Tag Archives: highways

A Fast-Track Plan for New York

Originally published by The New York Observer:

Dreaming of New Subways

Throughout New York’s history, change has been a constant feature of the city’s transportation infrastructure. Well, it used to be.

Aside from the long-delayed Second Avenue subway, civil engineers haven’t had much work to do in the past five decades. A time traveler from 1961 would find the city’s traffic patterns, street grid, highways, subway lines, river crossings and airports basically the same.

New York’s second-newest major bridge, the Throgs Neck, opened nine days before JFK delivered his “ask not what your country” inaugural address. The Verrazano came in 1964. Then that was it—unless you count the link between Rikers Island and Queens in 1966. Aside from a few extensions on the outer borders of Queens and the minor 63rd Street tunnel, the subway looks much the way it did during World War II. For many New Yorkers, getting to LaGuardia still requires a cab, despite the half-assed AirTrain. Ditto for JFK.

The Center for an Urban Future recently concluded that too much of our “essential infrastructure remains stuck in the 20th century,” posing a barrier “for a city positioning itself to compete with other global cities.”

There is little reason to believe things will improve. Despite Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recently announced plan to add some ferry routes launching in 2017, his administration has reduced infrastructure spending from budgets under Mayor Michael Bloomberg—who devoted most of that money to new parks and schools.

New stuff? As the parking sign says, don’t even think about it.

But that’s a choice.

New York could fund big-ticket transportation projects through the imposition of a modest stock transaction tax on the $45 billion traded daily on the NYSE. Some liberal Democrats are floating a 3 basis point (.03 cent) tax on trades. That’s not enough. From 1914 to 1966—while America won two world wars and became the world’s dominant superpower—it was 10 basis points. Precedents include France, which has a 20 basis point tax and Taiwan (10-30 basis points).

A securities tax would generate an estimated $10 billion annually. Enough to pay for a slew of ambitious, and needed, projects over the next decade or two.

Let’s start using this money to expand subways.

The long-awaited extension of the 7 subway may open as early as this month. Nice start, but the old idea of running the 7 out to the Meadowlands to alleviate Lincoln Tunnel traffic and provide an alternative to Penn Station for boarding New Jersey Transit, is just as overdue.

Even after the projected 2019—yeah, right—opening of the Second Avenue line, Lower East Side residents will remain woefully underserved by subways. The MTA should add a train along the Harlem River waterfront to connect Avenue D and East End Avenue to the rest of Manhattan.

A major shortcoming of New York’s current subway configuration is its failure to adapt aspects of the efficient spiderweb or grid patterns urban planners favor in more modern systems like Paris, London, Seoul and Tokyo.

Any transit expert would look at a NYC subway map and ask with puzzlement: Why isn’t there a line running around the city’s outer perimeter along the Westchester and Nassau County borders? To get from the Jamaica section of Queens and to Flatbush, Brooklyn, you have to head halfway to Manhattan to switch subways, or endure long rides on local city buses. That’s stupid.

Huge swaths of Southern Queens, currently off the grid, should be connected via a new line arcing west-to-east through the Bronx, then north-south through Queens and Brooklyn, parallel to and east of the G.

No borough is more subwayless than the city’s redheaded stepchild, Staten Island. But it doesn’t have to be that way. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been blocking the century-old dream of running a subway line under New York Harbor from Brooklyn to Staten Island to New Jersey, but half the idea would still be an improvement. Let’s revive the Staten Island-Saint George tunnel between Brooklyn, which the city abandoned in the early 1920s.

In most major metropolises, rail systems connect directly from the city-center to the terminals. Not here, mostly due to NIMBYism and highway-obsessed Robert Moses. Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently floated a proposal to build an elevated AirTrain to link LaGuardia to the subway system, but transportation blogger Ben Kabak would better solve the airport access problem by extending the N along the Grand Central Parkway.

Anyone who drives in New York knows we need to add bridges and tunnels. Crossing the Hudson River during rush hour, as impenetrable as the Berlin Wall back in the day, could become slightly less hellish by executing one or more of the numerous forgotten plans for bridges at 23rd, 57th, 70th and 125th Streets. I’d go with 70th Street, more or less splitting the distance between the Lincoln Tunnel and the George Washington Bridge; either bridge or tunnel would be fine.

Conventional wisdom among liberal transportation types dictates that highway construction begets increased traffic: Build them and they will come. I don’t buy it. Even old-timers who curse Robert Moses for destroying the Bronx recall with a shudder the horror of sitting for hours on Broadway in upper Manhattan, waiting to get to the Bronx as stuck cars overheated, making congestion worse.

Driving from Long Island to Western Brooklyn, and/or on to New Jersey via Staten Island, requires extremely circuitous routes: Via the congested LIE and BQE, or skirting around the bulbous outline of Brooklyn. The obvious solution is to extend the Jackie Robinson Parkway, which currently begins at the Grand Central and Van Wyck Parkways in Kew Gardens. Nowadays, it dumps that highway traffic at Jamaica Avenue in East New York (there used to be a major train station there). We should extend the Jackie Robinson west toward the BQE.

Last but not least, it’s time to replicate the success of forward-looking cities like Dallas, Seattle and Portland, Ore., by bringing back streetcars. They’re relatively cheap. They’re cute. When their tracks run in dedicated, carless lanes, they’re faster than automobiles. There are smart plans for new streetcar lines along the waterfront in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, 42nd Street in Manhattan and Astoria in Queens.

We have work to do. Let’s get New York moving again.

***

Ted Rall is the author of the forthcoming book Snowden by Ted Rall

SYNDICATED COLUMN: You Know Your Country Sucks When You Look Wistfully Back at Stalin

http://cdni.condenast.co.uk/646x430/k_n/Moscow15_CNT_27may10_646.jpg

 

You can tell a lot about the state of a country by comparing the state of its public and private infrastructure.

Take a look, if you can sneak past the gated community guard shack and peek through the privets without getting tackled by a rented goon, at the homes of the wealthy. Note the manicured lawns of the one percenters, fertilized the months recommended by experts depending on climactic zone, painstakingly controlled for weeds, irrigation calibrated by volume, on timers. Check out the garden: lines of shrubs that run a hundred bucks each, red-dyed mulch hiding the dirty brown dirt and tamping down unwanted dandelions before they get a chance to sprout. The driveway is flat, smooth, free of cracks. Stucco walls, if you live out West, are similarly crack-free; if you’re east of the Mississippi, bricks are framed by perfect pointing. Every detail, from the brass numbers on the mailbox to the baseboards to the perfect absence of cobwebs in high ceiling corners, reflects thorough, routine, frequent maintenance and repairs by a retinue of professional service providers.

Tasteful. New. Kept up.

Bear in mind: all this perfectly-maintained stuff houses a single family. At most, we’re talking two parents, four kids and a nanny or two. Certainly fewer than 10 people.

Now look at our public infrastructure.

Drive on a public highway in any major city: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles. It’s a disaster. Potholes so big you worry about breaking an axle. (And you should. In New York State, for example, a recent study estimated that bad roads and bridges cost motorists $20.3 billion in repairs annually.) Cracked concrete and asphalt everywhere. Missing guardrails, stolen signs, and everywhere you turn, garbage. Graffiti and vandalism take a toll but mostly it’s all just old. Old, rusted, worn out, years of “deferred maintenance” — i.e., none at all. Yeah, people throw crap out their car windows — but municipal governments don’t clean it up for days, weeks months at a time.

Connecting two of NYC’s biggest boroughs, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway is used daily by 160,000 vehicles. It is hideous. It is narrow. It is literally falling apart. Constantly. “With its multitude of trucks and dangerous on-ramps, the BQE is a den of congestion at virtually all hours of the day,” The New York Times reported in 2012. “But one factor has condemned this antiquated 16.8-mile stretch of highway to a place of longstanding infamy in the New York metropolitan area, if not all of urban America: construction that never seems to end. As Gerry Michalowski, a truck driver who has traveled the BQE since 1978, put it, ‘It was under construction then, and it’s still under construction now.'”

Think again about that house I described at the beginning of this column.

It’s used by half a dozen people a year.

The BQE is used by 58 million vehicles a year.

If you don’t think there’s something wrong with this, if you defend the “right” of the wealthy to aggregate more and more until the point when they own everything including our bodies and souls, consider this: rich people have to drive on those roads too. By definition, 580,000 of those BQE users are one percenters.

America isn’t broke, but most Americans are. The reason is simple: too few people have too much of our national wealth. The pauperizing of our common property — the deliberate starving of public funding for roads, bridges, parks, schools, public hospitals, even hospitals charged with caring for veterans of America’s oil wars — reflects the economic and political system’s ass-backward priorities. It’s immoral. Because any society that spends more resources to maintain and upgrade private homes than public works is crazy stupid.

And it hurts the economy.

The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the United States needs to spend $3.6 trillion over the next six years to replace and repair the nation’s decaying dams, upgrade its parks and outdated schools, rusting water mains, and our crumbling airports, train and bus terminals, roads and bridges — many of which have deteriorated to Third World standards. (Although, to be fair to the Third World, I’ve seen U.S.-funded roads in Afghanistan in better shape than some in L.A.) The ASCE gives the U.S. a D+ on infrastructure.

The World Economic Forum ranks the U.S. 25th in the world in infrastructure, behind Oman, Saudi Arabia and Barbados.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Josef Stalin, of all people, showed how infrastructure could be prioritized over private property. The dictator approved every extravagance — and why not? Obama signs off on every luxury the military can dream up.

Determined that his new Moscow Metro be a “palace of the people” for the Soviet capital’s subway commuters, Stalin ordered that no expense be spared to create a system that was not only fast and efficient, but beautiful. “In stark contrast to the gray city above,” The Times wrote as late as 1988, “the bustling, graffiti-less Metro is a subterranean sanctuary adorned with crystal chandeliers, marble floors and skillfully crafted mosaics and frescoes fit for a czar’s palace.” With good reason: first Stalin had chandeliers ripped out of the czar’s old palaces and moved underground; for future stations he had even more stunning ones designed from scratch using radically innovative techniques.

The Moscow Metro remains a showcase of what socialism could do at its best: prioritize the people and thus improve their daily lives.

Then there’s us.

Earlier this week President “Obama appeared at the I-495 bridge over the Christina River in Wilmington, Del., a span that has been closed since June, when engineers discovered that four of its columns were leaning to one side. That has created a traffic nightmare for the 90,000 vehicles that travel the major East Coast highway every day.”

The President went to Delaware to “announce new initiatives to encourage private-sector investment in the nation’s infrastructure, including the creation of a ‘one-stop shop’ at the Department of Transportation to forge partnerships between state and local governments, and public and private developers and investors.” In other words: the usual too little, too late, and even that probably won’t happen.

You know you’re in trouble when you look up to Stalin.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

Los Angeles Times Cartoon: Jerry Mans Up

I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).

This week: Governor Jerry Brown wants California lawmakers to “man up” and make billions in cuts to state services.