campaign. The de Blasio administration is currently finalizing its report on the effect of Uber, Lyft, and other app-based car services on Manhattan congestion.
There was Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris in the Daily News, telling the MTA that City Hall would consider the Move NY traffic reduction plan to fund transit investment. Soon after, Mayor de Blasio beat a sudden retreat from his proposed cap on for-hire vehicle licenses, getting a few concessions from Uber, and now the whole episode will fade from the news cycle, at least for the time being. Uber NYC General Manager Josh Mohrer was hardly the only person who tried to blame bike lanes and other safety measures for the recent downturn in average Manhattan traffic speeds. Even on Streetsblog, we’ve run plenty of posts talking about the effect of Uber in terms of average traffic speeds. So how about this: Traffic congestion in New York is terrible because it’s an obstacle to designing streets that work best for our city. That’s the takeaway from a new “working paper” analyzing traffic crash rates in and around the London congestion charging zone by three economists associated with the Management School at Lancaster University. The proposal for a road charge below 60th Street in Manhattan during rush hours polled in the 30s, generally, when transit revenue was not mentioned. Pricing polled in the high 50s and low 60s when it was framed as a way to keep fares low. The plan calls for removing the Manhattan parking tax rebate and adding a taxi trip surcharge.
Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai — megacities whose populations are on the scale of New York’s? Increasingly, however, with traffic and vehicle exhaust demonstrably harming business as well as human health in dozens of cities, and with strategies like quotas on new vehicles unable to offset the growth in driving, officials are looking to “economic measures.” Tolling vehicle entries to congested city centers has established a strong enough track record elsewhere in improving traffic flow and air quality that it is attracting interest not just from municipal officials but also from China’s national transport and environment ministries. Some 200 officials and academics from 11 provinces, 30 cities, and at least a dozen universities packed a two-day “International Forum on Economic Policies for Traffic Congestion and Tailpipe Emissions” organized by the Energy Foundation China. Revenue may become politically salient, however, as dwindling revenues from sales of land force municipalities to come up with other ways to finance transit lines.
It will speed up the surface transit that less affluent New Yorkers rely on, improving access to jobs. After all, in some big American cities the peak congestion charge would have to get quite hefty at some times of the day. Anything that brings the actual price of our transportation decisions in line with the cost to society will be a boon for transit, biking, and walking relative to the status quo. The European Cyclists Federation currently has an interesting proposal on this front. With the European Union examining the “internalisation of external costs for all modes of transport, the ECF is advocating for a policy that would function as a kind of carrot, rewarding cyclists through tax rebates and incentives. The problem is that the Daily News opinion team doesn’t understand how city streets function. We should maximize their potential as public spaces and as generators of economic activity. When you reduce subsidies for driving and reallocate space from cars to walking, biking, and transit, then you improve quality of life across the board. The core characteristic of BipartisanThink is that it prizes the appearance of being above the fray, regardless of what one may actually think of the positions being debated.
It’s an expression with no meaning except to occupy the middle-of-the-road, unintentionally calling for New York to be less like New York and more like Parsippany.
He has been covering the movement for safer streets, effective transit, and livable cities since 2008. Most cycling and pedestrian advocacy groups recognize that some motor vehicles are indeed essential for New York City. It’s thanks to heavy motor traffic that we create an environment hostile to both bikes and pedestrians. It’s no secret that in cities overseas where they made it harder and most costly to travel by private auto, things improved markedly for everyone. The world should be set up so that Winners get the rewards of Winning (preference for cars).
That in turn bodes well for a society where wealth isn’t mostly in the hands of a few. The two sets of bullets in the middle are just about the best statement of the goals and challenges of our movement I’ve ever read. The Daily News piece conflates necessary motor vehicle traffic (delivery trucks, garbage trucks, ambulances, and on-demand car services such as taxis) with private cars (which largely duplicate the functions of the subway and bus systems and present obstacles to necessary traffic). If you were to ban personal autos from the city, you wouldn’t ban them from the entire city at once. Harriss, Special Deputy Police Commissioner, in charge of traffic, had originally introduced traffic towers along Fifth Avenue on March 4, 1920. The same researchers are now expressing the safety dividend in terms of falling per-mile crash rates, and the figures are even more impressive. Their conclusion: Since the onset of congestion charging, crashes in central London fell at a faster rate than the decrease in traffic volumes. And the Move NY plan still has an opening in Albany in the next few months, as Governor Cuomo and the state legislature search for ways to pay for the MTA capital program and upstate roads and bridges. Finally, a sign that some of the big players are getting serious about a comprehensive fix for the city’s congestion problem. Council Member Dan Garodnick, someone who generally gets how streets work and chooses his words carefully, was the first public figure on record to toss around that theory.
The trouble is that when you focus on how easily people can drive around the city, you create an opening for people to point their finger at anything that might slow down cars — like bike lanes, or a lower speed limit. It would raise nearly $1.5 billion a year, with a quarter of revenue dedicated to road and bridge maintenance and the remainder to transit capital and operating funds. It’s regressive that wealthy car owners can drive into the center of the city without paying a dime, while transit riders have no choice but to pay higher fares because the MTA capital program is backed by mountains of debt. And by injecting funds into the MTA Capital Program, it will help improve the transit system without fares eating up a bigger chunk of household budgets.
Some folks will respond to that by paying the fee, some by time-shifting their driving to a less-crowded hour, and some by riding transit. A bus, after all, is a great mechanism for spreading the cost of road access across a large number of people. Meanwhile, in America, we actually have a “symbolic” bike tax gaining traction in Washington state. God forbid anyone in power should try to make life easier for those who dominate the roads. As a result, they are so wide that children and the elderly have difficulty crossing, and when traffic is less intense, the width of the street leads drivers to travel at speeds that endanger pedestrians, cyclists, and other drivers.


Dedicated transit lanes and safe bike lanes need to be in place so people can travel without jamming the streets and delaying other people.
Is it any surprise then that both take liberties with the law for both personal safety and efficiency? Just charging non-essential vehicles a fee of maybe $25 to enter NYC limits during peak hours would do wonders.
Streets should be widened, cars should be allowed to go as fast as possible, parking should be overbuilt, etc.
Crime, housing, jobs, education — these were the issues at the top of the civic agenda in NYC. We’ve really thought about what streets are for and how NYC might go about making them work best.
You might start with the Manhattan CBD, then work your way north and south until they were banned from the entire island a few years later. In nearly all cases this indicates we need to allocate more space away from motor vehicles and towards pedestrians and cyclists.
Harriss paid for the traffic towers’ construction and maintenance out of his own pocket. As important as the reduction in traffic has been for safety, at least as much improvement is due to the lower crash frequency per mile driven. Control line is weighted average of 20 other urban areas, with data normalized to match pre-2003 crash data for charging zone. I was invited to report on NYC’s mixed record and share analytical insights from my traffic modeling work. And while with highways the quality of the service provided declines with the number of users (traffic jams), with well-designed transit it goes the other way. If a motor vehicle lane along your car commute is converted into a bicycle lane or a bus lane, that feels like a loss.
It DOES NOT include trucks just passing through from NJ to LI because of our toll structure. NYC has the advantage of being one of the few places in the country where traveling by private auto is totally optional. Most of the 5% who use private autos there regularly are indeed the wealthy and privileged. And without having any care or understanding for policy, he is left only with a political lens. Getting from my NW Bronx neighborhood to say, Queens in a timely manner by anything but car is a massive pain in the ass. Folks in Eastern Queens and Staten Island (places that in all honesty should probably be suburban municipalities rather than city neighborhoods) will never go for it. And then in the outer boroughs you first ban autos from the most congested parts, and work your way outward from those. I’m fine with rich people having their toys, but not with the expectation that the masses should suffer so they can use their toys as they see fit. These first traffic towers were sheds, housed twelve feet off the ground in the center of the intersections, manned by a traffic officer who controlled hand-operated green, yellow and red signals.
Schwartz’s plan was “a fundamentally regressive tax,” even if equity problems among the boroughs were “addressed to an extent,” at least compared with the 2008 plan.
The more people who want to travel on a particular transit route, the more financially viable it is to provide high-frequency service. Even if fewer people are getting hurt and more people can get where they want to go, it may seem like the angry people cancel out the pleased people.
It does not include taxis and livery vehicles which are mostly nonessential when you have as great a subway and bus system as we do. This is despite attempts by some City Council members to present congestion pricing as something which would hurt working class slobs (most of whom don’t drive into Manhattan). At the same time, you expand public transit and bike share so everyone is within a mile of a subway station as originally proposed by the second subway plans in the 1930s. In a true democracy we probably would have already banned or severely restricted personal automobiles in a place like Manhattan because their benefits to the 5% who use them are greatly outweighed by the problems they cause everyone else.
The other traffic officers stationed along Fifth Avenue would take their cues from these signals in regards to the flow of traffic. If we make it difficult or impossible for someone to get around by chauffeured auto, then the incentive to earn enough money to afford the chauffeured auto disappears. Not saying I like it, but the current built environment and transportation configuration is what it is. I know full well that right now there are some trips which are highly inconvenient except by personal auto. That includes people traveling on buses, delivery trucks making their rounds, and emergency vehicles responding to calls for help. Each tower was about 24 feet tall, weighed five tons and was built of solid cast bronze on a heavy steel frame.
The article talks about cars letting people from well beyond the city participate in the life of the city. With traffic lights on nearly block, if pedestrians waited at every red signal, it would easily take them twice as long to get where their going. With a plan in place to fix that, you could eventually ban cars citiwide over a period of maybe 10 or 15 years. All of these operate far less efficiently than they could because a minority of people who feel they matter more than everyone else think they should be able to drive and park wherever they want. The situation is no different for cyclists, and yet you chide them for breaking traffic laws and traffic controls which really wouldn’t even need to exist if not for the ridiculous volume of private automobiles. The incentive to make enough to afford to live in these neighborhoods, presumably so you don’t have to be among working class people, largely disappears. In the meantime, we could give serious disincentives to auto use where other options exist, such as commuting from the suburbs into Manhattan.
What’s wrong with driving to a park-and-ride in the suburbs, and then taking the train in? All this can work far better to ensure more equal distribution of wealth than all the income transfer schemes combined. I’ve heard upwards of 50% of the traffic in the outer boroughs is suburban car commuters going into Manhattan. That could easily be addressed right now with a congestion charge and a ban in Manhattan on curbside parking. The latter two groups need something to strive for, What society doesn’t need is to have most of the wealth concentrated in the hands of relatively few billionaires. They not only clog the roads unnecessarily, but parked cars are an aesthetic eyesore and a waste of valuable real estate. Delivery trucks take much longer to make their rounds as a result of congestion, and don’t have enough loading zones because of all the curbside space devoted to parked private automobiles.
Moreover, parked vehicles close to intersections interfere with lines of sight, and thus present a safety hazard.
If there’s any one thing we should do to make the city more livable, it would be to ban curbside vehicle storage.
Curbside parking should only be allowed for commercial vehicles to load or unload, and even then the space within 75 to 100 feet of intersections should remain free of parked vehicle to preserve lines of sight .



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