Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Van Wicked

For those of you who have been downplaying our concerns about the traffic impact of the Willets Point development, today's NY Daily News article on NYC traffic should be a real eye opener-the city traffic is so bad that we are rapidly approaching Los Angelos levels, and may soon pass smog city. Even more interesting to us, of course, is the role that the Van Wyck plays in this traffic nightmare-two of the five worst hot spots are on this one expressway.

As the News reports: "New York City is on a highway from hell, poised to creep past Los Angeles for a dubious honor: the country's gridlock capital. The New York-New Jersey metro area has been deemed the second most congested in the U.S. - and the slow-speed gap with smogged-and-clogged L.A. is narrowing, a new report on highway travel reveals. "The level of congestion in New York is worsening at a faster rate than L.A.," said traffic expert Sam Schwartz, who writes the Daily News' Gridlock Sam column. "If this continues, within one year we very well may be the most congested city in America."

How could this possibly happen with the Bicycle Queen in charge of NYC transportation? You know, Ms. Carbon Footprint Reduction herself, good old pedestrian mall Sadik-Khan: "The data come from the 2010 National Traffic Scorecard compiled by INRIX, a technology and traffic information company based in Washington State. It calculates travel times using anonymous Global Positioning System devices.The New York region's congestion was equal to 86% of that experienced by L.A. drivers in 2009, but rose to 99% last year, the report shows. Schwartz said that may be the downside of an improving economy."

Gridlock Sam is onto something, but is, at the same time, missing the crucial variable-it isn't only a generic improvement in the city's economy that pushing folks into their cars to shop. The X factor is the number of suburban style malls that EDC has been successfully promoting-and the bogus traffic studies used to justify their zoning applications. As Schwartz hints: "I think more people are working, more people are spending money and more people are traveling," Schwartz said."

But just take a look at the Van Wyck gridlock that is pictured in the story-and Willets Point United's Brian Ketcham has documented how that roadway is simply unable to accommodate the 80,000 car trips a day that the Willets Point project will bequeath to it. But is precisely this reality that NYC EDC and DOT are trying to avoid-making an end run of the review process for the construction of ramps to and from the development from off of the Van Wyck.

Unable to justify the ramps to state and federal regulators, the EDC bait and switchers are moving to condemn and construct without the ramp approvals that the agency-and the former deputy mayor-had said were prerequisites to doing just that. And this is without considering-as Brian Ketcham has done-the building of Flushing Commons and 20 million sq.ft. of additional development for in and around Willets Point.

One other important point. It is quite likely that the traffic estimates for Willets Point and Flushing Commons-as large as they are-may in fact be low balled numbers. That's because Ketcham has identified in the official traffic studies, an inordinate estimate of the number of mass transit trips that both projects will generate-underestimating car ownership and usage to get these numbers.

There are two possible scenarios we can deduce from this-neither of them pretty. In the first instance, the low car estimate and high mass transit numbers are righteous-which means that there will be thousands of additional daily bus and subway riders that simply can't be accommodated by the infrastructure (think Train). The other scenario is, of course, that car ridership is considerably higher than the official numbers would have us believe-meaning that the highway gridlock will be almost exponentially greater.

Whatever the scenario, however, the efforts of EDC to avoid oversight and regulatory review have profound implications for all those folks who are suffering on both the Van Wyck and the Grand Central. It is exactly why SDOT has been strongly resisting giving the ramp application the green light that Sadik-Khan has been pressuring it to do.

EDC and NYC DOT need to be reined in-just as the locals in Park Slope are trying, on a smaller scale, to do with their bike lanes. The Bloomberg malling of the city has had a disastrous impact on NYC small business-and now we find that it may be having a similar impact on the overly congested roads. Willets Point United shouldn't be alone in the effort to put brakes on this wrong headed policy that is exemplified by the plan for the Iron Triangle-it should be everyone's concern, especially those who pretend to worry about Global Warming and the city's carbon footprint.