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Cars All but Banned on One of Manhattan’s Busiest Streets (nytimes.com)
68 points by ramzyo 12 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 55 comments





> “I think it’s extreme and there should be a compromise. Everybody pays taxes — not just the people in the buses.”

I would make the opposite argument actually. Car drivers pay the same amount of taxes despite taking up more space on the road, causing more accidents etc. It's an unfair subsidy loophole that is finally getting plugged.


Not to mention that the guy who said that doesn't even live in New York--he commutes in from New Jersey!


Cars pay for the space they occupy through fuel, excise, and sales taxes.

Buses, on the other hand, are a loss-leading and highly subsidized form of transport.


> Cars pay for the space they occupy through fuel, excise, and sales taxes.

Your statement is absurd. You're arguing that something should have the right to occupy the public space and deprive others from using it just because the owner bought it and spends money on fuel.


The quoted text is meant to be read as “fuel taxes, excise taxes, and sales taxes.”

That doesn't even go to cover the deaths and injuries that cars cause, with 40,000 dead and 2.5 million injured or disables every single year in the USA.

But that cost isn’t shouldered on the public, every driver is required to carry insurance and most people also have personal liability in addition to that.

Driving carries risk and at scale that risk will 100% every time manifest as real harm. It’s not about whether the risk is there but whether the gain is worth it. A less politically charged example, ordering your steak rare. There is real risk, and people get sick, a smaller subset get really sick. And yet we do it constantly.


Fuel, excise and sales taxes don't come close to covering the cost of car infrastructure, not to mention the environmental externalities generated.

In 2016, state and local governments spent $175 billion on highways and roads [1].

Fuel taxes, sales taxes, and usage fees (tolls) generate roughly $150 billion per year.

Excise taxes do not even have a good national accounting system and I can’t find a US total number. But, for example, just CA generates roughly $10 billion in revenue from these fees.

Far from not covering the costs, the direct taxes and fees on cars are actually generating a profit.

If you want to talk about externalities you have to account for both positive and negative externalities.

[1] - https://www.urban.org/policy-centers/cross-center-initiative...


So, you are saying that even if you do not price in any of the huge negative externalities [1], cars barely cover even just the highway and road direct budgetary impact?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Externalities_of_automobiles Extremely conservative list on Wikipedia. Anyone that e.g. has looked at real-estate pricing before and after a street was made car free and has seen valuations go up by x2-x5 can attest even just the impact on direct livability.


What, exactly, are the positive externalities of cars?

Roads are just one part of costs of cars.

just walked across 14th today for lunch, it was beautiful. the only traffic is buses, and maybe the odd truck. there are cops posted -- because the street is so empty, it's tempting to jaywalk without looking for an oncoming bus.

as another commenter said, the drivers brought this onto themselves. i think the impact of uber driving around waiting for a ride, + booked ubers double parked waiting for the charge to arrive, adds significantly to congestion. without getting into the uber/taxi debate, you could just see (and hear the honking) how difficult it was for the buses to get through even during normal traffic.

another quiet change that happened nearby, is the closure of union square w between 14th & 17th. theres an extremely high amount of pedestrian traffic, and near the edges of the square there's intersections that would get pretty dicey. now it's much, much better. to be fair, ny drivers are decent, but there's just too much volume (and pedestrians looking down at their smartphones). i'm sure people got hit on an almost daily basis. ironically, i'm more afraid of bicyclists hitting me than cars. they simply do whatever they want.

but still, i firmly believe these changes are a huge positive overall.


> ironically, i'm more afraid of bicyclists hitting me than cars. they simply do whatever they want.

I’m in Seattle, not NYC, but this is an almost daily nuisance for me, both as a driver and as a pedestrian. Cyclists in general seem to have an attitude like rules and laws don’t apply to them. I see them blowing red lights, disobeying all-way stops, and nearly running over people all the time.


I think this is the case because in the US only extreme cyclists dare use the road at all. When cycling becomes sufficiently safe that normal people do it, the median cyclist becomes much friendlier to other people on the road.

I think that's just wishful thinking. I'm from Melbourne where cycling is pretty common (although not as hectic as in Holland). The cyclists here are still pretty rude.

There's a difference between rude and illegal. I think the original commenter was speaking more about illegal behavior leading to accidents.

In my experience in cities where cycling is built into the architecture of the city, most do tend to follow the road rules. However, a pedestrian might still find it rude if a cyclist were to pass close enough to brush shoulders, or a driver might find it rude for a cyclist to lane split.

From my perspective that kind of "rudeness" is just part city life, though, it's not really something exclusive to cyclists.


Yeah, I was referring to outright illegal behavior. I really dislike the "rules don't apply to me" attitude - seems so entitled.

On the rudeness aspect though, I do find cyclists in general pretty rude. I've even seen cyclists that seem to outright seek confrontation by putting themselves in situations that are unfavorable to them. For example, the other day I observed a challenging traffic situation and a driver had to stop mid turn at a corner. A cyclist was coming and saw the whole thing happen, but they still positioned themselves such that a "hook" accident could occur once things started moving again. As soon as the car started moving to complete their turn, the cyclist also moved forward and started arguing with the driver. It looked pretty clearly premeditated.


No, where bicycles are common I feel the same thing. It not an "extremist" issue.

Bicyclist has their kid mindset of rules not applying to them, I believe. Also they go closer to pedastrians than they would with a car.

It maybe just that bicycles are not that good in dense cities. In my small home town there was enough space for both bicycles and pedestrians.


Whereas cars blow red lights, disobey stops signs, and kill people all the time.

The difference is that cyclists don't kill people, and actually get hurt when they do stupid stuff like this. Cars often just drive off.


I wish we had stats on it though. Just my anecdotal observations, but I see tons and tons of cars on the road every day, and maybe a couple of them do those things. Whenever I spot cyclists though, I can pretty much count on them doing something that's against traffic rules.

> there are cops posted -- because the street is so empty, it's tempting to jaywalk without looking for an oncoming bus.

That's not why the article said they are there - they're there to turn cars away. Surely they won't care about people crossing a more-or-less empty street?


maybe they're mainly to deter vehicles.

but precisely because it's almost empty, it's very easy to jaywalk and not think about the bus coming down the street at 25 mph.


Where I live we have some squares in town that are pedestrian only except for buses. Buses move through at speeds below 10 km/h. I can't recall there has been an accident there.

I'm actually thrilled about this idea, and I hope it spreads to other cities.

The key to effective mass transit is not the type of equipment (train vs. bus) or the surface (rails vs. asphalt). It is the right-of-way, plain and simple. All other things being equal, a transport that has right-of-way, unimpeded by cross traffic, will be faster than a transport that has to deal with stop lights, cross traffic, etc.

That being said, mass transit can be extremely expensive if you take too many pains to construct the right of way off the surface. Digging is expensive and dangerous. Building elevated platforms is also more expensive, and often unsightly.

Now let's compare the means of traction: rails provide only fixed paths. They're relatively time-consuming to fix if they break. And if there's an equipment breakdown, if there aren't redundant paths with effective switching, it can cause a head-of-line blocking problem (comparable to a message queue). Meanwhile, tires are cheap and safe, while steering can easily avoid obstacles and other dangers. And repairing asphalt streets is relatively inexpensive.

So: we have good road technology. We have wide-enough arterial roads, many of which are already redundant. We have good-enough signaling technology now to create a virtual right-of-way (by setting lights to red before the vehicle crosses). Buses are pretty reliable these days, and far cheaper to manufacture than train cars. They can also be outfitted to be quite nice inside.

So, to me, dedicated bus thoroughfares using existing streets are a no-brainer. They win on cost, they win on effectiveness, and they win on time-to-market.

I can totally see 1 out of every 4 streets being used in major cities as dedicated bus thoroughfares as a viable alternative to building super-expensive and relatively unreliable transit alternatives. I've often said I'd love to see it happen in San Francisco. (The 1-in-4 idea being an approximation for most people to walk to their ultimate destination in a reasonable amount of time, but it's obviously adjustable according to block size, geography, etc.)

(Footnote: for those who maintain residences on the impacted streets, there should be various accessibility exceptions.)


Bus rapid transit is a powerful tool to have available for transportation planning. As you mention, it's a relatively simple and cheap proposition to upgrade from a street.

But it's not reasonable to say it's "the right-of-way, plain and simple". Light rail is significantly more energy-efficient than buses, a factor that must be taken into account in an honest evaluation of the options.


1. Light rail is far more expensive to build; and if it's electric powered (overhead or third rail), the infrastructure must be provisioned. I'd be incredibly surprised if the energy savings over the depreciation period of a bus or rail coach fleet, added to the opportunity cost paid by riders waiting for the construction, paid for the difference. Also, a light rail option that doesn't have right of way is far worse (economically speaking) and will be far less popular than a bus fleet that does. VTA, which features the worst of both worlds (the speed of a bus in city traffic with the cost and inflexibility of a fixed electric light rail) in Santa Clara county, is incredibly unpopular.

2. As we move towards renewable energy sources like wind, geothermal, and solar, electric buses, powered by stored-energy batteries, become arguably "good enough". But that's less an energy-efficiency concern (although these are close to "free" after fixed costs have been paid) and more of a pollution concern.


Your general points are reasonable, but the arguments you're making are absurd.

> the opportunity cost paid by riders waiting for the construction

There is absolutely no reason that a city can't deploy a BRT system in the short-term while building the light rail. This is in fact a common strategy.

> a light rail option that doesn't have right of way is far worse (economically speaking) and will be far less popular than a bus fleet that does.

I agree that right-of-way is important, you are attacking a straw man.

> electric buses, powered by stored-energy batteries, become arguably "good enough". But that's less an energy-efficiency concern

Energy efficiency will always be a concern, regardless of the method of generation.

But! It's significantly easier today to deploy light rail powered by renewable sources than a comparable bus system. Today the gold standard for buses is CNG, which, while much less polluting than gasoline, is still a non-renewable resource.


LADOT is rolling out electric buses already to test them on certain routes at least. Personally I think light rail is a stop gap measure. Light rail in LA is slow and crowded and you can only make stations so long which limits how many cars you can have on a train. Running it at grade doesn't help either and limits the minimum headway that the system can achieve.

Heavy rail is a better option. It's faster and transports more people at once than any BRT or LRT, and is costlier of course. But as they say, the fool pays twice.


The gold standard for buses today is electric:

https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2018/05/how-china-cha...

I still don't see the point in having light rail, if bus thoroughfares with right-of-way are good enough for customers.


Oxford Street (London's busiest shopping street) is closed to normal traffic - buses (and stupid exceptions) only. It's still massively busy with buses. At any given time I'd estimate you'd be within eyesight on 8 buses at least.

That tells me there aren’t enough such thoroughfares in London, so they’re being funneled from other streets to Oxford St. Also IIRC (it’s been a while since I was last there) the buses don’t yet have right-of-way through the intersections.

> I can totally see 1 out of every 4 streets being used in major cities as dedicated bus thoroughfares as a viable alternative to building super-expensive and relatively unreliable transit alternatives.

Of course that would itself be incredibly expensive. Roughly 1/4 the cost of all the roads in a city is a tremendously large amount of asphalt to maintain exclusively for buses.

The local businesses will also really enjoy being derelicted.


I’m operating under the assumption that the roads in question are already built and that the ongoing cost to maintain them is identical or less than the ongoing cost to maintain them if they were open to all traffic. In other words, no worse than the status quo.

That doesn’t actually change the cost of the policy.

Repurposing an asset you spent $X to build is the same as spending $X on a new asset for that purpose, minus any depreciation you took up till that point.

To your point, if road costs continue to be the status quo, then 1/4 of what you spent on roads should now be covered by bus fares. That would make the buses impossibly expensive.

I’m sure that people who like riding public transit buses would love this policy, because your taking an already highly subsidized (loss leading) form of transportation and making it an order of magnitude more subsidized by giving them free private roads to ride on.


Perhaps you have a different understanding of what “expensive” means than the generally accepted definition. Expensive generally refers to the outlay (the expense), not the income, or the net income, or any other financial metric.

> repurposing an asset you spent $X to build is the same as spending $X on a new asset for that purpose

Does GAAP agree with your claim?


Yes, GAAP accounting considers the payment for building the road as purchasing an asset. Cash account goes down, road assets go up.

The depreciation expense for using the road accrues to whoever/whatever it is being used for.

If you allocate roads exclusively for buses, buses need to cover the cost of maintaining the road.

Today buses can’t even cover the cost of running the buses.


> Yes, GAAP accounting considers the payment for building the road as purchasing an asset. Cash account goes down, road assets go up.

True.

> The depreciation expense for using the road accrues to whoever/whatever it is being used for.

False. Depreciation happens no matter what. The accountants don't care how it's used. The taxing entity may care if you want to obtain a deduction for the depreciating asset as a cost basis, but that's not an accounting question.

> If you allocate roads exclusively for buses, buses need to cover the cost of maintaining the road.

No they don't. Ideally, maybe; but that's a political question, not an accounting question.


How many people do you think are driving to a Manhattan restaurant or bar? Only 22% of Manhattan households own a car.

Because taxis and Uber’s aren’t a thing?

I’ll grant you that if there’s anywhere in the US the harm to local business would be minimized, it would be Manhattan. But the policy was being suggested for a lot more than just Manhattan.


Then how is it that businesses always seem to do better after city streets around them are pedestrianised?

For me 1/4 and 3/4 is the wrong balance, as it's too car friendly and makes no mention of trams and light rail.


They should extend the sidewalks so there's only two bus lanes and build some protected bike lanes there. Make this permanent. Drivers will figure out a way. I hope more cities do more of this. Cities can change. Just look at Amsterdam now compared to the seventies. I have always and still do drive around everywhere due to where I live, but this is the only way to change things. Just do it. Hopefully the judges throw out the frivolous lawsuits that prevent changes for the better like this.

I feel like the drivers did it to themselves. New York tried dedicated bus lanes and the drivers continued to use the dedicated bus lane any time police presence wasn’t obvious.

Agreed. I've started taking the M15 SBS in the last month and it would be great except the driver has to honk and weave around vehicles stopped in the bus lane on almost every block.

Could have been solved, first time $50 fine, and second time license revoked for a month.

People will learn quickly


UK has automatic bus lanes cameras in a lot of places and a database of licence plates used by buses - if your car is not on the list you get an automatic ticket. Also works pretty well.

NYC is getting these too, so hopefully that helps:

> The MTA announced that it will ramp up its fines for bus lane blockers captured through its new automated bus-mounted camera system. Motorists who defy the new rules after a 60-day warning period will be hit with a $50 fine that will increase with every offense up to $250. That will begin with the M15 SBS on October 7, with the M14 and B44 due to be equipped with the automated cameras by the end of November.

https://ny.curbed.com/2019/10/2/20895121/14th-street-dot-mta...


Placard abuse makes any such scheme moot. Keeping cars off the road entirely is much easier.

Once in a while, the Champs-Elysées in Paris are closed to cars on Sunday. When there were the yellow-vest protests, a large part of central Paris was closed to cars on Saturday too.

It was pleasant to walk in the streets that time, the city looked more human, with less noise, less honk, less stress. However, some cyclists and escooter drivers are a bit uneducated, many of them don't respect stops or signs, they don't slow down, and would pass at 2 cm from you at 20km/h like you do not exist

Other than that, I'm 100% for banning cars and petrol-based motorcycles from big capital cities around the world.


Honestly, I am a big fan of this. I lived in Calgary this summer, and downtown they have a dedicated street for the train, busses, and emergency vehicles. No regular vehicles are allowed to drive down this street.

It's genius. The train lines are above ground so the lines were cheaper to manufacturer, Emergency vehicles can get across downtown very quickly, and busses also don't have to deal with congestion.


All speculation, but isn't this how traffic management should always be done?

Shouldn't traffic be modeled and leave stats to just simply determine what roads should be cars only, trucks, buses, etc?


Simulating road traffic is a fertile academic and applied field. But that is by far the easiest part. It's much harder to change the rules because then humans are involved.

This is a great idea, and would make sense in many other American cities.

Good luck New York with Andy Byford! I was never impressed with the man and was happy to see him leave Toronto.



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