Translating Livability Goals Into Policy

04/24/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Kathryn Wylde President & CEO of the nonprofit Partnership for New York City

Published online in the New York Transportation Journal of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management at NYU.

In March, the Partnership for New York City and PricewaterhouseCoopers will publish the third annual installment of "Cities of Opportunity," a comparative review of the factors that make twenty-one great world cities attractive to business. This year, "livability" rises to the top of criteria that business decision-makers use to determine the location of jobs and operations. The Partnership-PWC report concludes that Singapore, Stockholm and Toronto are emerging as preferred commercial centers largely because of "quality of life" considerations, such as green space, health care, entertainment and commute time.

The Bloomberg Administration has consistently focused on quality of life as an underpinning of its public policy and investment decisions. Nowhere is this more true than with the city's Department of Transportation under the leadership of Commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn. Whether in pursuit of congestion pricing or pedestrian and bicycle accommodations, the Administration has zeroed in on "soft" services that make a big difference to the highly educated, highly skilled workforce that is required to achieve economic growth in the global knowledge economy.

But livability is also about adequacy of core transportation services. The speed and reach of New York's bus system compares poorly to cities in Europe, Asia, South America and Australia that have built out highly successful Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems. New York City's BRT pilot in the Bronx has been a hit, with ridership up by 30 percent and travel time down by 20 percent. Compared to constructing new subway lines, BRT is extremely affordable. The Bronx pilot should be expanded widely.

Improving ferry service is another way to improve quality of life through transportation. Putting privately operated ferries under the MTA umbrella is the only way to make water transportation more viable in New York City. By integrating private service providers into the public network, the ferry system could be planned on the basis of transit needs, rather than market considerations. It would allow ferry riders to use intermodal payment--like the Metrocard--for seamless transfers to bus and subway lines. Under public management, certain commuter ferry routes might also qualify for operating subsidies, which would significantly increase ridership. With only modest public funding and limited intermodal connectivity, ferry ridership between Manhattan and Brooklyn has increased by 10 percent over the last year. New York's ferry system should be expanded, with an eye towards a station on Staten Island's southern coast, suburban areas, and the airports.

Airports also are key to livability considerations in cities that depend on international mobility for business and tourism. New York's airports are improving, but the conditions of regional airport facilities have a long way to go before they rank as places where people are comfortable and well served. Delta's new domestic hub at La Guardia Airport is an example of a priority project. Pending U.S. Department of Transportation approval, the airline will invest $40 million in terminal enhancements and deploy larger jets to serve an additional 2 million travelers each year without increasing takeoffs or landings. Finally, modernizing New York's air traffic control systems would improve efficiency and save money. The Federal Aviation Administration has signaled its intention to upgrade these systems with "NextGen" technology, but funding has not been made available. There are few investments in transportation infrastructure that would have a bigger or faster payback than in relief of congestion at New York's three big international airports, which are the source of most air traffic congestion in the country and cost the Metro region $2.6 billion annually.