Business and environmental groups ask for Manhattan congestion relief

News AASHTO Journal March 01, 2006
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Five groups representing neighborhood businesses have joined environmental groups in asking the mayor’s office in New York City to address street congestion, the New York Times recently reported.

The property owners’ groups in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn sent a letter last week to the office of the deputy mayor, taking issue with what they termed “current piecemeal efforts to relieve traffic and promote alternatives to driving.” The groups also cited a yet-to-be-released study commissioned by an advocacy group called Transportation Alternatives that concludes private cars outnumber buses, trucks and commercial vehicles on crowded New York City streets—but 90% of commuters who travel via private car could be on public transportation. Congestion has worsened since 2001, according to the study, and many Manhattan drivers are just passing through.

“This makes it clear that we don’t have to accept the old argument that restricting automobile use will hurt the economy,” said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, a 32-year-old advocacy group supported by member contributions and foundation grants.

The study proposes further steps long advocated by transportation planers, including making more space on sidewalks for pedestrians and on streets for buses and bikes.

“We wanted to jump in with both feet and say we agree,” said Barbara Adler, executive director of the Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

“We are not saying ‘put an end to cars,’” said Executive Director Mirvlyn Brice of the North Flatbush Avenue Business Improvement District in Brooklyn, and Sutphin Boulevard Business Improvement District in Queens.

Another business-group executive director, Daniel Biederman of the Bryant Park Restoration Corp., said not all such groups support restrictions on private cars, but said the split these days might be 50-50 rather than entirely opposed to restrictions as in previous years.

Times Square Alliance President Tim Tompkins noted, “You can think of the transportation system as the arteries of the city economy, and there is no doubt that the arteries are clogged,” he said. “But you have to proceed carefully and make sure the oxygen gets through.”

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