Impact on Bicyclists of Attack of September 11, 2001
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Giuliani Puts Brakes on Car Culture
By Charles Komanoff
NEW YORK (Newsday) - Rudy Giuliani has had a lot of surprises for us in recent days. His ban on solo car commuting represents a particularly bold break with conventional thinking about the place of automobiles in New York City.
Banning single-occupant vehicles from lower and mid-Manhattan crossings was visionary. The mayor has done more than ease the current traffic crunch. He has pointed the way to curing our region's chronic traffic congestion, once and for all.
With one stroke, Giuliani has eliminated gridlock's No. 1 culprit: the single-occupant vehicle.
It wasn't easy. The "right to drive" - anywhere, anytime - is ingrained in contemporary culture. In life's frantic scramble and struggle, a vehicle of one's own has come to be seen not as an indulgence but a refuge; not as a luxury but a necessary convenience.
But with more and more cars on the road, "convenience" has lengthened from minutes to hours, making solo commuting very inconvenient - indeed, a luxury we cannot afford to provide.
The numbers make this clear. Single-occupant vehicles make up more than half of Manhattan-bound morning traffic but they transport fewer than a third of all highway commuters. In other words, a minority of solo drivers is taking up an absolute majority of road space.
The resulting congestion ensnares everyone from car-poolers and bus riders to the solo drivers themselves. Vans carrying trades people and trucks laden with goods the city needs to keep its economy going have been especially hard hit.
Think of all eight crossings into Manhattan as a 20-lane highway. Single-occupant vehicles, accounting for 53 percent of traffic, occupy 11 lanes but they deliver only 30 percent of commuters - just six lanes' worth.
That's five lanes wasted by solo drivers - the equivalent, say, of closing both the Queens Midtown Tunnel and the Brooklyn Bridge. Radio traffic reports call it "congestion," but it's really just inefficiency.
Following the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks, road closures and police searches constricted highway capacity as never before. Under these circumstances, the wastefulness of solo driving became untenable.
There is one thing about Rudy Giuliani that his harshest critics would concede: He isn't afraid to act. And act he did. By sacrificing the luxury of solo driving, he enabled the people and firms that really needed to make it across - needed it enough to double up or take transit - to do so.
Despite dire headlines and indignant protests, the mayor's bold stroke seems to have been accepted. And it is working. Traffic tie-ups eased not just on Thursday, a Jewish holiday, but Friday as well, prompting the mayor to extend the ban into this week.
Eventually, one hopes, the police checks will lessen, in effect restoring missing road capacity. What should Giuliani or the next mayor do?
First, don't go back to the status quo. Keep the car-pool rule. All the evidence indicates that keeping single-occupant vehicles off the roads during busy times of day will benefit many more people through time savings and travel predictability than it will inconvenience.
The details may need tinkering, but the basic policy is sound under "normal" conditions as well as in emergencies.
Second, upgrade the alternatives. For starters: simple and flexible car-pooling via real-time computer matching; universal van and bus service within a short walk of home; more off-peak train and subway service; bikeable routes to train stations and between towns.
For the long haul, we'll need to build new strategic rail lines and connectors, such as the Second Avenue Subway and an East-Side terminal for the Long Island Rail Road.
Third, start the transition to variable, non-stop tolling on all city bridges, tunnels and highways.
It will take some study and experimentation to establish the exact shape of such a system. But we know that road pricing is the ultimate gridlock-buster. After the Port Authority switched its Hudson River crossings to time-of-day pricing, a significant number of trips moved out of the peak hours. And tolls can be collected electronically, without slowing cars - indeed, without toll plazas altogether.
Road pricing is also a way - perhaps the only way - to finance the ambitious new rail and road infrastructure for making commuting easier and better.
Mayor Giuliani has been clear-sighted and brave enough to do the right thing.
Now it's up to us to build on his vision.
P.S. In the three months since the article was originally published (October 1, 2001) the restrictions been scaled back to cover only 6-10 a.m. instead of 6-12 noon. And it has been the subject of sniping (not surprisingly) from garage owners and some restaurateurs. But it has near-universal supported in the general population. It looking like a real breakthrough that will help smooth the path to tolls on East River Bridges and, eventually, a true "road-pricing" regime in and around NYC. [CK]
Copyright © 2001 Charles Komanoff. Charles is a trustee of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a non-profit group.
Afghan Cyclists Pedal Out of the Closet
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan cycling enthusiasts, forced off
their bikes by the Taliban, are back in the saddle.
Braving a potholed road that crosses the heavily mined former front line, they traveled 25 miles north to the town of Charikar at the base of the Panjsher valley.
The Taliban had outlawed public sports events in line with their strict interpretation of Islamic law that also obliged men to wear beards and women to leave their homes only in the company of a male relative and shrouded in a full-length burqa veil.
“During Taliban times we weren't allowed to do sports, it
was very difficult. Now with freedom we can do what we want, so we are
organizing this race,'' Mahmood Azani, of Afghanistan's Olympic Committee, told
Two assassins posing as journalists killed Masood in a bomb attack two days before the Sept. 11 hijacked airliner assaults on New York and Washington.
Copyright © 2001 Reuters.
Mexican Cyclists Pedal Down the Express Lane
MONTERREY, Mexico (AP) - When is a bicycle faster than a car? When you're crossing the U.S.-Mexico border under today's tightened security after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
So many people have started pedaling their way into the United States that authorities have created a special bicycle-only border crossing lane in El Paso, Texas.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service is hoping the idea will catch on. The INS has asked Mexican authorities to help distribute leaflets publicizing the new bike lanes, where crossing into the United States takes a only few minutes. Auto crossings now involve hours-long waits because of more thorough searches.
"It's working out really well," Leticia Zamarripa, the INS spokeswoman in El Paso, said Wednesday. The bicycle lane was opened Tuesday at a downtown bridge, after inspectors noticed that bike riders were weaving through backed-up cars to get to inspection gates.
Thousands of Mexicans and Americans cross the border each day to shop, work or study on the other side.
About 270 people used the bicycle lane on the first day, and 280 did on Wednesday. The lane is open from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m..
Copyright © 2001 Associated Press.
Cyclists & Transit Not Paralyzed By Attack
The attacks September 11 that shocked the world also shocked the transport systems. As air travel was grounded, and local streets, tunnels, and bridges in Washington, D.C. and New York City were closed, the cities capacity to provide mobility in a crisis was put to a test. Through the horror, the nation’s two most used transit systems, specifically New York’s subways and the Washington D.C. Metro, kept operating. While motor vehicles on the surface streets were grid locked, the trains kept reuniting workers with loved ones and evacuating the cities without panic.
Above ground, thousands of bicyclists also flowed to their destinations. There are news accounts of bicyclist who purchased bikes on the spot for twenty mile rides home. Unlike in the automobile fuel sectors, there are no stories of price gouging by bike shops.
Developing good transit systems and bicycle infrastructure should now be considered a national security issue.
Transportation Alternative, of New York City, figures that after the September 11th disaster, bicycle commuting in the city increased by 50 percent. They think that the main obstacle to further growth in bicycle commuting is a lack of secure bicycle parking facilities. Source: Bikewire.com
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