The subways are in trouble, the L train will be shutting down for 15 months and a section of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway needs to be rebuilt. But in addition to its high-profile crises, New York City’s transportation infrastructure is facing another, potentially unsolvable dilemma: not enough curb space. Or travel lanes, for that matter.
“Right now, the demand for the curb exceeds the supply,” Polly Trottenberg, the city’s transportation commissioner, in October.
The growing demand reflects a change in shopping habits that has brought a spike in deliveries, which in turn has pressured the city to crack down on illegally parked delivery trucks. Recently the Department of Finance announced it was raising the penalties in its “stipulated fine” program, which discounts rates for companies, such as Fedex and UPS, that agree not to challenge their tickets.
The Finance Department says the program saves the city money and, with more expensive fines to take effect Dec. 3, can discourage bad behavior. But the program has long been criticized as a corporate giveaway and an invitation to break the rules.
At the same time, a UPS executive told Crain’s that the company might withdraw from the program, saying the pending 27% increase in fines has made contesting tickets a better deal.
Trottenberg acknowledged the difficulty the city faces in reducing congestion when New Yorkers are increasingly shopping online, not to mention the additional vehicles from app-based cars and commuter buses.
The commissioner didn’t hold out much hope for shifting truck traffic to nighttime hours, something the city has tried with a commercial-delivery pilot program. She said the off-hours experiment has proved “tremendously challenging” for restaurants and other small businesses, which sometimes hire overnight workers to receive the deliveries.
“The truth is, it very much goes against the business models of those companies,” she said. Meanwhile, the Clear Curbs pilot program proved “resoundingly unpopular” in the outer-borough locations where it was tried this year, she said.
Trottenberg also defended a roughly 30% increase in city-government vehicles under the de Blasio administration, citing a high demand for city services. Counterfeiting of parking placards has run amok, she added, and requires a technological solution.
Bike lanes are another area of contention: In some neighborhoods, they’re blamed by some for increasing congestion and cheered by others for making it safer to ride a bike. The Department of Transportation has added protected bike lanes as part of its mitigation plan for dealing with the L train shutdown, and Trottenberg predicted they would someday be used by e-scooters.
The scooters – which have been a hit in a few cities – are considered illegal in New York, but a bill to allow them is working its way through the City Council, while operators Bird and Lime work to convince regulators and elected officials that they are a safe transportation option.
Source: Crain’s New York Business